Friday , December 14, 2018

January 2014

Featured In This Issue

January 2015



“Hello, Mr. Williams. This is Roger Smith of Acme Widget Company. I sent you an email earlier today about our new product line, and I wanted to follow up to see if you had any questions and if we could find a time when I could stop by to visit.”


     Sales reps have been making cold calls for decades, and in many such exchanges, the potential client is more interested in terminating the call than getting more information. If the message were left on a voice mail system, the sales rep might never get a call back. But Roger Smith’s call is going to be different.

     Smith knows that his prospect has an interest in the new product line, because Mr. Williams clicked on a hyperlink in Acme Widget’s broadcast email to the company’s online product descriptions. He also knows which specific products Williams looked at, and he knows Williams downloaded a copy of the Acme Widget Engineering Department’s whitepaper on their newest line.

     Thanks to a high-quality local business database, Smith knows he’s contacting the right manager, and thanks to an online email lead generation system, he knows his prospect has a genuine interest in the products his company’s trying to sell.

     The systems that are helping Smith turn cold calls into warm calls are the refined prospecting tools offered by Business Wise, a 34-year-old business-to-business (B2B) sales and marketing intelligence firm.


Regional and Verified

     Business Wise is headquartered in Atlanta, but has set up regional operations in Charlotte and the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex. Company CEO Debra Kline and her late husband, Lyle Leslie, founded the company in 1980. Charlotte operations are located in SouthPark.

     Business Wise provides sales and marketing professionals with an online web database that includes key data about the businesses in each local market. These data points include company name, address, and telephone number; estimated sales and number of employees; headquarters location; website; and most importantly, the names, titles and email addresses of the key contacts within each functional area of the company. The database allows a client’s sales reps to identify the right companies to target and who within each company to call.

     Business Wise focuses exclusively on the three markets they serve, and this intense local focus allows the company to provide higher quality data, something they say is the key driver of their company culture. Without quality data, companies are wasting both time and money trying to find the right prospects.

     “For over 30 years, our top priority has been to ensure the accuracy of our data in the markets we serve,” says Kline. “We’re not shy about saying it: We don’t research everywhere, or have the biggest database…and we don’t want to. We want to provide the best database—with the most trustworthy data—so B2B professionals in our three markets can more reliably generate leads and make sales.”

     The database includes information on about 165,000 companies with 315,000 contact names statewide in Georgia, another 120,000 companies and 230,000 contacts in Dallas-Ft. Worth, and about 50,000 companies with about 100,000 contacts in Charlotte metro. For Business Wise, the Charlotte region includes 13 counties in the Charlotte metropolitan area.

     The Business Wise research department verifies all company data by telephone on a regular basis. Each company in the database is reviewed at least annually and larger companies that might experience more frequent contact changes are reviewed more often. Business Wise’s local managers are also charged with knowing their markets and keeping the research department apprised of changes in their region. The database is updated nightly and available the next day.

     But it wasn’t always this way. The company was founded before the Internet age, so their first products were paper-based hardbound directories. As personal computers began to work their way into business by the early 1990s, the products evolved to personal computers with CD-based delivery. The paper directories were discontinued in 2001, and the company moved exclusively to online Internet access in 2007.

     While the basic information provided by Business Wise has not changed over the years, the online format offers new opportunities to identify top prospects more easily and effectively use the company’s proprietary software tools.

     Business Wise sells a variety of annual subscription packages at different price levels designed to serve different client needs. The higher tier packages include expanded data exporting capabilities, email marketing capabilities, as well as larger numbers of authorized users.

     “We work with clients on about three different levels,” explains Executive Vice President Lee Summey, a 10-year veteran of Business Wise. “Some clients just want to access the information for prospect identification. But other clients want a software tool that allows them to identify their target markets and send marketing emails on an ongoing basis. The third level is our latest marketing automation platform that introduces behavior-based marketing.”


Email Marketing to Marketing Automation

     In addition to prospect identification, the Business Wise basic packages allow clients to send “one-at-a-time” emails. This base-level capability simply allows a sales person to follow up a phone call with an email message to the desired contact.

     The next level of email marketing is what is often referred to as “batch and blast” emails, where multiple messages are sent over time to a list of prospects. But instead of blasting emails blindly into cyberspace, Business Wise applications allow precise targeting of the message, something they refer to as “drip marketing,” an analogy to drip irrigation systems that water plants with small amounts of water spread over a long period of time.

     With drip marketing, a client identifies their target market based on such things as the industry, the size of the company, or the location. Whether the list is 5,000 or 20,000 email addresses, Business Wise and the client then work collaboratively to develop an integrated email marketing plan to approach these prospects on a regular basis with whatever message the client wants to deliver.

     While many clients opt for a once-a-month message, others might take a different approach, like sending three or four messages to promote a specific event, such as a seminar. It’s all up to the client, based on their target market and their marketing goals. The Business Wise application then allows the client to accurately measure the response to the messaging.

     “The client is able to see not just who opened the email, but who actually clicked on one of the links in the message, which links they clicked on, and what time they clicked,” says Vicky Ray Pace, the company’s area manager for the Charlotte region.

     “We tell our clients to log in to the system to see who clicked through and then make follow-up calls based on that list. It basically turns those cold calls into warm calls because they have already shown interest in what you are selling,” explains Pace.

     “Within the last three years we’ve probably executed more than 1,500 campaigns and sent somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 million emails across our client base,” adds Summey. “Our clients can monitor deliverability rates, activity and click-through, and they can make changes in their message and get real-time feedback.”

     The newest addition for Business Wise is an expanded “marketing automation” offering — a software platform that automates the often-repetitive tasks that comprise an email marketing strategy, such as the timing and targeting of emails. It takes online lead generation to the next level.

     While traditional email marketing solutions allow the client to track clicks on a hyperlink, once the client clicks on that link, where they go on the website after that is not tracked after the intial click. Did they just go to that one page and leave? Or did they then visit several other pages, indicating a greater level of interest?

     Marketing automation systems provide more information on what a prospect does while on a client website, allowing the sales process to be customized further.

     “Companies often refer to this behavior tracking as ‘a lead becoming sales ready,’” says Summey. “They look for certain behavioral things to happen before they consider a lead to be ready for a follow-up sales call.”

     Each client can define what “sales ready” means for them. The application uses a scoring system where each client creates scores for certain online behaviors. For example, the frequency with which a prospect returns to the client’s website could be given one score value. Looking at a particular white paper could be given another score value.

     Different values are assigned to each behavior, and a prospect whose total score exceeds a certain level, is considered to be sales ready. Once the prospective client is flagged as sales ready, a sales representative is automatically notified that it is time to follow up.

     “Repetition in your marketing efforts has always been a key to building name recognition and trust with your future clients,” explains Kline. “Email marketing has proven to be a successful method to touch a targeted audience on an ongoing basis.

     “However, most firms are not taking full advantage of email marketing because they don’t have a trustworthy source of email addresses beyond their own client list. This is where Business Wise fills the gap by providing the email addresses of their best prospects and the email systems to deliver their marketing message.”


Best Practices for Greater Success

     Marketing automation allows for some very sophisticated direct marketing plans, and can offer the small business owner as much marketing power as a large corporation. But these systems are just enablers. The client still needs to be able to execute those plans, and according to Summey, that is where many companies begin to struggle.

     “You’ve got to have great marketing content to go along with your plans, so we spend a lot of time sharing best practices with our clients,” he says. “With the millions of emails that pass through our system, we see what tends to work and what doesn’t, but the exact approach is going to be different in just about every case.”

     One of the “best practices” programs the company offers in each local market is the Business Wise Insiders, a series of local networking groups where Business Wise clients and prospects come together to share successful business development ideas.

     “It’s not like a typical networking event where you go in and swap business cards and talk or have breakfast,” explains Pace about the Insider events she hosts in Charlotte. “We actually share meaningful content. We’ll have a program and discussion each month on a sales and marketing topic that is of interest to our clients and prospects.”

     Pace says that each Business Wise client gets unlimited training, both with the initial purchase, and whenever they need to learn new features or purchase a more feature-rich package. Training is done in person and they also make extensive use of webinars. For larger clients with many users, Business Wise will also come to the client site.

     “For most of our clients it’s a crawl, walk, run, and soar process,” admits Summey. “Most clients ramp their way up into using these systems instead of going from zero to 100 mph all at once. There is value that can be gained with each incremental step. Do one thing first and get comfortable with that before moving into the next phase.”

     “A lot of things have changed in our business over the last 34 years, but there’s a lot that hasn’t changed, too,” Pace concludes. “Our core business is still producing that high quality data that sales and marketing professionals need to find their next client. There are other data providers out there in the world, but our clients choose to work with Business Wise because the quality of the data is what really matters.”




     When a new hospital opens in a small town, doctors, nurses and staff are often treated like long lost cousins at a family reunion. Townsfolk welcome them, take pride in their arrival and anticipate a long and close relationship.

     How would that scenario play out if the first name of the hospital were “mental” and not “medical”? What if “mental” were softened to the more descriptive, “behavioral health”? Would there be the same pride, anticipation and welcoming handshake? Yes, if the town were Davidson. No, if it were Huntersville.


Old Devils Die Hard

     In 2007, Carolinas HealthCare Systems (CHS) spent $24 million to demolish the old Huntersville Oaks nursing home and rebuild a modern 168-bed facility for the elderly who needed special care.

     Four years later they unveiled a plan for a section of the new Huntersville Oaks property. CHS wanted to rezone the site for an all-private rooms, single story in-patient and out-patient behavioral health center. Zoning would change from neighborhood residential to campus-institutional.

     After a contentious public meeting in January 2012 that focused on public safety and traffic, the town planning board approved the CHS application on its merits. Neighborhood opposition solidified at the Huntersville town commissioners meeting in February 2012 and commissioners voted 4 to 2 against the rezoning plan. Even a 16-foot perimeter wall for the in-patient center failed to convince the skeptics.

     The real cause for the no vote is as old as civilization itself—the stigma attached to those who don’t fit in. For over 3,500 years, odd behavior—hearing voices, unrelenting sadness, paranoia—was attributed to evil spirits or demonic possession. It’s hard to imagine a more fear-provoking mark of shame, the classic definition of stigma. Psychiatrists and psychologists know better now, but old devils die hard.

     “I think that was a substantial reason why elected officials chose not to support building it there,” says Tom Gettelman, Ph.D., the clinical psychologist appointed to administer the new facility. “Some neighbors chose not to understand that providing an acute mental health facility actually enhances the safety of a community.”

     Ever the psychotherapist, Gettelman reframed the experience. “In the end,” he says, “Huntersville allowed Davidson to embrace us.”

     Davidson wasted little time moving from hello to embrace. Two months after the Huntersville plan failed, Davidson Mayor John Woods approached CHS. “We appreciate the great need for mental health facilities in our community,” Mayor Woods was quoted as saying. The very mission of the town of Davidson encourages a healthy lifestyle in a healthy environment. A behavioral health hospital fit perfectly with the community’s goals for itself.

     To add a bear hug to the embrace, one of the goals of the Davidson town board of commissioners is to enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of its citizens. “Commissioners use that health lens with all of their projects,” says Gettelman.

     The 23-acre site offered to CHS did not need rezoning nor was it in an established neighborhood. Six months before Mayor Woods visited with CHS officials, the Davidson town board had rezoned the area to allow for flex campus development, a designation that fit the new behavioral health center to a T. The purchase price of the property was not made public, but the price tag on the Davidson center was $36 million, three million dollars more than the Huntersville campus plan.

     Davidson was not the only town in northern Mecklenburg County to step forward, but it was the most enthusiastic. “Davidson has been amazing,” says Gettelman. “From day one, across the board, from elected officials, the chief of police, the entire community has embraced what we want to bring. The walk matches the talk.”

     What CHS wants to bring are jobs, a new staffing model and help to those suffering the perverse effects of drug abuse and mood disorders.


New Davidson Facility

     For Davidson’s 66-bed, 67,000 square foot in-patient hospital, Gettelman wants to employ 45 psych nurses, 55 psych technicians, 18 master’s level therapists, four recreation therapists, three peer specialists, two pharmacy techs, and six psychiatrists. That’s more therapists and fewer nurses than is typical of behavioral health hospitals. But it is how they work together that makes Davidson different.

     He also wants to divide the new hospital into three 22-bed units. Each unit has its own therapy team that works seven consecutive days and then has seven days off. The result? “Very cohesive and consistent teams on every unit,” says Gettelman. Since the length of stay at Davidson’s inpatient hospital is expected to be from five to eight days, it’s possible that a single team would manage a patient’s progress from admission to discharge.

     This type of staffing model is unique among behavioral health hospitals in the United States. In medical hospitals the model has been around since 1996 and goes by the name “hospitalist.” A hospitalist is a physician responsible for coordinating a patient’s care during their time in the hospital. Although patients often complain that their personal physician or surgeon has not come to see them, hospitalists have achieved greater consistency of care, shortened lengths of stay, eliminated on-call MDs, enhanced patient safety and minimized handoff problems between shifts and departments.

     Since few patients in a short term “mental” hospital like Davidson have a family psychiatrist, Gettelman’s model has no obvious disadvantages. Psychiatrists—medical doctors trained in psychopharmacology and behavior disorders and employed by CHS—will be Davidson’s hospitalists.


Treatment at a Loss

     Carolina HealthCare Systems is gambling on the long-term benefits of its behavioral health care centers. Topping the short benefit list is a reduction in emergency department visits by those needing psychiatric care. In a report released in April 2013, a North Carolina joint legislative committee found that the majority of individuals admitted to a psychiatric inpatient unit or to a hospital are referred through an emergency department. The average length of stay for those in crisis was nearly 16 hours.

     Two solutions to that problem have emerged—telepsychiatry and psychiatric emergency departments. Through Skype and a high definition telephone/video connection, CHS emergency department personnel can have a person in crisis interviewed by a psychiatrist at the Behavioral Health Center—Randolph 24/7.

     This innovation has two benefits, says Gettelman: “The psychiatrist can determine the level of care needed and often discharge the person to home.” If the person needs to be admitted and is waiting for a bed, the psychiatrist can start the medical treatment. This often involves psychotropic drugs for which psychiatrists are medical experts.

     Dr. John Santopietro, CHS’s new chief clinical officer for behavioral health services, sees another long term benefit to treating behavioral problems first. “The cost of treating diabetes is 60 percent more when treating diabetes and depression,” he was quoted as saying. “Control depression first and it makes diabetes easier to manage. Leave depression untreated and the chances are very good, says Santopietro, that the person will be readmitted to the hospital.”

     The same may be says about gun-related tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary School. Left untreated, the demons that drove Adam Lanza, Seung-Hui Cho, and others to murder continue to disrupt lives and increase the likelihood of more atrocities. Gettelman says he cannot guarantee that Davidson or Randolph will prevent another Sandy Hook, but treatment lowers the risk. “If you treat people for heart disease can you guarantee they will not have a heart attack?”

     There are long term business implications to what Gettelman is doing at Davidson. Absenteeism, poor productivity, bad attitude and workplace violence may be crisis-induced or the psychological consequences of chronic and untreated depression. These business costs are estimated to be two to three times higher than what it would take to treat these problems at a facility like Davidson or Randolph.

     In the short term, behavioral health is hardly a money maker. “Psychiatric facilities don’t make money,” says Gettelman. “CHS expects to lose $3 to $5 million a year at Davidson,” he adds.

     The reasons go back 50 years. In the 1960s, states began deinstitutionalizing their long-term “mental” patients. New drugs, new federal laws and new ideas regarding humane care provided the stimulus for change. Local communities were expected to absorb the now released patients with some help from the federal government and no help from the states.

     The beds at the Davidson hospital are state beds that were transferred to CHS from Broughton, the state mental hospital in Morganton. While North Carolina is willing to make the transfer, they are not willing to provide any financial support to private businesses like CHS to build community-based in-patient units.

     Communities and businesses willing to take that risk and build or retrofit existing hospital units for psychiatric patients soon discover that insurance reimbursement for those patients does not cover costs. “You can have a billion dollars of insurance coverage,” says Gettelman, “but an insurance company can deny coverage because in their mind, inpatient care is not medically necessary.”

     The sad facts are that community mental health needs private businesses to build and staff local or regional clinics, but at a financial loss.


Crossing the Divide

     While it is the inpatient program that draws most of the attention, Davidson’s outpatient clinic is where many inpatients are referred after discharge. Outpatient services provides the support, medication management, counseling and eventual dismissal after inpatient’s quick stabilization. The outpatient staff is not a seven days on/seven days off team like the inpatient side, but there is one element that glues them together: “Everyone is trained in the methodology of cognitive behavior therapy,” says Gettelman.

     This form of therapy has become one of the most widely used therapy approaches in the United States. It rests on the assumption that faulty cognitions—maladaptive beliefs, unrealistic expectations and distorted ways of thinking—are the cause of abnormal behavior. The therapist’s job is to explore and reinterpret thinking errors like “I’ll never get a job,” “The boss invited me to lunch, so I guess I’m going to be fired,” and “Every time I try to have fun it turns into a nightmare.”

     Complimenting cognition is a strong behavioral component. The therapist is a teacher, role play leader and social skills trainer. The goal is for patients to unlearn inappropriate cognitions and behaviors and replace them with those that are effective and normal.

     Cognitive behavior therapy fits perfectly with the environment Gettelman is attempting to build at Davidson. It reduces the stigma attached to treatment—everyone has unacceptable and strange thoughts—and is respectful of the ways we arrive at our faulty thinking. There is no probing the unconscious or the first five years of life. The emphasis is on thinking and doing in the here and now.

     After Davidson is built and operating, what’s next for Carolinas HealthCare Systems? Possibly its most influential and difficult task lies ahead. Gettelman says it is the integration of behavioral health with primary medical care. Only an organization with “HealthCare” and “System” in its name could pull off this much needed paradigm shift.

     Dr. Santopietro provides the context for integration: “Up to 70 percent of primary care medical appointments are for issues related to psychosocial concerns. This is especially true for children.” Leaflets concerning depression could be distributed during a child’s annual physical, counselors could be employed by family physicians and pediatricians could link to psychiatrists via telepsychiatry for on-the-spot consultations.

     Medicine first put a toe in the waters of behavioral health in the 19th century when the cause of a disease then called “general paralysis of the insane” was discovered. For years the hallucinations, delusions, personality changes and mood swings associated with this disorder were thought to be purely mental and out of reach for traditional medicine. When it was learned that these symptoms were the later stages of syphilis, medicine and behavioral health found at least one common bond.

     Over the years, other connections were made, more recently in the area of depression. Others remain to be discovered and implemented.

     “There is no health without behavioral health” is more than a mantra or cliché. The two seemingly disparate fields are joined at the brain, not the hip. Integration may be the long-awaited cure for the stigma associated with mental illness and the key to greater behavioral health.


     It’s easy to tell that psychologists Dave Verhaagen, Ph.D, ABPP, and Frank Gaskill, Ph.D. are longtime friends. They bounce good-natured jokes off each other and easily fall into the comfortable shtick only developed over years of association.

     In fact, their friendship dates back to their years studying psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when Verhaagen was a graduate student and Gaskill still an undergrad.

     As co-founders of Southeast Psych, the two have managed to bring the ease and fun of their friendship into their practice. Their SouthPark area office has become well-known around town for its pop culture feel with a waiting room more like a family room, complete with video games and comfy chairs; and hallways dotted with movie posters and superhero caricatures of each therapist outside their office door.


All About FIRE

     A quick turn down a hallway could also bring you face to face with a life-size Darth Vader, Batman or Wonder Woman figure. The atmosphere brings a smile to many clients who might otherwise be anxious or uncomfortable going to the businesslike offices of typical psychologists. And it’s especially attractive to the many children and adolescents Southeast Psych serves.

     That’s the point according to Verhaagen. “Frank and I were part of another practice when we decided to start Southeast Psych 14 years ago,” he says. “The traditional practice is kind of dry and sterile and a little uptight.

     “We decided we wanted to do something different. We wanted a place that was fun and accessible and that was doing really innovative things. So from the beginning, we embedded our values into the culture.”

     The core values guiding and shaping the actions and culture of Southeast Psych are represented by the acronym FIRE—fun, innovation, relationships and excellence.

     “We can joke and laugh and act ridiculous,” explains Gaskill, “and those kinds of things make treatment more relational, personal, accessible and more relevant in people’s everyday lives. But what’s underneath all of that is the ‘meat and potatoes’ of what works in psychology.”

     “It’s not just putting on a show,” adds Verhaagen. “We provide cognitive behavioral therapy, DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) and traditional marriage and family therapies—all of which are grounded in empirical research and best practices.”

     With offices in SouthPark and Blakeney and over 30 clinicians, the practice is one of the largest in the state. While it’s clear the practice is popular, pinning down an exact number of patients seen per month is a little more elusive.

     “We have anywhere from 20 to 25 groups each week of about six clients,” explains Gaskill. “For individual therapy, our more established clinicians see between 28 and 32 people a week, while our newer clinicians are in the 15 to 18 person range.”

     “Any given week I see about 30 people,” says Verhaagen, “but in terms of who’s an active client, it’s harder to know. I just got an email from someone I hadn’t seen in months who asked to book a time, so, you see, it can be hard to measure. It’s a lot. We see a lot of people.”

     In addition to their current client load, on average, the practice receives more than 200 referrals a month. Referrals can come from other health care providers but often, “it’s a friend of a client,” says Gaskill.


What Makes You Tick?

     By intent, Southeast Psych uses a positive psychology approach toward treatment. “We focus more on what’s right with people and enhancing their lives,” explains Verhaagen.

     “Broadly, there is a wave of psychology that’s moving in that direction in terms of what’s being written but it’s not translating down to the local level a lot. We’re one of the few places currently that has that tone and vibe about it.”

     Because of its unique atmosphere and approach, Verhaagen and Gaskill have specific criteria for the clinicians in the practice. “We ask if the person is a good fit for us culturally,” says Gaskill. “That’s very important and they must know their stuff. But we’ve moved more to an ‘expert model’ where a clinician really knows a particular field—maybe sleep or Asperger’s—and can become the expert in that area for the practice.

      “Our clinicians want to build a relationship with the Charlotte community and beyond, that connects with their interests as a psychologist—and as they niche into what they love, it becomes their specialty. We want to be the ‘purple cow’; the one that stands out as an expert in that particular area.”

     This focus on expertise in specific specialties allows Southeast Psych to offer therapies far beyond the scope of traditional practices. Treatment for typically-seen issues like depression, anxiety, substance abuse and relationships co-exist with therapies covering parenting, body image, career counseling, sleep difficulties and sports performance, to name just a few.

     Several focus areas have become specialty brands for the practice. “Food Wise” concentrates on overcoming eating obstacles such as eating disorders, obesity and picky eating. “Mind Over Body” uses sports and clinical psychology to help athletes maximize mental and physical performance. “Mind Matters” provides practical strategies to promote learning success. “Rest Assured” assesses sleep disturbances with the goal of improving sleep quality. And “Wise Minds” uses DBT to help people to better manage their emotions for improved relationships.


The Superhero Aspies

     Gaskill, who has become an internationally known voice for Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of autism, is currently developing a specialty brand specifically for autism.

     The spectrum of Asperger’s is large but it is typically characterized by high intelligence, obsessive focus and difficulty in interpersonal relationships, often leaving those affected feeling different and like outsiders.

     “People with Asperger’s can feel like they were dropped off from a spaceship,” says Gaskill, whose grandfather and father were likely Asperger’s before the syndrome even had a name. “I’ve taken it on as a personal mission to celebrate Asperger’s kids and their special strengths.”

     “‘Aspies’ are Awesome” has become a Gaskill tagline and it appears to resonate with patients. Julie Richards’ 13-year-old son Taylor had worked with other therapists before receiving an Asperger’s diagnosis from Southeast Psych three years ago. She said the positive way in which the syndrome was explained had a tremendous impact on Taylor.

     “When Dr. Gaskill told Taylor he had Asperger’s,” Richards explains, “he did it in a way that said ‘You’ve won the lottery; you’ve got this phenomenal brain.’ He told my son that there would be challenges, but that there were also so many positive things, and he named all these famous people who have Asperger’s and all they’ve accomplished.”

     Along with private sessions, Taylor participates in several groups Southeast Psych offers for Asperger’s children that focus on learning social skills and applying those skills in real world settings.

     “In the group ‘Aspies on the Go,’ the boys went to restaurants and to hang out at the mall,” Richards explains. “They even went through the exercise of applying for a job at Caribou Coffee. But what has made him happiest at Southeast Psych is his new group of friends and that he now has an identity. He’s proud to have Asperger’s.”

     Gaskill is happy to be part of creating what he believes is an emerging hub for positive Asperger’s treatment in Charlotte, citing also The Epiphany School of Charlotte geared toward educating Asperger’s children from first through eighth grade. But Gaskill’s mission to help those with Asperger’s extends far beyond the office he shares with his large collection of Star Wars memorabilia. His “World of Asperger’s” video series can be accessed through YouTube or on Southeast Psych’s website and is also available in Arabic.

     “There’s a woman in Baghdad who’s an ‘Aspie’ and who has an autistic son and an ‘Aspie’ son,” Gaskill says. “She started following the show and now she translates the videos into Arabic for us.”

     Gaskill also reaches out to Asperger’s kids with his comic book, “Max Gamer.” Co-written with Ryan Kelly, the comic tells the tale of an Asperger’s boy who uses his Asperger’s traits in superhero fashion to rescue his sister. The second in the series, “Max II, The Rise of the Bully,” is expected to be released early next year.


Global Practice

     Gaskill also uses Twitter to share information. Currently, 4,227 people follow him @Drfgaskill. But Southeast Psych’s efforts to reach out are not limited to only Asperger’s patients. A central mission of the practice is what they term “Psychology for All.”

     “We believe that psychology can enhance people’s lives,” explains Verhaagen, “that when people gain access to psychology, that they can use it as a tool to make their lives better. And we also understand that therapy is expensive and it isn’t within every family’s financial reach, so our mission became to get psychology to as many people as possible.

     “We had to go beyond what we ordinarily do like testing, consultation and therapy so we started several initiatives. We created a studio in the office to produce a video channel, we started an in-house publishing company and a speaking arm that could get this information out into the community.”

     Today, Southeast Psych Studios produces free and informative videos like “The Dr. G. ‘Aspie’ Show,” “Enhance!”, “The Psych Mom” and the “Mind Matters Learning Channel.” Hero House Publishing produces both non-fiction and fiction books related to enhancing the understanding of psychological issues. And the practice’s Super Speakers holds free talks on a wide range of topics for schools, organizations and the community as a whole.

     “We’ve done over 100 talks to the community this past year,” says Verhaagen. “They’re available to anyone and they’re all free.”

     “Recently, we decided we were going to take a day and offer a free conference,” adds Gaskill. “We had 20 different tracks. Each hour we offered four tracks for the five hour day. Over 200 people showed up.

     “One of the biggest issues in mental health care today is access. We’re trying to be part of the dialogue to address that issue. Through printed material, through videos, through community talks, all of it is to fulfill the mission of getting psychology out to the people.”

     Verhaagen and Gaskill are also trying to get a message out to other health care professionals. In addition to Gaskill’s “Max Gamer” series and the six books Verhaagen has authored, the two are currently working on a book to guide other health care professionals in creating their own dream practice.

     “It’s a book for people who are in mental health or health care in general who want to create something different and new,” Gaskill says.

     “Our idea is not for others to be like us but to create a mission and value-driven practice,” explains Verhaagen. “Figure out what you’re passionate about and construct that.”

     Along with the “Your Dream Practice” book, the pair has a video on the subject at and also does some consulting with practices interested in this approach around the country.

     Recently, Verhaagen and Gaskill became involved with a unique documentary. The not-for-profit film, “Legend of the Knight,” tells how the resonance of the story of Batman has impacted people, helping them overcome struggles and motivating them to think differently about themselves and their lives.

     Verhaagen and Gaskill were originally contacted for an interview, clips of which are included in the documentary, but ended up signing on as executive producers of the project. The documentary will be aired locally on March 6, 2014, at the EpiCentre.

     In the meantime, they’ll be going through the office storage room. An email from a staff member says it must be done by Friday and specifically mentions needing to clean out the puppets.

     “Not the puppets!” Verhaagen jokes.

     “I guess that means I’ll have to move out my Star Wars commemorative plates,” is Gaskill’s comeback.

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     “I’m a big believer in fiduciary responsibility and that is what we are committed to,” states Rinehart who is a registered investment advisor. “When we invest your assets, you are the sole beneficiary.”

     Over the past 29 years, Rinehart has built Rinehart Wealth Management into a highly successful, fee-only financial advisors company.

     “When I started out in 1985, I was the only fee-only company in Charlotte,” remembers Rinehart. Still today, fee-only companies represent a tiny fraction of the financial industry that is mostly made up of companies who sell financial products on commission and charge performance-related fees. Rinehart Wealth Management is the largest fee-only financial advisors company in the region.

     Rinehart has her reasons: “I decided early on that I never wanted anyone to question my integrity; I can never be accused of having a conflict of interest. I’m going to give you the best advice I can, and I won’t put anything in my back pocket.

     “Clients pay us a percentage—usually one percent— of their assets under management. The percentage goes down as assets under management go up.”

     Rinehart Wealth Management has evolved into a boutique wealth management firm for individuals and families who have between $1 to $10 million in liquid assets.

     “We offer very comprehensive wealth management solutions for a lifetime,” says Rinehart. “We learn and evaluate the client’s financial goals and needs and strategize how to allocate their assets to meet those goals and needs.”

     “Our work is individualized, customized,” continues Rinehart. “Every portfolio is different. Every client has different needs and capacity for risk-taking.”

     “A $1 to $10 million portfolio is really our niche, where we do our best work,” says Rinehart. “We’re not looking for the $50 to $100 million dollar client because we don’t have the staff to take care of, say, ranches in Texas. We work with families who need to set money aside for college expenses and retirement.”

     Rinehart has gained the loyalty of scores of clients, many of whom have been with the company since its beginnings. Rinehart Wealth Management currently manages $289 million in assets and earned over $2 million in revenue this past year.


Investing With Integrity

     Rinehart Wealth Management’s success has as much to do with Rinehart’s wisdom in investing in her own company as her expertise in making investments for others.

     “We have very sophisticated asset management—unusual for a firm our size—made possible by state-of-the-art asset management tools and the people who know how to fully use them,” says Rinehart. “We’ve invested significant money to obtain computer software programs and tools and to attract the brightest people in the field.”

     Daniele Donahoe joined Rinehart in 2009, following an impressive career in the financial industry, and now serves as president and chief investment officer. Donahoe is a graduate of the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). Additionally, Donahoe co-managed a small cap equity mutual fund at Bank of America prior to joining Rinehart.

     Rinehart Wealth Management’s staff consists of nine employees who work as financial advisors, investment managers or in client services. Each client has a financial advisor and an investment team working on his/her behalf. All analytical work and trading is done in-house.

     When Donahoe joined the firm, she recommended introducing FactSet as its primary research tool. After using the software for over a decade to manage institutional money, Donahoe knew FactSet would allow for more sophisticated investment research for the company’s clients.

     “I have not come across many advisors that utilize FactSet to manage individual portfolios. It is a differentiating technology,” says Donahoe. The company also implemented Tamarac which offers Registered Investment Advisers an integrated web-based platform developed to provide more robust regarding performance reporting, billing, trading and customer data management and security.

     “Tamarac is an investment tool integrating client management and portfolio management,” says Donahoe. “We cater to the difference in individual situations and manage clients independently. To do so without these tools would be very laborious and time-consuming as in the days prior to computers.”

     “As a matter of fact, mutual funds have so proliferated that it would be impossible to manage them without these tools,” says Donahoe. “This is even more relevant with exchange-traded funds or ETFs.”

     Rinehart also points out that the advent of computers and computer software has also gone a long way to assure objectivity: “It used to be when you wanted to do some research on a company, you had to go to the company, talk with the managers, and look at their books—and you had to do it by yourself. You could hire an analyst to do the research but you didn’t know their allegiances; who was paying them.

     “Being able to obtain raw information and data and cull that data was a huge breakthrough in decision-making,” says Rinehart. “There’s nothing magic about making decisions if you have good data and a good head on your shoulders.”

     Rinehart explains that prior to the economic crash of 2008, everyone was counting on the rating agencies such as Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch Group to give them the right kind of information about bonds.

     “Turns out they were being paid by the companies that they rated. When you can’t trust somebody to give you the right information, you better go get it yourself,” she says. In her opinion, not enough financial reform has taken place in the wake of the financial scandals in recent years.

     Still, Rinehart says, she’s concerned about the reform that may take place. Congress will likely take up legislation in the coming year that will decide what body—the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) or another—will have oversight of investment management companies.

     “It’s critical that they keep fiduciary standards at the highest level,” insists Rinehart. “FINRA, for example, regulates brokers and insurance agents. They are not the appropriate agency to regulate fee-only companies. The intention behind the legislation is to raise the [fiduciary] bar but, depending on who they put in charge, they may actually lower it.”


An Affinity for It

     Rinehart was born and raised in Charlotte, leaving to earn her degree from Sweetbriar College in Virginia. She began learning about financial planning and the investment industry at her father’s side. She was in her mid-40s; he was in his 80s. Rinehart cared for her parents in their final years. Her father, a retired textiles broker, was heavily invested in New York City bonds that defaulted in the 1970s.

     At the time there was nobody in Charlotte to turn to unless you had $25 to $50 million, says Rinehart. People went to New York to find a real investment advisor; one that did their own analytical work.


After taking on her father’s multi-faceted investment portfolio and settling her parents’ estates after their passing, Rinehart believed that there were other people she could help to manage their financial lives. Rinehart took related courses at Queens University, embarked on studies to become a certified financial planner, and began to work with clients.

     “In 1985, I got my first three clients. I still have two of them,” she says proudly. Rinehart’s business quickly evolved into investments. “I wasn’t brilliant, but I knew I could produce a better return for them. I love money management, love the market; I just have an affinity for it.”

     She originally operated under the name of First Personal Financial Services, Inc., but subsequently conducts business as Rinehart Wealth Management.

     Rinehart lives in Charlotte with her husband of 51 years. They have two adult children and two grandchildren. “My husband always thought my career was a great idea. It took him a while to figure out if I was going to make any money. Now I manage his money and he thinks it’s fabulous.”

     Circumstances around wealth have changed over time, according to Rinehart who explains that wealth today usually comes from the sale of a business. “It’s not about family money anymore unless there is a family business involved. Doctors and lawyers aren’t the wealthy people out there now. They do well, but they are not the people going out and buying yachts.

     “It’s hard to accumulate wealth today,” she adds. “Life is expensive. Plus, Americans love to live in the now and don’t plan for what the future has in store for them.” Rinehart cites the increase in life expectancy as an additional financial problem. “Savings that used to have to last for 10 years now have to last for upwards of 20 years.”


Overcoming Challenges

     Rinehart’s success has not come without its share of challenges over the years.

     “It was hard getting the word out,” says Rinehart about the company. “It’s taken me 28 years for people to know what I do. Plus, being a woman in the financial world of the ’90s caused many to question my ability. Some men still question. And, while Charlotte has been a good location for me, there were three large banks that dominated the financial world here.”

     Fear, in this business, is another challenge, according to Rinehart. “Keeping clients vested through all financial cycles is key. Those who couldn’t take it during the economic downturn and got out of investment are the ones that suffered greatly.”

     In 2003, Rinehart expanded her service offerings by partnering with 100 other registered investment advisors (RIAs) to establish the National Advisors Trust Company as a corporate trustee.

     “I was the first to raise my hand because I had three huge banks in my backyard,” notes Rinehart. “The trust company does all the filings and accounting work; the RIAs trade through them.”

     Rinehart has always had a strong commitment to community and charitable causes. Early on, she made the decision to give 10 percent of the profits of Rinehart Wealth Management to charity, and has accomplished that each year she’s been in business. A strong advocate of childhood education, women in crisis, treatment for addiction and the environment, Rinehart continues to have a significant impact in the Charlotte area.

     Rinehart Wealth Management has recently become a HOPE team with Charlotte Family Housing. The HOPE teams have been shown to be instrumental in helping families to escape the cycles of poverty and move forward.

     Rinehart Wealth Management has recently appointed two experienced Charlotte-based financial executives to its newly formed advisory board. G. Kennedy (Ken) Thompson and Charles Conner Jr. sit alongside Rinehart and Donahoe and a fifth member to be announced. The advisory board helps direct the firm on future growth and development goals, including strategic planning and process improvement.

     “Both of these key advisors bring a wealth of industry knowledge that will guide our decision-making process toward successful future growth. From details on legislation to industry technological advancements, these individuals will be an immense asset to our firm,” says Donahoe.

     With good reason, Rinehart is confident of continued growth. Rinehart Wealth Management brought on 17 new clients during the past year. “It’s such a great company. I ultimately plan to sell it to my employees. Everybody here is young, excited, energized and loves the business and helping people. They see the great potential in the company.” Donahoe’s recent investment represents the first employee ownership in the company.

     Still, Rinehart has no target date for retirement. “I love what I do and I still think I can add something to the company,” says Rinehart, although she admits that working two to three days per week and playing more golf sounds appealing.

     “Besides, I have clients that I’ve had for years and they say I can’t leave. After all, I did promise them lifetime wealth solutions,” she affirms with a smile.

     Food, the ultimate consumable, is experiencing unprecedented changes throughout the supply chain. It’s an area that John C. Fennebresque Jr. sees opportunity in for an investment banking firm focused on “the sector’s changing consumer habits, disruptive agricultural technology, and the resulting impact to the broader market.”

     Fennebresque, managing partner of Charlotte-headquartered investment banking and advisory services firm Fennebresque & Co., sees it as a sector “that will touch many aspects of the economy over the next several years.”

     In choosing the “seed to sale” niche as the firm’s focus, Fennebresque & Co. serves clients across the full spectrum of the food value chain, companies whose services range from improving ways to grow food to putting it on the table.

     “The far-reaching food value chain is rapidly evolving, and it has never been more critical for companies to understand their opportunities and vulnerabilities,” explains Fennebresque. “We want to assist companies that are involved in reshaping the food industry. Our clients are primarily middle-market companies, but range in size from startup to Fortune 500.”


The Food Value Chain

     “Agri-bio technology is a rapidly evolving segment,” continues Fennebresque. “Development is being driven by advances in genome sequencing which, in turn, accelerate an understanding of food growth and safety, forcing producers, regulators, and consumers to better understand where technology and the food chain intersect.”

     “New technology is changing processes like developing natural alternatives to address pests on major crops, finding crops that grow in arid climates, and developing biomarking and GPS systems for tracking produce and other foods.”

     The change in the food chain continues all the way through to the consumer.

     “As consumers become more health-conscious, they are looking for food that is produced with less chemical residue and with better nutritional value,” explains Mark Spizer, Fennebresque & Co. vice president. “Consumers in the U.S. are increasingly looking for natural food and natural alternatives to chemical pesticides.

     “Millenials, or those under 30, often position food choices as an important component of their lifestyles,” comments Spizer. “They are increasingly health-conscious and there are those that think nothing of spending $8 for a green energy shake.”

     “Boomers, who are used to dominating the food chain, want to find natural food that tastes good,” adds Spizer. “The overarching theme is that consumers want to make informed choices.”

     Food and beverage companies themselves are also concerned about public criticism and negative publicity stemming from the use of unpronounceable components or unfamiliar ingredients, removing them from their processing or finding alternatives.

     For example, Starbucks last year removed cochineal extract, a red dye made from crushed bugs, from its food and drinks after consumers started an online petition calling for its removal. Pepsico removed brominated vegetable oil from Gatorade earlier this year, and Kraft Foods is reformulating some of its macaroni and cheese products to remove the artificial dyes.

     Chick-Fil-A is also removing artificial dyes and high-fructose corn syrup from dressings and sauces. Even the french fry is seeing improved health benefits—several large chains are using expellar pressed oils which retain higher levels of omega 3 and vitamin E and removes hexane from the traditional cooking oil refining process.

     These industry moves show how ingredients can become a liability if they are not accepted by the public—and an asset if positioned correctly.

     Food producers, as well as distributors, are involved. Consumers care about where their food comes from. They want to be sure it is safe to eat. Health care providers and government regulators are connected, both concerned about consumer diet, health trends and costs.

     “What you eat is directly related to your health,” adds Spizer. “Consumer health impacts health care costs and the huge health care debate going on now.”


Disruptive Change

     “In order to feed an exploding world population, agriculturalists have to look for new ways to increase product yield,” points out Fennebresque. “They must meet the challenge of growing products in less than optimal conditions—in arid climates and poor soil, for example, as the world reaches limitations on arable land.”

     Understanding the “disruptive” changes that technology is bringing about in the food industry is not easy. Disruptive change includes genetic modifications in food, says Fennebresque, or introducing beneficial microorganisms into an ecosystem to promote plant and animal health. It also includes the continuing changes in the safe use of chemicals in agricultural products.

     It increases the amount of new information for all stakeholders in the process.

     Fennebresque sums up their niche: “Technology and evolving consumer trends are bringing together players in different food sectors to alter some traditional components of the food industry. The ecosystem is evolving to accommodate the new technology, and large investors are very interested in investing in this space.”

     Fennebresque & Co. is playing a growing role in the new food value chain marketplace.

     “Where there is change, there is opportunity, and we’re going to see where that opportunity takes us,” says Fennebresque.


Home Grown, and Still Growing

     Fennebresque, a native Charlottean, was working in New York City for Credit Suisse First Boston when 9-11 hit. He watched the second plane crash into the World Trade Center from his office window. Most people went home, but his team was working on a major deal with Enron (before the company’s collapse), so they were asked to stay and work the rest of the day.

     On his 60-block walk home to the Upper West Side, after a day when much changed in the world, he was reflective. He thought about working while most of the country wept or prayed.

     “It just didn’t make sense for us to be there working when we should have been with family and friends,” says Fennebresque. “That’s when I decided to come back home.”

     A few months later, he returned to Charlotte to work with Hugh McColl Jr. at McColl Partners. In 2007, he opened Fennebresque & Co., a firm that now includes 10 partners and associates with offices in Raleigh, Charleston and New Orleans.

     Fennebresque & Co. works with firms that are looking for a strategic approach to their mergers and acquisitions and structured deals. Fennebresque says his firm is extremely nimble and able to choose the deals they work on.

     The firm, which includes advisory partners, completed 15 deals over the past three years with regional and national clients. About 80 percent of them range from $50 to $150 million, says Fennebresque, but they are less focused on size and more on strategic positioning.

     The firm has had notable success selling relatively smaller companies to larger companies. Fennebresque says assessing the strategic importance of the entity is key.

     Brokering deals successfully is an art that Fennebresque & Co. does really well, says Bradley King, former CEO of Lonesource, Inc., a Cary-based office vendor.

     Lonesource is an office supply company that supplies small and mid-size companies with break room transactional products such as coffee, tea, and supplies, and all other office products. Started in 2000, when it “barely scratched the surface of revenue,” says King, it grew to peak of $63 million and started doing acquisitions in 2008. In 2013, Lonesource was acquired by Staples in a deal set up by Fennebresque.

     First introduced to Fennebresque & Co. by his company’s attorney in 2011, King says he spent about two years in advance of the sale working with the firm.

     “John and his associates really spent time getting to know our business and management team, so that they could understand the complexities of our business. They explained our company in a memorandum that could be served up to possible suitors.

     “John’s a pro. He has in-depth knowledge of sell-side transactions; he advised and prepped us,” says King. “Nothing ever came up that he didn’t know how to deal with it. He’s a very seasoned banker who did a fantastic job representing us.”

     The acquisition took about nine months, “exactly what we expected since John had prepared us for it,” explains King, who called it the right transaction for his company.

     “We were properly educated and properly informed,” adds King. “There was never a point in the transaction when I felt like I didn’t know what was going on. I would recommend Fennebresque & Co. to anyone consider selling their company.”


Disruptive Change Technology Deals

     “In investment banking, there is no typical deal,” explains Fennebresque. “Every project you do is different. Growth-oriented companies usually want to do something with strategic positioning to distinguish them when they go to market.”

     Fennebresque says the firm is now focused on winding down “generalist” deals, and proactively marketing in the food sector, or seeking to make the connections that involve the disruptive change to the food value chain.

     “Technology and consumer preferences are developing rapidly,” acknowledges Fennebresque, “and the ecosystem is evolving to accommodate them. It’s a continuous process.”

     A major deal brokered by Fennebresque & Co. this fall involved the acquisition of the Center for Agricultural and Environmental Biosolutions (CAEB), a company specializing in sustainable agriculture research, by FMC Agricultural Solutions, resulting in a global strategic alliance.

     CAEB in Research Triangle Park is a division of North Carolina-based RTI International, jointly owned by Duke and the University of North Carolina, that employes “more Ph.D.s than any commercial business in the country,” says Fennebresque.

     “North Carolina is to agricultural technology the way that Silicon Valley is to computer technology,” explains Fennebresque.

     The deal will produce new crop protection products that will help farmers around the world fight resistance and work to maximize yields, and has been described as “connecting a world-class library of microorganisms, deep expertise in biological discovery, and an exclusive strategic alliance with one of the world’s foremost authorities on microbial research and fermentation.”

     “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with Dr. Niels van der Lelie, a leading researcher in the field of microbiology,” says Fennebresque. “When we began the work we didn’t know how it would turn out, but we did know how valuable it was to work with the scientific team.”

     “This deal was a turning point for our firm,” says Fennebresque. “It was the caliber of the deal that drew the strategic interest of major global companies.”

     While Fennebresque will not divulge financial information on the high-profile deal, he places its strategic importance in the neighborhood of the recent acquisition of AgraQuest by the Bayer Group for about $500 million to develop products for biological pest and disease control. He also noted that FMC’s market capitalization grew by almost $2 billion following the announcement of the transaction.

     “It was exciting because it is important,” he explains. “Our firm played a role in accelerating this trend. It was an opportunity of converging paths and we had the chance to have an impact in this food value sector.”

     As a result of the deal, Fennebresque & Co. has become firmly focused on bringing together food industry veterans and advisors to seek new opportunities in the food value sector. Advisory partners include Tom Christensen, CEO of Ag TechInventures, an authority in precision farming research and development, and Brandy Salmon, who leads the food and agriculture practice for the Innovation Advisory Team at RTI International.

     In addition, the firm includes financial advisory partners Kim S. Fennebresque, senior advisor to Cowen Group Inc., and Benjamin P. Jenkins, former vice chairman of Morgan Stanley & Co. and Wachovia Corporation.

     “That’s the beauty of specialization,” says Spizer. “People are coming to us. We’re starting to gain some wisdom about the different elements in the food value chain and how the pieces fit together.

     “John is a strategic thinker who is able to take a fresh look at the things happening in the food value chain.”

     “We’ve had terrific early success. We’ve closed several deals this year and there are several more in the pipeline,” says Fennebresque. “We are still relatively early in our new positioning in the emerging elements of the food value chain, but we have terrific traction.”


     Succession planning is a process for business owners to determine exactly how a business will continue after its current owner(s) leave through either sale of the business, retirement, disability or death by creating the right “exit strategy” for the owner(s).

     We use a six step process for helping business owners create the optimum succession plan for their business and exit plan for the owner(s) which best meets their business and personal objectives. Here is a brief description of the first couple of steps in the process.


Step 1: Identification of Objectives. Assemble the Team, Determine the Goals, Identify the Stakeholders, and Identify the Owner’s (Owners’) Life Objectives.


     The first step of the process is to assemble the right team of advisors to assist the owner(s) with the planning process. Owners simply cannot develop the best plan unless they have advisors who (a) understand the process; (b) understand all the options available; and (c) have the ability to work together to help the owner(s) understand all available options.

     The team could possibly include the business’ CPA, life insurance agent, attorney, financial advisor, and anyone else necessary to make certain that all areas are addressed. From this team a facilitator should be chosen who is trained and knowledgeable about the issues involved, as well as the methods of building consensus among all the stakeholders who need to buy in to whatever plan is developed. The facilitator will work with the owner(s) and other advisors to drive the process to completion and implementation of the plan.

     The team should first establish the corporate goals of the planning process. For instance, in a case where the business owner wishes to retire and ultimately transfer ownership, management and control to his key employees, the goals might be to establish a plan for ownership transition which:


(a) Provides the sellers (owner(s)) with a reasonable financial return on their investment in the business, including reasonable retirement income;


(b) Motivates potential internal buyers to become owners of the business by providing a reasonable price for ownership and establishing with buyers that the long-term financial prospects of the business are excellent so that they become loyal employees who desire ownership in the business to the maximum extent possible; and


(c) Is the result of a process which results in a plan which is perceived to be fair and is accepted by all stakeholders (current owner(s), potential owner(s), current non-owner key employees).


     The team must also identify the stakeholders, i.e., every person who needs to buy in to this plan for it to be successful. They include current owner(s), key employees, potential future owner(s), spouses, and others.

     Once this is completed, the planning process should begin by meeting with the owner(s) and helping the owner(s) identify his/her life objectives—both business and personal. Some of the questions which the owner(s) should answer are:


1. When do you want to retire?

2. How much after-tax income do you need?

3. What do you want to do with the company?

4. What are your charitable objectives?

5. What are the other non-economic life objectives which will add significance to your life?


Step 2: Where Are We and What is the Gap?

The second step is to perform due diligence on the business and on the owner(s) to determine exactly what the current situation is, i.e., the current net worth, cash flow, and market value of the business and the business’ projected future cash flow and market value.


     Also, the owner’s (owners’) current personal financial resources must be analyzed to determine the gap which needs to be filled so that the owner(s) will be able to meet retirement income objectives.

     The team must develop an intimate knowledge of every aspect of the business—including the risk issues which need to be addressed to ensure the stability of the projected future cash flows. This planning process should be treated in the same manner as an acquisition of the business in terms of the due diligence required.

     In next month’s article, we will discuss the four remaining steps of our six step planning process for helping business owners meet their life objectives.

     The benefits companies receive from traditional annual budgets may be diminishing. Given the current economic environment that most businesses face, they are constantly dealing with volatility and ever changing risks, thus the past is not always a good predictor of the future.

     Budgets are created based on prior periods and management assumptions, which now may be wrong. According to the Beyond Budget Round Table, by the end of the first quarter more than two-thirds of a corporation’s budget is completely irrelevant to actuals. Flexible planning is now vital to the ongoing financial success of a business and a stagnant, fixed-period budget leaves no room for actual implementation of change to match the environment.

     Because of inefficiencies with traditional budgets, many companies are converting to a rolling forecast. With a rolling forecast, projections are reevaluated in shorter spans—for example, every quarter—then forecasted out a standard number of periods, usually 12 months. This allows companies to reevaluate assumptions and adjust forecasts closer to actual market conditions.

     Rather than having a full year projected out and running down to zero and then starting the process over again, the rolling forecast allows for a continually updated horizon. Allowing the forecast to change, companies can then more closely monitor and evaluate their business on an ongoing basis, which holds managers accountable throughout the year rather than just at the end of the budget year.

     Companies may start with an annual budget and then move to a rolling forecast at the end of the second or third month. The result is three months of actual results and nine months of projections. This process is continued throughout and into the next calendar year. By merging actual data into the budget, companies gain greater clarity into what is driving current results. It also forces managers to more closely monitor and track their financial performance.

     Rolling forecasts give better insight into possible downturns or upturns, giving leaders an opportunity for discussions to help avoid or handle situations. With the greater ability for cash flow analysis, it allows decision makers to consider and structure large transactions on a timelier basis. There also is room within rolling forecasts to perform scenario and stress testing throughout the year which is almost nonexistent with a traditional budget.


Rolling Forecast: How to Get Started

     Initial implementation of a rolling forecast may run into some resistance and can be time consuming, but it will reap worthy benefits for the company as it is streamlined. The most important factor in transitioning from a traditional budget to a rolling forecast is ensuring people in the company are willing to take part in the process. This can be done by getting employees to understand a rolling forecast will save time for departments and allow more time for focusing on driving actual results.

     The company’s business will determine the complexity of the forecast and the drivers that need to be reevaluated and emphasized. The frequency for which critical drivers need to be updated depends on their importance to the company and their variability. Some items should be reevaluated weekly; others can be reevaluated bimonthly, monthly or quarterly. For some businesses an ad hoc approach is more reasonable with only significant changes prompting reforecasting.

     Forecast assumptions should also be based on underlying physical factors and not on the hopes of management that things are going to improve. Also, different time horizons can be used as the company evaluates different planning decisions when dealing with factors like sales, operations, finances, and capital projects.

     Since actual current data drives the rolling forecast, it is important for a company to maintain accurate and timely data that is usable and accessible by all vested parties. Depending on the size of a business, basic rolling forecast data may be maintained using simple spreadsheets. For larger or more intricate businesses forecasting, more complex software can be used to allow for consistent and flexible changes of assumptions with trusted output.

     Processes should be repeated, but as the needs and priorities of the company change, models should be adapted to properly reflect business evolution.

      But don’t get too bogged down in the detail. Most importantly, make sure the information is instructive, actionable, and showing you things you may not have known before, allowing you to act upon those revelations.


Publisher's Posts

Let’s Not Take It For Granted!

     When you list the assets and strengths of this economic region, you might start with the Charlotte Douglas International Airport and then add the strong business community, the universities, the community colleges, the health care systems, the public and private school systems and certainly the central location along the east coast. However, what is most often overlooked and under-considered is the Catawba River…our single and primary source for drinking water to our community.

     The Catawba River begins in the Blue Ridge Mountains, collects the flows of a myriad of brooks and streams within its watershed basin, and follows a 112 mile meandering route through reservoirs to Mecklenburg County at the center of our economic region.

     Two water intakes pump raw water from Mountain Island Lake and Lake Norman to three water treatment facilities operated by Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities (CMU). Those facilities treat 183 million gallons of water each day and provide drinking water to about 70 percent of the county population, which reached approximately 1,000,000 residents in 2013. This system is expandable to about 350 million gallons per day, according to CMU.

     Estimates place average daily personal consumption of water at about 150 gallons. Of course, water is also used and distributed through 174,800 service connections and 8,846 fire hydrants for fire protection and commercial usage as well as residential service.

     Adequate supplies of water for power generation as well as residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural uses are essential to our continued economic well-being.

     While, for the most part, we take our water supply for granted, it would be wise for us to consider the possibilities for contamination of our water supply as well as the increasing threats that come from an expanding population and industrial base.

     Fortunately, we have the Catawba Riverkeeper organization on guard to identify threats to our water supply. Federal and state regulations are also in place to protect water supply sources.

     Pollution comes from many sources. Two general categories include point source and non-point source pollution. Point source would be discharges from pipes emanating from businesses, farms and developments within the watershed basin. Non-point source pollution comes from runoff including rainfall and snowmelt. We must be extra vigilant about any and all sources including our own yards.

     One of the greatest threats to our water supply is its potential exposure to coal ash. Coal ash is waste created by coal-fired energy power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a proposal to regulate the management and disposal of such waste, but it has not been acted on as yet.

     In December 2008, near Kingston, Tennessee, there was a huge spill of coal ash from an impounded area. When the dike failed, 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash spilled into the Emory and Clinch Rivers and contaminated about 300 acres of land. The spill created a slow moving wave of toxic sludge and polluted water into the rivers. Homes and trees were knocked over. Over $1 billion has been spent on clean up thus far and the project continues into 2015.

     Certainly, a spill like that along the Catawba River would dramatically affect the quality of the water as well as the recreational use of the river and its enjoyment. A terrorist attack on our water supply could be similarly disruptive.

     These threats and others are not inevitable, but they are sufficient that we should seek to set up a backup water supply for our region. According the Catawba Riverkeeper organization, the avenue for that supply would be from the east through a pipeline from Lake Tillery to the east of Mecklenburg County. Lake Tillery lies about 60 miles due east along the Yadkin River.

     With over 1,000,000 people relying on fresh water from the Catawba River, we should be prepared with a backup supply to protect our long-term interests. It only makes sense. The Catawba Riverkeeper advocates building such a pipeline.

     Of course, we must be vigilant to keep the Catawba River itself clean, but for the sake of our community, we need to go even further to protect our interests with a backup supply from another source of fresh water. It will be better to act with a goal to be prepared than to act after we are confronted with problems from one direction or another. The old adage of, “It is better to be safe than sorry,” applies directly to this scenario.

     What do you think?


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