State of the Economy: The New Jersey View

Politicians build coalitions to create policies to serve their

constituents, and successful business executives develop teams to

fulfill their clients’ needs. Barbara Byrne, vice chairman of Lehman

Brothers and daughter-in-law of former governor Brendan Byrne, takes

it a step further. As a mother of four, she has also created teams at

home, with the help and support of her husband Tom, eldest son of the

ex-governor. Byrne sees her teams, both at home and at work, as

essential for creating balance in her life.

Byrne will speak on "The Economy: A Global Perspective with Local

Impact " on Thursday, January 10, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the

monthly luncheon meeting of the Princeton Regional Chamber of

Commerce, at the Marriott Princeton Hotel and Conference Center. Cost:

$45. Visit www.princetonchamber.org.

Byrne loves the heady atmosphere of the investment banking industry,

where at 53, she is one of its most senior women. "You hire bright

capable people who have tremendous opportunities to succeed and most

do, but it’s intense and highly competitive," she says. The

competition, she explains, is less between individuals than teams

against other institutions.

Byrne talks broadly about the challenges facing the economy, moving

from global to national to regional issues:

Subprime mortgage crisis. "It could have a recessionary impact," says

Byrne. But she points out that defaulting subprime mortgages represent

less than one percent of total mortgages – subprimes constitute five

percent of the total mortgage market and 85 percent of them are

actually performing.

The huge impact of the defaults is due to the effect on United States

consumers, who are responsible for seventy percent of the country’s

gross domestic product. "So what we really have is a crisis of

confidence, and it has rolled over into other areas of the mortgage

market," says Byrne.

She attributes this crisis of confidence to a lack of understanding

about the value of assets and where assets are being held. Another

contributor is the timing issue as the effects of the subprime

mortgages roll through the marketplace and as markets adjust and need

to recapitalize, realizing losses.

Another response to the subprime crisis is the tightening of standards

for lending by organizations such as Fannie Mae, which increases the

cost of loans. A big outstanding issue is how housing prices are being

affected.

And there can be a multiplier effect as well.

Within this maelstrom of confusion even homeowners whose mortgages are

solid and not overdrawn may change buying habits. "If you felt your

home was worth less, you might spend less," explains Byrne. "So

instead of shopping at a high-end retailer, you may go to Target or

Walmart." She calls this the negative of the wealth effect: "You feel

like you have less wealth, so you spend less."

Byrnes suggests that the key question, to which no one can supply a

confident answer, is: How will the subprime crisis, the disruption of

capital markets, and consumers’ views of housing prices affect

purchases by both consumers and corporations?

In all of this, she suggests keeping in mind the role of the U.S.

consumer in the world economy. The United States has roughly 20

percent of global gross domestic product, and since 70 percent of that

is due to the U.S. consumer, Byrne estimates that the U.S. consumer

drives 14 percent of global gross domestic product.

Devalued dollar. "In the current global economy, we have a very

devalued dollar and that cuts both positively and negatively," says

Byrne. Foreign consumers and companies are, for example, more likely

to buy exports from the United States, because they are cheaper.

Similarly foreign tourists are more likely to come to New York on

vacation.

But that same dollar is also corrosive to asset values in the United

States, and the resulting high prices for energy erode consumer buying

power. "You have to heat your home and drive your car. You can reduce

these to some extent but large parts are out of your control," says

Byrne.

The result – what she calls the "pocketbook effect" in an already

challenging market – is clear from watching volatility and uncertainty

in the marketplace and in the numbers of houses available. She adds

that New Jersey, with its fairly solid economy and high incomes, is

lucky not to have suffered from the real estate speculation prevalent

elsewhere and should therefore see less degradation in pricing.

New Jersey’s vulnerabilities. Some businesses are more vulnerable than

others, says Byrne, citing housing and real estate, whereas those

selling necessities are in a better position.

"New Jersey, like many states, is faced with real challenges – high

property and income tax rates, a structural deficit in its budget, and

multiple demands for its capital," says Byrne. "Many states have

surpluses and New Jersey has a deficit, and this will limit the

flexibility of what the state will be able to do; it places pressure

on allocations of resources in a state with an already high tax

burden."

Yet Byrne remain optimistic about New Jersey’s challenges. "Everything

is fixable," she says, "but first you have to understand what the

issues are." As elsewhere, the New Jersey consumer will be affected by

the global financial markets and housing, but weighing in also is its

strong local business environment, which Byrne characterizes as having

good employers and excellent transportation into the New York City

hub.

"We also have pressures in the state," she warns. "For the first time

a study by Rutgers shows more people leaving the state than coming

in." The question that comes to her mind is: Do you now have

higher-income people migrating, whether to Florida or other places,

and what pressures does that put on the state budget?

"We see that the economy is slowing down, and the real question is

whether we are entering a recession," she says. "It will really depend

on what happens in the marketplace. The market goes through cycles. It

got overheated with respect to real estate and speculation." Coming

out of that balloon, the critical factors are what the government and

markets are trying to do to mitigate that damage while the market

realigns.

Byrne grew up in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and graduated from Mount

Holyoke College in 1976 with a degree in economics. After college, she

was interested in finance and economics and moved to New York City,

where she worked four years for Mobil Oil. In 1980 she moved to Lehman

Brothers, where she started out in energy financing, then moved to

mergers and acquisitions and strategy.

She has covered technology and other industries, working with GE, IBM,

EMC, Altria, ADP, HP, Cisco, and Williams, among others, advising them

with respect to investment banking, corporate finance, and strategic

issues.

Byrne has been vice chair for the past four years and was the first

woman to achieve this senior executive position at Lehman Brothers.

She is a member of the Investment Bank’s Senior Client Council.

During her years at Lehman Brothers, she has led teams working on the

first simultaneous IPO/spinoff executed in 1988 by Burlington

Northern/Burlington Resources, the first tracking stock

recapitalization for USX in 1991, the merger of Digital Equipment with

Compaq in 1998, the formation of the Marathon Ashland Petroleum joint

venture in 1998, the acquisition of Data General in 1999 and

Documentum in 2003 by EMC, and the complex liquidity restructuring of

Williams.

Byrne’s industry is still predominantly male, although it has been

changing. She emphasizes that it is very much a meritocracy. "There

have been challenges along the way," she says, "as there are for

anybody who is unique or different in their industry, who is out of

the box."

To keep on top of the home front, Byrne has worked at home most

Fridays for 15 years and manages to keep travel to a couple days at a

time. She and her husband are also very involved with their children

and in their schools. She was on the board of Stuart Country Day

School for six years, and her husband was board chair at Princeton

Academy of the Sacred Heart. "We are strong advocates of a strong

ethical religious foundation," says Byrne. "From our perspective, it

bears fruit."

Byrne’s husband is president of his company, Byrne Asset Management,

which he started when the family moved to Princeton. He is a lawyer by

training and had previously worked on the trading side in an

investment bank. He was also the Democratic state chair in the 1990s.

They live in Princeton with their four children: Meaghan, 20 is a

sophomore at Princeton University; Erin is 17 and a junior at Stuart;

Brendan is 15 and a freshman at Lawrenceville; and Kelly is 13 and in

eighth grade at Stuart.

Byrne thrives on the intensity of her job. "Either you like it or

don’t. I like being in an environment with lots of things going on at

the same time," she says. "You do fall on your head sometimes, but are

you engaged? is this interesting and fun for you? If not, I wouldn’t

do it."

As for the state of the economy that is perhaps keeping her a little

more on her professional toes as we pass into the new year, Byrne

says, "`08 is going to be a challenging year." She cites the ancient

Chinese proverb, "May you live in interesting times," then quickly

adds, "There is also opportunity in those times, and the question is:

where do you seek it? how do you look for it?"

-Michele Alperin

Getting Google To Take Notice

One of the most important things for a new business to have these days

is a web presence, but it can be difficult to attract potential

customers to a brand new site. No matter how beautiful and

well-designed the website, if it doesn’t Google well, no one will find

it – and no one will find your new business.

It is even more difficult for a start-up to break onto the first page

of Google, says Mark Beck, vice president of he Boulevard Group, and

an expert in search engine optimization. "An established company has

already been catalogued by Google," he says. "A new website is not

instantly catalogued. It will be placed in an area that Google calls

`the sandbox’ for several months until it becomes a trusted site."

Beck will speak on "Optimizing Your Internet Presence at Start-Up," at

the next meeting of the New Jersey Entrepreneur’s Forum on Thursday,

January 10, at 4 p.m. at the Center for Commercialization of

Innovative Technology in North Brunswick. Cost: $35. Register at

www.njef.org.

Beck has been fascinated with computer technology since his high

school days in Canada. "It was the 1970s and computers were the newest

thing. I had a teacher who insisted on the need to bring computers

into the school. He had a Wang computer that he moved from room to

room on a cart. He always told us that computers were the place to

be."

His teacher’s influence convinced Beck to major in computer science at

Susqehanna University in Selingsgrove, PA, his father’s alma mater.

After graduating in 1983, he worked for several years as a programmer

and analyst on Wall Street before "burning out" and spending several

years as an insurance and investments sales rep. But his passion for

technology resurfaced and in 2000 he and a partner opened the

Boulevard Group. Located in Long Valley, NJ, the company specializes

in web site development and production (www.theblvdgroup.com).

So just how does a new business get into Google’s good graces?

Incoming Links. The most important way to become a trusted site, Beck

says, is by obtaining as many incoming links as possible. An incoming

link is a link to your site from another, preferably thematically

related, Internet site. The more sites that link to yours, the higher

your rating on Google will be.

Think About the Humans. Yes, search engine optimization is important,

says Beck, "but if you don’t create your site for the human visitor

who will view it? It just won’t work."

In other words, hundreds of unrelated links won’t attract readers to

your website. A resource page offering visitors a variety of

informative sites on related topics will give your visitors a reason

to return to your site over and over again.

"It is great if your site can come to be viewed as a hub or authority

site," says Beck.

Use Good Key Words. While Google is sometimes viewed as a vast,

impersonal machine, it, just like your business, is a company that

wants and needs to please its human users also.

"To continue to be successful, Google needs to give its customers the

best results for the search as quickly as possible," he says. That

means thinking like the searcher and coming up with the best keywords

for your site.

"What is the searcher looking for? What problem do they want solved?

Start at that point and build your key words around it," suggests

Beck. Getting listed on the first page of Google is critical for

success on the internet. "Statistics show that very few people search

page two of Google, so the higher up you are, the better."

Think About Purpose. What is the purpose of your website? It makes a

difference whether you are selling a product or a service, says Beck.

If you are a service-based company your website’s purpose is to

generate leads. It should be content oriented and include case studies

and testimonials.

However, if you have a "catalogue site," designed to generate product

sales, your site should feature a variety of easy ways for the

customer to locate the products they want.

The site should have a directory that flows from major categories to

sub-categories to products. If you represent several manufacturers,

the customer should be able to search under each one. Beck also

suggests a general search feature which allows the customer to type in

a few key words and receive a listing of products.

"The main objective is that the visitor can easily find what they are

looking for," Beck says.

Use Web 2.0. By now, most people are familiar with the term Web 2.0,

which defines the new, more interactive ways to use the internet. Many

business, however, are still not using these capabilities to interact

with their customers, says Beck.

The first websites were essentially internet brochures, "a way for the

business owner to say, `This is who I am, come see me,’" says Beck.

Today new technology makes two-way communication between the business

and the customer not only possible, but easy.

"You can now essentially have an online conversation with your

audience, and talk to them about your products in a completely

different way," he says. Beck is a fan of blogging because it allows

the writer to target one particular topic and find the exact audience

he’s looking for. "Since everyone is now essentially connected to the

Internet, no niche is too small," he says.

To be successful with a blog, he suggests updating it a minimum of

once a week, the more often the better. Blogs can also help with

search engine rankings, he says, since search engines look for the

most recently updated pages.

Bells and Whistles. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,

says Beck. He is not a fan, for instance, of elaborate Splash

introductions to websites. These videos and animations take time to

load onto the visitor’s computer and usually give little or no

information about the business. In addition, because they are seen as

the home page but have no words for the search engines to pick up,

they can actually lower a site’s ranking.

However, some bells and whistles do enhance a website. A video can

show a product in action, or how it can be used in a new way, while

audio can make the website seem more personal.

Don’t Forget Content. While the Internet is a visual medium, words are

also a very important part of a website, and not just from the

perspective of search engine optimization.

"Copy is one of the most important parts of a website and it is often

the most neglected. If there is any room at all in the budget I

suggest business owners hire a copywriter to help paint a picture of

their company and product," says Beck.

He mentions one client whose website featured only pictures of the

product.

"Pictures are important. They show a product in action and how it

looks, but there also must be words," he says. Business owners who

write their own copy often fail, he says, "They get caught up in

talking about themselves and the features of their product."

Instead, a business owner should always remember that the purpose of

the website is to explain to the customer the benefits or the product

or service. The bottom line for any website: "Tell the customer how

your product will make their life easier."

-Karen Hodges Miller

More Than Just a Will

Dying doesn’t have to be complicated. You just need to know how to get

your affairs in order.

The New Jersey State Bar Foundation will host a free two-hour clinic

seminar on wills and estate planning at the New Jersey Law Center, 1

Constitution Square, New Brunswick, on Thursday, January 10 at 1 p.m.

The seminar will cover the basics of trusts, probate, power of

attorney, and inheritence tax. Call 1-800-FREE-LAW or visit

www.njsbf.org.

Brian Reynolds, an attorney at the Murray Hill-based Mantell & Prince

and Ruth Lynn Buchwalter of Day Pitney in Morristown will present the

seminar. An expert in estate planning, Reynolds received his law

degree from New York Law School and his masters in taxation law from

New York University in 2000. The first in his family to attend

college, Reynolds says he fell into his line of work after doing

something he never expected – falling in love with a tax course

partway through school. From there, he set off to find work in a firm

specializing in estate planning, and went to work for Mantell &

Prince. Today he is a partner at the firm.

So what has experience in estate planning taught him?

"A will is not an estate plan," he says. "People say `I need a will,’

but a will is the foundation of an estate plan." The entirety of what

is to become of your estate must involve all your assets, and that

includes 401ks, life insurance plans and bank accounts – "right down

to the shirt on your back," he says.

Wills consider those items from your life that are not already

earmarked to someone when you die. They specify who gets certain

possessions, who gets guardianship of children, and the executor of

the estate. But a will does not control where all of your assets go.

Certain assests, such as jointly owned bank accounts and any forms you

have filled out at work that designate a beneficiary (like your 401k),

do not go through probate. Reynolds says people assume the will itself

supercedes anything, but that’s simply not true. "An estate plan looks

at all the angles," he says.

The topic of inheritence is something Reynolds is asked about a lot.

One frequent question: "Do I need an irrevocable trust?" Also known as

a living trust, irrevocable trust is a popular addition to the estate

plan for people in many states because it avoids complex, bureaucratic

probate requirements. But New Jersey, with its painfully simple

probate process – "all you really need is an original copy of the

will, a death certificate, and a few hundred dollars" – makes avoiding

probate unnecessary, says Reynolds.

The way taxes break down depends on whether you are married and what

you and your spouse jointly own. If everything – the house, the bank

account, the car – is jointly owned, the living spouse assumes the

entire estate without tax penalties. Taxes are not levied on the

estate until the second spouse dies. If, however, some assets are in

one partner’s name and some in the other’s, those belonging to one

spouse can be placed in a trust upon death, deferring taxes.

While Reynolds admits the subject can seem intimidating, he says some

smart planning and a little knowledge can lessen the legal mess

created when someone dies and the survivors are left to wonder what to

do.

Friday, January 11

Training the Trainers Through Storytelling

It is said that listening to stories on the radio outshines watching

them on TV because the pictures are better. For Bob Pike, who earns

much of his living in the decidedly low-tech field of storytelling,

the axiom couldn’t be more true."The spoken word enables us to create

a very powerful visual image," Pike says. "Stories engage the mind

more than any other type of talk."

Pike, founder of the Bob Pike Group, a Minnesota-based consulting

agency that trains corporate training professionals, will present

"Storytelling for Trainers/Presenters" at Ricoh America’s Ricoh

University in Pine Brook on Friday, January 11, at 8:30 a.m. Cost:

$330. The event is sponsored by the American Society for Training &

Development. Register at www.nnjastd.org.

"I want people to know that everyone can tell a story," he says.

"Storytelling is in our DNA."

Communicating through the low-tech art of story weaving is an

oft-overlooked and very powerful weapon. It isn’t that we don’t know

how to tell stories, Pike says, it’s that we don’t know how to tap

into the vault. If, for example, you say to someone, "Tell me a

story," you likely will be greeted with, "I don’t know any."

That’s not true, of course. The truth according to Pike is that people

simply don’t recognize that they have stories to tell. Getting them

out just takes a little nudging. To crack the ice in corporate

circles, Pike says he asks to hear how someone met his spouse, or

about someone’s biggest challenge at work. Or, he offers them this:

"I say, `I’ll tell you about my second-most embarrassing moment,’ and

then go around the tables. If anyone’s story is compelling enough" –

in other words, humiliating enough to make his seem tame – "then I’ll

tell you my worst."

The tactic of establishing the comfort level through an appropriate

level of discomfort sets the boundaries of his talks and usually

results in gales of laughter, he says. From there, everyone

brainstorms about more pointed topics – what made your favorite boss

the best boss you’ve had? What made your worst boss so bad?

Pike has honed many such tactics to get professionals to open up, and

thus find new ways to communicate with their staffs, over a 37-year

career as a consultant and professional speaker. But he brought the

elements of those tactics with him from a youth that cherished reading

stories of any kind – science fiction, action/adventure, whatever,

plus a heady dose of Bible stories at Sunday school, and ghoulish

yarns spun round the fire when he was a Boy Scout. His first foray

into public speaking came in eighth grade when he entered the Illinois

State Oration Contest by memorizing John F. Kennedy’s inauguration

speech. To this day, Pike says he is impressed with JFK’s speech,

which, if not entirely from the brain of the president himself,

contained some of the most compelling and most quotable language of

the past 50 years.

Pike attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in the 1960s, but

left after two years to pursue a vocation in religion. He attended

Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and became a pastor, a position he

served for three years that afforded him much opportunity to speak,

but a paycheck averaging $60 a month. While he loved the ideals of a

life in the pulpit, Pike says stark pragmatism eventually got the

better of him and he went to work as a commission-only salesman for

the now-defunct Master Education Industries, a motivational education

company in the Midwest.

He bombed.

For the first six months, the well-intentioned former pastor says he

hadn’t learned to separate his religious nature from his need to eat.

"When you’re a pastor, you give your stuff away free," he says. Unable

to handle being rejected, he says he simply stopped trying, because if

you don’t make an offer, you can’t be rejected.

Having quit the Naval Academy and then quit his ministry, Pike was

looking at quitting yet another major piece of his life.

"I couldn’t quit again," he says. "I just didn’t want to explain

myself again."

Pike gave himself a month to turn it around and used the power of

positive thinking, a specific goal, and a carefully visualized

presentation that he could recite to his clients in which to do it. In

other words, a story. After 30 days, he made $1,100, far past his

goal.

In 1980 Pike struck out on his own, fruitful and self-taught. As a

salesman of increasing success, he learned the power of storytelling

in the business world, regardless of who did the telling.

And the good ones don’t just stick to you, he says, they serve

purposes that business leaders should pay attention to.

Stories inspire. Good stories don’t just offer us warnings of things

to avoid, they give us direction. They provide examples we should

strive to live up to. It is as true for daily life as it is for

companies wanting to set the bar a little higher for their employees.

Stories encourage. That shrewdly used trick of telling his second-most

embarrassing professional story does more than break the ice. It

levels the playing field and offers a lesson. Stories of disasters,

flops, and embarrassments highlight the essential elements of drama

itself – conflict and resolution. By hearing how others overcome

problems, we can navigate our own way through the morass.

Stories connect. A good story overcomes what Pike calls "the pity

party." As we get into the less happy moments in life and business,

"we get so inwardly focused, we have a tendency to think everything is

about me," he says.

Pike likes to ask people if they would trade lives with anyone else.

No questions, no further information, just yes or no. Very few ever

say yes. It is the first step toward connection among people who think

theirs is the worst situation; and it is a vital step in reminding us

that we are not alone, which is, ultimately, a story’s main goal.

"I try to avoid focusing on what’s wrong," he says. "If you’re

emulating what’s best, you’re avoiding what’s worst."

While Pike is familiar with any number of old chestnuts from

Salesmanship 101, he says the art of storytelling is a time-proven

tactic that never fails to engage listeners. But the point of his

upcoming seminar is not aimed at teaching sellers to schmooze clients,

but rather at the managers from all walks who ultimately will motivae

their staffs. And for Pike, that breaks down into a simple idea.

"If we told more stories at department meetings, we’d probably have

better department meetings," he says.

What makes a good story is a little more complex. In fact, if you ask

him, Pike will answer with perfectly pitched ambiguity.

"A good story is in the interpretation," he says. "I can’t give it to

you. It won’t work."

– Scott Morgan

Wednesday, January 16

Making the Switch To a New Career

Just because people change jobs three times or more during their

careers, that doesn’t mean stepping into the unknown is easy.

Lorna Strang, director of community programs at Mercer County

Community College, was one of the lucky ones. Arriving in New Jersey

in 1990, having been a high-school English teacher in the United

Kingdom, she quickly found work teaching basic skills department at

the college. In positions of increasing responsibility she has

observed the obstacles encountered by those for whom career change is

a necessity.

Take, for example, the minions of middle management who have been

treading the same path since college and are ready for something new.

"People fall into jobs and keep going because they are moving up the

ladder of a career path and don’t see there is any way out," says

Strang, citing the Peter principle. "You are promoted and promoted and

find yourself doing things that weren’t the things that grabbed you

about the job when you first started off." Then there are the

stay-at-home moms ready to re-enter the work force and baby boomers

who are beginning to think about their next steps.

For people who are looking at transitions in their lives, particularly

those interested in changing careers, the college is offering its

second Transitions information session on Wednesday, January 16, from

5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the college’s conference center. Representatives

from credit and noncredit programs, CARE (classes for adults returning

to education), and the learning center as well as counselors will be

on hand to answer questions. For more information, contact Strang at

609-570-3856 or strangl@mccc.edu.

Strang talks about the steps required to move from that vague feeling

of malaise through the terror surrounding any potential change to

setting up a blueprint for a different future:

Getting started. People who are dissatisfied with some area of their

lives are often stuck, unable to even contemplate change. "What stops

them from having what they want are fears of not having the

qualifications, anxiety about making a change and taking a plunge, and

other people’s expectations," says Strang.

At the Transitions session counselors will be available to talk about

programs that can help people begin thinking about the change process.

One effective technique is mind mapping, where people examine the

important areas of their lives, including work and personal

relationships, assess their level of satisfaction with each, and try

to articulate where they would like to be versus where they are now.

Mercer offers two workshops, "Live by Design and Not by Default" (a

six-hour workshop that will begin on Monday, February 11) and "Retire

with Attitude," that help people think about options for change.

Considering financial and time constraints. Often this means weighing

whether financial remuneration is as important as job satisfaction.

"People have to make sure they can support themselves," says Strang.

"Whenever you leave something you have been doing for a reasonable

amount of time, with all the experience you have gained, often at a

high salary level – if you have to make a change and have to go in at

entry level, it is a big step to take."

Sometimes a certificate will lead to a quicker payback, for example,

the one in clinical research and drug development, which draws people

who already have a medical or scientific background. Doctors from

other countries, for example, may earn this certificate instead of

qualifying to practice medicine in the United States. This allows them

to start earning money more quickly. Other people may have to take a

big pay cut initially but in this growing industry can begin to earn a

reasonable salary relatively quickly.

The other issue is how much time a person is willing to invest in a

different career path. Take the man who switched to teaching. Strang

explains, "He had been in corporate for a long time and realized that

he wasn’t getting the satisfaction he needed, and he came to the

conclusion that it was time to make a choice and start thinking about

a different type of satisfaction." For him, the alternate route to

teaching enabled him to reach his goal relatively quickly.

Narrowing the possibilities. The next step is to set priorities and

make choices. "Some people are singleminded and seem to know what they

want and can go ahead and get that," says Strang. "Others need that

much more in the way of discussion, guidance, confidence, and

empowerment."

The husband of one of Strang’s colleagues, in his late 40s or early

50s, worked in a corporate job that he found unsatisfying. "After a

lot of time mulling and talking to his wife, he came to the conclusion

that there was still time enough to make changes," says Strang. He

decided to pursue a teaching career through the alternate route, which

is available at Mercer and all community colleges in New Jersey for

people with a college degree but not a teaching diploma.

"Teaching hadn’t been on his radar screen," says Strang, "but as he

got older and went through life, having children of his own, he began

to realize this was something that he wished he might have done

originally." And the alternate route, which takes into consideration

life and job experience, made this path more accessible than, say, a

master’s degree in education.

He completed the program, got a job teaching science, and last year

was named the best teacher in his district.

People with more diffuse ideas about the future will need to do

research to uncover different possibilities. One way is to consider

the certification programs offered at the college.

Mercer County Community College’s medical coding instructor earned a

medical coding certificate at the college that edged him from a

successful career in banking into new endeavors. After absorbing the

nitty-gritty of coding and billing for medical procedures and drug

prescriptions, he became the college’s primary instructor in the

field.

Other popular certificates are web design and project management. Some

certificate programs are done in partnership with national

organizations like the American Management Association.

People who have already narrowed their choices to health and

medical-related fields may want to attend the college’s medical

laboratory technology career night on Wednesday, January 16, at 5

p.m., at the college to learn about career opportunities in the

14-month professional program in this field.

Determining the steps necessary to reach the career goal. Once the

choice is made, people need to design road maps that specify how they

will achieve their goals or, as Strang explains it, "action plans for

creating the life they want."

Preparing to take academic classes. Even after setting a goal and an

action plan, the way is still studded with obstacles. When people want

to take credit classes at the college, for example, they need to pass

English and mathematics proficiency tests. For adults, math can be a

particularly difficult hurdle, and the college testing center has a

program to prepare students to take the necessary placement tests.

"Not that it’s that difficult," explains Strang, "but it’s something

you want to have a bit of practice at to get you where you want to

be." Classes in reading and writing, math, and testing anxiety will be

running in February, March, and April.

Strang’s career has developed entirely within Mercer County Community

College, starting in workforce training and development where she

found her niche teaching adults in the workplace, and then on to

corporate training at the Center for Training and Development, where

she was both an account manager and assistant director, landing today

as director of community programs. And now she is director of

community programs.

As Strang thinks about retirement, though, she finds herself

empathizing with the transitioning cadre that she serves. "As a baby

boomer myself, I am beginning to think about my own personal interests

and where I am thinking of going," she says. "As much as I enjoy the

job I do, I don’t intend on being here forever. At the same time, I

don’t want to sit around and paint my nails."

She is certain that in retirement whatever she does will involve

giving back.

"I would love to be teaching non-native-speaking women who want to set

up their own businesses," she says. "I would love to work with them on

business and English-type skills – that would be my real passion."

-Michele Alperin

Verizon Wireless Phone Collection

Verizon Wireless is collecting no-longer-used wireless phones for its

HopeLine phone recycling program. Old phones, batteries, and

accessories are collected to support victims of domestic violence and

can be dropped off at any Verizon Wireless Communications Store,

including including the Hamilton Marketplace and Mercer Mall in

Lawrenceville.

Phones that can be refurbished are sold for reuse while junk phones

are disposed of in an environmentally sound way. Proceeds from the

HopeLine program are used to provide wireless phones and cash grants

to local shelters and other non-profit organizations that focus on

domestic violence prevention and awareness.

Since HopeLine’s national phone recycling and re-use program was

launched in 2001, Verizon Wireless has collected more than four

million phones and awarded more than $4 million in cash grants to

domestic violence agencies and organizations, including WomanSpace.

For more information on Verizon Wireless’ HopeLine program and how to

donate a wireless phone, visit www.verizonwireless.com/hopeline.

Warning On Gift Card Certificates

Though the holiday season is over, there still are a number of gift

cards to retail stores waiting to be spent and exchanges to be made.

But before you head to the stores, know the facts.

The "Gift Card Act" requires that a gift certificate or gift card sold

must retain its full, unused value until it is used, for at least two

years. The 2006 law also states that all conditions and limitations

pertinent to the card must be clearly disclosed.

No gift card or gift certificate can expire for two years after it is

bought, and "dormancy fees," which chipped away at the value of a gift

certificate or card as it sat unused, have been outlawed.

Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, along with the Mercer County

Division of Consumer Affairs, has stepped up efforts to elighten

consumers about gift cards in the wake of the holidays. Hughes warns

gift-givers to read the fine print when purchasing gift cards, despite

some of the state’s rules. For instance, not all gift cards can be

used to buy merchandise online, so be sure to ask.

Another law, the Refund Policy Disclosure Act, allows individual

retailers to have their own refund policy as long as it is

conspicuously posted at the cash register. If there is no policy

posted it is assumed that the store will provide a cash refund for

cash purchases or credit for a credit purchase for up to 20 days from

the date of purchase.

Consumers experiencing problems with a Mercer County merchant can

contact the Mercer County Division of Consumer Affairs at

609-989-6671.

Nominees Sought

Executive Women of New Jersey is seeking nominations for its 2008

Business Honor Roll honoring the state’s top corporation for working

women.

The deadline for nominations is Tuesday, January 15

The award was founded in 1998 to honor companies that have made

significant gains in the representation of women at the highest

levels, have ensured that women are actively involved in corporate

governance, and have successfully implemented policies that help all

employees balance work and family responsibilities.

The award dinner on May 15 at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick.

Past recipients of this award have included Lucent, Johnson & Johnson,

Schering-Plough, Prudential, Summit Bank, Hoffman-Laroche, and Horizon

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of New Jersey. The companies were chosen for

their mentoring and coaching programs, flexible scheduling, and

diversity. For more information visit www.ewnj.org, E-mail

execwomenj@ewnj.org or call 609-249-7982.

Access to Civil Cases

As of late December, attorneys participating in the state Judiciary’s

JEFIS electronic filing system have free access to the Automated Case

Management System.

The state decided to waive its fees for JEFIS participants in an

effort to encourage more firms to sign up for the system. Attorneys

use the ACMS network to access civil cases valued between $3,000 and

$15,000. Acording to the Judiciary, such cases comprise nearly half

the 1 million cases filed in Superior Court every year.

JEFIS itself is an entirely electronic system for filing special civil

cases. The state historically has touted the system for its

cost-effectiveness, saying JEFIS eliminates the need for staff to

enter paper files into the court system’s banks. The judiciary wants

to promote the use of JEFIS for this reason, and it hopes that more

electronic filing straight into the JEFIS network will lead to fewer

data entry errors.

Attorneys can find information on how to file through JEFIS at

www.njcourts.com.

At the moment, 158 firms participate in JEFIS; these firms have filed

nearly 2 million cases. Though nearly half the state’s eligible civil

cases are filed electronically these days, the state hopes to increase

that number and will soon upgrade JEFIS to accept other types of

cases.

Corporate Angels

Hess Corporation, in association with Toys for Tots, donated about

7,000 Hess monster toy trucks with motorcycles to youngsters in

Somerset this Christmas.

"We’re delighted that Hess is making a great toy available to so many

children in need," said Bill Grein, Vice President of Marketing for

Toys for Tots. "We usually run out of toys before we run out of

children, so the timing of Hess’ donation is ideal."

For the second year in a row Red Wolf Design Group, an Alexander

Street-based marketing and design firm, gave the gift of hope and

self-reliance on behalf of its clients by donating several llamas and

goats to Heifer International for the holidays. The animals will go to

starving and impoverished families of communities around the globe.

The llamas play a pivotal role in the cultural life of indigenous

communities on the high plains of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. Women

weave their llamas’ fleece into warm clothing to wear or sell.

Similarly, the goats are valuable resources to families living in

climates too harsh for most livestock. Producing up to a gallon every

day, the milk of these gentle animals can feed hungry families or be

used to make yogurts and cheeses to sell at the market.

The Trenton Devils and St. Francis Medical Center teamed up December

19 for the hockey club’s annual Teddy Bear Toss to benefit Children’s

Futures and C.A.R.E.S.

Each year, the Devils dedicate a game during which fans are invited to

toss teddy bears onto the ice. The team collects the bears and

distributes them at St. Francis.

From December 3 to 17, Creative Marketing Alliance, a full-service

marketing communications firm based in Princeton Junction, held a gift

drive to aid a low-income family with three young children. Employees

donated various gifts for children ages 11, 5 and 3 years old, as well

as gifts for each parent, through a partnership with Family & Children

Services. The support enabled CMA to provide more than 20 gifts in

total.

The Credit Union of New Jersey has started accepting donations at its

five branches on behalf of the Ewing Public Education Fund.

Citing the importance of financial education in schools, Credit Union

CEO Andrew Jaeger said raising money for the EPEF (www.epef.org) can

improve the understanding of finances among the township’s students.

Wayne Staub, president of the EPEF, said the partnership with the

Credit Union is "an excellent example of how two different

organizations can work together" for the common good.

No specific programs have yet been announced in the school district.

The Siemens Caring Hands Foundation took to the garden in December on

behalf of Wawa House, the infant and toddler division of Eden Family

Services. Eden has worked with autistic children and their families

since 1975.

The volunteers, from Siemens’ Integrated Data Systems department in

the Forrestal Center, gardened the landscape in front of Wawa House.

According to Eden, the gang "did a wonderful job."

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