All posts by BHM BIZ

B-School Breakfast

UAB Associate Athletic Director Erin Kraebber welcomes the attendees to Bartow Arena Green and Gold Room

BHM BIZ and B-Metro Associate Publisher Cathy Fingerman

The full panel and Cathy Fingerman

BHM BIZ General Manager Mark Singletary moderates the panel discussion. Panelist are: Mark Ingram, Jonathan Nelson, John Coppins, Edgar Gantt and Morgan T. Copes

B-School “What’s Next in Sports in Birmingham?”

BHM BIZ Roundtable Discussion – Sports in Birmingham

What's next for sports in Birmingham? Watch this roundtable discussion hosted by BHM BIZ at UAB's Bartow Arena

Posted by Alabama NewsCenter on Thursday, 25 January 2018


Mark Singletary


I’ve heard it’s healthy and somewhat therapeutic to discuss one’s fixations and delusions. In my case, it hasn’t helped a bit. I admit to an unhealthy fixation on extolling the benefits of coordinated traffic flow and the delusion that anything significant will be done to deal with my frustration.

With all the problems facing society today, one might think it is foolish for me to dwell on such a trivial issue. But, based on U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) studies, and my observation, this is not a trivial issue.

According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers, there are more than 300,000 traffic signals in the United States and two-thirds of all miles driven are on streets and roads controlled by traffic signals. That data is for perspective.

I have preached the gospel of good traffic flow for years and in many cities. When I lived in New Orleans, I had the director of public works on speed dial. He and I talked regularly. I’m sure my number on his caller ID invoked a big sigh and rolling of the eyes. New Orleans traffic flow issues are significant, but since the real issue there is a murder rate that is 10 times the national average, I tried to keep things in perspective.

Birmingham traffic flow, on the other hand, is just confusing and puzzling. There are some one-way streets that have vaguely coordinated traffic lights, but by and large most of the traffic signals here seem randomly timed and completely frustrating.

Add to that the puzzling situation of burned out street lights at major intersections and I can set up an easy public relations victory for newly elected Mayor Randall Woodfin.

As an example, the intersection of University Boulevard and US Highway 280 heading east has two street light standards, one on each side of the street, and neither has a working light bulb. This is a very dark, very dangerous intersection and it’s been without a working street light for at least six months.

Fix the lights, please.

Imagine heading Uptown from Southside on 24th Street and not stopping at every traffic light on the way. How great would it be to look up the street and not see a yellow light, two greens and three reds?

Again, according to USDOT, money spent on optimizing traffic flow yields significant savings and great returns on the investment. The studies show that each dollar spent on traffic flow yields between 15 and 20 gallons of fuel savings per year. Spending a dollar to save $30 to $45 seems reasonable.

An engineering study in York County, VA estimated that savings on a single 1.5 mile stretch of Route 17 comes to $65,000 a year. That is one small section on a single street. Multiply that savings by the millions of miles driven on hundreds of thousands of streets and you can get the picture.

There are other benefits. Travel time is reduced an average 6.5 percent, on-street delays are reduced by 14 percent and the detrimental environmental effects of constant starting and stopping should be clearly evident, as well.

I’m certain there are variations, but basically there are two types of traffic controllers according to USDOT: pre-timed and traffic-actuated.

There are three types of traffic actuated systems. Semi-actuated systems assign a continuous green signal to major streets and react to vehicles waiting to enter the intersection from side streets. Fully actuated systems detect all traffic approaching intersections and work best when traffic volumes vary significantly over the course of a day.

Volume-density systems, the most costly and effective of the actuated control systems, record and compare traffic flow information and continuously calculate the duration of the traffic lights.

According to the USDOT, the volume-density system is the plan that traffic engineers get most excited about and are yielding the greatest technological advances.

These systems are relatively expensive to install and maintain. Optimizing and maintaining traffic lights that are not already set up for interconnectivity can cost an average of $1,000 per year.

Installation and personnel costs are significant, as well. The city would need to hire technicians and maintenance staff to install and manage the systems, but the economic return on investment is high and the public relations coefficient is outstanding.

Imagine the positive impact from a public relations campaign that promises a less frustrating, more efficient and ecologically friendly trip down the streets of Birmingham.

Fix the lights, please.

Mark Singletary

General Manager




Joe O’Donnell

The digital world has taken over. We are not quite at the point of the Matrix movies just yet, but I am pretty sure the machines are revving up somewhere. And, of course, just as in our personal lives, the digital world has infiltrated every aspect of business.

Although technology is foremost in today’s corporate world, the people have to share top billing. You can’t forget about the employees—those very important people running the technology.

As the number of jobs that require knowledge-based skills increases, people are more important than ever.

These are thought jobs, that require a higher level of creativity, problem-solving prowess and out-of-the-box thinking. It is the unique human element that can make or break the success of a company.

Every part of your business boils down to people. When you understand this, you’ll do better work, be a better leader, close more sales, help your brand grow and earn more profits.

No matter what business you’re in, the human element is everywhere around you. Humanity makes business run and it can make businesses sputter as well. When you understand this you will be a better leader. You will understand that you are only human. And so is everybody else. And that, if you seek an empathetic, aware and growing business, is all you need to know.


Joe O’Donnell


Brand Power


Dan Monroe

By Dan Monroe

If you’re in the business of brand development and have never contemplated the value of design where it affects brand, well, you’re just not thinking hard enough. Does the Average Joe appreciate brand design? Is it worth what good agencies charge for it? I’ve often contemplated this question. In fact, I wrote a  blog entry a while back discussing just this very issue. In it, I reviewed examples where I see the design of a brand making a difference. One that I noted was Starbucks’ loyalty program and their well-designed gold card. So coveted is this thing (a loyalty card, for goodness’ sake), when Chad Johnson’s (formerly Chad Ochocinco’s) car was broken into, the one thing he was really mad about? Losing his Starbucks gold card. I contend that had it looked like your typical credit card, he couldn’t have cared less.

As I contemplate whether Average Joe appreciates design, it brings to mind a Joe who might at face value appear average. Joe is a carpenter by trade. He’s a down-to-earth, no-nonsense sort of Joe who gets the work done with no muss and no fuss. We discovered Joe (Joe’s company is JZ Installations; call him if you’d like to see his business card: 205-440-6621) when we moved offices about three years ago (he did a lot of our build-out) and we’ve used him off and on for those three years. You see, we had found out that–in the world of craftsmen–Joe really isn’t average.

One day Joe dropped by with a proposition: if we would design his logo, business cards and the like, he would do some build-out work we needed. Well folks, I’m here to tell you barter is still a thing out there. And, while most of the companies that seek our services aren’t of the business model or size that seeks to work through barter, we took him up on his excellent offer.

In order to do the job right, we walked Joe through our normal process of discovery and iteration which resulted in a brand look and feel that Joe believes represents him and his work, Then we translated the newly minted brand visual language to his business tools (cards and stationery), and went on about our business.

The other day, Joe came by. “How’s it going with your new brand?” we asked. “Great!” he beamed. Joe is not the beaming sort of dude, but, I gotta say…the man beamed. He went on to tell us that, since he had started using his new brand identity, (particularly his business cards) people had quit feeling the need to look over his shoulder while he did the work. We all know this sort of micromanagement of home-services folks. You get ’em over to the house and then call into work, “Hey, gotta be home for a bit…got some guy working on my whatzit.” And then you stay home to watch over the castle because you’re nervous that the “some guy” who’s working on your whatzit might not be one to be trusted.

Coincidentally, I was recently discussing the home-services sector with a colleague, Simon Turner, who owns an agency in northern Virginia called SPT and True. Simon noted that the number one barrier-to-entry / point of pain for homeowners about folks who provide services (HVAC, plumbing, and, yes, carpentry) is trustworthiness. Yep. Been there. A few bad ones out there have made it hard for guys like Joe to be perceived as trustworthy. But, here was Joe telling me that the degree to which his clients trust him had risen because of his brand identity. We had developed a look that was strong, confident, properly proportioned, and that translated well to Joe’s business tools. And part of the result was that his customers didn’t feel the need to watch over him while he did the work. Behold the power of a well-designed brand!

I’ve got to reach out to Joe soon. It is time to do some bathroom remodeling, and he’s definitely my go-to. I’m just debating with myself whether I should tell Joe now or later that what also comes with that newfound trust and the power of that brand is, most likely, the ability to raise his prices a little bit.


Coffee with . . .

Brad Friedman

A 120-year-old company stays vital by focusing on what has always been most important, the needs of the customers.

“As the evolution of the business has moved from retail packaging, you have to continue to stay ahead of the curve to make sure we are here another century, for another generation,” company president Brad Friedman says.

“Three years ago, I saw the volume in the promotional marketing space. I knew that to have any kind of real growth, we would have to find a way to get into that business. Retail packaging has been great for 30 years, but it is a small pie with a lot of people eating it. To get to the next level, I knew we would have to make some changes. But you have to make sure you are 100 percent committed and have 100 percent of the right people in place,” Friedman says.

“Creating the best promotional product company takes cultural identity and the freedom to be creative. Many companies do it very, very well. We loved the idea of creating a boutique firm with the ability to be personal and hands on.”

The reinvention of City Paper had begun. And the move into creating branded merchandise for clients has paid off. From 2013 to 2015, the company is up 329 percent in promotional products sales. This year could well turn out to be the best year in the company’s long history.

Those impressive numbers are backed up by a lot of hard work and struggle.

“When you change the face of your business, you have to go out and prove it to the clients. We had to educate our customers not to just look at our name, because we are now so much more than a paper company. If it were easy it would happen overnight and everybody would be doing it,”  Friedman says.


Biggest Opportunities

“We are a company that has clients in all 50 states and abroad, even in South America. We really have only recently been focusing on the city of Birmingham. I feel there is so much potential; we have really just reached the tip of the iceberg for us here. There is so much opportunity with corporate businesses that are based here and privately held firms, as well. It presents a lot of growth for us to really focus on our hometown.

“It is very ironic to say the least, but we have definitely gotten the name out now, and local businesses are starting to understand who City Paper really is. We have been here 120 years, right here in the city of Birmingham. That allows a lot of local businesses to understand that they have somebody in their backyard who can help them with what they need.

“Our most important value add is helping customers understand the significance of branding their business. We know what our clients want and expect and we take the approach of, as my grandfather said, treating every customer as if they have been with us for decades. And whether you are a $150 account or a $1.5 million account, it doesn’t matter. Everyone is treated fairly.

“I think another strength and opportunity is our unique set of abilities from a creative standpoint and a marketing awareness standpoint. That differentiates us from anyone else in the industry.”


Biggest Challenges

“Scaling ourselves properly with the growth that we have experienced is always a challenge. I think it is important that as we continue to grow, especially in our backyard, that we make sure that we have the support we need for clients. Always looking for new feet on the street is imperative, so we are constantly recruiting new individuals to join our team.

“We want to make sure we have the infrastructure to service clients the way they need to be taken care of.”



Frequent Flyer


Bill Horton

A partner with Jones Walker LLP and head of the firm’s Birmingham office—maintaining a national law practice representing healthcare providers in mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, securities and corporate finance law, regulatory compliance and corporate governance matters—Bill Horton logs a lot of airline miles for business travel and spends his share of nights in unfamiliar hotel beds.

That’s not surprising for a professional who also travels on behalf of the American Bar Association’s Health Law Section, where he served as the section’s 2015-2016 chair. What might be surprising is that rather than becoming jaded about yet another haul through the airport, he continues to seek out adventures, make new friends and always find the upside.

“A lot of what I travel for even on business-related travel is for things that I enjoy doing,” Horton says, pointing to the chance to represent professional organizations through speaking engagements. “One, I enjoy doing that, and two, I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to accumulate a lot of good friends who are sort of scattered all around the country. Generally when I’m going somewhere, I’m going to see at least one friend-—and sometimes lots of friends—that I wouldn’t see if I were sitting at my desk in Birmingham all the time.”

He’s also learned some travel hacks to minimize hassles, including signing up for TSA pre-check to save time getting through security and keeping a separate briefcase always packed for travel, with extra chargers and external batteries for maximum productivity wherever he goes. “Then at the last minute I can stick whatever paperwork I’m taking with me and not have to worry about whether all the other stuff I might need out on the road is in there,” he says.

Horton previously served as a practice group leader at two other Birmingham-based law firms and as general counsel of one of the nation’s largest publicly traded healthcare providers. He has substantial experience both in private practice and as senior legal officer for a large public company and been involved in complex corporate finance and acquisition transactions in almost all sectors of the healthcare services industry. A nationally recognized speaker and author on healthcare, corporate and securities law, Horton currently serves as a representative to the ABA House of Delegates and the American Health Lawyers Association. He is the founding president of the National Board of Health Lawyers, a specialty certification organization. In addition to his practice, Horton also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama School of Law and as a clinical associate professor at the School of Optometry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, educating students about the legal concerns that affect optometrists in private practice.

His many involvements are largely how Horton has found himself with such a large network of friends and colleagues he looks forward to seeing on his trips, which these days include frequent visits to Chicago and Washington, D.C. It helps that those are places he can explore on every trip without much risk of running out of new experiences—and he takes advantage of all he can squeeze in.

“I enjoy urban settings, so I like the chance to go to another city, see what it’s like, see the architecture, the restaurants, and walk around,” Horton says.

“I always say that I do about the right amount of traveling to get me out of the house and office about as much as I need or want to be and long enough to make me miss being home,” he continues, “but not so much as to be, most of the time, an undue burden on my family or on my clients.” ∞



Written by Joe O’Donnell


Pottery Passion

By Rosalind Fournier

Once she found her passion for pottery, Tena Payne knew she wanted to use her talent to do more than sell beautiful pieces one at a time. “I’ve always wanted to make a living with it,” she says, “and it’s really hard to make a living making pots.”

She found the path forward, remarkably enough, thanks to a banner year for shiitake mushrooms, which she and her family grow on their property. With more than they knew what to do with, Payne went door to door to local restaurants selling them, and ended up coming face to face with Chris Hastings, chef/owner of Hot and Hot Fish Club, who was new to Birmingham at the time.

In what she can only describe as divine intervention, their conversation turned to pottery—with Hastings expressing interest in having her develop a new line for him. Earthborn Pottery was born.

Payne spent the next six years perfecting the science of making pottery that could withstand commercial use flawlessly, with Hastings as her guinea pig. “When he quit complaining,” she says, “I realized I had a product that I could sell to other chefs.”

Payne set off with her wares to a large restaurant trade show and walked away with a 5,000-piece order from the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The client list has continued to grow, now stretching from Birmingham (Hot and Hot, Ovenbird, the Renaissance at Ross Bridge) to Southern California (the Lodge at Torrey Pines), and of course Las Vegas (the Bellagio, Caesars Palace). Payne has found she has a special camaraderie with chefs. “Chefs have turned out to be the best customers you could imagine,” she says. “They are artists too—their medium is food; mine is clay—but our products really show off each other well.” She has also created custom lines for Bromberg & Co. and Nordstrom. In addition to dinner and serving ware, Earthborn also makes specialty pieces like custom-made sinks.

Today, out of her studio in Leeds, Payne has a staff of artists who help her execute steps along the way, but all the designs are still her own. And while the quality speaks for itself, the restaurateurs she works with gladly speak for it, too. “(Payne’s) work ethic and dedication to providing a quality product that is durable and elegant is worth more than one can imagine,” Idie Hastings, co-owner of Hot and Hot, wrote in a letter of recommendation posted on the Earthborn site, “and is greatly valued by our company.”∞