Put Employees & Customers First

What makes a young woman fresh out of California State, Fullerton, with a degree in communications, sign up as a car rental agent for Enterprise Rent A Car? Maybe the graphics of the flier? Probably not – this was 20 years ago! In truth, the job title was "management trainee," and what hooked Jill D. Lane, who is now Enterprise’s group vice president of daily rental for the state of New Jersey, was the company’s business model. "It was a meritocracy," she says. "You do well and you’ll be successful."

Lane began exactly where everyone at Enterprise begins, learning the ropes at the branch level. In relatively short order she became assistant branch manager, branch manager, area manager, and on to regional responsibilities in Colorado, southern California, Toronto, and now in New Jersey.

"When I started, I didn’t think I’d retire with Enterprise," she remembers, but here she is 20 years later and happy. Because the company rewards loyalty and good performance, it gets good people to stick around. The company credits these happy employees with passing on the good feeling and creating customer loyalty, helping it to become the largest car rental company in North America.

It may seem obvious that customer service is critical to a company’s image, but it’s not always easy to implement, says Lane, especially as a company grows large. "In theory there is not a company out that wouldn’t say that customer service is important," she observes, but they aren’t all ready to "make the necessary cultural, financial, and philosophical investment in what it takes to be really good in customer service."

Lane leads a workshop on how to "Differentiate Your Company With Great Customer Service" at NJAWBO’s day-long annual procurement event and expo, "Opportunities to Form Strategic Business Alliances," on Wednesday, February 2, until 3:30 p.m. at Pines Manor in Edison. Call 609-581-2121 or check www.njawbo.org.

Jack Taylor, who founded Enterprise in 1957 in the lower level of a St. Louis car dealership, based his company on a simple philosophy, still followed today: "Take care of your customers and employees first, and profits will follow." When the company was small, it simply invested in employees who supported great customer service, says Lane. But as the company grew, it became almost a science to keep the founding philosophy on the front burner – with constant, careful attention paid to each piece of the puzzle. Lane believes that Enterprise’s model is widely applicable:

Find out whether your customers are satisfied. Early on Enterprise created a customer satisfaction index, regularly polling customers, first in writing, then with a more scientific survey methodology.

"We decided it was important to us as a company to know what customer satisfaction looked like on paper," says Lane. What the company found out was that it "had gotten to a size where there was work to be done to be as good as the Taylors wanted us to be."

Her advice to companies of any size is that follow-up is essential. A smaller business can make random monthly calls to 5 percent of its customers, with a script like the following: "We’ve been doing business with you for a couple of months – how are our people treating you? Have you gotten what you needed?" Lane continues, "It’s not scientific, but you will get the feel of what customers think. People will tell you the truth."

Build a relationship with your customer, even if time is short. Whether customers rate their overall experiences as merely "good" or as "excellent" is critically related to how they perceive the individual person with whom they interacted.

Even in the face of a longer pickup time or problems with a car, says Lane of her own company’s experience, if the customer rates the employee as excellent, the overall satisfaction rating shifts 30 percent in a plus direction. The bottom line, says Lane, is "Did the customer feel personally well taken care of?"

To make sure the answer is "yes," Enterprise simplified the rental process to increase the time for those critical personal contacts during the short "moment of truth" with the customer. Enterprise employees introduce themselves, greet the customer by name, and make sure the customer knows whom to call back if there are problems.

Under-promise and over-deliver. "You set expectations whenever you interact with a customer," Lane says. For example, Enterprise employees, about to pick up a customer, might be tempted to say, "Hey, we’ll be right there." But, says Lane, even if they specify 10 minutes and it turns out to be 15, the customer will be disappointed.

Take care of your employees and give them opportunities for growth. "Employees who love their jobs take care of their customers and care how the company looks in the eyes of the consumer," says Lane. Enterprise keeps its employees challenged; they are in the thick of things from day one – with continuous challenges in multiple business areas. From the start, Enterprise trains its people to "be responsible for all the pieces." Everyone deals with sales, customer interaction, getting business in the front door, local marketing, growing the business, profits and loss, and collecting receivables.

Promotion is exclusively from within, and management never has to ask employees to perform tasks they have not done themselves: "Everybody in the organization started in the same position," says Lane. "Our employees see that opportunity is there – a real living model. If they want it, it’s there for them."

Train, train, and train some more, but also make customer service a criterion for promotion. "We have a laundry list of training initiatives, top down and bottom up," says Lane. "You have to be diligent. Customer service can’t be ‘flavor of the month.’ It’s something you live with every day and over the course of the year, and if you don’t keep it in front of employees constantly, it will disappear in front of other problems."

Not only does Enterprise train its employees to be good at customer service, but it also makes an employee’s customer satisfaction ratings a "cornerstone to individual success." At one time customer service was viewed as "equal to other promotion areas," she adds, "but then it got more critical – you’re not even going to eligible for promotion if you are not at least at the corporate average. Customer service is not ‘extra credit,’ but a cornerstone of the performance areas."

Fully empower employees to do whatever they need to do for the customer. According to Lane, this is where other companies fall apart on customer service. At Enterprise, "everyone in the organization has the power to solve a problem in the front line," she says. "You do what you need to do to take care of the customer – supplying a nicer car if the one ordered is unavailable, even foregoing late charges in some cases.

"There is no handoff to the next guy," she continues. Enterprise’s statistics say that if there is trouble with a rental – and with thousands of cars, there’s always something – but the problem is solved at the counter, 85 percent of the time it is forgotten.

Make sure your employees are satisfied. Employee satisfaction is part of Enterprise’s mission statement, and the company does a survey every two years to find out what makes employees happy, what is important to them, and how Enterprise can raise employee satisfaction.

What it comes down to is "treat people well and really mean it," says Lane. Be fair. Follow through on all of your promises. Communicate clearly and constantly. Reward effort. Take note of good work. "Take care of your employees, and they will take care of the customers, and profits will take care of themselves."

Lane herself is a great illustration of a satisfied employee in for the long haul. She has been given opportunities to succeed, and has taken full advantage of them. But more than that, she says, "I wouldn’t stay at Enterprise if I didn’t like to be here every day."

– Michele Alperin

Looking for Risky Business

When was the last time you heard a grantor say that it is looking to bankroll some completely new unheard of product as part of a dicey venture that cannot get funded any other way. A fantasy, right? Not if you listen to Andrea Yonah, executive director of the New Jersey-Israel Commission. Stating it bluntly, she says, "We are definitely interested in risky ventures, which must be totally innovative and ground breaking, and headed for rapid commercial implementation." Enticing as this may sound, Yonah scarcely sits in her office whimsically doling out cash to every would-be entrepreneur crossing her threshold.

In June, 2004, the New Jersey-Israel Commission became one of the regional centers for the Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation. This past January 5 the commission, using BIRD monies, granted its first $1 million to fund a partnership between Somerset’s EMCORE and Israel’s Ga-el Corporation to produce a new semi-conductor.

Those intrigued about what the BIRD Foundation might offer their company should attend "Grant Money You Didn’t Even Know About," on Wednesday, February 2, at noon at the Doral Forrestal in Princeton. Cost: $45. Call 732-873-1955 or visit www.njen.com At this luncheon meeting of the New Jersey Entrepreneurs Network, executive director Yonah explains both the foundation’s function and the opportunities it offers Garden State business.

During the Carter administration America sought to strengthen its commercial alliance with Israel through establishing the BIRD Foundation. Each nation ponied up several hundred million dollars, the interest of which was to fund joint ventures between its nation’s companies. But the framers of this agreement got a little creative.

BIRD would not be just another welfare barrel for huge corporations to implement expansion or to jointly market some reconfigured product. Instead BIRD designed an interesting mentoring program between small and larger corporations. The product development had to take place together, using staff from both United States’ companies and from Israeli companies. The product had to be totally new and innovative, with a strong commercial potential and rapid repayment. And to lure such innovation out into production, the foundation did away with the usual "minimal risk" clause, and boldly sought out risky ventures.

"This is such a wonderful model," says Yonah. "In addition to strengthening international ties, it gets new, helpful products out there and used." Yonah’s adulation for the foundation comes firsthand from her own career. Following a youth spent in Cherry Hill, Yonah earned a B.A. in urban studies from Barnard College in Manhattan in l987. She then took up graduate studies at the University of Tel Aviv, earning an advanced degree in foreign language learning.

Remaining in Israel, Yonah joined Berlitz’s research team, which had just received a BIRD grant to develop a novel linguistic educational technology. Returning to America, Yonah took over as executive director of the New Jersey-Israel commission three years ago.

BIRD’s grant procedure is relatively simple, and it is one in which the grantor is actively seeking qualified applicants.

Partnering process. Visit www.BIRDF.com and it becomes quickly apparent that the foundation’s goal is primarily to set up Israeli-American commercial partnerships. From the very first gleam of an idea, right through getting a new product on the shelves, both the Israeli and American firms must collaborate in every step. That said, the desire to bring to market new and innovative technology comes in a strong second.

In 2004 the BIRD Foundation funded 25 projects with a total of $10 million, although frequently recipients are awarded the full $1 million grant limit. Applying companies can have branches or even be based in outside nations, Yonah explains, but it must be their Israeli and American divisions that work on this venture. Meeting alternately in Washington and Jerusalem, a board of officials from the U.S. Department of Commerce and Israel’s Office of Chief Scientists runs a strict peer review and makes awards.

Once the partnership is deemed legitimate, the main criteria become the value of the new product and its potential commercial success. "We are looking for a two to five-year turn around," says Yonah. Unlike many National Science Foundation grantors, BIRD is not funding research for pure knowledge’s sake. It is funding companies that are trying to turn a profit.

The talent pool. Since the foundation requirements so strongly emphasize totally new and innovative products, high tech firms quite naturally have been given main consideration. During the past few years, the lion’s share of grants have gone to development of telecommunications, electronics, software, semiconductors, and life sciences companies.

Israel ranks number three in global patents. Technion, Israel’s institute of technology, boasts a Nobel prize winner and a cutting edge staff with the latest equipment. As America’s overcrowded high tech competitors seem to be spilling off its own shores, some willing and competent help from abroad may be just what it takes to launch your prototype.

Help for the little guy. One traditional stumbling block for a BIRD Foundation grant is that at least one of the partnering companies has to have a major market share of whatever product is to be produced. This stipulation indicates BIRD’s desire to get this invention out and selling, rather than to nurture a pair of entrepreneurial firms through the prolonged throes of startup. Typically, this mentoring process entails a large American company, with substantial market power, reaching across the pond to foster a small, emerging company in Israel. But Yonah is quick to point out that it can just as easily flow the other way.

Right now the New Jersey-Israel Commission seeks small innovative U.S. firms to partner with some of the larger, more established Israeli counterparts. To discover a potential partner, your best bet is to visit the New Jersey-Israel Commission office at 20 West State Street in Trenton. Call 609-633-8600. The Commission will gladly send representatives out to your plant.

The BIRD Foundation has regional offices throughout the nation. To work with the Mid-Atlantic regional office, contact Debbie Hurd, BIRD Foundation, 200 South Broad Street, Suite 270, Philadelphia PA 19102, or visit www.BIRDF.com.

– Bart Jackson

Not My Industry

Haunted by the specter of a record breaking federal deficit and an ever weakening dollar? Forget your worries, advises Linda Goldberg, vice president of international research for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In strict adherence with the current administration’s view, Goldberg explains that "our national deficit is merely the sign of a healthy economy. It will increase naturally as a byproduct of growth." And as for the dollar, your particular industry may not be nearly as threatened as you think.

To learn about Goldberg’s innovative exchange rate model and how it affects your corporate profits, the Princeton Chamber of Commerce presents "Currency Crisis: the Effect of the Dollar on U.S. Businesses," on Thursday, February 3, at 11:30 a.m. at the Doral Forrestal in Princeton. Goldberg’s talk focuses on which New Jersey industries will face exchange rate exposure and which will gain competitive edges with exchange rate fluctuations.

For the last 17 years, in many capacities, Goldberg has kept her gaze sharply on the international economic interchange and America’s role within it. A native New Yorker, Goldberg earned a B.A. in economics and mathematics from Queens College in l982, and received a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University in l988. Since then she has worked with several international agencies, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In l995 Goldberg joined New York’s Federal Reserve Bank as a senior economist, rising swiftly to her current post as vice president of international research. She is also a professor of economics at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Goldberg has determined that companies trading internationally need a more individualized yard stick for measuring corporate profit potential in the face of fluctuating exchange rates.

A brush too broad. The Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors provides what is called an aggregated, or economy-wide, exchange rate between the U.S. and various nations around the globe. These rates are compiled and weighted by several rather complex formulas based on the imports and exports of the entire United States economy. This offers a workable model for those dealing in macroeconomics, e.g. for determining such things as the national trade balance. However, Goldberg insists, they do not necessarily reflect the quickly shifting competitive conditions within any one given industry.

The discrepancies. The problem comes when a company’s management uses such an economy-wide indicator of exchange rate movement to predict profits. Obviously the electronics industry and the toy industry have sharply varying import/export trade balances with other countries than does the whole U.S. industry. Currently, 18 percent of all U.S. exports go to a nation employing the Euro as prime currency. The figure varies widely by industry. For precision instruments that figure jumps to 25 percent, while only 13 percent of America’s toys and sporting goods are sold to Euro-currency countries. The aggregate measure is just not reflective enough to be useful.

As the dollar depreciates, the cost of imported goods naturally rises. This higher cost gives U.S. competitiveness a resultant boost. But not every industry necessarily benefits. Industries such as clothing, which rely on a lot of imported supply products, will get hit with the higher costs of basic materials and thus find themselves in a squeeze.

Meanwhile, electronics, which is less dependent on imports for its production, will do better in the face of higher-priced foreign competitors.

Going industry specific. Last year Goldberg developed what she terms an Industry-Specific Exchange Rate for the United States. Taking the 30 industry categories in the Standard Industrial Classification system, she computed three separate exchange rate indexes for each industry. Each index is weighted – that is, each index reflects the relative share of that industry held in the United States versus the share of the given trading partner (a single nation or group of nations under one currency.) One index reflects the trading partner’s export weight, the second its import weight, and the third both its import and export weights.

As the exchange rates rise and fall between the U.S. and various trading partner nations, Goldberg’s industry-specific index shows a concise track.

By early 2002 the dollar had appreciated to a pinnacle of great strength from which we have been descending ever since. But the rate of descent has scarcely been constant for all businesses. Industries such as precision instruments and transportation currently face a 10 percent drop from that 2002 high, while computers and electronics have dipped only slightly.

Those seeking to track their own industries’ exchange rate history may visit www.newyorkfed.org/research/goldberg. Goldberg says that she never makes exchange rate predictions, but if you want to know how to invest in the future based on the past and present, her new tables provide some helpful data.

– Bart Jackson

Carrion, Cadavers, and Crime

When you walk out on your property one morning and find a 55-gallon steel drum filled with a decomposing body, who ya gonna call? Well, the New Jersey State police call forensic anthropologist Donna Fontana. Just such a discovery was made by Marlboro resident Stanislaw Kocur on April 29, 2002. Kocur was traumatized, but for Fontana it was all in a day’s work. After the autopsy and dental data came in, she performed her unique brand of magic and developed a composite sketch of how the deceased had looked in life.

Fontana helped determine that the Marlboro man in the drum had apparently been stabbed in the heart. "I have worked with Donna several times," says Monmouth County detective Doug Johnson, who was assigned to the Marlboro case, "and I am always amazed at what she can discover with so little to go on."

Fictional versions of the work Fontana does, a blend of science and art, are all the rage on television. But those wanting to dig up the real truth about her profession can attend her free lecture, "Forensic Anthropology," on Thursday, February 3, at noon at Mercer County Community College. Call 609-586-4800, ext. 3324, for reservations. Fontana’s talk depicts her role in the investigative chain that leads to identifying unknown deceased individuals.

Fontana’s ability to make the mute bones speak is the result of long study and a very special intuitive sense. Describing herself as a New York born and bred, and still a New Yorker at heart, she was the first in her family to seek a career in a scientific field. Attending Penn State University, she earned a B.S. in anthropology, followed by an M.S. in paleopathology from the Medical College of Virginia. As part of her studies, Fontana joined an expedition to a remote section of northern Chile where she examined the anatomies and tissue characteristics of various ancient Indian mummies.

"They were naturally, wonderfully preserved," she recalls. "We had not only the bones, but skin, hair, some organs and clothes to work with."

While most forensic anthropologists stay rooted in the past, Fontana felt that there was a greater challenge in the present. Upon completing her graduate degree in l981 she joined the medical examiner’s office in Philadelphia, and worked there for a decade for a decade. She then brought her forensic talents to the New Jersey State Police, where she helps state, county, and local enforcement agencies.

Unlike the ghoulish stereotype sometimes attached to those who work with human remains, there is nothing off-putting about Fontana. Lively, enthusiastic, and funny, she is one of those rare individuals completely intrigued by her work. "Every skeleton is a mystery," she says. "In reality, I deal with missing persons – someone unidentified – and it is my job to help give them a name."

The corpse cometh. After the crime scene crew is finished, an unknown body is then delivered to the medical examiner. Frequently the remains yield fingerprints, dental records, DNA, or X-ray data that will afford a positive ID. But if not, the body and all the information from the various examiners is presented to forensic anthropologist Fontana.

Her first step is to sort the skeleton out. Sometimes people have brought her animal bones. Often the collection of bones given her are from more than one body. "Assumption is a killer in this work," she says. "It’s possible to have a beautiful skull and arms laid out with a rib cage from somebody else."

If the medical examiner has found organs to study, he can usually determine the corpse’s sex. If not, Fontana’s initial examination will determine whether the deceased was a man or a woman, and will also determine race and age.

Finding out more. Fontana loves a nice dry skull. It not only provides a physical basis for reconstruction, but, more than most bones, it offers skeletal clues that aid in the final picture.

As Fontana measures all the dimensions of each available bone, certain facts come to light. The pelvic measurement usually indicates the gender. Bone porosity may indicate age. Older individuals’ bones tend to show more porous ends. General bone size is also indicative. Men, by-and-large, have bigger bones than do women. Male bones also tend to be more protuberant. For example, the brow ridge of a man’s skull generally protrudes more than the brow ridge of a woman’s skull.

Certain features of lifestyle also come to light. "A bodybuilder will have much more protuberant bones than will a couch potato," Fontana says, "but you have to be very careful here. Each case is so individual, you just cannot generalize or categorize."

Determination of race has become an ever more elusive prospect as the New Jersey ethnic pot continues to melt. Look at Civil War photos of blacks and compare their facial features with those you encounter today. Racial distinctions have truly blurred. "We’ve had cases of people from Trinidad and Sri Lanka whose ancestry has undergone no end of mixing," Fontana says. "But making these determinations is so helpful in identification." Beyond sex, age, and race, bone fractures, surgical pins, and other damage contribute hints.

Building a picture. Once the empirical data has mingled with judgment, Fontana is ready to create her depiction of the remains as a living person.

If fortunate enough to have a complete skull, Fontana will use it as the core onto which she packs clay, making a three-dimensional model. Here she gets some aid from research that has gone before.

Thousands of tissue-thickness samplings have resulted in an average tissue profile for every conceivable racial strain. If the skeletal remains indicate a grown male of Italian origin, actuarial tables provide guidance as to how the flesh should be placed. "But you can’t just build your model by the book," says Fontana. "The individual could be fat, and therefore have a fuller face. And if you look at the oversize clothes boys are wearing now, the clothes won’t necessarily tell you what size he was."

Fontana creates her own models, adding such features as wrinkles for the aged. If a full skull is not available, she works with a composite artist, directing him on the construction of a two-dimensional sketch.

Working with few clues. No greater forensic anthropology nightmare could be imagined than the World Trade Center disaster of 9/11. Bones were intermixed, and some were not even human. In some cases she had only one bone with which to work. All too often skeletons came in incredibly commingled.

"The New York medical examination department set up a marvelously systematic procedure," says Fontana. "Between the great numbers of professionals, the DNA and X-ray of every bone, our success record was really very good."

Fontana sees her forensic career as an endless balancing act. She labors hard to detect every minuscule shred of evidence and discern all possible indications in creating a likeness of the deceased. More than art and science, her profession is about helping to close a life’s story.

Says Fontana: "When I contribute my part in an investigation and we identify an individual for a family seeking answers, I feel rewarded. I feel that we are providing a real service."

– Bart Jackson

Be the Safe Job Candidate

Here’s some startling news for job hunters. "Employers don’t want to the best candidate, they want the safest candidate." So says Steve McCarthy, and he is in a position to know. The owner of two Today’s Staffing franchises, he spends his days talking to hiring managers in a wide range companies, covering a wide range of industries, throughout central New Jersey.

McCarthy is also a co-founder of the St. Paul’s career networking group, and he speaks to that group on "How to Lower Your Risk Quotient" on Saturday, February 5, at 8:30 a.m. at the church, located at 214 Nassau Street in Princeton. For more information on the group, which meets every other Saturday morning, visit www.stpaulschurch.org or call 609-924-1743.

McCarthy knows about job searches from just about every angle. He speaks with employers for his business, which has offices in Edison and Parsippany, while his wife and business partner, Chris McCarthy, is busy interviewing job candidates. When the work week ends, he can frequently be found at the St. Paul’s job group, talking with the 50 or so job hunters who show up at each meeting.

Then there is his personal experience. A native of Philadelphia who earned an accounting degree at Drexel (Class of 1972) and an MBA from Monmouth University, he was downsized from Time Inc. in 1997. He had been with the company for 19 years, rising to the position of CFO of one of its subsidiaries, American Family Publishers.

As is so very often the case, McCarthy looks back fondly on the demise of his job. Part of the reason he does so is that he was fortunate enough to be given outplacement with a firm that opened his eyes to a world of possibilities. "’What do you want to do with the rest of your life?’" was the first question he was asked.

He had an answer right away.

"For the last five years with Time, I realized that I wanted to own my own business," he says. As a CFO he reported results, but he had gradually come to realize that he wanted to be out there, producing results himself, and doing so in his own way.

In outplacement he was led through a thorough process of identifying a business to purchase, and was put in contact with a number of business brokers. "There are always lots of businesses for sale," he says. The one that attracted him was Today’s Staffing. "I saw the trend," he says. "I knew that downsizing was going to continue, and that companies would want to outsource work and to hire contract and temporary workers." His outplacement counselors discouraged him from buying into Today’s Staffing, a franchise based in Texas, telling him that franchisees don’t really run their own shows.

While he rejected the advice, he is grateful for it. Many people going into a franchise don’t realize that they are really going into a partnership with the franchisor, he says. But he had no illusions, and was fine with the franchise structure.

He was so sure that the business would be a good one that he persuaded his wife, then a teacher at St. Paul’s school, to join him. The pair, who have grown children, now commute to work together from East Windsor. The arrangement works beautifully, he says, at least in part because they split responsibilities at work. Then, after work, they enjoy the empty nest freedom of going out, sometimes to watch Princeton basketball, for which they have season tickets.

Business was so good at the first franchise outlet, in Edison, that they bought the second one in Parsippany. Their company places temporary, temp-to-permanent, and permanent employees, and specializes in accounting, legal, and administrative positions.

From that vantage point McCarthy reports that the labor market supply and demand pendulum is once again swinging in the job hunters’ direction. "The problem now is finding good employees," he says. Demand is red hot for accountants and for paralegals, and especially for those who specialize in intellectual property. Demand is strong in most other areas too.

"Even employers with job freezes are hiring," he says. When an outstanding candidate comes into his office, he lets an employer know and in most cases the prime worker is snapped up. And what makes for an outstanding worker? "Attitude," says McCarthy. Employers are desperate for enthusiastic workers who are willing to stay past five o’ clock to finish projects.

Sometimes, though, a great attitude is not enough to win a job. Sometimes a job hunter has a liability, or more correctly, a perceived liability, that makes a hiring manager choose a "safer" candidate instead. These are some factors that McCarthy knows can be perceived as liabilities, and this is his advice for overcoming them:

Find advantages in age. "Do you know what ‘overqualified’ means?" McCarthy asks. "It means ‘old.’" But "old," he points out, generally also means experienced. It is that experience that the older job hunter has to stress. He has to sell its value to a potential employer.

McCarthy stressed, again and again, that employers now rarely provide training. They want to hire folks who can be productive right away. It is up to the older job hunter – and "older" can be 32 in some industries, while it might be closer to 50, or even 65 in others – to be ready with specific examples of how his experience can quickly become an asset on the job.

Keep mum about your marathons. Common advice to older job hunters involves projecting vigor by making sure that interviewers know all about any and all rock climbing, snowboarding, and marathon exploits.

Wrong, says McCarthy.

"The advice now," he stresses, "is to leave all personal information out of an interview." You never know who you’re talking to, he points out. Perhaps the interviewer feels defensive about his own lack of conditioning. More importantly, he says, "employers don’t want you out running or climbing rocks, they want you at your desk."

Purge your resume of jargon. In New Jersey, McCarthy has seen, there are a number of people who have been cut adrift from an industry to which they probably cannot return. Telecom is one such industry. Once one of the biggest sources of jobs in the state, it is a shell of its former self.

This is a big problem. Going back to the safety issue, employers have a strong tendency to repel advances from job candidates. The rationale tends to be that each industry has its own culture and way of doing things, and that outsiders are unlikely to fit in easily.

Industry switchers, therefore, need to portray their experience in another industry in terms of skill sets, rather than in terms of specific projects.

Every industry has its own jargon, and job candidates tend to pepper their resumes and job interview conversations with it, McCarthy finds. That’s fine for a chemist looking for another job in chemistry, but it can wreck the job search of a telecom project manager looking for a job as a consumer products project manager.

Some industries are hard to crack no matter how carefully worded the resume. The pharmaceutical industry, a big source of New Jersey jobs, is an example. Still, says McCarthy, a move into pharma is possible. His advice is to look at smaller companies.

Explain that gap. "If you’ve been out of the job market for five years, don’t tell a job interviewer that you’ve been home with the kids," says McCarthy. Instead be prepared to talk about how you fit classes, industry trade shows, and significant volunteer work, perhaps editing a charity’s newsletter, into the demanding job of raising children.

Be aware that technology has changed dramatically in just the past few years, and be prepared to talk about how you have kept up.

No matter whether the liability is too many birthdays or too few, a lack of industry experience, or a hole-y resume, there are some constants – and they apply even to liability-free job hunters.

"You have to start looking for a job from day one," says McCarthy. "You have to work at it 40 hours a week, every week. You have to keep lots of balls in the air."

Even though he knew very early on after his own downsizing that he wanted to buy a business, he says that he spent significant time seeking out and going on corporate job interviews. "You never know," he says. "I might have decided that owning a business wasn’t for me, and I would have wasted four months."

While employers are playing it safe, job hunters should do the same. Network constantly, attend one networking event every day, research companies, and find ways to turn any perceived liabilities on their heads.

– Kathleen McGinn Spring

Diversity’s Payoff

Business runs on labor, but it leaps ahead on ideas. Even the most routine chores can profit tremendously from a fresh approach. It has become evident that the richer the fabric of experience within a company, the more novel approaches to business problems surface. A diverse staff proves the most fertile ground for clever new solutions.

Beneficial as diversity may be, not every field or corporation naturally lends itself to employing men and women of all ethnic, age, and geographical backgrounds. Barriers must be broken and this rich fabric of experience sought out and attracted. In honor of those who have done just that, the Human Resource Management Association of New Jersey is hosting its "2005 Excellence in Diversity Awards" dinner on Monday, February 7, at 5:30 p.m., at the Hyatt Princeton. Cost: $40. Visit www.HRMA-NJ.org for more information.

Honorees include Luanne Ramsey, employee relations manager for the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital at Hamilton, and Nick Quintana, associate director of global diversity for Covance, the pharmaceutical research and development firm with headquarters at 210 Carnegie Center.

Few people have felt the desperation of exclusion and the blessing of acceptance as poignantly as has Quintana. Born in Cuba, he left his homeland at age nine when the revolution of l961 forced his architect father and the family to flee. "From that point on, for many years we lived as exiles," he says, "first in Venezuela, then Europe, and Puerto Rico, and then finally in the U.S. For all of my father’s generation, they felt the U.S. was the one place they could cling to."

Quintana began his studies at the University of Puerto Rico, gaining an B.S. in clinical psychology. From there he gained a fellowship from Harvard Medical School as an intern at Massachusetts General Hospital. Then, somewhere along the Ph.D. track at Florida State, Quintana grew weary of the student life and joined CitiBank’s human resources team. Through his last two decades as a human resource international specialist Quintana has managed a Puerto Rican plant for Warner Lambert (now Pfizer Drugs) and developed a global travel leadership seminar for Johnson & Johnson, both in Puerto Rico and the U.S. He now travels the world as a diversity evangelist for Covance.

The Human Resource Management Association is honoring Quintana for his initiation of Covance’s global diversity program, which involves all of his firm’s 7,000 employees in 18 countries. Quintana credits Covance’s vice president of human resources, Don Kraft, with coming up with the original idea. But it was the globe-trotting Quintana who transformed the vision into an established, innovative corporate practice.

"In 2001, Don said to me, ‘Well, Nicholas, let’s just send you out and see what develops,’" recalls Quintana, "I entered this whole diversity project as a blank slate – with no preconceptions."

Say the word "diversity" in most business circles and people automatically think of hiring. Say "diversity barriers" and most folks’ minds click on racial prejudice. "This is a very narrow view," says Quintana. "Diversity means more than acceptance. It means understanding. Employees must study. Skills must be taught. You must have a welcoming attitude, seeking a blend. We sought a program that encouraged inter-cultural interchange, to be implemented over a course of five years, step by-step like any business program."

A bushel of opinions. If cultures are indeed diverse, you can count on are totally different definitions of diversity, and on varying levels of acceptance of diversity. To launch Covance’s diversity program, Quintana visited every company site in all 18 nations in which it has operations. He conducted a survey of the rank and file and of senior management. An impressive 98.5 percent willingly participated. With pride Quintana notes that nowhere did he encounter complete resistance to the idea of a more diverse and understanding workplace. However, he did discover that each culture held its own special view.

To the United States, this nation of immigrants, Quintana awards the honors for being the most willing to implement diversity changes. Most Americans see such implementation as having business advantages. But within these 50 states, never doubt that we house cultures of our own. Covance’s Washington, D.C., plant showed itself outstandingly eager to embrace diversity, while states in the middle of the country showed a much greater reluctance than did those in the northeast.

"Europe is starting to catch up to the U.S. with its acceptance of minorities, but it’s a slow process," says Quintana. "The U.K. still considers the concept of cultural blending as an American social issue, beyond their need to worry." Germany, Poland, and Scotland, however are exceptions. These countries were notably responsive to implementing diversity programs.

Quintana found a warm reception for his diversity program throughout Asia. The Covance sites in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore eagerly sought to create celebrations of cultural difference in an easy, light, educational manner. The Japanese, with a slightly different take, saw diversity as a matter of respect. A more diverse employee population, they felt, brought the compelling possibility of new values.

The ground work. Quintana chose a two-pronged approach to his diversity program that was both grass roots and from the top down. At each Covance company site he developed a four-step system. The first step was one of awareness, which entailed conducting the survey and gathering opinions at all levels. Then individuals in the top 150 plant positions were invited to a "Leadership 20/20" two-day seminar. This workshop, developed by Hopewell-based Simons & Associates, aims to help individuals realize and confront their own cultural biases and to examine their areas of cultural ignorance. "This is not some l980s-style holding hands and crying sort of meeting," says Quintana. "It is a real fact finding mission."

Following leadership 20/20, a second wave of training, entitled "Discovery," carried the self and cultural examination throughout the entire staff. Upon completion, Quintana would set up a 25 to 30 person standing diversity council made up of employees of rank no higher than low-level management. This team had a mandate to foster the goals of both the local plant and those of the Covance headquarters.

Meanwhile, back at Covance headquarters, Quintana and Kraft had initiated the global leadership council consisting of the CEO, COO, and all individuals reporting directly to them. This group crafted a five-year diversity vision with goals and systematic implementation steps. Diversity was attacked as an objective, with all the precision and coordinated energy of launching a new product.

Surprising barriers. For a multi-national corporation infused with a rich array of cultures shifting constantly within each of its plants, complaints of personal exclusivity are quite rare. Rather it is the very disparate nature of this far-flung company that tends to create barriers. "Our biggest problems center around virtual teams – groups in remote locations who communicate only by E-mail and phone," says Quintana. Faceless E-mail does not build relationships and online trust is a hard thing to come by. Quintana sees this as a major project-wrecker and has set up pilot programs to try to handle the issue.

Single site issues. For Luanne Ramsey, employee relations manager for the 1,700-person RWJ Hospital in Hamilton, diversity barriers are far more personal. This single-site staff encompasses men and women of all cultures and religions with varying physical abilities. Enter the hospital and you truly cannot escape an overwhelming embracing of diversity. If somehow you miss the massive mural inscribed with the mission statement, you can’t miss the celebrations of every conceivable group: the honoring of employee grandparents who are raising children; the poetry contest for Black History Month; or ethnic food in the cafeteria.

All this energy flows from a volunteer diversity committee with several subcommittees. "We encourage those who have problems with a certain group to come and join our committee meetings and get a new look at things," says Ramsey.

Not a bad challenge. The rationale behind it is simple: Let information flood in, and bias floats out.

– Bart Jackson

Become a C.F.P.

Mix the demise of pension programs with stock market volatility, and then throw in Social Security insecurity, changing estate tax laws, kids not automatically eager to take in aged parents, and a Boomer population on the verge of retirement. What do you get? Well, in addition to sleepless nights, there is a spiraling demand for financial planners.

"Anyone can put out a sign and call themselves a financial planner," says Valerie Barnes, associate director for financial planning programs at Fairleigh Dickinson University. "You could call yourself a financial planner – but we wish you would not."

While training is not a prerequisite for setting others on a path to a secure financial future, Barnes says that sophisticated consumers are demanding to see proof that those who advise them on where to invest their money and on how to achieve a comfortable retirement are properly trained. The generally accepted proof of thorough training is a designation as a certified financial planner (C.F.P.).

Fairleigh Dickinson offers a course that prepares individuals for the C.F.P. exam, which confers that designation, and is holding a free open house to answer questions about the course on Monday, February 7, at 6 p.m. at the Courtyard Marriott on Route 1 South at Scudders Mill Road. The course itself begins on Monday, February 28, at 6:30 p.m. at the Courtyard Marriott. Classes are held once a week for 14 months, and the price for the course is $4,995. For more information, call 973-443-8990.

Anyone worried about sitting through a hard sell at the open house can relax. When quizzed about whether a C.F.P. career could be right for an English teacher, a social worker – or even a journalist, Barnes demurred. Most people who go for the certification are already working in a financial industry, she says. They are bankers, brokers, and insurance agents, and in many cases are taking the course because they are already involved in giving financial advice.

That said, Barnes does allow for exceptions. "There are people who just love finance," she says. "They read about it constantly; they are the person their family turns to for advice." Even so, she suggests that career changers – and she does have some sign up for the course – spend a year or so working in some arm of the financial industry. "Do your research. Find out if it is what you think it is."

Then, in her opinion, a course such as that offered by Fairleigh Dickinson, could be "the perfect next step."

The course covers the fundamentals of the financial planning process, insurance, investment, tax planning, retirement planning, and estate planning. Courses are taught by professionals in those fields.

Fairleigh Dickinson has held the C.F.P. course in the Princeton area for five years. There are generally 20 to 25 students in each session. The male-female ratio is about 65 percent to 35 percent. "We are seeing more and more women," says Barnes. "Working Women magazine has named financial planner as one of the top 10 careers for women."

While Barnes has not earned a C.F.P. herself, she says that she too has learned about finance from her work in administering the course. She has, for example, worked at achieving a balanced allocation in her retirement fund. "We all have to be financially literate," she says. "We have to be aware of trends. We’ve got to be aware of money."

A graduate of Upsala, where she majored in American Studies, Barnes earned a master’s degree in administrative science from Fairleigh Dickinson. A resident of Bernardsville, she worked as a fundraiser for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey before joining Fairleigh Dickinson.

The college finds the Princeton area a good source of students for its financial planning course, which is also held in a number of other cities, including Jersey City, Madison, and Mt. Laurel.

This is no puff course, says Barnes. It has to be rigorous, because the exam for which it prepares students is a tough one. Taking 10 hours over the course of two days, the exam has a 50 percent pass rate nationwide. Graduates of the Fairleigh Dickinson course tend to do somewhat better than average. "In July, the last date for which we have data, 78 percent passed," says Barnes. The test is given three times a year, and sometimes her students do better than that, and sometimes not as well.

Showing an honesty that could be an example for any number of CEOs and brokers, Barnes is upfront about the commitment the course takes, the difficulty of the exam that follows, and the challenges of the career. Yes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects well above average growth in demand for financial planners, and yes advising others on how to reach their financial goals can be tremendously rewarding, but, says Barnes: "This career is not for everyone."

– Kathleen McGinn Spring

New Wave Ads

The next time you stroll down Times Square, take a glance up at the flickering 300-foot digital billboard that sits square in the core of the Big Apple. Comprised of 11 huge screens, all automatically synchronized by seven individual machines, this monumental tower of electronic signage was erected for Reuters information service in 2001. It is the most gigantic moving-image screen on the planet. And more. Its creative executor, Rei Inamoto, says it marks a revolutionary approach to advertising, one that has emerged and taken over in the last five years.

The old vision of one or two ad gurus sitting quietly in a plush office and brainstorming up a campaign has gone the way of green eye shades and quill pens. "Ad projects have become bigger, more complex and increasingly customer-involved," says Inamoto, recently rated one of the Top Young Guns by the National Art Directors Club. "My role now is more akin to the director of a film, pulling together a team of skilled writers, producers, and technical specialists."

Inamoto speaks on "The Process of Interactive Creativity " on Tuesday, February 8, at 11:30 a.m. at the Doral Forrestal in Princeton. Cost: $40. Visit www.NJCAMA.org or call 609-799-4900, ext. 23, for more information on this meeting of the New Jersey Communications, Advertising, and Marketing Association (NJ CAMA).

Born and raised in the exhaustively ad-blitzed atmosphere of Tokyo, Inamoto displayed an artistic bent early on. He carried it with him to Switzerland, where he attended an international high school. Then it was on to the United States for college. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in fine arts and a B.S. in computer science. "All my fine arts friends thought I was some sort of geek for writing lines of computer code by night and all my computer friends kept asking why I wasted all my days on this silly printmaking stuff," he recalls with a chuckle.

Throughout and following college, Inamoto traveled back to Tokyo to study with Japan’s famed graphic artist Noriyuki Tanaka, who taught him revolutionary techniques in video. Coming to the ad capital of the world, Inamoto joined New York’s Blue Marble agency, a pioneer in online marketing. He then moved to R/GA Inc., handling such accounts as Cadillac, Nike U.S., and the Reuters digital sign. Currently Inamoto is based in New York, working with the international marketing firm AKQA, where he coordinates Nike Asia and other major accounts.

No one can deny that the American people have become inured and even suspicious of the flood of advertising that daily washes over them. The old BBD&O ad firm dictum, widely adopted by other ad agencies, which demanded the client’s name be mentioned five times per every 30 second spot, now just makes people wince with resistance. "We need a fresh perspective to deal with customers," says Inamoto, "one which entails some interaction – which draws the customer into the activity."

The ad should be about the customer and his needs.

The wonder of your face. Diesel Denim, purveyor of the very latest in tinted, pre-washed jeans, sought some magic for its retail stores. It hit upon the idea of dividing each of its retail shops in half – one part sales area and one part art gallery. The blend, the company thought, would raise the tone of the jeans from mere dungarees to an the elite provinces of the artistic. Besides, the arrangement could produce commissions on art sales. Then the New York store curator called on Inamoto to come up with applicable art.

Inamoto transformed the entire retail experience into an irresistible bit of fun. He and his team installed a sign-in pad at the store entrance. As each customer signed his name, his portrait was digitally captured and projected within several of the photographic art works around the store. Customers would rush around the array of huge black and white prints to search for their own profiles. "There is no denim in the art works," says Inamoto, "but the customers move all around the floor space and look at everything with a greater intensity – including the jeans."

The startup fairy. VISA, a client of Inamoto’s AKQA, has long attempted to capture the age 18 to 25 market. This is the age when people are just starting out on their own and establishing their financial habits. Like every business, VISA seeks a lifelong client. In this campaign, Inamoto caught the energy and dreams of youth.

He set up a website, www.IdeasHappen.com, for the credit card company. The site invited visitors to submit an idea with a full business plan. To focus on the desired market, AKQA’s team selected a panel of celebrity judges, including fashion designers and other high profile entrepreneurs. These judges selected eight winners in each of four categories. Now here’s the new twist.

In the old days this would have been just one more company contest with the winners receiving their 15 minutes of televised fame and a cash prize. But Inamoto went beyond this ancient template. The winners were each bankrolled with $25,000 to launch their business, and the progress of their startup efforts could be traced by online updates. Everyone loves to follow the story of an entrepreneur, and the website’s subtle message was that VISA helps you get your finances going. It worked so well in 2002 that VISA ran the program again the following year.

Decoding geek speak. Imagine if you got a new computer game on the market, it exploded with popularity, and a generation of joy stick jockeys were salivating for more. Microsoft Games Studio found themselves in this enviable position after introducing its famed fighting game Halo. Quite naturally, the success prompted the company to develop, you guessed it, Halo 2.

Inamoto, while not personally a gaming addict, felt undaunted by the challenge of promoting this new game. He holds to the philosophy that a good marketer knows his market generally, but that there is a danger in examining a group too exhaustively. "If you study too much," he says, "your solutions become too formulaic, too standard, and too safe." Inamoto’s solution for Halo 2 was anything but that.

Halo 2’s main character is an alien warrior who battles all the weird creatures and machines in his path. The game takes place within an alien spaceship with a console in the foreground. What more enticing and virtually realistic a feature than to have the console’s label and all of the game’s spoken dialogue in an alien language?

So the tech team conjured up an entire alien alphabet and created a language spoken throughout. "We thought it would be a couple of months before any of the game’s players figured out the language," laughs Inamoto. "Boy, within 48 hours several users had cracked the code and were publishing it on the ‘Net." No advertising beats word of mouth – in any galaxy.

Unfortunately, as technology and technique improve, advertising finds itself drawn into the trend of becoming increasingly intrusive. The futuristic film "Minority Report" in which actor Tom Cruise is retina-scanned upon entering a department store and assaulted with his buying habits, entails technology very much at hand. Cruise’s character felt horribly pressured by the personalized marketing, but Inamoto’s countertrend of interactivity employs technology to bring a lot less pressure and a lot more fun to the buying experience.

When entertainment and shopping become inseparable, consumer resistance is often all that is left on the shelf.

– Bart Jackson

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