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Opinion – Mark Singletary

By Mark Singletary

The latest jobs data for the U.S. shows a national unemployment rate of 4.3 percent and a labor force participation rate of 62.7 percent. Both of these data points continue to show improvement in private sector job creation.

Alabama’s July 2017 unemployment rate was 4.6 percent, a ranking of 34th among the states, tied with Texas and West Virginia. To put things into perspective the top ranked states for jobs are Colorado and North Dakota, each with an unemployment rate of 2.3 percent. The latest data for labor force participation shows Alabama’s participation rate at just over 55 percent.

The national data is interesting, but more telling is how Alabama is preparing a workforce for the future. The state’s economic future rests on the ability to train and keep a workforce that can perform the jobs of this century.

Back when I was growing up, there was a program called Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA). VICA students learned to weld, work on cars, stuff envelopes and fix hair. VICA is now known as SkillsUSA, an international partnership of students, teachers and industry.

VICA became SkillsUSA-VICA in 1999 and the name was shortened to its present format, SkillsUSA, in 2004.

Whatever it’s called, it is much more than metal shop and cosmetology.

According to the organization’s website, “SkillsUSA is a national partnership of students, teachers and industry representatives working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. SkillsUSA is a national membership organization serving middle-school, high-school and college/postsecondary students who are preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations, including health occupations.”

There are over 12,000 students and advisors presently enrolled in Alabama chapters of SkillsUSA, according to Keith Andrews, the college and postsecondary state director and central district coordinator. Nationally, there are 335,000 students and advisors in SkillsUSA.

The State of Alabama is divided into five districts for SkillsUSA membership. The greater Birmingham area is in the central district. All seven Birmingham City Schools high schools are members. A complete membership list for the central district is contained on the Alabama SkillsUSA website:

The mission is pretty simple: to empower its members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible American citizens, according to the organization’s literature.

Students learn real job skills, both technical and leadership. There is training in drafting, carpentry, masonry, electrical wiring, electronics, culinary, welding, automotive repair, cosmetology, audio visual production and design, web design, graphics and many more technology related job skills.

Students learn to fix everything from cars to omelets. They learn how to program computers, design websites and build brick buildings. With real job skills learned through proven vocational training programs, these students can compete for great jobs and a bright future.

Among the more interesting and possibly significant benefits of a SkillsUSA membership is the opportunity to participate in the SkillsUSA Championships. Students and advisors compete in over 90 events that showcase the best career and technical education students in the nation. Some of the more intriguing categories include 3-D visualization and animation, cabinet making, commercial baking, crime scene investigation, plumbing and robotics.

The competition starts locally and ends up at the national championships.

It’s hard to keep pace with, much less anticipate, which job skills will be important in our new economy. Training a workforce that is flexible and knowledgeable is vital to Alabama’s economic success and future. Having a program available and utilized properly, like SkillsUSA, is a real benefit for economic developers.

Every time a major industrial inquiry comes to the state, there is a question about workforce. The success that Alabama and other Southeastern states have had in recruiting major employers to the region is based in part on a trained and available workforce.

Educational programs like those offered by SkillsUSA continue to give young workers the training and experience needed for jobs in the future.


On brand

By Dan Monroe

Dan Monroe

You often hear about the idea of the “sales funnel” to describe how prospects in an approachable market eventually become customers. There are all sorts of variations on it, but it usually follows the pattern of (from wide end at the top to narrow opening at the bottom): Awareness, Interest, Decision, and Action. Some simplify it more to Leads, Prospects, and Customers. Others add layers of complexity. I’m not a big fan of the funnel metaphor. You see, there’s this implication that your prospects will just fall into it, thanks to gravity. But it doesn’t work that way at all. There is no natural force working on your approachable market making prospects fall joyfully down into your sales funnel like kids at a water park.

It’s more like a staircase. It’s like the Machu Picchu of sales. After all, it takes work to climb a staircase. To even get somebody to start up your staircase, there has to be some sort of triggering event that makes them want to climb it. Sometimes, intelligent marketing strategies, inbound marketing programs, and advertising are enough. Sometimes, they want to take that first step of their own accord. Either way, it requires effort for that customer to defy gravity and physically mogate up your steps.

Think about your staircase this way. At the bottom are all of your prospects just milling about on a floor chock full of staircases. (Those are your competitors’ brands in case you didn’t stick with me on the staircase metaphor.) Smart marketing strategies or triggering events get them thinking about your staircase among the many other staircases out there. The first few steps represent their moving your brand into their consideration set. At that level, it’s still relatively easy to get back down the steps, though. You haven’t come very far. Eventually, however, your prospect climbs up far enough up the staircase and decides to give you a try. Everything that leads up to that point is advertising, marketing, and sales. It’s your brand as it’s perceived in the market. It’s your sales materials and website, your fancy leave-behinds and tchotchkes. But, the staircase doesn’t stop once they get to that point. Your brand shouldn’t either.

But what’s at the top of the staircase? Up there, in the aether, are your brand angels. They’re the ones who climbed all the way up, who’ve tried your brand many times. They evangelize. They’re your mavens, your aficionados. They’ve drunk your Kool-Aid and liked it. They sing your praises from on high, which makes them your most powerful marketing tool. To get a prospect up there to that heavenly roost, you must deliver your brand experience expertly and consistently all the way up the staircase. You must serve them. You must remind them of what they loved so much about you that they decided to wander up your staircase in the first place. You must treat them with utmost respect because, next to your employees, these are your most precious resource.

Let’s talk about money for a moment. You’ll spend most of it getting a prospect up the bottom part of the staircase.  Awareness building, for example, is the most expensive undertaking of all. Once you get that prospect to try you that first time, the rest of the money you spend should be whatever operational cash you devote to delivering your brand experience as a normal course of doing business. But hear this: if you let one of those angels way up the staircase fall down—if you fail to deliver a positive brand experience to them—you will spend orders of magnitude more money to get them back to where they were (if it’s even possible). What’s more, you must assume those fallen angels are now down there on the ground with that crowd milling about sharing their negative brand experience and making it even more expensive to get the others to take that first step.

10 Things

Need for Speed

George Barber’s zeal for speed ignited his vision for Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum and Barber Motorsports Park. Having raced Porsches in the 1960s, Barber held an impressive track record—63 first place wins. A business executive, Barber rediscovered his motorsports passion in 1988 and began collecting and restoring classic cars.


Best and largest

Barber’s longtime friend Dave Hooper—a motorcycle enthusiast as well as the person who ran Barber’s delivery fleet for 27 years—suggested that Barber shift his focus from cars to motorcycles. Barber seized the opportunity to build the world’s “best and largest” motorcycle collection. He established the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum at its original Southside location in 1995.


The art of the motorcycle

A call from New York

There are a total of 60 motorcycles in the towers flanking the main elevator.
Photo by Marc Bondarenko

’s Guggenheim Museum in 1997 was a defining moment for the Barber Museum. Sending 21 motorcycles to exhibit at the original New York show “The Art

of the Motorcycle,” Barber continued to make the connection between motorsports and art. “The Art of the Motorcycle” exhibit also traveled to Chicago and Bilbao, Spain.




Living museum

The thrill of the New York exhibit sparked a much bigger dream for Barber. He set out to create a one-of-a-kind, world-class facility. Going even further, he imagined a road course as well where the “living museum” quality of the collection could be demonstrated. In September 2003, the 880-acre park, with its world-class 16-turn, 2.38 mile racetrack, opened to the public. The track is home to the Porsche Sport Driving School, and numerous automakers have chosen the park as their stage for vehicle debuts and to film commercials.



With its creative architecture and great attention to detail, the museum is home to over 1,500 motorcycles that span over 100 years of production. More than 650 bikes can be seen on any given day, and 200 different manufacturers from 20 countries are represented in the collection—from Harley-Davidson, Honda, and Indian to Showa, DSK, and Cagiva.


Vehicles like the museum’s Sbarro Lola T70 and the Britten V1000 are on display during certain major events.

Four wheeling

In his passion for motorcycles, George Barber’s love of cars has remained powerful. The museum features the world’s most extensive Lotus collection, anchored by the Lotus 21. The museum also displays rare racecars, including the 1964 Ferrari F-158, in which John Surtees won the 1964 Formula 1 Driver’s World Championship.


Build it and they will come

The museum drew 270,000 visitors last year, including more than 3,000 visitors from other countries. In April 2014, Barber was officially recognized by Guinness World Records as being the world’s largest motorcycle collection.


The Indy Crowd

Attendance for the 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park brought in a weekend crowd of 82,745.Tickets were sold in 41 states and six countries.



The 13th annual Barber Vintage Festival is one of the most highly anticipated motorcycle events in the world. The three-day festival features a fan zone, food and entertainment and swap meet with hundreds of vendors.


AHRMA motorcycle racing on the Barber Road Course during the 12th Annual Barber Vintage Festival. Photo by Albert Hicks.


Each fall MotoAmerica features the country’s best motorcycle racers battling it out on the world’s fastest production-based motorcycles. The weekend includes two full days of racing—a doubleheader event—for the Superbike, Superstock 1000, Supersport, and Superstock 600 classes.





imerge Set for August 23 at the Alabama Theatre

Presented by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama and Summit Media Entertainment, imerge is the state’s largest innovation awards celebration. It expands this year to include a conference with national opinion leaders, a networking mixer and after parties highlighting home-grown food and music.

“We are excited to join EDPA who has annually honored our State’s best and brightest, and we are thrilled to join them in rolling out the next chapter of this great event,” said Erskine “Chuck” Faush, President of Summit Media Entertainment. “We are excited to partner with EDPA on an extraordinary event.”

“We expect an informative and entertaining experience that challenges your dreams, fuels your passion and puts you in the room with thinkers all while having a blast,” Faush said. A special commemorative edition of  BHM Biz, the magazine of metro Birmingham business, will be available at the event. “We are excited to be able to produce a publication that commemorates this important evening,” said Joe O’Donnell, publisher of BHM Biz.

Thomas L. Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist and an author of six bestselling books, including The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, is the keynote speaker at 4 p.m. Then mix, met and greet at the network reception immediately following at 5 p.m. The Innovation Awards celebration that includes live performances at 6 p.m. is the annual highlight of companies of all sizes and innovators who strengthen Alabama’s economy, generate jobs and develop new ideas. Following the awards, the Innovators Lounge with live music from Party of the Year and the Imagineers Loft with DJ Mark AD, will provide the ultimate club experience, plus a taste of Alabama, with delicious food. The “after parties” all take place at the Alabama Theatre and the adjoining Hill Event Center.

A panel of judges chose the winners from a pool of 88 nominations submitted by the public. Companies from Robertsdale, Cullman and Huntsville have been named recipients of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama’s 2017 Innovation Awards.

This year Quality Filters of Robertsdale, wins for Outstanding Achievement in Innovative Manufacturing. The award recognizes the company’s manufacturing methods and business process which cut its filter delivery time from up to four weeks down to an average of five days or less.

ZeroRPM of Cullman, named Corporate Innovator of the Year among small companies with up to 50 employees. The company’s battery-powered ZeroRPM Idle Mitigation System allows a vehicle to idle without running the engine.

Diatherix of Huntsville, honored as Corporate Innovator of the Year among large companies with more than 50 employees. The award is in recognition for its pathogen detection technology, enabling healthcare providers to identify an infection’s cause and determine multiple infection sources.

The Lifetime Achievement in Innovation award honors Jim Hudson, co-founder of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville. one of the most unique areas for genomic discovery in the country.

“We expect a non-stop thrilling experience that challenges your dreams, fuels your passion and puts you in the room thinkers with all while having a blast,” Faush said.

Adding “It’s no mistake the ‘I’ in Imerge combines personal ambitions with collaborative efforts to create something special – imagine, innovate and inspire”.

EDPA Imerge is August 23 at the Alabama Theater. Tickets on sale on Ticketmaster.

Buy tickets here.


About Summit Media 

Summit Media, LLC is an integrated broadcasting, digital media, direct marketing and events company focused on compelling local brands, powerful personalities and meaningful marketing solutions.


About EDPA  

EDPA’s primary focus is to help Alabama attract and retain industry and provides services to companies looking to locate in Alabama, encourages emerging business development and assists companies and communities.


Legal roundtable


The discussion was wide ranging, moving from the makeup of today’s legal industry

to advertising to delivering real value to clients.

Boutiques and Super Regionals: 

What Birmingham’s legal business looks like today. 

Alan Rogers: The business here is in multi-state and boutique firms. For a while, when Birmingham had all the banks headquartered here, there were firms that grew pretty large and they began to have satellite offices. Now that has somewhat flipped, where some firms have offices headquartered here but their offices in other markets are beginning to ascend to be the more dominant economic engines for those firms. I still think there is a enormous space for boutique firms. I think regionals also have their place especially with businesses that are regional or national. But so too does local advocacy. If you came to my firm and you spent some time with us, you would see that much of the work is still very local in nature. You have to know the government and the courts in those jurisdictions.


Augusta Dowd: I don’t see many mid-size firms. It is either boutique or larger regional firms. As far as firms like mine that have a diverse practice and a white collar component, if you don’t have a reason for existence that is different from the people next door, it is a lot harder for you. Companies and entities want the bigger footprint for the most part, so they can get better pricing or more consistency.


Navigating the Industry:

Alan Rogers: Both sophisticated users of legal services and individuals who have never used a lawyer need navigation through our industry all of the time. It is a complicated industry. You have casualty and plaintiff firms, real estate firms and tax firms, white collar criminal firms. The public doesn’t always know the difference and many businesses don’t. The most obvious case I see of people trying to help navigate the legal industry are the lawyers advertising on television. I have zero problems with those in the casualty niche of our market who are telling people who have never used a lawyer that you can come to me.



Sam Ford: At our firm we don’t do billboard or television advertising. It is mostly referral and traditional advertising. We have been successful under that model.


Augusta Dowd: Lawyer advertising is an area of consternation from some and delight from others. But there is a lot of pressure on the state bar, asking them why they are not stopping this billboard splash that we see everywhere. And the truth of the matter is the U.S. Supreme Court has dictated the parameters of legal advertising. It is considered free speech. The state bar monitors it as best they can within those parameters. You have to have the disclaimer and it has to be legible to the reader from the street. If I am driving along and I see a billboard and can’t see the disclaimer, I snap a picture send it to the state bar and I am done. I think that the explosion of legal advertising is a volatile area, but I don’t have any doubt that it has impacted many plaintiff firms. From defense firms, I hear cases are being resolved much more quickly, short of trial, and cheaper. They are not getting the level of business of the lawsuits being filed and the development of cases as before.


Andy Campbell: In the old days when we all started, it was all about referrals. Personal injury work was referred by the small town lawyer, who took a referral fee. You had a system that worked because you had a lot of  lawyers in small towns making a living simply brokering cases. Now when I talk to a small town firm, they are dying because people are not calling them. They are seeing a Shunnarah billboard and they are calling them directly. So you see a lot of push back from small town lawyers who no longer get that business. People are responding directly to the advertising.


Internet Legal Services:

Augusta Dowd: Another area that is potentially eroding business, especially in small towns, is this whole LegalZoom and advocacy online groups. That is a very real issue, not so much in the Birmingham area, but out in the smaller communities.


Andy Campbell: We had a case against LegalZoom over performance where there was a problem with a will. We filed suit, but it was very sketchy as to whether we could hold them to a jurisdiction. There is no state bar really governing that lawyer’s performance or what he is representing. We got it settled quickly, but the governance issues are a real concern of mine. It is sort of what we have now in Alabama with internet lenders. There is no one regulating those people.


Alan Rogers: What in part is happening is that these internet entities and television lawyers and others are placing information right in the lap of the consumer, the legal services navigation that the small town lawyer used to do. People have figured out that if you could put it right in front of people in a billboard or on the internet, it is easy for them. Whether that is good or bad I don’t pass judgment on, but it is unfolding right in front of our eyes.



Sam Ford: One big issue we in plaintiff firms have is when someone sees on a billboard “I got a $100,000 for a sprained wrist.” Already their expectations are sky high. So when I look at their case and see they have $3,000 in medical bills, I have to ask ‘tell me what justifies this six figure settlement that you conjured up.’ My main goal as a personal injury attorney is to manage client expectations. I am starting to get in the habit of telling them upfront that your award is going to be based on what your medical bills are. That is a big problem today with people having expectations of what they think their case is worth and it not being anywhere close to that.



Augusta Dowd: We have the technology where they think we are just sitting on a computer. Now it is: “I sent you an email three hours ago and I haven’t heard back.”


Alan Rogers: There is no time to reflect. Reflection is really the salt of our trade in many ways. We can use it well for clients, but often we don’t get that time.


Andy Campbell: Often clients want an immediate answer and it is a crisis. Often legal matters require deliberation with your partners. You really have to hash things out because they can be life and death multi-million dollar matters. The problem with our high tech society is that sometimes clients are asking for immediate responses—shoot from the hip type answers. It is not like it was years ago when you could say, give me a couple of weeks and we will get back to you. Society moves so much faster now and expectations are higher.


Sam Ford: It is even more difficult for associate attorneys who have to run things up the chain and be concerned about binding the firm to certain things.


Andy Campbell: You have to be very creative with clients. I do a lot of family company breakups and you can shoot yourself in the foot very quickly if you give the wrong advice. Sometimes you just need to buy some time to give you a chance to work through things.


Efficiency and Expenses:

Alan Rogers: In my career in this service business we call the legal industry, there is more focus than ever on the efficiency of lawyers delivering value to clients; which means more than just the rote practice of a legal skill. It also means I understand you. I understand your business. I understand your industry. Clients want efficiency and expertise, and they want value. I think more than ever that is where this whole industry is moving. I can do what I do on a tree stump with a cellphone. Even the offices we are in may one day be very different than they are now.


Augusta Dowd: On the defense side, you are seeing the client say I am not going to pay for you to go down the hall and talk to Alan Rogers. I will pay for one of you, not both of you. Before you could really get your brain trust and bill for it, but now there is much, much more oversight on exactly what you are billing them for. There is much more demand for creative ways you can bill your client so that they feel value has been added.


Alan Rogers: The key question is what is the client’s goal. If the goal is to do it within a fixed budget than we need to talk about a flat fee, rather than an hourly rate. If your goal is that you can’t afford to lay anything out right now and if I take some risk with you, you will reward me with a contingent arrangement. It all depends on what the client wants.


Augusta Dowd: Clients tend to want you to assume more of the risk. I do think our client base is more sophisticated than they were. I think it is an issue for smaller firms to keep that pace and stay current, which is why you see fewer and fewer mid-size firms. System filings are way down in state and federal court, a very significant drop in filings. That impacts firms that have an Alabama or locally based practice. Think of all the work filings create for courthouse and judges. When filings are down business is down community wide. It is down a third at the courthouse since 2010. Jefferson County is set to lose two or three judges because the filings are down.


Andy Campbell: The expense of litigation is driving that. When I started you could file a $50,000 case and actually make some money on it. You can’t do that any more. The nature of litigation has become very, very expensive. The cost of court reporters used to be a dollar a page; now it is four times that. So much of the cost of litigation now is in expert witnesses and forensics, taking depositions and travel. Used to be I could use an accountant in a case and it would cost me $30,000; it is now $100,000. I wish we had a small claims court for under $200,000 cases where parties could elect to take one deposition and go try the case. The danger is people are going to be denied justice because you can’t find lawyers to take the case. I am not sure how we reverse the trend. Everybody should be able to afford a day in court and right now we don’t have that.


Sam Ford: We make sure the client knows ahead of time that if we file a lawsuit, the cost is going to go up. You may end up in the same place you are now and wait a year to get there. The cost benefit analysis of filing needs to be made.


The Birmingham Bar

Andy Campbell: Birmingham is blessed with an outstanding bar and great specialists in tax, real estate and litigation. It is a very ethical bar as well. Compared to Atlanta or New York, it is a collegial bar and people respect each other and are very ethical. There are always exceptions, but we have a quality group of people in this city. I think Birmingham can hold its own with any other city in the country.  

The quality of our lawyers and their dedication to the rule of law is more advanced than what we see in the political arena. We have public officials who seem to lose their way quite a bit and we have a bar that plays a role in making sure the trains get back on the track.

I remember when I worked in the legislature during law school. There were not those ethical issues then because we had a legislature full of lawyers. And they were great people. Those guys did not cross the line. They did the right thing by the state. It was run very well and we did not see the kind of drama we see today. I wish we could return to a time when lawyers become more popular again as elected officials.

I get up every morning and I am excited about coming to work in this great city. It is small enough to have a collegial relationship with other attorneys.


Making it rain


Written by Alex Watson

Leon Ashford, a trial lawyer for 42 years, has been the managing partner at the large plaintiff law firm Hare Wynn since 1996. And he has a proven record of winning multimillion dollar jury  verdicts and settlements in litigation involving catastrophic personal injuries, wrongful death, and complex business disputes.

And despite extraordinary firm and personal successes, he is still nagged by the question that troubles all business people: Where is the next client coming from?

“We had the lion’s share of the plaintiff practice back in the 1970s,” Ashford says. “Everybody needed a trial lawyer in a substantial case. Most of the cases were tried. A substantial lawsuit, at the time a six figure or low seven-figure case, needed a law firm that could finance the case, get the case to the courthouse, try the case, and pay a reasonable referral fee to the lawyer or law firm that referred the case. That business came into a firm like Hare Wynn and we maintained a competitive edge due to the quality of the lawyers who existed here.

“That was pretty much true through the decades of the 1980s, ’90s and right up into the early 2000s. What has really changed over the years is that the ability to generate business by word of mouth, the opportunity of going to church or Sunday school and having somebody recommend you and you’d get a case, does not exist much anymore.”

In the early 2000s, Ashford and Hare Wynn looked at the television advertising market and chose to hold back. “What we did not know was that Mr. Shunnarah and others would get into it as heavily as they were going to, or that it would be as successful as it has been,” Ashford says.

Even so, Ashford says, there are a lot of ways in 2017 to get business in the door, outside of advertising.

“The traditional method of being a really fine law firm with great trial lawyers and the ability to finance major litigation still has its place. We still have plenty of business. We are still going to get hired in substantial lawsuits. We are in three states now in part to compete for the business we did not get in Alabama. We have offices in Arkansas and Kentucky as well as Alabama—four offices in three states, Little Rock, Fayetteville, Lexington and Birmingham,” he says.

Before the rise of television advertising, there was Jere Beasley’s law firm in Montgomery, which Ashford says grew “through a marketing and media effort of annual law seminars that is unparalleled in our state’s history.” Those seminars built relationships which built referrals, Ashford says.

For Hare Wynn, strategically adding offices in other states has proven to be a successful plan for growth, leading to the development of major cases in new areas. “What any plaintiff firm has to do to survive is to decide whether you can continue to do things the way you used to. We realized that we simply could not do that. So we went to Arkansas and began to do nursing home cases there, and that developed into an opportunity to represent thousands of farmers in a genetically modified commodity case. We teamed up with lawyers in that case who live in other states and began doing MDL (multi-district litigation) work where our lawyers can participate with a group of eight or 10 lawyers and handle thousands and thousands of cases that get aggregated  for treatment in one courthouse,” Ashford says.

“Those relationships can’t exist for us unless we decide to go to Arkansas. If we are still here in Birmingham trying to make the phone ring or get the next case and do whatever we can do to be the good lawyers we are, we are not going to get that opportunity. So I know that networking works, working with good lawyers on other cases works. It is substantial litigation with the world’s best law firms and lawyers and the largest corporations in the world.

“There are a number of ways these days to get and attract business and we believe that if we keep our footprint exactly the way it was when we all came into the firm, if we have the best trial lawyers, if we have the best brief writer, if we have the best group of young lawyers that we can put together and be the kind of law firm that can handle almost any kind of case large or small, then we think that works,” he says.

Working in the marketing arena requires a dedication of resources. “All of the metrics and aspects of digital marketing, television marketing, and personal outreach these days requires someone coming in every day and looking at it and dealing with it. So we have made that commitment.”

Business is cyclical, Ashford says,  and since 2008 and 2009 “civil filings are way down. I know that plaintiff law firms are not growing the way they used to. Defense insurance and litigation firms are clearly not growing the way they have in the past.”

The objectives remain: How to get the word out, how to make the proverbial phone ring.

“The lawyers on television today are spending around a million dollars a month in Birmingham, I think. There is a business model with those firms that simply does not exist on these three floors of the Massey Building (Hare Wynn’s building downtown),” says Ashford. “(We) are not warehousing thousands of small car wreck cases and fall-down cases and the other things that Shunnarah and those guys compete for every day. We are not set up to do that. They have large groups of people who aggregate those claims and get them in and out the door in a matter of months. That is just not us. We are still trial lawyers. We are going to settle most of the cases because we prepare them to be tried. But the business model you see on television these days is very different from what we are looking to do. The message we really want to get out there is that we are different, but how do we attract clients and business with that message?”

Ashford is happy to ask the question and to be searching for the answers. “How do you make it rain? We have lawyers in our firm who have always been able to attract business, but that is not just an individual thing any more. You might have two or three lawyers who can get more than they can handle, but for a firm that has 18 or 20 lawyers in three states you need some method to create the volume of business to give people enough to work on.

“We are really happy with where we are today. I was standing in the room the other night with all of our lawyers at a firm dinner and thinking what a good place we are in.”

Being good at what you do is a rainmaking strategy all its own, and one that Bradley attorneys Robert Maddox and Brian O’Dell employ in building their financial services litigation and regulatory practice. The pair has practiced together for more than 15 years and now primarily provide regulatory compliance advice, as well as help their clients navigate the examination and enforcement process.

Their practice grew out of Birmingham’s healthy financial sector of a few years back, when four of the biggest banks in the nation were headquartered here. “So there was a wealth of legal work here in the city,” says Maddox. “Those clients utilized us across the country. We knew their business and they knew us. They didn’t have a problem putting us in a major metro area, a Chicago, New York, Kansas City or Dallas. Because not only did we know their business but based on economies of scale our rates were a great benefit for the work they were getting. That evolution continued over time.”

The pair’s practice continued to grow up until the financial crisis of 2008, and after that accelerated. “When that came we were not only their litigation counsel but their enforcement counsel as well. As the crisis continued, more and more regulations were implemented. We started dealing with the new regulatory regime. We were fortunate to be at the vanguard of that,” Maddox says.

“About 10 years ago we had 15 people working with us. Now we have nearly 100, a sizeable increase. We pull lawyers from different spaces for various matters. It is very beneficial to have those kind of resources available,” says O’Dell.

The business has grown at least partially from being in the right place at the right time with the right expertise. “One way to grow client relationships is to make sure you understand your clients’ needs and provide them with excellent client service and guidance that helps them meet their business goals,” says O’Dell.

“It is personal marketing, but if you enjoy what you do it is not work,” Maddox says. “We do a lot of bet-the-company work and there is a lot of stress in that, because you realize what you are doing has an impact on thousands of employees. But when you realize you have a great firm behind you it makes it a lot easier. It is nice to work in an environment where you can get up in the morning and focus on your clients.

“We know them on a personal level, transcending the professional. We have relationships that have lasted more than a decade. As our clients move to new companies they take us with them. The one thing that we routinely hear is that when they have a problem, they feel we take ownership of the problem with them,” Maddox says.

Personal connections have also been the weather vane that has pointed the way to plenty of business for Scott Simpson, senior partner of Simpson, McMahan, Glick & Burford.

“How do you make rain is something lawyers have really struggled with over the years. I began practicing law in 1993. In those days it was embarrassing for lawyers to talk about marketing. The belief was that if you have to market yourself, you must not be any good. Because there is so much business out there, anyone with any kind of reputation stays busy and does not have to do anything. That really started to change in the mid-1990s.

“That’s been a cultural shift. But we are still all fighting over the same clients. There are only two ways to get a client if you do defense or corporate work, and that is to form one or steal one. All of the big companies already have lawyers and that is true of most local businesses, as well. So how do you persuade them to work with you? Persuading someone to enter into a legal relationship with you is really a personal thing. It is not something that lends itself to cold calls,” Simpson says.

He believes in building relationships with people by being active in the community, being involved in a charity or hobby. “You get highly involved in these things and people see you and get to know you. Inevitably a conversation will emerge. And that is where I have grown my business. If you act like you are marketing, people are going to turn it off. It has to be very natural, they have to like you and see that you are competent, and then they come to you,” Simpson says. “You are not going to talk someone into have a long-term legal relationship if there is not already a relationship there.”

A good friend of Simpson’s is the managing partner. “After the crash, they were having a difficult time. So they did some research to see why some partners were good at bringing in business and others were not. So they brought in some psychologists to do personality testing. And they figured out there are basically three personality types in a service firm,” Simpson says.

“Everyone knows that person who has 500 friends, is well liked and knows everyone. That is the person who you want out there getting business. They don’t have a lot of deep relationships, they just know a lot of people. Then there is the person who has four or five really deep relationships. Once you get the client, that is who you put them with. Somebody who can really bond with the client and make them feel like family. Then you have the people who don’t want to do any of that, they are just really good technical people. Those are the people you surround the other people with, to make sure the job gets done right. They employed that tactic and their business really sky-rocketed,” he says.

Relationships are key to the legal business of Andy Campbell, principal of Campbell Guin, a business litigation firm.

“It is an old-fashioned town in terms of lawyers and legal practice. In larger metropolitan areas, lawyers get business based on specialties. Birmingham is more old-fashioned in the sense that it is more personality driven. You have lawyers who know of your reputation or they know you,” says Campbell.

“Our practice is driven in that fashion. We are a boutique firm. In both our Tuscaloosa and Birmingham offices we have found that relationships develop on a personal basis over the years and they continue on in that basis. Most of the lawyers I work with on referrals, those relationships have lasted 20 or 25 years.”

Campbell sees a Birmingham legal community dominated by boutique firms in certain niches and multi-state regionals. “The days of a 100-lawyer firm solely practicing in the state of Alabama (are dwindling). Where did Maynard Cooper open their last office? New York. Where did they open the one before that? San Francisco. Where did Bradley open their last office? Houston. They are going to Houston, hiring an energy guy, and they are going to build a firm around him.

“You are seeing that model because economies are varied across the country and there is strength in diversity. It is analogous to what the banks did,” Campbell says.

For Campbell, success in making it rain for his firm centers on running it as an entrepreneurial business. “We need to be on the cutting edge in terms of technology and talent acquisition and compete with larger firms on economical pricing to clients.”

Referrals are the key component to business growth for the practice of Howard Neiswender of Sirote & Permutt, PC, and those referrals require consistent, high-level networking.

“These days it is even more important than it was when I started back in 1983. Back then you could do good work and build a reputation and work would come to you. These days people pretty much assume you can get the work done. So you have to be out in the market. You have to be visible and you have to be really proactive about going after the work. You can’t just sit back and wait for the phone to ring. I guess I have found the best way to create work is through referrals. My practice is working with high net worth individuals and their other advisors. I basically work with individuals almost like a family member. Someone who is a sounding board and gets invited to the family barbecues and things like that,” Neiswender says.

“There has to be almost immediate trust. One of the things you have to be known for is being trustworthy. Competency is almost assumed, but trustworthiness is not always the case. You build that by working with others that work in the same market that you do. I get a lot of work from financial advisors, high net worth life insurance agents, certified public accountants that work with high net worth individuals. We basically put together a team that works in a very collaborative fashion.”

Neiswender defines high net worth as $25 million and up. “It is a very small fraternity/sorority to a large extent. Once you work with one family they talk among themselves and talk with others in their same peer group. Your name gets bounced around and you start getting referrals,” he says.

Neiswender provides comprehensive wealth planning for individuals and business owners. Representative work includes the use of innovative tax planning strategies and working with business owners to coordinate their business planning and their personal planning. He also works with U.S. and foreign individuals and businesses in all areas of international planning.

“The nice thing about it is that I am no longer limited by geography. When I started we didn’t have cell phones or the internet. I remember our first fax machine and how excited we got about that. Now I can and do work around the world. It is merely my choice to live here in Birmingham. I could live anywhere I want to, but I just like the lifestyle here and I have a firm that provides me the resources I need,” he says.

Neiswender sees himself as a bespoke tailor. “Everything I do is customized to the situation. I practice in a very holistic manner. A lot of what I do is educational, family communication. We work on a lot of things because so much of this is emotionally driven and not necessarily logically driven. There are a lot of behavioral science aspects to it.”

Whether by referral, paid advertising, social media or networking, attorneys are using all the tools and searching for new ones to make it rain.


Kyoto Yakitori

A Special Sponsored Report from the Alabama News Center

By Michael Tomberlin

Richard Newton is convinced Birmingham’s culinary revolution is ready for his restaurant idea. Newton plans to take ground-floor space in the Ideal Building across 19th Street from Pizitz and turn it into a little slice of Japan.

Kyoto Yakitori will be the restaurant, a name that speaks to the place and the food.

“Kyoto is an ancient capital of Japan and kind of a second home for me over the past several decades, so that’s a personal dedication from me,” Newton said. “Yakitori is the cuisine. We’re talking about grilled meat and vegetables and all manner of combinations thereof.”

The attorney-turned-restaurateur knows grilled meat and vegetables on a stick is not a foreign concept in this state, but the Japanese take on it elevates it to something more.

“Between the United States in a general sense and the city of Birmingham, the Birmingham metro area, people are ready, they’re eager to try new things,” Newton said. “What’s unique about Yakitori in that context is we have the familiarity with grilled meats and vegetables. We’re in Alabama, so we’re already there with that. There is little to no learning curve on that. But we’re also bringing in authentic flavors from Japan so people can go the simple route, they can go … the exotic route or anything in between.”

From sushi to hibachi to Japanese steakhouses, Japanese cuisine has become a part of the U.S. mix. Yakitori is not as prevalent.

“It hasn’t permeated the U.S. culture like, say, sushi has or other Japanese cuisines, so there’s an opportunity here, there’s a niche here,” Newton said. “Plus, it’s so darn good.”

Unlike many Japanese restaurants in the U.S. that offer “Americanized” versions of the cuisine and atmosphere, Newton promises a level of authenticity that will be noticeable once you walk in the door.

Actually, it will happen as you approach the door. Newton wanted a sliding door like Japanese restaurants use as the main entrance, but building codes don’t allow for that. Instead, he’s giving it the appearance of one of those doors without the exact functionality.

It’s that level of detail Newton has been focusing on as he plans Kyoto Yakitori.

“When you walk into there, you’re walking into Japan,” he said. “That’s what we want our guests to experience.”

Once inside, there will be several small tables that can be put together for larger groups. Like in Japan, yakitori is meant to be experienced in small plates (think tapas) for as short or as long of a night of eating and drinking as customers would like.

Beer, wine and sake will be on the menu. Meats will include beef, pork and chicken.

What started out as street food in Japan (and still is throughout the country), yakitori has been broadened to everything from fast food to fine dining in that country. Yakitori restaurants are places where friends and family like to gather and enjoy a night out.

Newton has been testing his concept since last summer with pop-up restaurants at breweries and private events. He’s visited Japan on multiple occasions to explore yakitori in-depth and come up with recipes for skewers and sauces.

Kyoto Yakitori will use electric grills and some other modern touches but wants to adhere to tradition as much as possible.

David Fleming, CEO of REV Birmingham, agrees with Newton that Birmingham is open to trying a variety of new cuisines.

“Downtown Birmingham has emerged as the showcase for diverse cuisine from around the world,” Fleming said. “Yakitori will bring even more authenticity to this food culture developing in downtown.”

Newton said the interior build-out of the space in the historic Ideal building will begin soon and diners could be eating there later this year.

“We’re hopefully starting the build-out within the next month and then we would like to open by the fall,” Newton said. “That’s the plan, at least.”

Diverse food offerings are important to Birmingham not only from a dining standpoint, but there is a larger impact.

“For a city to compete for talent and business in the modern economy it must offer the kinds of amenities and quality of life desired by that talent and business,” Fleming said. “The food culture in Birmingham is one of our economic assets.”

Newton looks forward to being part of that diversity, but most important to him is the opportunity to give people a Japanese experience without having to leave the Magic City.

“I love the food. I love the cuisine. I love the culture. I love the people,” he said. “I just wanted to bring that and share it with Alabama starting here in Birmingham.”

Signature Homes and Alabama Power partnership

A Special Sponsored Report from the Alabama News Center

By Katie Bolton

Alabama Power is partnering with Signature Homes, Southern Company, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and technology vendors to introduce Smart Neighborhood™ by Alabama Power.

Equipped for tomorrow and efficient today, this state-of-the-art community of 62 homes will feature emerging energy-efficient technologies, materials and appliances, and a community-scale power system.

Smart Neighborhood – to be located at Signature Homes’ new Reynold’s Landing community at Ross Bridge in Hoover – is a research and demonstration project where energy usage and performance data are collected from the homes’ innovative features. The information will be analyzed to understand how the features can improve the ways homes are built and function to make people’s lives easier.

Information from the HVAC systems, heat pump water heaters and other technologies will help Alabama Power determine which programs and services can provide new, creative energy solutions for customers.

“Customers today expect energy solutions that fit their lifestyles, and that is the idea behind Smart Neighborhood by Alabama Power,” said John Hudson, senior vice president of Marketing and Business Development. “Our goal is to continue to enhance our customers’ experiences and to ensure they have more control over their energy use.”

The energy for Smart Neighborhood will be provided by the existing electric grid, as well as a community-scale power system called a “microgrid,” which is composed of solar panels, battery storage and backup generation. The microgrid will have the capability to generate more than 586,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually, the amount needed for a neighborhood the size of Reynold’s Landing.

Information and data collected from the microgrid will provide Alabama Power with valuable operational experience as the company evaluates microgrid technology. Data from Smart Neighborhood will be collected for two years.

“This project is another example of how Alabama Power continues to be at the forefront of energy research and development so it can continue to provide safe, affordable and reliable energy to its customers well into the future,” Hudson said.

Each technology-enhanced home in the Smart Neighborhood will be equipped with:

  • A high-efficiency Carrier Infinity® heat pump and Rheem hybrid electric water heater
  • Tech-connected automation: Carrier Infinity Greenspeed® intelligence home comfort system with an Infinity Touch thermostat, Rheem EcoNet mobile app and Vivint smart home system including voice-activated security, smart locks, lights, cameras and garage door control
  • Interconnected Samsung appliances from the Alabama Power Appliance Center: smart hub refrigerator, dishwasher, washer and dryer, and an induction range

Birmingham Candy Company

A Special Sponsored Report from the Alabama News Center

By Carla Davis

Birmingham is a little sweeter since Wayne and Cassie Bolden moved to town.

The couple opened Birmingham Candy Co., focusing on selling handcrafted Southern sweets that are not available in grocery stores. Their new business is in a 100-square-foot converted shipping container in Railroad Park steps away from Regions Field. The unusual storefront has been home base for the new business for two months.

“It has been the perfect opportunity for a small business like ours that is transitioning from selling our candy at farmers markets, events and pop-ups to a brick and mortar store,” said Cassie.

The idea for the business came to the Boldens on their wedding day four years ago. Wayne had temporarily taken a job at a candy store in Savannah, Georgia – a new experience since he had worked in the computer industry.

“We decided to have a candy table at our wedding and had pralines and paws (chocolate caramel pecan turtles) for our guests,” Wayne said. “After the ceremony, everything was gone, even the back stock. People kept telling Cassie, ‘It was a great wedding, and you are beautiful. And by the way, where can we get more of that candy?’”

The owner of the candy store in Savannah had taken Wayne under his wing, teaching him the fine art of making Southern sweets as well as the other aspects of the business.

Shortly after their wedding, the couple moved to Birmingham, Cassie’s hometown, where they decided to try their hand at running their own candy business.

Their first experience with candy sales was memorable, Wayne said. They hosted a booth at Pepper Place on a rainy Saturday in October 2015.

“We’ll never forget it. It was pouring,” Wayne said. “People kept asking, ‘When did Birmingham get a candy company and what is all this?’ I had to introduce them to pralines and turtles because they weren’t sold here. But we actually had a very good response.”

Cassie said they learned a lot that day.

“We just had all our candy out in the open,” she said. “We had little kids touching it and pointing at it. We quickly learned to put up a barrier.”

Since that experience, the Boldens have become familiar faces at Pepper Place.

Their idea, said Wayne, was to build the brand by taking their candy directly to the customers.

“We believe in getting our customer base built first before setting up our retail store so that people will already know who we are and what we offer,” he said. “We won’t have to spend all that money on advertising because we have already gone into the community to these farmers markets and pop-ups.”

Wayne and Cassie both have their own roles in the business.

Wayne jokingly said he is the “chief everything officer.” He is primarily the confectioner. But he handles everything from cooking to sales to accounting to packaging the candy to sweeping the floor.

Cassie, who has a degree in interior design from Savannah College of Arts and Design, focuses on marketing, social media, developing and promoting the brand, and creating the packaging. She also helps Wayne in the kitchen and has begun making candy, specializing in chocolate caramel marshmallow pops. Cassie’s mom, Deb Warnat, helps make deliveries and serves as their sounding board and “cheerleader.”

“This business is our baby right now,” said Cassie. “We started it now because we didn’t want to wonder later what would have happened if we had opened that candy company. We’re building a better life and building a legacy.”

Running the business, Wayne said, is a 24/7 operation. While one is “minding” the store, the other is making candy or handling other business-related responsibilities.

“We eat and breathe the business,” Wayne said. “It’s hard to carve out a little time for ourselves. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

The Boldens said their big sellers often depend on the season. Pralines and truffles are most popular during the summer, while people buy caramel apples in the fall and paws at Christmastime.

Although most of their candy is handmade, the shop carries old-fashioned goodies for kids, such as jawbreakers, pixie sticks and bubble gum. They even partner with another Birmingham-based company, Buffalo Rock, to sell soft drinks in glass bottles.

Wayne said watching people’s faces as they enjoy the candy he made with his “own two hands” brings him great satisfaction.

“I enjoy getting to know the customers and seeing them enjoy our candy,” added Cassie. “We’re literally part of their lives, whether they are buying candy for themselves or a gift for their friends.”

For now, the couple is focusing on selling their candy in their “little box” store at Railroad Park, although they have also shipped it to customers nationwide.

Additionally, their candy can be purchased at the gift shop at the Marriott Hotel on Highway 280. Their peanut brittle is available at the Peanut Depot in Birmingham.

Cassie and Wayne said they hope to move to a permanent brick and mortar store in early 2018.

“I think the best decision we ever made was to name our company after Birmingham,” Wayne said. “If you want to give a little piece of Birmingham to friends and family, come see us. We give you the best of Birmingham.”

Drop by the store Tuesday through Sunday or visit to check out Birmingham Candy’s tasty selections.


Joel Lockridge is an Alabama Maker of Wooden Writing Wonders

A Special Sponsored Report from the Alabama News Center

By Tommy Black

Joel Lockridge

Joel Lockridge loves wood that tells a good story. And the master woodworker shares that passion for pieces of wood — and the stories behind them — in the finely crafted items he creates at his Alabaster workshop.

“I’ve made wooden pens from pieces of Oxford’s Christ Church College Great Hall (that frequently appears in the Harry Potter movies) and from bleachers that were once in Lambeau Field (home to the Green Bay Packers),” Lockridge says. “I started my Bourbon Barrel pen website a few years ago after a Kentucky friend sent me a stave from a barrel used to age the bourbon in a distillery.”

The Centre native grew up helping his father build birdhouses and taking shop classes at Cherokee County High School.

“I had a career as a graphic designer for about 25 years, but I was always woodworking, making picture frames, puzzle boxes and furniture,” he says. “Then one day I had a bit of an accident with a table saw and severed a finger.” But he could still use a lathe and engraving tools, “and I found I liked making pens.”

Joel Lockridge, Bourbon Barrel Pens, Joel makes pens from all sorts of woods. From former bourbon barrels to bog wood from England.

Lockridge was trying to figure out how to make his handcrafted writing implements distinctive, when his buddy delivered the barrel. “It made my whole workshop smell like bourbon,” he remembers. “I thought people who like bourbon might buy that kind of pen, especially if the wood came from their favorite distillery. So I started making the pens and including a Certificate of Authenticity that says which distillery the wood came from as well as a sample of the raw bourbon barrel used to make the item.”

Lockridge’s potent pen idea soon caught on with folks around the country, and today he buys barrels from a dozen distilleries in Tennessee and Kentucky.

In addition to his finely crafted fountain pens, cigar pens, slim pens, gentlemen pens and stylus pens, Lockridge makes shaving razor handles and pepper mills from all types and ages of wood, ranging from seven-year-old Maker’s Mark bourbon barrels to millennia-old English bog oak trees. Preserved after falling in the Fens of England (a marshy region in the eastern part of the country) 4,000 to 6,000 years ago, bog oaks have a deep brown color retained from the mosses that covered them for centuries. “Some are older than the pyramids,” Lockridge says.

When he’s not forming, sanding and finishing pens from pieces of wood, Lockridge creates them from exotic materials such as deer antlers and alligator jawbones. Still, he loves when a piece of ash, oak, pine or cherry with a tale to tell arrives at his door. “Folks will send me a baseball bat they had as a kid, or a piece from a cradle their grandfather used, and ask me to make a pen from it,” he says. “I think those are the ones that mean the most to people— pens made from something that’s been a part of their lives.”


Bourbon and Bog Oak Pens 

The Maker: Joel Lockridge

The Product:

Pens of various types (including fountain, cigar, slim, gentlemen and stylus); shaving razor handles and pepper mills.

Take home:

A “Maker’s Mark 46” Pen made

from Maker’s Mark barrel staves combined with the toasted French oak staves used to flavor the distillery’s “Maker’s 46″ brand of bourbon ($58-$95, depending on pen style).

The details:


Product placement: Have a Seat

By Rosalind Fournier

When William White IV founded Gabby, a division of the Birmingham-based, luxury outdoor furniture manufacturer Summer Classics, he had two clear goals. He wanted the new company to feature indoor pieces that match the level of quality and style that Summer Classics—headed by William’s father, president and CEO Bew White IIl—has maintained in outdoor furnishings since 1978.

But he also wanted Gabby to have its own, distinct personality—specifically the personality of its namesake, Gabriella Comer White. She was William’s grandmother and a great inspiration: an adventurer, world traveler, and a woman of conviction. Like Gabby herself, the line is defined by high standards and eclectic character, and the designers search far and wide for fresh ideas and novel combinations. Gabby can be found in furniture stores and interior design firms throughout the country and as far as Quebec.

and then this happened…

Written by Carolanne Roberts


The countryside near Hartselle; Auburn for a degree in math, magna cum laude; master’s from Clemson University.


“None. I made good grades so thought I’d go to college and see what would happen.”


Married Sandy in his senior Auburn year; the master’s; first job with Shell Oil, Houston, in the research division; and answering a blind ad for Progressive Farmer landing him back in Alabama.


Progressive Farmer led to Oxmoor House, followed by the role of President and CEO of Southern Progress (Southern Living,  Cooking Light and more)—all before the move to New York.


“I’d go down to the lake property we bought between Phenix City and Auburn. I wasn’t getting away from New York pressure. I just like to fish.”


Four years as Chairman of Time Warner Inc.’s Media and Communications Group (America Online, Time Inc., Time Warner Cable, and the book group).


With sons Jeff and Stan, bought Seek Publishing, the Birmingham Barons, and B.A.S.S. (the largest membership organization for bass anglers). Re-purchased their pre-New York house in Mountain Brook.


“The trend in baseball is urban locations. I give my sons credit for the decision to move downtown from Hoover. Right off the bat we were getting half a million people.


“The property cycle started next. Apartments, growth. It gained momentum. I do think our coming down there played a huge role.”


Travel for business, travel for fishing (his record: 12 pound bass); about 50 of the 70 annual Barons games; “enjoying the moment as I’ve always done.”


“If you can go into your supposed retirement years and have a hard time figuring out whether you’re working or playing, that’s a good thing.”