Tag Archives: June 2009

Wall street bull

Volatility Can Be A Portfolio’s Greatest Threat

The up-and-down swings of the markets are giving everybody vertigo. Yet most people fail to understand how critical it is to minimize the volatility within their investments. Besides getting a better night’s sleep, there are sound mathematical reasons. Most people are astounded to learn that they can actually earn a lesser rate of return with a portfolio with reduced volatility, and yet end up with more money left to spend. Although some may find this counterintuitive, this is the message financial advisers should be emphasizing to their clients.

It is essential to use strategies that protect your principal, minimize losses and reduce volatility. Did you know that if your investments are down 40 percent, you will have to earn 67 percent to get back to even? Worse yet, if your investments go down 60 percent, you need a return of 150 percent just to break even.

Historically, with previous downturns it has taken years for investors to recover their losses to get back to even. For example, from the start of the downturn in 1929 (which lasted 10 years), it took the stock market 25 years to crawl back to break even. It took seven-and-a-half years from the start of the 1972 bear market, and more than five years from the March 2000 high for values to creep back to break even. The more volatile the investment, the larger the potential problem.

So how can you mitigate risk and reduce volatility in your investments?
Diversification — It’s a time-honored strategy. However, most people are shocked to discover that despite all the various investments and different mutual funds they might own, after doing an “overlap for duplication” analysis, they uncover surprisingly large amounts of investment replication.

Proper asset allocation — This involves placing investments in a mixture of different asset categories, including U.S. and international, large cap and small cap, value and growth, emerging markets, as well as various types of bonds. Typically, a portfolio having 12 to 20 asset classes is considered well positioned. However, following last year’s “perfect storm,” almost every asset class was down, including most types of bonds (typically a safe haven during turbulent times).

Investments with upside potential and principal protection — Structured notes can provide principal protection, while simultaneously providing the upside of a particular index. On a related front, there are “fixed index” annuities. Although an alternative, I generally find the insurance company’s “trust me” position difficult to accept, especially their “black box” philosophies. Although you could always move your funds elsewhere, the high and oftentimes long-term surrender charges tend to lock you in for 10 to 18 years.

Guaranteed growth and income riders — When offered on “variable” and “fixed index” annuities they can provide a safety net to override actual account losses. One needs to be sure to navigate the various rules, understand there may not be a legacy to leave behind, as well as take the oftentimes high and long-term surrender fees into consideration. However, in the right circumstances, this strategy can make sense.

Multiple strategy investments — These did the best over the last 20 months, in addition to having a respectable long-term track record. Investments of this type vary between aggressive to conservative, and include hedge funds, managed futures, commodities, PIPEs (private investment in public entities), private equity, senior debt, etc. The “buy in” on these types of investments can be a drawback, as many are not available unless your investment account is $1 million or larger, as they can require a certain investment minimum or certain investor qualification.

Overlaying an “advance and protect” strategy — This is essential to help preserve principal, as well as help lock in gains. Although there are no perfect systems or guarantees, for most advisers utilizing this type of approach, it has delivered meaningful results and peace of mind for their clients.

We are experiencing what is being described as “a deer-in-the-headlights” market. The questions on many people’s minds today are “What should I do now? Should I stay the course and wait for things to come back? Or should I change strategies or possibly even my adviser?”

One should consider that not all investments come roaring back. Although the S&P 500 got back to even in May 2005, other investments performed less well. For example, the Nasdaq is still 63 percent underwater — more than nine years after reaching its high in March 2000.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal commented on the results of an investor survey:
81 percent of the investors stated they were contemplating or in the process of changing their financial advisers.

90 percent of the investors with “brand named” firms planned to move some of their money; 70 percent planned to move it all.

86 percent of those planning to change were so upset, they recommended others avoid their current adviser.

No one can control the risk and volatility of the markets, so unless one thinks they can do it themselves, it is crucial to work with an adviser who understands how critical it is to reduce investment volatility in order to lessen a portfolio’s exposure to risk. Done correctly, reducing volatility should provide more consistent returns and dependable growth, and ultimately provide more income and a greater end value in your retirement years.

We are in very interesting times, and many people are now realizing they are in trouble. One does not need just any financial planner, but rather a true, unbiased professional adviser who can help guide them through the treacherous waters investors will undoubtedly have to continue to navigate. The decisions being made today could very well have a lasting impact on the rest of your financial life — so make them wisely.

nonresidential building outlook

Non-Residential Building Feeling Effects Of Recession

Although non-residential building held up longer than residential activity in the current recession, the non-residential downturn now has started and is expected to continue into 2010.

Non-residential building began to increase strongly at the beginning of 2006, just as residential activity started to sag. Double-digit growth continued in seven of the next 10 quarters, propping up the economy and partially offsetting the drag on GDP created by the residential downturn. But non-residential building hit the skids in the fourth quarter of 2008, with an annualized decrease of 9 percent. However, that was a minor dip compared to the latest GDP figures. In the first quarter of 2009, spending on non-residential building was down a whopping 44 percent. Double-digit quarterly decreases in non-residential building outlays are expected through 2009. If forecasts from Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business prove to be correct, spending on non-residential structures won’t move back into the positive range until the third quarter of 2010, after nearly two years of decline.

Just as residential building has been hit by a weak economy, non-residential construction is now feeling the effects of reduced demand for office space and facilities of all types.

Moreover, tighter credit standards, originally linked to residential mortgage problems, are now affecting non-residential financing, while commercial real estate borrowing is plummeting. According to surveys of bank loan officers by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, non-residential construction loan credit standards have grown tighter in each of the past 12 consecutive months. Meanwhile, bank loan demand by builders of commercial real estate declined in each of these months.

A collapse in non-residential building will have a sharp impact on an already weak construction industry in metropolitan Phoenix. In 2005, at the peak of the housing boom, residential permits accounted for approximately two-thirds of the $14 billion total value of building permits for the year, while non-residential made up the remaining third. By 2008, the relative importance of residential and non-residential activity switched, as non-residential permits of $6.6 billion accounted for two-thirds of the total, and residential permits fell from $9 billion in 2005 to less than $3 billion in 2008.

Observers expect the value of non-residential permits will fall by as much as one half this year, offsetting any meager gains if residential housing shows signs of life.

New retail, office and industrial space actually put in place is expected to be less than 10 million square feet this year, down two-thirds from more than 30 million square feet in 2007. And 2010 will be even weaker. The consensus among real estate analysts is that new retail, office and industrial space added next year will not reach 4 million square feet.

Non-residential building has posted many instances of sustained downturns, the most recent being the six consecutive quarters beginning with the fourth quarter of 2001, after the attacks of Sept. 11.

As long as labor markets are weak, financial markets are tight and securitization barely exists, it is unlikely that non-residential building will show strong signs of life nationally or in the Phoenix metro area.

First Job: Roy Vallee, Avnet Inc.

First Job: Roy Vallee, Avnet Inc.

Roy Vallee
Chairman and CEO
Avnet Inc.

Describe your very first job and what lessons you learned from it.
I was 13 years old when I landed my first job selling cosmetics and household products door-to-door. As a salesman, my earnings were based entirely on what I sold. That meant that if I sold nothing, I got paid nothing. While my first job was many years ago, being a door-to-door salesman taught me several valuable lessons that have helped me throughout my career, especially when I began working in technology sales. It taught me to focus on the customer and their needs, how to deal with rejection and use it as a learning experience, and how to motivate myself to keep making calls knowing that the more calls I made the better my odds of making a sale.

Describe your first job in your industry and what you learned from it.
I began my career in technology distribution in 1971 as part of a work-study program where I earned school credits. The job involved stocking shelves in the warehouse of a small electronics distributor in California. This gave me an opportunity to learn and experience first hand how a warehouse operates. Early on, I learned the importance of quality practices around inventory management and processing an order.

What were your salaries at both of these jobs?
As a door-to-door salesman in 1966, I was paid completely on commission and earned 35 percent of what I sold. When I worked at the warehouse stocking shelves, I was paid $2.25 an hour, plus I received school credit. While the money was important at the time, the experience that I gained from these jobs has been invaluable throughout my career.

Who is your biggest mentor and what role did they play?
My most influential mentor was Leon Machiz, the chairman and CEO of Avnet from 1988 to 1998. In 1989, I was a mid-level Avnet manager when he first noticed me during a presentation at one of our top suppliers. He called me into his office a few days later to promote me to president of Avnet’s computing business, a division that had $300 million in annual revenues at the time. This was a significant and unexpected promotion. However, Leon had been impressed by how well I understood our suppliers’ needs, their business challenges, and how Avnet could help them overcome those challenges. As I took on this new role, Leon spent hours with me talking about the business and helping me understand what it would take to be successful. His mentorship helped me understand one of the greatest lessons of my career — my job is not to run the company, but rather to lead it.

What advice would you give to a person just entering your industry?
I am a true believer in doing the right things consistently over time. My observation is that the most successful people in business are relentless about their focus on delivering the highest value to their customers and other partners — and that’s true if you are just starting out or if you are heading a big corporation. If you have your customers’ best interests at heart and approach that with an uncompromising single mindedness, they will reward you with their business.

I also believe that meritocracy is vital to attracting and engaging the best employees. And acting with honesty and integrity is always the right thing to do. Do it even though it might not be what everyone else is doing or it feels uncomfortable at the time. This will give you a solid reputation as an employee, business partner, employer and investment for shareholders.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing instead?
I would probably start my own company or buy into a smaller business and get involved in the strategy and people development. Alternatively, I might work in venture capital or private equity investing.

Super-Powered Small Businesses

In This Recession, Small Business Survival Skills are Proving Invaluable

Tattoo Manufacturing Inc., in Tucson is a well-kept secret of success. This company with 95 employees bills itself as the world’s largest manufacturer of temporary tattoos. Indeed, it produces 6 million tattoos a day and has captured more than 90 percent of the temporary-tattoo market in the U.S.

Joyce Sinclair founded the company in 1985, serving fewer than 10 customers out of her garage. She eventually moved into the 40,000-square-foot building the company occupies today. Business exploded four years ago after Sinclair’s father, Jerry Nathanson, signed on and the daughter-father team ramped up production to include both retail-sold tattoos and custom tattoos purchased for promotional purposes by such customers as corporations, nonprofit organizations, sports teams and toy companies.

Steve Tooker and Grayhawk Capital in Scottsdale purchased Tattoo Manufacturing last year, and Tooker was named president and CEO. Although Tattoo Manufacturing produces a variety of specialty items, Tooker says 90 percent of the firm’s business is temporary tattoos. Half are sold at the retail level to Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Toys R Us and other chains. The other half is the custom tattoo side of the business, with more than 60,000 corporate customers. Twenty-five percent of the tattoo business is overseas for customers in 30 countries.

Tattoo Manufacturing had between $2 million and $3 million in sales in 2004. Tooker says sales will exceed $20 million this year, and he expects 25 percent annual sales growth for the next several years. Daily tattoo production likely will reach 7 million this year, and Tooker says that will translate into more hiring and the purchase of additional production equipment.

In this recession, companies like Tattoo Manufacturing are turning on its head the notion in business that bigger is better. Unlike the 800-pound gorillas of Corporate America, smaller companies avoided over-leveraging themselves before the economy tanked, mainly because they stuck to using the resources they had on hand.

“A big business is a legal entity and all its resources are whatever is in its pocket. A small business has the ability to rely on resources that a big business may not have. For example, managing the debt structure in a big business is mind-boggling,” says Bruce Hodgman, deputy director of the U.S. Small Business Administration in Phoenix. “On the other hand, a small business owner can draw on savings or dispose of a personal asset in order to lend to his company. These personal resources can be substantial and they can be quickly moved into the business. I think there is a lot of that happening.”

Small business success stories in the midst of this recession come as no surprise to Donna Davis, chief executive officer of the Arizona Small Business Association. She says many of her organization’s 3,400 members are keeping their businesses profitable.

“A good portion of them are hanging in there,” she says. “They are putting much more emphasis on watching unnecessary expenses. They are getting out and networking and outreaching. I’m really hopeful of what I have been witnessing.”

Nextrio is another Tucson success story. An information technology and computer network consulting company, Nextrio started in 2002 during the last recession and provides IT services for small and medium-sized businesses throughout Southern Arizona.

“We maintain computers, servers, networks, netbooks, cell phones and telephones — just about anything that has a plug,” says managing partner Cristie Street. The company also recommends, purchases, installs and configures hardware and software.

Nextrio started with three employees. By 2004, the staff had grown to six and Nextrio purchased the 9,000-square-foot building it shares with its investors. Today, the company has 20 employees. It started with one customer and now has more than 700. The customer base doubled and tripled the last four years after Nextrio invested in business-management software that allowed employees to “work on the business instead of in the business,” Street says.

Revenue has consistently grown between 25 percent and 50 percent annually since Nextrio opened. For the last two years, Nextrio has slowly restructured to create a diverse mix of income, according to Street. For example, 25 percent of the company’s business now comes from managed services in which customers lock in a fixed fee for ongoing IT support. Customers know what their IT expenses will be, and Nextrio knows it will have steady monthly income, Street says.

Income for 2009 is more uncertain because of the recession.

“If our revenue was an hour glass and you flipped it upside down, that would show the change in where our revenue comes from,” Street says.

Hardware sales, previously 40 percent of Nextrio’s business, have plunged as customers opt to squeeze more years out of their existing equipment. Now, service revenues are climbing as Nextrio devotes more time to maintenance, which Street says is more profitable than hardware sales. The company also has seen an uptick in business from bankruptcy litigation, which involves separating data, copying data and itemizing equipment at firms going out of business.

Street attributes Nextrio’s success to its ability to adapt quickly to changing market conditions and keeping employees apprised of the company’s financial condition. She also points to Nextrio’s entrepreneurial culture.

“We have a sense of all being in it together and accountable for each other,” Street says. “You don’t get that in large companies. We know we are all lucky to be working together, and we hold everybody accountable for pulling their fair share.”

Nextrio’s experience is a good example of how small businesses can alter direction and strategies quickly, allowing them to respond rapidly to changes in the marketplace.

“The secret to small businesses successfully riding out a recession is flexibility,” Hodgman says. “Small business owners have the ability to quickly adapt to a situation. A small business owner can gather key employees or family members in a matter of weeks and make a decision.”

Mary Schnack Media Services in Sedona is truly a small business. Owner Mary Schnack has only two employees. Yet, unlike some larger firms, the company’s revenues are growing. Schnack Media Services is a full-service public relations consulting company. A separate division, Communication Bridges, sends Schnack around the world to give presentations on communication topics for small businesses, corporations and nonprofits. Schnack started her public relations business in 1992 in Los Angeles, then moved it to Sedona in 1996, where it occupies the ground floor of her home.

Schnack says public relations revenue dipped a few years ago, then rebounded, with 2008 income doubling over 2007. She attributes the resurgence to a lowering of her fees and hiring full-time help.

“Having full-time employees really made a difference,” Schnack says. “It allowed me to really go out after new business more effectively.”

But the main reason is her customers’ appreciation of the expertise she offers.

“Through this downturn, I don’t see people cutting PR like they have before,” Schnack says. “There is a lot of publicity out there about why now is the time to crank up your PR. There isn’t a lot I have to say. Now people are approaching me.”

Schnack expects 2009 revenue to increase at least 50 percent.

“I think we can keep going on the uphill route,” Schnack says.

She expects small businesses will drive the economy’s recovery.

“Small business is what will bring us out of this recession,” Schnack says. “It will not be the corporations. It’s the small businesses that have fueled my growth.”

BestBill, a Phoenix company that uses technology to relieve its customers of the time-consuming task of generating and delivering invoices, has caught the attention of the SBA, and is its Best Business of the Year for Arizona for 2009.

Dan and Susan Haugland started the company out of their garage in 1999 to help medium- to large-sized businesses improve their cash flow.

“We don’t collect the money,” says CEO Dan Haugland. “We help our customers get their cash faster by taking data they provide to us, generating invoices from that data and delivering them either online or through the mail. We also can generate online payments from the consumer back to our customer.”

Growth has been the touchstone at BestBill since it opened. After occupying space at other locations, BestBill built its own 26,000-square-foot facility and occupied it in 2006. The company grew from 10 employees in 2003 to 33 in 2008. When the Hauglands first started, they generated 5,000 paper invoices a month. In 2008, they produced more than 34 million paper and online invoices, and they expect a 30 percent increase in billing transactions in 2009. BestBill opened for business with three customers. That number has grown to 130 nationwide in such industries as health care, utilities, manufacturing, transportation and property management.

Revenue increased 120 percent from 2005 to 2008. In 2008, gross income jumped 25 percent over the prior year, and the Hauglands expect a 30 percent increase in revenue this year. Net income doubled from 2005 to 2008.

BestBill has not been immune to the recession, however. The Hauglands note that their 2008 net income was flat and they have reduced staffing to 24 as they streamline to better confront the economic downturn. Still, they say they are on the path to continued growth and plan to open a second office in the Midwest in the fourth quarter of this year.

BestBill is a high-performing company because it does not waiver from its core business, Dan Haugland says. Susan Haugland, who is president of the company, attributes BestBill’s success to an emphasis on value.

“Not only do we feel that value, integrity and commitment matter, but we really value the client relationship,” she says. “I think that really matters — having solid client relationships. Those clients are happy to refer us to other clients.”

www.bestbill.com
www.communicationbridges.com
www.nextrio.com
www.prworks.ms
www.tattoosales.com

Growing Number Of Health Care Professionals Are Getting Their MBAs

Growing Number Of Health Care Professionals Are Getting Their MBAs

Despite the sluggish economy and rising unemployment, a growing number of health care professionals are headed back to school to get an MBA and increase their value in the job market.

A recent survey by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education showed an 18 percent increase in applications to graduate programs across the country for 2009-2010. More than 5,500 applications were submitted to the commission’s 83 accredited programs in 72 colleges and universities, and close to 2,100 were new students. The health care workers who signed up for MBA programs are from organizations such as long-term care facilities, hospitals, consulting firms, health insurers, government agencies and pharmaceutical firms. Doctors, nurses and health care specialists are also going back to school for their MBAs.

“We encourage all physicians to go back to school and get an MBA,” says Amanda Weaver, executive director of the Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association. “They need the education as a survival mechanism because of the managed-care environment and the reduction in Medicare fees. In the 1980s and 1990s, doctors did well in business. Now it takes a concerted effort.”

Marjorie Baldwin, director of Arizona State University’s School of Health Management and Policy in the W.P. Carey School of Business, said about 60 percent of students in the MHMS program at W. P. Carey are health professionals seeking to move into leadership positions; the remaining 40 percent have other backgrounds, but want to move into the health care field.

“Health care is a growing sector with opportunities for leadership and many people know that,” Baldwin says. “MBAs bring a lot to the table like knowledge of accounting and financial practices. They also think analytically about the way health care is provided and the way resources are utilized. They understand strategy, how to lead an organization and how to communicate with various constituencies. They bring a keen interest to the core product of the health care industry, which is patient care.”

The health care industry will generate 3 million new wage and salary jobs between 2006 and 2016, more than any other industry.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care continued to add jobs in February, with a gain of 27,000. Job growth occurred in ambulatory health care and in hospitals.

The W.P. Carey School of Business graduates more than 1,000 MBAs annually. It offers two MBA health options: an MBA with a specialization in health care and a concurrent degree MBA/MHSM (Master of Health Sector Management). The MHSM also is offered as a stand-alone degree. The W.P. Carey MHSM is the only accredited program in health management in Arizona. Tuition for the MBA programs is roughly $35,000 for two years, but there is a payoff.

A survey conducted by ASU alumni in 2006 showed that 100 percent of MBA graduates landed a job within three months. The starting salary for MBA graduates is approximately $80,000 per year.

“There are many complexities and differences between the health care and business sectors,” Baldwin says. “Our students at ASU take economics with an MBA business core. Economics is built around supply, demand and competition. But health care doesn’t work that way. We don’t decide what we’re going to buy and sell. Health care providers decide what we need. We also don’t pay for it, the insurer does. People going into the health care industry need to understand this.”

Michael Abeles of Banner Estrella Hospital earned his MBA in 2005 from the University of Phoenix. He left the trucking industry to go back to school and now works alongside senior leadership at the hospital on employee development, talent mapping and employee relations.

“In today’s market a bachelor’s degree helps you get ahead, but it’s the MBA that provides you with better opportunities,” he says. “Companies need well-rounded leaders that can read and understand financial statements, work force planning and legal risks. So going back to school and increasing your education can only help your journey and assist you in becoming more competitive in the job market.”

Paul Binsfeld, founder and CEO of Company Nurse, worked for years before going back to college for his MBA. As a result, he was able to share practical business experiences with classmates and learn from them.
“I acquired a wealth of business information when I went back to school for my MBA and it gave me enough confidence to start my business,” he says. “It also permitted me to raise funds, tackle administrative and hiring issues, market my business and assess my capital needs. And I’ve been building my business, clientele and success ever since.”

Binsfeld started Company Nurse in 1997. The Scottsdale-based firm provides nurse medical triage and injury-management programs for thousands of employers across the country. Company Nurse has grown 400 percent in the last four years. Starting this year, growth will be 20 to 30 percent annually, Binsfeld says.

“Health care spending is not going down and there are lots of inefficiencies in the delivery of health care in this country, so everyone from physicians to administrators to nurses could benefit from more business acumen,” he says. “With an emphasis on cost savings and efficiencies today, an MBA is a logical step.”

Tailwinds Pet Resort

Tailwinds Full-Service Pet Resort Provides Services Specifically For Dogs And Cats

Mischelle Hutchison and Holly Utzinger, Owners
Tailwinds Pet Resort
Est: 2009

“Even when you think you know it all, you won’t. Keep searching for ways to get smarter.”

The newest resort in town is for a very energetic kind of clientele. Tailwinds Pet Resort is catering only to the needs of our four-legged friends and doing so in high style. This full-service pet resort provides services specifically for dogs and cats, boasts 5,000 square feet on a half-acre lot and offers a wide array of pet-friendly perks.

Opening the resort has been the culmination of a lifelong dream for its two owners, Holly Utzinger and Mischelle Hutchison.

“Always wanting to have my own business and getting there is pretty thrilling,” Utzinger says.

Tailwinds’ state-of-the-art facility is bringing a new face to the world of pet care and it doesn’t skimp on a thing. It provides overnight boarding, daycare, a full-service grooming salon and a mobile grooming service. Unlike traditional pet centers, the pricing model is very straightforward and offers myriad options for the pets at no extra cost. Security cameras, separate air conditioning units for each building, and flat screen TVs are just some of the amenities that will be standard to pet guests.

The resort is comprised of three specially designed buildings that feature a round shape to decrease noise and give the animals a panoramic view of their surroundings. The two larger buildings include 4-by-6 standard rooms and 8-by-6 grand rooms for larger animals or multipet families. An additional, slightly smaller building consists of 2-by-4 petite rooms for the smaller pet guests. Ample outdoor space is the setting for integrated play for dogs of similar sizes, ages and energy levels that have been approved for this fun activity.

As for cats, they will have all the comforts of a real-life apartment, because that’s exactly where they will be. The specially-outfitted apartment includes a working kitchen, appliances and all the details that make cats feel right at home.

The owners’ currently are working to acquire the Pet Care Services Association (formerly ABKA) gold accreditation for Tailwinds. In order to achieve this, the resort must adhere to strict standards set by the Pet Care Services Association. Franchising the concept and facility design is a long-term ambition they also hope to achieve.

To fulfill their shared dream of an initial pet resort like Tailwinds, Utzinger and Hutchison combined their respective career specialties. In 25 years in the IT industry, Utzinger was able to hone her business chops in preparation for launching her own venture. Hutchison, on the other hand, has spent the last quarter century in the pet industry, and along the way has opened a kennel, several shops and even a mobile grooming business. After meeting through mutual friends, the idea for a pet resort was born.

The Tailwinds journey hasn’t been an easy one. City-imposed rules and regulations for construction took three years to work out and had many doubting whether the resort would ever open.

“I had other developers call me crazy (because) I was still proceeding,” Utzinger says.
There also were issues with Utzinger’s Small Business Administration loan that dragged on for months and left her feeling uneasy. The issues were finally resolved when Utzinger opted to switch banks and was able to close the loan in only two months. After doing some research, Utzinger discovered that the first bank had been in financial trouble.

“My responses to how these (challenges) were overcome were, ‘This is my new career, my dream, I am not giving up,’” Utzinger says.

In the end, Tailwinds officially opened its doors in February, exactly six years after the property was bought. The long process has made the opening even more special for the owners and at the heart of it all, is their shared loved of animals. Utzinger says her favorite aspect of Tailwinds is “playing with all the pets and watching the expressions of the clients upon their first visit. The most common response is ‘Wow!’”

During the course of planning and finally opening the business, Utzinger can’t stress enough the importance of having had the support of those around her.

“Make sure you have family and friends that can support you when things look hopeless and you’re ready to give up. If you have the vision, you should stick with it,” Utzinger says.
She also credits the SBA with helping Tailwinds get off the ground and leaving no stone left unturned.

“I can’t say enough about the positive impact the SBA had on the whole process. They really make you think and uncover things you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of,” she says.

The best part of fulfilling their dreams? “Offering pet owners a ‘real’ pet resort in the downtown area. So many people have come in and said ‘It’s about time!’”

BRIO Italian Restaurant Interior Scottsdale, Arizona

BRIO’s Italian Cuisine Livens Up The Palate

For a taste of l’Italia, immerse yourself in the soothing ambience, hearty portions and tantalizing pasta sauces at BRIO, Scottsdale’s latest Italian enterprise. With locations throughout the United States, BRIO’s newest home in the Valley can be found in the shopping, dining and entertainment destination called the Scottsdale Quarter.

There’s nothing like a good Italian meal, and along with the rich menu, the Old World Tuscan decor and exhibition kitchen, BRIO offers a warm, casual atmosphere to enjoy your meal. It also lived up to its name by offering vigorous and vivacious taste combinations.

The first stop on our Italian experience was the bruschetta quattro, a tantalizing selection of homemade bruschetta with ingredients ranging from roasted red pepper and fresh mozzarella to a divine shrimp choice topped with lobster sherry sauce, Fontina cheese and charred tomato cilantro relish. Next, the spicy shrimp and eggplant drowning in a black pepper cream sauce had just the right amount of kick to wake up the taste buds.

We then sampled several salad selections, including the chopped salad and the Caesar salad. The table’s favorite turned out to be the simplest one, skipping fancy elements in favor of fresh field greens with Gorgonzola, pine nuts, tomato and a dash of balsamic dressing.

Then it was time for the main course, and BRIO did not disappoint. We selected several menu items in order to try to get as much variety as possible: penne Mediterranean, Gorgonzola-crusted bistecca, chicken scallopini and the lasagna Bolognese al forno. We expected large portions, but were we in for a surprise. The lasagna was served on such a large plate that both hands were needed to hold it up. The enormous dish of oven-baked pasta with layers of Bolognese meat sauce, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses was enough to feed a family of four. The steak, or bistecca, was tender and moist, and the penne truly had me thinking I was in Sicily enjoying the fresh pasta at a ristorante along the sea.

Of course, we couldn’t leave BRIO without satisfying our sweet tooth with some dessert. We opted for the dolcino sampler, an eclectic mix of sweet delights served in espresso cups known as dolcinos. The sampler included three types of creme brulee and they were downright delicious. Tiramisu, chocolate cake, key lime pie and strawberry panna cotta were among the other delectables, and the delicate portions let you savor the flavors without overindulging.

From the laid-back ambience to the generous portions and polite service, BRIO is sure to win over yet another city. Perfetto!

    If You Go:
    BRIO
    Scottsdale Quarter: 15301 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
    480-607-1100
    www.brioitalian.com
ear, drawing, woman

Customer Service And Reliability Are Two Important Factors In Selecting The Right Telecom Provider

With the evolution of the information age, corporations are continually looking for new ways to increase productivity. Executives are faced with hundreds of service options on a daily basis and need help answering at least one of the many important operational questions they might have: How to choose the right telecommunications provider.

When you think of your telecom provider, you should think of a successful business partner that understands the needs of its clients, offers reliable service that can be flexible when you need it most, and is known for fast and friendly local personnel that are second to none.

Understanding business needs
Whether you own a flower shop, run a system of hospitals or work with a government agency, it’s important that you look for a provider that offers a product suite that meets your needs, offers the expertise to service your company and has a genuine understanding of your business climate.

Growing competition in the telecom industry has allowed providers of all sizes and specialties to enter the market. Some specialize in residential Internet or phone products, while others focus on providing communications services to the business sector. Very few have the resources and knowledge to do both well. While many of the primary services are similar, the needs of each sphere are extraordinarily unique. Before you hire a provider, ask yourself these questions:

  • Could you operate your business with the level of reliability you receive from your residential communications provider?
  • Is it important that your provider focuses its resources on developing new or upgraded business products?
  • How important is it that your telecom provider sympathizes with your business needs and concerns?

The greatest benefit a telecommunications company can offer its clients, aside from an outstanding and reliable service, is the ability to understand their business. Regardless of the provider you choose, the company should be prepared to qualify themselves to be your telecom adviser. Not only should the provider offer local staff that know and use your business, they should understand what it is your business does, the values that are important to your business, and what your business communication needs require.

Reliability is a driving force
Telecommunications reliability is affected by a number of factors. One is the network used to deliver a company’s services. Look for a provider that owns and operates its own fiber optic network. By owning the networks, the provider will have greater control of the network operations and maintenance.

Ask your prospective provider about their scalability. Voice and data providers often praise their ability to offer high speeds and extra bandwidth. Question whether they have the scalability to grow with your company’s needs and those of your clientele, while maintaining the current speed and size offerings they advertise.

Also, ask providers how flexible they will be as your communications needs evolve. After all, there will always be unexpected business ventures that require flexibility on your part and theirs.

Customer service in your community
People often forget to ask about customer service when they’re interviewing telecom providers. It’s not the first thing that comes to mind, but it will be top of mind when an unexpected storm blows through town or an accident disables your communication lines.

Telecom companies are accustomed to receiving questions about their customer service policies and procedures. Here are a few questions you should ask your current or potential provider:

  • If I have a problem, who do I call and where are they located?
  • What if there is an outage in the middle of the night?
  • Who is responsible for fixing my problem? Are the technicians, service representatives and executive management all located
    in Arizona?
  • Will I receive an estimated repair time when I call in?
  • If I have questions about my bill, will I have to talk to a machine or will a friendly person that can answer my question pick up the phone immediately when I call?
  • May I contact one of your current customers to discuss
    their experience?
  • Do you get an automated message or a friendly live person who answers the phone?

Like any good business partner, your telecom company should support your company needs at all times, while helping you achieve your long-term business goals.

shattered glass

Wealth Managers Can Diagnose And Treat Battered Financial Confidence

If the past several quarters have taught us anything about wealth management, it’s the importance of routine maintenance, diagnosis and treatment of our portfolios — even if they are ailing. Much like the consistent faith we place in our doctors for our health, so too must we place trust in our wealth management advisory teams.

Oftentimes, it is the most difficult periods that strain our trust and twist our thoughts. When managing your wealth, don’t let fear or uncertainty guide you. Wealth management is not a product, or even a series of products, but a long-term strategic approach to assisting clients through comprehensive planning, solutions and personalized service.

Just as you wouldn’t seek a dermatologist for a kidney ailment, your selection of a wealth management clinician should be based on a long-standing track record of success in certain specializations. Similarly, seek financial institutions with strong, proven stability and those that are regulated and monitored by federal oversight agencies. Finally, successful wealth management relies on the integration of banking, financial planning and investment management with professionals on client-focused teams working together to develop and implement the strategies clients need to meet their goals.

Bad economy, good opportunities
The past six months have prompted fearful retreats to the sidelines when it comes to managing portfolios. Like ignoring a persistent cough, simply brushing the problem aside will lead to further difficulty down the road. The toughest economic times often provide the biggest opportunities, but a bold and confident approach is required. A back-to-basics approach that examines the variability of returns by asset class — a long-trusted wealth management strategy — can be best suited for those who have lost confidence in their portfolio management.

Wealth management as a field has changed rapidly over the past decade. The advents of technology, the integration of a global economy and a better-educated investor have caused an evolution in the industry. The recent economic crisis simply highlighted this new reality. It also illustrates why your wealth management team should consist of those with differing areas of expertise. There are several upside factors to working with larger, established wealth management institutions. Besides a strong track record of success and regulatory oversight by the U.S. government, larger networks of wealth managers offer precise insight on how to best manage your money.

Ask questions such as: Should I invest in foreign markets? What are the best times to buy commodities and what kinds? How much cash should my portfolio have?

While one wealth management adviser can answer these questions broadly, the better analysis and decisions will come from members of your team who are experts in each sector of investment and have access to the latest, most up-to-date analytics and data.

Assessing your goals
Another key element to assess — and this is truer today than ever before — is your risk tolerance. This answer doesn’t come easily, but ask yourself a few key questions: When do I want to retire? What is my desired quality of life during retirement? What kind of estate am I planning to leave for my children and family?
By educating yourself on your expectations, you can clearly report your needs and desires to your wealth management team and, in turn, they can come up with various strategies and tactics for your portfolio.

Also, expect these goals to change. An investor just starting a family is in a far different financial place than an executive in his 50s and vice versa. Your wealth management team must fluidly advise you on what your portfolio should look like at different phases of your life. A trusted adviser and a seasoned plan is needed for every stage of the wealth management cycle: accumulation, growth, transfer and preservation.

Much like that patient/doctor relationship, education is paramount. Good physicians lay out clear, professional advice on the best way to care for your health. The best doctors will also advise you to seek second and third opinions. You should do no less with your portfolio.After all, you’ve worked hard to build a healthy portfolio.

For me, wealth management has been nearly a four-decade process of learning and building relationships with my clients. They trust me much like they trust their doctor. It’s a cycle of service that continues to evolve. As you would with your health, use the expertise of your most trusted confidants to help lead your decision making — it will pay off in the long run by keeping you healthy, wealthy and wise.

visual workspace

Office Designs Can Spark Employee Creativity

We have all seen, or at least heard about, “off-the-charts” office design that is not only cool, but also inspires its work force. Companies such as Google, Pixar, Herman Miller, Red Bull, and even one blogger in her vintage trailer, have been recognized for their creativity in the workplace. These companies have shown us that designing an office that is “cool” is about embracing your company culture and projecting a contagious attitude.

Your corporate culture says a lot about the way your office should look and function. What do you want to project? What are your core values? What kind of clients do you want to attract? Cool office design is more than a flat panel TV and retro furniture in your lobby. It’s your company’s essence — its physical presence. And we all know what they say about first impressions.

Creating spaces that keep employees engaged and that support the way they live, work and play will stimulate productivity and result in a much happier staff. This will naturally lead to higher client satisfaction and greater return on your investment. So, how do you get started?

Keep in mind a few simple starting points:
Involve everyone in the office in a brainstorming session. What are employees looking for from their workspace? How do they want it to feel and function? Is privacy important? What do your employees wish for in their environment? Choose a point of contact to champion these ideas with your interior designer.

Be flexible, because it is the key to planning a successful work environment. Allowing people to have choices and variety in the way they work and collaborate enhances the experience of the workplace.

Provide opportunities for impromptu meeting and spaces that allow workers to get away from the monotony of sitting at their desks all day.

A connection to nature is an important factor in productivity. People need to be able to see the blue sky, get fresh air and soak up the sun. Oftentimes, we see offices that block the view by installing opaque high panels and storage above eye level, creating depressing “cubicle farms.”

Don’t forget about public and common areas. There are endless opportunities to bring out your company’s brand, culture and differentiation. These spaces also offer a place to relieve stress and to get away from the daily grind.

Creating a cool office in hot Arizona is not as difficult (or as expensive) as it may seem. It all revolves around defining who you are and having fun with it. You’ll know that you’ve achieved “office nirvana” when your clients start asking to have their meetings in your office.

stream of information

Protect Stream Of Information Coming Into Your Company From Multiple Sources

About 2,500 years ago, the Spartans seemingly perfected cryptography by ingeniously wrapping a thin sheet of papyrus around a staff called a skytale. Today, while our encryption and data security methods have significantly improved, the need for securing data is just as relevant. And with the advent of cloud computing, new methods must be refined and perfected in order to compete in the online world of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS.

In case you’re wondering, the above-mentioned acronyms are not part of tech-geek poetry. They stand for the newest methods by which technology is developed and delivered. SaaS stands for Software as a service; PaaS stands for Platform as a service; and IaaS stands for Information as a service. And while we’re at it, let’s make sure we define another hot term right now, cloud computing. This essentially means that the information that used to reside on your desktop, such as most software applications, now resides on a server owned by the company that developed that software. Hence, Software as a service (SaaS). Developing and licensing software or other technology from a cloud environment is a rather new and preferred method. And if you bring up “the newest cloud application to hit the enterprise market” in your next business meeting, you’ll sound very smart.

The common mantra thus far has been “use the cloud only if security is not an issue.” However, if we are truly going to utilize the power of the cloud, the mantra should be “architect your cloud solution around a sound security model.” The cloud offers too many rich opportunities to be relegated into a space where security is an afterthought. But how do you build security into a new and evolving technology like the cloud, thus protecting the flow of your company’s intellectual property?

There are now some tried and true best practices, as well as unique approaches to securing IP data flowing into the cloud. The first is standard SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). For instance, many companies utilize Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) as their preferred method for data encryption. WCF allows the company to implement a robust security layer around all user data flowing into the servers. Through this encryption process, the security layer ensures no one is eavesdropping on sensitive data. In addition, all messages are signed to further ensure data integrity.

Companies should implement security measures that make sense for their unique scenarios. One way to ensure that customer data is secure is through a three-step algorithmic approach. First, all SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) messages are “owned” by the user. For example, if “Jon” uploads data to the servers, that line of communication is unique to Jon and can only be used by Jon. Second, to further ensure data integrity, the unique communication line that belongs to Jon also belongs to Jon’s group, or platform. Therefore, he can access data about his group, but no one else’s. Finally, the user and group binding is not only implemented in the call from the application, but also bound to the databases in the company’s servers. In essence, each user has a “tunnel” to their data that is designed in such a way that no other user can penetrate that tunnel, nor can a user expand out of his or her tunnel. Data is thus very secure.

At first glance, the casual reader may assume a paranoid approach to data security. However, in order to facilitate widespread adoption of the cloud for enterprises, security must be built up front, and continually improved as the software evolves. By employing standard security techniques, coupled with vendor-specific approaches, IP data can be safely secured, allowing enterprises to confidently employ the power of the cloud.