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Opening New Worlds: Aleena Shapiro

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Discrimination’s Cost

Moving with the Bigs: Consider the Risks

Mon Cheri Bridals: Master of Retention

Corrections or additions?

These articles by Bart Jackson and Michele Alperin were prepared

for the March 14, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Opening New Worlds: Aleena Shapiro

Looking for a change of routine, perhaps a little

glamour?

Or personal entree into the world of international politics? If your

answer is "yes" and you have skills that would be valuable

to foreign businesses, you may want to consider international clients.

Aleena R. Shapiro did not make an explicit decision to seek

international clients. She stumbled onto them as a tax lawyer when

she was structuring international business deals for clients who

wanted

to minimize taxes paid to the United States government, avoid double

taxation, and meet the requirements of United States tax laws.

Shapiro is a partner in the New York law firm Shapiro and Wender LLP.

She and Judith Firth, managing director of WJM Associates, speak

on "Meeting Your Client’s Global Needs: Consulting Practices with

International Clients," on Monday, March 19, at 6 p.m. at the

Institute of Management Consultants at the Doral Forrestal. Cost:

$65. Call 609-896-4457.

Shapiro finds that doing international work at her own firm has its

perks. When she left a large law firm to start her own, she brought

along a client who managed luxury castle hotels in Ireland. She says,

"I had originally worked as a junior tax associate in a large

firm, and suddenly I got to be the one visiting these hotels."

Shapiro got a chance to experience the international art world when

a client in the United States was donating works by a family artist

to museums around the world. Once the deals were completed, Shapiro

was treated to museum openings of the artist’s work at exhibitions

in Germany.

Beyond the fun and travel, international work offers a chance to watch

political events unwind. When the Soviet Union collapsed, says

Shapiro,

Russians arrived in America to do deals. At first they did not

understand

capitalism, because — until 1990 — they had viewed all

capitalism

and all business as bad. When they began to be entrepreneurs, they

had to be taught that some things are good to do and some — even

though they are entrepreneurial and make money — are not good.

This work, says Shapiro, meant "sociopolitical and economic

involvement

in the world situation — where you are right in middle of what

is happening in world events."

Shapiro offers suggestions to potential international consultants:

Focus on developed countries. When targeting a country,

make sure it is worth your while. "Some countries have fewer

business

opportunities and are not developed enough to appreciate what American

businessmen can bring to them."

Join professional organizations in the countries you are

targeting . Because English is now the international business

language,

the opportunities for cooperation are even greater.

Be aware of political and economic situations. Politics

in a target country can present obstacles to foreign businesses. In

China, for example, Shapiro finds that the government quashes

entrepreneurial

instincts. "If you are representing people in the United States

who are manufacturing in China," she says, "you must be aware

of the potential for clients getting caught up with the government

and losing out." The Chinese government will not allow a foreign

business to own a controlling interest in a Chinese company, which

affects the stability and longevity a foreign investor can expect

from a business there.

Expect cultural and language barriers. "Cultural

barriers

are sometimes interesting and sometimes frustrating," says

Shapiro.

She tells of a client who for the last six months has been trying

to give away property to the Catholic Church in Hungary. Shapiro,

as intermediary, has found communications difficult. Every time either

side writes a letter, it must be translated. Recently the Hungarians

addressed a letter incorrectly, causing a two-month delay.

Coordinate work electronically. Shapiro advises staying

in touch with home electronically and taking notes while abroad. She

is in the habit of dictating memos as she goes, because she finds

it is easy to forget details after a long trip home.

Shapiro entered the world of tax law almost serendipitously.

After receiving both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history

from the University of Michigan, she taught high school for a couple

of years. After some time as a housewife with young children and lots

of volunteer work, she decided to take the LSATs on a lark. "As

soon as I started at NYU’s law school," she says, "I knew

it was the right thing for me — maybe because I was going to

school

later and knew nothing was perfect."

She was editor of the Law Review, graduated in 1981, worked for

Willkie

Farr and two other large law firms, and obtained a master’s in tax

law from NYU. Shapiro was living in White Plains, commuting to New

York daily, going to law school one night a week. She describes this

period as "probably the most excruciating period of my life."

In 1989 she started her own firm. Her older daughter is her partner.

Her younger daughter and her husband are also lawyers.

Shapiro’s last piece of advice to international consultants is to

have a little fun. She relates that upon landing in Dublin one Sunday

afternoon, she rushed over to the James Joyce museum, then went to

a bookstore and bought every one of Joyce’s books, and still made

it on time to her 7 p.m. business meeting. In Germany, she played

hooky from a meeting and went to Dusseldorf for a shopping trip. She

says, "l like to find time on each business trip for a small

amount

of personal experience and growth."

— Michele Alperin

Top Of Page
Discrimination’s Cost

You be the judge. Acme Engineering offers an entry level

position. Two applicants show up. First comes the chief engineer’s

old fishing buddy, Jake. He is a blonde, blue eyed, white male, under

40 (a group virtually beyond the needs of discrimination protection

in the eyes of New Jersey law.) The second candidate, Sally is a black

female whose education, experience and skills totally outshine her

male counterpart. The chief hires Jake. Sally files a hiring

discrimination

suit. Who wins? Why?

These questions will be addressed when John Thurman speaks at

a meeting of the Worldwide Employee Benefit Network on "A GPS

for EEO" on Tuesday, March 20, at 8 a.m. at the offices of Smith

Stratton Wise Heher & Brennan at 600 College Road East. Cost: $30.

Call 609-987-6772.

Following his small town Kentucky childhood, Thurman graduated from

Oberlin, then attended Harvard Divinity School before obtaining a

law degree from Vanderbilt. "I’m not sure the divinity master’s

makes me kinder and gentler," he says, "but perhaps it does

keep me a bit more honest." As partner at the Montgomery

Commons-based

law firm of Farrell & Thurman, he specializes in employment and labor

law.

"The real problem lies in management recognizing a few trees of

employment disparity," says Thurman, "but then mistaking them

for the whole forest of employees falling under protected status."

According to New Jersey and federal law, employers can in no way

discriminate

based on sex, ancestry, race, or disability. Also, genetic testing

is illegal.

Even if all these categories are considered, most managers fail to

carry the disparity potential beyond the basic hiring and firing

interviews.

But the discrimination liabilities extend long before and after,

stretching

out into a briar patch of costly potential blunders.

Thurman recites a few of the more subtle, common practices that can

get you sued:

Unfair Employment Standards. Thurman cites the old 1960s

case of Duke Power Co., which demanded a high school diploma of all

employees. Upon protests, a thorough examination of the community

led to the discovery that this requirement made possible employment

with Duke completely — and illegally — racially lopsided.

The company had to drop the standard.

Whistle Blowing Protection. If, on one dark midnight,

an employee sees his foreman dumping a truckload of the company’s

hazardous waste into Lake Carnegie, and reports it, he can claim

"whistle

blower protection." An employer cannot legally fire a whistle

blower. Previously, it was necessary to report the dumping to an

outside

source, perhaps the EPA. Now the same protection is extended to those

who report it to company management first. This allows the firm to

clean its dirty laundry without airing it.

Negligent Hiring. The employer who fails to check

references

and hires a person with a record of violence can find himself

personally

named in a suit when fists start flying in the workplace. An employer

can refuse to hire a woman because of her violent history, but can

not necessarily reject her solely because of her felony record.

In addition, the fact that an employee lied will not automatically

free an employer from liability for discrimination. Thurman cites

a case of a youth who was hired by a bank, then fired for lying about

his age. "Even if he had lied about his age," Thurman says,

"the bank would still owe some damages for the unfair age

discrimination."

Favoritism. Herein lies the answer to the discrimination

suit of Sally vs. Acme Engineering. Sally loses, based on established

precedent, because favoritism is not actionable in unfair hiring,

says Thurman. Jake had a prior claim of relationship/affection on

the hirer. Acme, under the law, holds the right to give its old

friends

preferential treatment. This also gives managers the right to choose,

within limits, specific individuals for new jobs in, for example,

a corporate reshuffling. But watch out, this law only works if the

relationship existed well before the hiring.

Gender discrimination. This Hydra most frequently raises

her many heads during office restructurings and promotions. Managers

typically shuffle compensation, lateral moves, promotions, and office

sizes with more of an eye toward immediate need than equal

opportunity.

"It becomes the job of the human resources professional,"

says Thurman, "to act as the watchdog. He must review the entire

operation with an eye toward his people and challenge management to

`prove your employee concerns to me.’"

Complainants need to have a genuine grievance. "Frivolous

suits are now meeting some tough courts," Thurman says. Employees

seeking to unfairly rob deep pockets by launching a suit because,

"Hey, what’s the worst that can happen?" are finding out.

Judgments can include the employer’s legal fees, court costs, and

a fine.

— Bart Jackson

Top Of Page
Moving with the Bigs: Consider the Risks

The financial resources of large companies constantly

tempt the smaller players in the corporate world. But for the smaller

entrepreneur to establish a sales relationship with these corporations

is not easy, and the obstacle is mistrust. "The presumption on

the part of a large company," explains Katherine Kish,

"is

that they are taking more of a risk working with small companies."

To increase trust and engender confidence, the small company must

make itself look more like a large company. Katherine Kish of Market

Entry, John Cassimatis of the Pacesetter Group, and James

Scott of Scarlett Systems are speaking on "Landing the big

one! Is this the best move for your company?" on Wednesday, March

21, 7:30 p.m. at the Princeton Chamber of Commerce Business Council

Breakfast. Steven Portrude of Harwill-Express Press is the

moderator.

Cost: $21. Call 520-1776.

When seeking a large corporate client, small companies must prepare

carefully and be aware of potential problems:

Do your homework. "Learn everything you possibly can

about the organization you want to sell to," says Kish. The

process

is much faster today, when necessary information is quickly available

on the Web.

Find strategic partners. Big companies are looking for

complete solutions. Says Kish: "If you are small, how can you

be mighty?" A small company can cover any weaknesses in its

product

or service by allying itself with strategic partners whose quality

of work and service complement its own. A strategic partner, for

example,

may offer superior project management capabilities. With the help

of partners, a small company can appear bigger and stronger, and

present

a more sophisticated face to a large corporation.

Have reference accounts. Use references to show that the

small company has done similar work for similar companies. Share

vignettes,

or case studies, that document what the company accomplished for

another

company, for example, increasing sales by 14 percent by instituting

your benchmark program at the XYZ corporation.

Create a powerful niche. If a small company is the best

or the only source within a geographic area of a specialized service

or product, a large company is more likely to choose it as a business

partner. An example would be a printer who, in addition to all the

usual printing services, specializes in hand-assembled product sample

kits. A nearby pharmaceutical that needs such kits for their sales

people to hand to doctors would be likely to hire this printer.

Persevere. Big companies tend to make it difficult to

penetrate their elaborate communication systems. Be willing to invest

the time it takes to get through the system.

Submit precise proposals and statements of work. Precision

makes it clear to potential clients that you understand the work that

is required. It also avoids the problems and misunderstandings that

occur when one of the parties to an agreement is not totally clear

about what is to be done. Although smaller companies can afford more

casual working relationships, large companies have many more people

involved in decisions, in deliverables, and in fulfillment of work

and hence require clear contracts, proposals, and statements of work.

Expect a long sales process. "Be prepared for the

fact that it often takes longer to sell to a large organization,"

says Kish. A seller must be prepared to jump through many hoops and

go through many layers to get to a decision. She describes situations

where negotiating the contract takes so long that the work was nearly

complete before the contract was signed. "Big companies respond

on their own time tables," she says. "They often forget that

there is a small company out there that needs to make commitments

to supplies and to gear up."

Expect multiple meetings before a decision is reached.

Different layers of decision-makers must be part of any agreement,

and they usually cannot meet at the same time.

Give the right message to the right people. "When

dealing with multiple layers of people in a large organization,"

says Kish, "make sure you are saying the right things to people

who can hear them." Talk to users about function; to managers

about the advantages of a service or product; and to decision-makers

about the benefits.

Don’t get sidetracked spending time with the wrong

people .

"It is easy for a large organization to absorb all the time a

small company has to give and more," warns Kish. If too much time

and energy are lost, a potentially successful venture can turn into

a money-losing proposition.

Understand the business. "If you are working with

a large company," maintains Kish, "you have to be less of

a sales person and more of a business person." A small company

must make a special reach to understand a corporation’s business,

its concerns, and its timetable.

Be a great communicator. Speak with confidence and inspire

confidence.

Be visible in the community. Kish suggests that it is

important for smaller entrepreneurs to be involved in good works with

local charities and non-profits. These organizations provide a neutral

ground where they can show capability and leadership. They can also

be a good place to meet people from large corporations and to build

relationships with them. "People buy from other people," says

Kish, "from people they trust."

Kish has a BA from Allegheny College and a master’s in education

from Antioch University. She has worked for NBC, Harcourt Brace

Jovanovich,

and Singer. In 1982 she created Market Entry, a strategic marketing

and business development firm that specializes in launching or

repositioning

products, services, or companies (E-mail: info@marketentryinc.com).

Kish has also been active in fighting discrimination against women

in business, including leadership in a class action suit on behalf

of 2,000 women while she was at NBC. She has been active in NJAWBO

since 1987, where she helped develop the EXCEL entrepreneurial

training

program for women and minority business owners.

The biggest challenge for a small company seeking a large corporate

client is to reduce risk by increasing familiarity. "Risk is when

you are first working with people you don’t know or don’t look like

you or are from another geographic area," says Kish. "Every

time that there is an unfamiliarity, it is a little more difficult

for people to work together."

— Michele Alperin

Top Of Page
Mon Cheri Bridals: Master of Retention

The key to attracting and retaining employees lies in

the personality of the owner, says Stephen Lang. Given that

40 percent of his 60 employees at Trenton-based Mon Cheri Bridals

worked for him at other companies, he would appear to be a master

of the art.

Lang, Bill Hogan of the Hogan Leadership Group, and Robert

West of the Karr Barth Benefits Group speak on "Attracting

and Retaining Talented Employees in a Tight Labor Market" on

Wednesday,

March 21, at 8 a.m. at the Greenacres Country Club, sponsored by the

Mercer Chamber of Commerce. Cost: $25. Call 393-4143.

Lang’s 10-year-old wholesale bridal and formal wear firm is located

on Whitehead Road (www.moncheribridals.com), and one of his models

is scheduled to be featured on the television show "Friends"

on Thursday, March 15. His recipe for success is multi-faceted,

involving

both the way he interacts with his employees and the kind of corporate

culture he has established:

Mentor employees. "People’s classical definition of

an employee is someone who works for you," says Lang. "My

definition is someone who works with you." He describes himself

as being like a coach for a professional sports franchise, getting

the most out of each individual to produce a winning team. Lang

believes

it is an employer’s responsibility to guide employees to fulfilling

their potential. "Too many people expect employees to reach a

level of professionalism on their own," he says.

Empower employees. Although the owner is key in creating

an attractive and effective business culture, eventually he must

transfer

responsibility to his employees. "I try to leverage myself through

the people around me," he says. "If I take a steering wheel

and put my hands in the 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. positions, I want my people

to push my hands off the wheel and take control."

Look for a good fit. Choose employees whose personalities

fit with the business climate. Lang told the story of a recent

interviewee

who had skills he needed, but was quite timid. At the second interview

he raised the issue of her timidity and told her that if she were

willing, he could work with her to overcome it; otherwise, he says,

"my managers would eat her up." She decided not to take the

job.

Develop potential. Lang tries to place his employees where

their natural skills will make them successful. He points out that

his head merchandiser started off as a customer service

representative,

and the person who handles international sales began as an

administrative

assistant.

Promote from within. "People know that if they come

here," we run so lean that there are always future opportunities,"

Lang says. "If you are good, you’ll get the nod." Hence Lang

encourages his managers to groom for succession.

Create a team feeling. Lang brings together his employees

on occasion to "feel the sensation of success." He tells them

that each person’s efforts are interrelated and ultimately affect

sales.

Foster a positive climate. "So many people go to work

and hate their jobs," says Lang. For years, he disliked the people

he worked for and felt he was treated like a number. "I try to

treat people as people," he says. To him, a company is just a

name, and its essence is the people who work there. He encourages

his people to resolve differences of opinion. "I don’t tolerate

fighting, screaming, and yelling," he says. "This is your

second family, and you have to treat people accordingly."

Make working fun. Lang always tells his employees,

"The

best thing in the world for me and you would be to sit in sweats and

watch TV." But, he says, "coming to work should be the second

best thing to being retired and on your own."

Offer generous salaries and benefits. Lang pays his

employees

well, and has always picked up at least 50 percent of the cost of

medical, dental, eyeglass, and prescription coverage. He also matches

employees’ 401K contributions up to six percent of their salaries,

and brings in consultants to coach his employees on how to invest

their money so that they will be able to retire at 65. "An

employee

is an asset like anything else, and lots of employers forget

that,"

says Lang. "A happier employee is going to stay with you,"

he says.

Offer a flexible work environment. "We are flexible

in understanding family needs," says Lang, "and nobody is

fearful about talking about them." One woman with small children

now works full-time from home, responding to E-mail from the company’s

website. Another employee does not begin work until 9:30 a.m., because

she has to get her kids off to school first.

Have a vision. Lang says a business must have a philosophy

to be successful, and he believes it is the owner’s responsibility

to fashion the business’ persona. "It should emanate from the

top and cascade through the organization," he says.

Demand excellence. "I demand excellence every day

from my people, because I demand it from myself," says Lang.

"I

ask them to go the extra mile."

Ask for a little slack. Although his employees may not

agree with his every decision, Lang expects them to be loyal, because

"his batting average is so high," and they should give him

license to be wrong 20 percent of the time.

Go the extra mile. One employee of Lang’s company is a

handicapped person, who does a variety of odd jobs. The company has

adopted him and the three people who live with him at a group house

sponsored by the state. He says, "He is so important to us here

that at Christmas we have stopped doing a formal exchange of gifts.

Instead we hold a program for the people in his house." Employees

bring in gifts for the employee and his housemates. "I can’t tell

you what that did for morale," he says.

Lang graduated in 1977 from the State University of New York at Albany

with a bachelor’s in business administration and received an MBA from

Hofstra University in 1979. For the next four years he worked in

marketing

and product development, first for American Cyanamid and then for

Gulf & Western. He then worked for two bridal gown manufacturers,

Alfred Angelo in Pennsylvania and Bridal Originals in St. Louis. In

1991, he started his own company. He contacted an Asian supplier and

invited her to become his partner. She accepted, and Mon Cheri was

born. Its product line includes wedding gowns, both formal and

informal,

mother of bride, flower girl, first communion, cocktail, and prom

dresses.

Lang hires with a long view. "When I hire you," he tells

prospective

employees, "I make the artificial assumption that you’re going

to retire here."

— Michele Alperin


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