All posts by BHM BIZ

Opinion

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

 

 

People

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

Editor/Publisher

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.”∞

 

Money Matters

“You don’t need to be rich. You don’t even need to be smart. You just need to have the sense to realize that so much of what you want and need in life revolves around money. With the stakes that high, it only makes sense that you should consult a professional to make sure you are on solid footing.”

The assertions above come from information provided to prospective clients by member of the Financial Planning Association of North Alabama (FPA). The Alabama group is affiliated with the FPA national organization, based in Denver, Colo.

The FPA was created in 2000 with the merger of the International Association for Financial Planning and the Institute of Certified Financial Planners.

“The financial planning profession exists to help people reach their financial goals and dreams. FPA of North Alabama, which has over 175 active members—about 75 percent   of whom hold the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER certification—offers practitioners access to a deep inventory of resources specifically designed to help them serve consumers with the highest distinction—placing clients’ interests first—and advance their professional careers,” says Rus Jordan, CFP®, CFS®, financial advisor with America’s First Financial and president of FPA of North Alabama.

The FPA is the principal professional organization for Certified Financial Planner (CFP) professionals, educators, financial services providers, and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. FPA members adhere to the highest standards of professional competence, ethical conduct, and clear, complete disclosure to those they serve and take part in FPA’s One Connection for professional education, business success, advocacy, and community at the national and chapter levels. FPA is truly an indispensable force in the advancement of today’s CFP professionals, according to FPA material.

“Most people have goals they want to accomplish, such as save more for retirement or pay down debt, but they have trouble making progress because they don’t have a plan. The stakes are high because financial stress has a significant impact on individuals’ well-being, both at home and at work. That is why we are passionate about understanding  individuals’ sources of financial stress and helping them connect the dots for a better way forward,” says Liz Rutherford, AIF®, President and Co-CEO, Johnson+Sterling.

With a network of more than 90 chapters, thousands of CFP professionals and members at large, FPA provides access to local opportunities including the following:

  • Continuing education and networking opportunities with professionals in their area;
  • Study groups for those who are new to the profession and mentoring opportunities for experienced professionals; and
  • Extensive tools, training, leadership, practice management, and educational resources.

The primary aim of the FPA is to be the community that fosters the value of financial planning, and advances the practice and profession of financial planning.

Just as in a hospital setting, or a courtroom perhaps, there is a code of conduct that members of the FPA follow. It can be called standard of care.

  • Put the client’s best interests first.
  • Act with due care and in utmost good faith.
  • Do not mislead clients.
  • Provide full and fair disclosure of all material facts.
  • Disclose and fairly manage all material conflicts of interest.

FPA engages with federal and state regulators and legislators to advocate for policies to benefit consumers and financial planning practitioners.

 

FPA’s current advocacy priorities are focused on:

  • Fiduciary standard – Support SEC rulemaking that would ensure that broker-dealers put customer’s interests first when they are giving personalized investment advice to retail customers.
  • Appropriate oversight of investment advisers – Support more robust oversight of investment advisers by directing sufficient resources to improve current oversight programs.

 

  • Appropriate regulation of financial planners – Educate policymakers about the practice and the value of financial planning and the effect of policy decisions on practitioners and their clients.

 

Lives in the Balance

Written by Joe O’Donnell

A jury in Los Angeles returned a $25 million verdict for three plaintiffs against Nissan in a lawsuit blaming faulty brakes for a car crash that killed three victims. The crash that occurred at an intersection in Hollywood involved a minivan and an Infiniti QX56, manufactured by Nissan. The van driver and her two children were killed when the Infiniti driven by Solomon Mathenge slammed into their vehicle.

Cory Watson attorney Jerome Tapley, who is based in Birmingham and served as lead attorney in the case. says the firm became involved after a family member reached out to them. Tapley has described the case is a perfect microcosm of the importance of the law and the careful, measured pursuit of justice. “This case affirms that the justice system works to hold wrongdoers accountable, and that good Birmingham lawyers can try a case anywhere.”

Nissan argued the accident was caused entirely by Mathenge, then 74. Mathenge was charged with manslaughter after the crash, but the charges were dropped when prosecutors became aware of a class action lawsuit against Nissan, alleging the same type of brake failure Mathenge claimed he suffered occurred in numerous other vehicles, including the QX56.

Along with Tapley, fellow Cory Watson, P.C. attorneys Brett Turnbull, Ryan Lutz, Adam Pittman, and Ryan Myers represented plaintiffs in the case alongside Paul Kiesel, Steven Archer and Bryan Garcia of Kiesel Law LLP, Kirk Wolden of Carter Wolden, as well as attorneys Claudia C. Bohorquez and Vicki I. Sarmiento.

“We applaud the jury for their diligence and hard work reviewing the evidence in this case. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who lost their loved ones in this tragic accident that could have been avoided. We hope this verdict will inspire Nissan to step up and take responsibility for the safety of their vehicles so that no one else is killed or injured because of a product defect Nissan failed to reveal and recall,” says Tapley. The verdict was announced July 21, 2017 in Superior Court of California for Los Angeles County.

The lawsuit charged that Nissan knew about a software problem affecting the brake operation, but failed to disclose it and recall the vehicles. The complaint charged that, “Rather than disclose this critical safety defect and recall the defective vehicles as it should have done, Nissan made a conscious decision to ignore the problem at the expense of the safety of its customers, those operating the defective vehicles, and the public at large.”

Nissan argued that the brakes on the QX56 are safe, and the automaker blamed the deadly crash on the driver of the QX56. The jury rejected Nissan’s argument. The driver was also the target of a criminal prosecution and wrongful death civil lawsuit filed by the victims’ family, but the legal landscape changed when it was revealed the brake failure claim wasn’t the first involving a similar class of Nissan and Infiniti vehicles.

In Banks v. Nissan, Nissan settled a class action involving claims concerning the same brake defect in 2014, offering up to $800 in compensation to the owners of more than 250,000 Nissan-built Armadas, Titans and Infiniti QX56 models. Tapley and Lutz were class counsel in that case.

Cory Watson Attorneys is a national personal injury law firm with more than $2.7 billion in recoveries for clients. Attorneys are frequently appointed to leadership positions in national cases involving pharmaceuticals and defective medical devices. Practice areas include product liability, class actions, mass torts, pharmaceutical litigation, wrongful death, asbestos, mesothelioma, car accidents, truck accidents, catastrophic injury, aviation, recalled products and environmental litigation.

The law firm was the first in the state to establish a nationwide mass torts division solely devoted to representing multiple clients injured by harmful medical devices and drugs. Lawyers have personally represented clients across the United States in litigation involving more than 100 mass torts over the past 25 years.

Cory Watson lawyers are frequently appointed to serve as counsel and other leadership roles in multi-district litigation and class actions for clients in the U.S., Europe, South America, Central America, Canada, and Africa.