Pacific Partnering? A First-Hand Visit Can Be Well Advised
It's the distance that frightens us. We may even shift uneasily at the sound of the foreign accent. But what really seems dubious is the idea of a company offering services, support, or advice from an office somewhere across the wide Pacific.
Yet, as always, opportunity sweeps away misgivings, and now even startups are asking not who is near, but rather who does it best. To help newer firms sift opportunities from the slurry of offerings, the New Jersey Technology Council presents "Outsourcing: Value vs. Commodity" on Wednesday, June 7, at 4 p.m. at WithumSmith and Brown, 333 Newman Spring Road, Red Bank. Cost: $40. Visit www.njtc.com.
Panelists include moderator James Bourke, a shareholder in WithumSmith and Brown; Danani Shishir, president of Ideavate Solutions in Parlin; and Denny Morris, executive director of a Parsippany-based management consulting firm, Delta Corporate Services.
Born and raised in a small town in central India, Shishir saw early on the potential for linking America's technological expertise with that of his homeland. He earned a mechanical engineering degree, followed by an MBA from the University of Pune in Bombay. Upon graduation he joined InfoSystem Software, working both in design and management.
Emigrating to the United States, Shishir helped found Ideavate - a linguistic blend of "Ideas" and "Innovation" - in Parlin. This 50-person company specializes in providing small firms and start-ups with product development services www.ideavate.com).
"Outsourcing used to be only the large company's option," says Shishir. "They wanted the most bang for their manufacturing buck and, coincidentally, a foothold into a foreign market." The large companies opened the door, and now, as delivery and communication speeds have soared, and reliability has risen, companies of all sizes are scouring the globe for services. But as outsourcing services are scooped up in a gold-rush frenzy, there is a question of just how much due diligence companies in search of bargain services are performing.
Advantages abroad. In the last 15 years technology has brought India as close as Pennsylvania, says Shishir. "Start-ups are always strapped for cash," he says. "They need to take their latest bright idea from prototype to production and find a market niche as cheaply as possible." By outsourcing the entrepreneur pays only for the work performed and has fewer bodies on his payroll.
Interestingly, Ideavate has seen many of its new entrepreneurial clients come through its virtual door at the prodding of the venture capitalists who fund them. Funders like to see that management has sought to cut costs to the bone by partnering abroad. They know that delivery, cost and quality control, and communication at domestic levels may all be available from the right foreign partner - with the emphasis on "right."
Homeland caveats. Two years ago a major northeast hospital received an E-mail: "I have all your patients' medical records. If you do not have that man pay me my money they will go on the Internet by midnight." It was signed by a woman writing from some remote town in northern India. The hospital had never heard of her, nor of the individual who apparently owed her payment.
As it turned out, the hospital routinely outsourced its patient billing, complete with all the patient identification information, to a nearby company. That company, in turn, brokered the job to a small firm in Texas, which, in turn, shipped it off to the unpaid lady in India.
But the hospital never traced the actual job beyond the local firm. The hospital billing department never oversaw the work, and never sought to know who was handling their confidential files. This example illustrates the need to trace and examine hired production sites as stringently as is the case with domestic suppliers.
For those who are hiring out distribution or manufacturing, the rule of at least one on-site visit annually still applies. Entrepreneurs, particularly, ignore such initial and periodic visits at their peril. Shishir insists that inspection visits must involve more than a lunch with management and a perfunctory plant tour. Walk down the line, talk with individual workers, ask them about shipping or production problems. Become familiar with names, develop contacts.
It is worth the time and investment of a few thousand dollars not to deal blind. An off-site plant or call center is, after all, a vital part of the company and its work, regardless of whose name is on the door.
Backyard feel. "To make itself worthy, the foreign company must educate the first-time outsourcer, and make him feel as if he is partnering in his own backyard," says Shishir. He suggests that from the outset the two companies work out a business template that realistically covers delivery times, production schedules, and other expectations.
Shishir also places the responsibility on the company being considered as an outsourcer to answer what he terms "the softer questions." Displaying management qualifications, problem solving times, training, and overall corporate credibility are all elements that will nudge the outsourcer toward a comfort zone. "And above all, both parties must keep accessibility and communication constant at all levels," says Shishir.
Feeling uncertain about dealing on foreign soil, with foreign laws and strange business customs, is natural. Do you really want to leave your product development in the hands of strangers thousands of miles across an ocean? This fear is healthy, yet a surprising number of companies and venture capitalists leap into negotiations following only a few Internet checks.
The one-woman company in northern India gets a hasty glance, while the hometown firm makes elaborate presentations and is grilled like a homicide suspect. "The solution is simple," says Shishir, "if you are going to go global - go diligently global."
- Bart Jackson
Negotiate Your Way To a Better Life
Some expert somewhere once estimated that 82 percent of life involves some form of negotiation. Whether it's negotiating with the boss for a pay increase, with the credit card company for a lower interest rate, or with the spouse for a long-delayed romantic getaway, some people just seem snakebit. Rather than the raise, these hapless souls get six months of unemployment checks, 27 percent interest on their credit cards, and a vacation in Scranton with the in-laws.
But help is on the way. "Negotiation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do," says Lee Miller, a Morristown-based lawyer and entrepreneur who is something of a negotiation guru. "I think that we have finally gotten to the place in society where people accept the fact that they need to do things a bit differently. Women can be both tough and successful negotiators, but in order to achieve success, they need to go about it in a way that is more likely to work for them."
Miller heads up a seminar for the Industrial Commercial Real Estate Women (ICREW). "A Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiating" takes place on Thursday, June 8, at 8:30 a.m. at the Woodbridge Hilton. Cost: $65. Visit www.icrewnj.org for more information. "The workshop isn't just for women working in real estate, but is really useful for any woman working in business," says Miller.
For Miller, negotiation is as natural as breathing. Born in Newark, he earned his bachelor's from Rutgers and is a graduate of Harvard Law School. In addition to practicing law, he has worked in human resources in the corporate world. He is now the owner of several businesses, including Negotiation Plus www.negotiationplus.com) and Your Career Doctors www.YourCareerDoctors.com), and he is the author of several books, including "A Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiation" (co-authored with his daughter Jessica and published by McGraw Hill).
Miller has also written articles for a variety of publications including The Wall Street Journal and Monster.com and has appeared on CNN's "Your Money's Worth" as well as ABC's "Good Morning America." His new book, "UP: Influence, Power, and the U-perspective," is set to come out in the fall of this year.
"I define negotiating very broadly," says Miller. "It is about influencing. It is the art of getting what you want. The techniques I talk about are useful not only in your business life but also in your personal life. We address business deals as well as how you can get ahead in your career and how to make everyday Valentine's Day - which is the name of a chapter in my book." This chapter, he explains, offers help on mastering the art of negotiating with your significant others.
According to Miller, the culture as a whole assigns women various attributes, almost on an unconscious level. "We all have certain strengths that we bring to the table and these societal expectations are something that everybody has to take into account," he says. "You can work against them, but you can't ignore them."
According to Miller, there was a time in the 1970s and 1980s, when the women's liberation movement was first stepping to the forefront, when many women based their negotiation techniques too much on those of the men around them, often with disappointing results. "Basically, every individual has their own strengths when negotiating and you need to be true to those strengths," he says. "But things that may work for a man will not work for a woman, and vice versa."
As an example of cultural expectations, Miller points to tall men. "In our culture a tall man will be treated differently than a short man, not only in negotiating, but also in life in general," he says. "There are studies that correlate height to success in business. That's because as a society we equate tallness with being a natural leader." Consequently, if a tall man acts consistently with this stereotype, it reinforces people's unconscious expectations and will likely work to his advantage. If he undermines it, then people will stop believing it in regard to this particular person.
Women are often perceived as being at a disadvantage when negotiating with their often more aggressive male counterparts. But according to Miller, women have some advantages of their own.
"In society, women are expected to negotiate differently than men and they also have some advantages that they need to understand," he says. "The most powerful one, and it is a huge plus for women, is that men - without knowing anything about a woman - will more likely trust that what she says is true. We tend to believe that men are more likely to tell us things that are untrue."
Miller stresses that it is important to use the strengths that you have going for you before you say the first word in a negotiation, before you even walk through the doorway. One of the most significant strengths a negotiator can have is a prior relationship with the person he is hoping to persuade. "Women tend to be better than men at building relationships, which is a major factor in influencing someone at the negotiating table," he says. "Building relationships while trying to influence people to see your point of view is certainly a huge advantage."
But, of course, reinforcing society's stereotypes to work to your benefit will only get you so far as a negotiators. Many individuals have a personal style that does not necessarily conform to society's expectations. In that case, according to Miller, it is best not to try to pretend you are someone you are not.
"Women tend to have a more collaborative negotiating style than men," says Miller. "At least that's what people will assume. They also expect men to have a more competitive style. But if you have a different approach to things, you can - and should - still use it, though you will need to use it differently."
One example of this would be a woman who simply does not have a collaborative style, but instead approaches negotiations with the competitive zeal of a linebacker blitzing a quarterback. "In that case, it is important for women to soften their style a bit by using humor and a more soothing tone to their voice," says Miller. "In doing that they can take tough positions, soften them a bit, and be more effective than a man saying the exact same thing."
While negotiation will probably remain a challenging activity for many people, Miller believes that it is possible for women to reduce the stress and increase the chance for success by employing some of these techniques:
Be genuine. "People can always tell when you are not genuine," says Miller. "It won't work for women to try to be too much like men. You don't want to be a `junior man,' but rather a `senior woman.' Like men, women need to project their own image and their own power. But they need to do this in a way that is genuine for them."
Look for more opportunities. Women have not been conditioned by society to see opportunities to negotiate. "For men, almost everything in life is a negotiation," says Miller. "It's almost instinctive. But women tend to see things as decisions, `do I or don't I?' Once they look at things as an opportunity to get what they want, they are more likely to get better results. If you are successful at 50 percent of your opportunities to negotiate, and you double the opportunities, you will also double the success."
Negotiate for yourself. Many successful women, even investment bankers and CEOs, still have trouble negotiating for themselves. The difference is that these women have learned to do it even though it makes them a little uncomfortable. "You must realize that if you don't negotiate for yourself, nobody is going to do it for you," says Miller. "It is really a key to success."
- Jack Florek
The Pick of the Lists Yields Best Results
It's not how many you people pitch to - it's just who should receive your pitches. Electronic data gathering has given the American business person an avalanche of prospective customers on endless lists. But sorting the oceans of sand for the real pearls can frequently prove as laborious as hunting down clients the old fashioned way - one by one.
Direct mail, telemarketing, and E-mail are powerful selling tools, but just who are you going to write, call, or E-mail cost efficiently? In hopes of finding some guidelines, the Business Marketing Association's New Jersey chapter offers "Learn to Love Your Lists" on Tuesday, June 13, at 6 p.m. at the Holiday Inn in Parsippany. Cost: $40. Visit www.bma-nj.org. Speaker Frank Conway, account manager for infoUSA/Donnelly Marketing, focuses on obtaining and maintaining well-honed lists for business-to-business sales.
Ever since wireless phones were the size of laptops, Conway has been devising and sharpening customer lists to ease his sales crew's lot. A native of Wyckoff, he earned his bachelor's in marketing from Susquehanna University in l990. From there Conway took his skills to Drive Phone, where he undertook to sell America on the incipient wireless industry. "This was when everyone had pagers, and the first cell phones were frightfully huge and expensive," he says.
In l994 Conway joined DialAmerica Marketing and launched the massive telemarketing campaign to sell AT&T's wireless services. His efforts netted a very impressive three-quarters of a sale per hour (sph), which, after five years and despite a huge upsurge in competition, continued at two-tenths sph. Testing the entrepreneurial waters, Conway then established his own wireless dealership for a while. In 2005 he took the post of account manager with infoUSA/Donnelly Marketing. "The company makes 22 million calls a year updating and clarifying its lists," he says.
What's cheap? Any list will be worse than useless if the names on it are not those of people likely to have the means and the interest to become customers. The futile and expensive efforts of a demoralized sales team, dialing dead lead after dead lead, can put any company under. To keep profits, spirits, and sales-per-hour-ratio high, the list must conform to the company's customer profile, and it must be strategically pruned on an ongoing basis.
Who's out there? Before querying any list brokers, Conway suggests that a company first analyze exactly what its current customers look like. Do most live in the Mid-West? Are they 18 or 80? Do they have high-speed Internet connections? Do they travel extensively?
Determining the profile of the company's existent customer base with surgical precision and searching out all client correlations makes the firm a better list shopper. Once this profile is drawn, figure out what other groups are similar enough that they might become customers.
What's free? In some cases free or minimal-cost listings may be obtained through professional associations and journals upon request. A big advantage here - in addition to cost savings - is the fact that these lists are already targeted to members of the association and readers of the journal. To a large extent, you know what you're getting.
Rosters of individual executives are increasingly available on databases, again, with some initial filtering performed beforehand. Such tools as www.ideaexec.com can provide executive contacts at all levels. Major company rolls may also be found on their websites or via cross-indexed online professional listings.
Who's in charge? Rank is misleading. His door may say "Director of Purchasing," but he may not be the one who can, or will, take your order. Conway advises list buyers to consider whether they want to deal with the headquarters or individual outlets.
"There is currently a strong trend toward centralized purchasing," he says, "but this depends on the product and the niche. Don't buy a headquarters-only list if you want to deal with regional stores."
The age of executives and of the business are often-neglected factors. Younger individuals who have been with the company a shorter time are much more willing to take a gamble on an innovative product. Conversely, if you are selling an old standby, you may want to tailor your lists to upper management.
Matching the customer base with the established SIC (Standardized Industry Codes) not only helps define list requirements, but broadens the sales field as well. Considering the SIC, regional boundaries, and client size (based on number of sites and employees) can keep the sales manager from buying names that simply won't produce.
What makes a good broker? "You can't sell lawn mowers to law firms," says Conway. "When searching for a good list broker make sure he is currently selling to accounts similar to yours. A brief examination of his clients will tell you if his capabilities and understanding are focused on producing a list with the client size, age, and other factors you had in mind."
Learning a list's maintenance schedule is as important as knowing its source or content. "Ideally, business lists should be cleansed and updated every month, quarterly at most," says Conway. One-and-a-half percent of the American population moves every month, making some business listing obsolete. Businesses change names frequently. In this age of swift electronic verification, quarterly cleansing is scarcely unreasonable.
The rumors of virus corruption via online list transfer have produced much angst, but virtually no factual examples. "It is absolutely nothing to worry about," says Conway, "unless you are getting a list from some fifth-hand source, and then, why would you?"
Direct mail, tele-marketing, and E-mail continue to thrive and adapt to advanced technologies. The marketplace proves their value every day. As long as these selling tools remain profitable, they will require fuel. And the lists will go on.
- Bart Jackson
Chef's Secret Sauce? Or Good Frozen Food?
Most chefs - unless they have written cookbooks or they create gourmet delicacies in the dining spots of the elite - remain behind the kitchen doors and nameless to the general public. And since reputation correlates with dollars earned, many chefs - unless they are in a strong union - suffer with low pay, long hours, few benefits, and, consequently, a low standard of living. But there are corporate positions where chefs can earn a decent living, probably twice what they make in the restaurant world.
Jeffrey Cousminer, director of the savory flavor laboratories at Firmenich as well as founder, former president, and education chair for the 10-year-old Research Chefs Association, has worked on both sides of the fence. He has always been interested in cooking - so much so that he dropped out of City College of New York after two years and in 1974 enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America, graduating the next year. Then in 1983, after nearly a decade and a half in the restaurant industry, Cousminer was selected to open the kitchen at the Frog and the Peach restaurant in New Brunswick.
But in 1984 he decided to move into industry, went back to school a second time, and began a thriving career in what has now been dubbed "culinology." According to an article Cousminer wrote in the January, 2001, Food Product Design, the term "culinology," coined by Winston Riley, former president and a founder of the Research Chefs Association (RCA), describes the fusion of two disciplines - culinary art and food technology. Cousminer defines this expertise as "the ability to efficiently and economically manufacture restaurant-quality `convenience foods' that actually look and taste like food served in a restaurant."
Cousminer is enthusiastic about his field, and shares the basics in the first of a four-segment class, "Culinology 101, Art and Science of New Food Development," on Friday through Sunday, June 16 through 18, at Mercer County Community College. The class is offered to chefs and others involved in food product development who would like to learn food science and technology they may have missed during their education and training. Cost: $700. For more information, call 609-586-4800.
Culinology opens a whole new career path for chefs, and the RCA has been active in developing the educational infrastructure behind it. Today integrated programs in culinary arts and food science and technology are offering degrees in seven universities, including the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Clemson. In addition, Mercer Community College has been approved as the culinary provider toward a bachelor's degree now being developed in Rutgers' food science department.
Industrial culinologists from these programs make good wages. "Kids out of college with a culinology degree start at $45,000 and up," says Cousminer. That is nearly $10,000 more than liberal arts graduates are being offered this year, according to the Wall Street Journal, and is on a par with the starting salaries for new graduates with degrees in finance.
The first step for a culinologist-to-be is to learn the basic components of food - carbs, fats, and proteins - and understand how they interact with each other and behave under food processing conditions. They also learn about the dozens of ingredients used to stabilize products through processing, and they learn how to control viscosity, moisture management, freeze-thaw stability, and browning. The goal, he explains, is for chefs to understand why certain things happen and to predict how to control any negative effects and enhance the positive ones.
Whereas in the past chefs typically created foods that were served immediately in the restaurants where they work, the products developed by research chefs will wind up on supermarket shelves or will be served at hundreds, if not thousands, of multi-unit food chains and quick-serve restaurants. When research chefs devise packaged or convenience foods, their original concept faces a number of challenges before it reaches the consumer:
Processing for shelf stability. These foods need to be shelf stable in either the aisles of supermarkets or the refrigerators of stores and restaurants. The chefs, therefore, "need to create foods that are going to survive standard commercial food production methods," says Cousminer.
Maintaining quality and authenticity. The standard processing techniques - canning and freezing - preserve the food and extend shelf life, but the industrial chef must also maintain the quality and authenticity of the food products. "When you go out to eat and something on the menu has a certain description and name," explains Cousminer, "you have a picture in your head and you want that food to deliver what it promises on the menu."
For grocery products, the label on the food serves as the "menu," he continues, "and you want to feel confident that the product delivers on the message you got on the label, whether it is a flavor, taste, ethnic identity, or a quality issue. You want a tomato to look like a tomato and not a soup - unless it says it's a soup."
Probably the biggest processing challenge is the loss of flavor. "The more you heat, the more the flavors are affected," says Cousminer, "and they are typically lost." In fact, after processing, the foods are usually pretty neutral. "If a food has a flavor," he says, "in almost every case the flavor was added." Flavors either put back the native taste that was lost or create an ethnic taste.
"Cajun, Chinese, Italian all involve some kind of flavor to give the food an ethnic identity," he says. "Putting tomatoes off the vine in a can doesn't make it taste like marinara."
Making sure the food is safe to eat. The final issue is health, safety, and sanitation, and it's a biggie. The government mandates that any food manufacturer must have an HACCP (hazard analysis critical control points) plan in place. "The plan highlights the entire production process, from the arrival of the raw material to the departure of the finished product," says Cousminer.
The plan must specify the points at which each individual food product is at greatest risk for a problem. In a plant that processes meats and vegetables, for example, critical control points would include whether each item is stored separately, at what specific temperature, and for how long. "Every raw material has its own specifications," says Cousminer.
Detailed documentation is also a requirement; for meat, this might include what type of muscle, what type of meat, and where it came from.
"It's all about maintaining the safety of the food supply," he says. Potential hazards can be both naturally occurring and manmade. They include microbes in the food as well as wood, metal shavings, or glass that might fall into it. "If you're using glass jars," says Cousminer, "it goes without saying that you will wind up with glass in a jar at some point."
Because agricultural products are harvested by huge pieces of equipment that are not very discriminating about what they pick up, broken bottles and pieces of plastic may come up with the corn cobs. "The idea in a food plant is that you're trying to separate out all non-food material," he says. The plant, therefore, is designed with protections that help prevent such hazards; for example, canners always puts metal detectors in the line to detect items like staples before the food gets to the can.
During his restaurant career, New York-born Cousminer gradually became more interested in science and decided to return to school in the early 1980s for a degree in nutrition, with the idea of becoming a dietitian. When a class in food science caught his interest, he switched his major and got a bachelor's degree in food science from the University of New Haven and then a master's from Rutgers.
His first job was at General Foods in Cranbury, where he was hired as the company's first "technicoculinary specialist." Recalls Cousminer: "My start in corporate food product development included Stove Top stuffing, Good Seasons, and Shake'N Bake. I also had a lot of experience with things that came to market and didn't make it."
His then took a job with Horizon Foods, a Massachusetts manufacturer of microwaveable frozen snack food s. In 1998 he joined Firmenich, the largest privately owned flavor and fragrance maker in the world. As director of the company's savory flavor labs, Cousminer supervises people who create flavors that wind up in meats, poultry, cheese, and dairy, side dishes, sauces, soups, and gravies, pizza, and tacos.
In the early history of the food development business, says Cousminer, "the role of chefs was limited to creating the `gold standard product.'" Today this product is often the target for food scientists trying to reproduce it in a more commercially processible form.
"If you are in business, you want to create a product that you can manufacture and get out to market quickly," he says. "If we can shortcut the process of changing the chef's creation to a supermarket creation, everyone benefits."
- Michele Alperin