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Monthly Archives: March 2010

Rolling with the Punches

Today’s post is by Gary A. Pudles,  A&S ‘84

In talking to other founders and CEOs of fast moving companies, you quickly understand that rapid growth is often caused by the luck of being at the right place at the right time. Many successful entrepreneurs share an ability to seize opportunity when and where it presents itself, even if it comes in a way that was not part of their original plan.

I first realized that seizing opportunities was paramount to being a business owner when I sought to purchase my first business. After spending several months trying to strike a deal using traditional venture fundraising and business planning, my plans crashed and I embarked on a journey that would be completely different than what I had anticipated.

In the Beginning
Before AnswerNet’s inception, my journey to business ownership began with weekly breakfast meetings with a friend to discuss start-up ideas a year before my first transaction crashed. Like many entrepreneurs, I was in a job that just didn’t fit me right—I was vice president and general counsel for a specialty real estate leasing company—and I knew that I wanted to work for someone I really liked and respected: Me!

In early January 1998, I had executed a term sheet to buy a business in the functional music business, which wasn’t a huge stretch for me since I had run a similar business, Muzak in Washington, D.C., for five and a half years. Within a week of signing the term sheet and separating from my job, the transaction fell through. The seller made certain claims that, through due diligence, we found were not accurate.

Thus, by mid January, I had a wife, two kids, a mortgage and no job or company. At that point, my wife and I agreed that I would work on starting my business through the end of July 1998. If not successful, I would become an employee again. But until then, my focus would be starting my own business. With the first transaction dead, I went back to my list of things I wanted and didn’t want in a business. Primarily, my goal was to run any kind of business and have some ownership stake in the enterprise. I hit the businesses-for-sale websites to search for another opportunity, and within two weeks I was actively working on raising capital to acquire my first telephone answering service business. We started due diligence and fundraising in late March, in addition to finalizing the business plan, meeting with potential investors, and learning everything I could about the telephone answering service industry.

One of the most important things I did was read the trade publications related to the industry. In a spring edition of a leading industry publication was an article about an established owner of multiple answering services, Bill Robertshaw, who liked entrepreneurial people and situations.

I had my investment banker set up a meeting with Bill and the two of us hit it off like old friends. We talked about running multiple locations and how to ensure each one ran profitably. In fact, we talked about all aspects of running and building businesses.

Over the next three months, I had completed raising the $2 million I needed for my first transaction and was working toward finalizing a deal. At the end of the second week of July, the accountant completed the due diligence report, and the results were not what we had hoped for. So once again, my dream of being my own boss using other people’s money fell through.

Changing Directions
My accountant then suggested I call Bill again. I called Bill, told him my transaction was on its last legs and asked him if he had something we could work on together. We agreed to meet the following week. I arrived at his office late in the day, and I explained to him what happened. We talked about how the transaction was going to be funded and how much—actually how little—of my own funds I was willing to invest.

At that point, he asked me if I would prefer to purchase half of one of his companies and form a partnership with him and his family. After talking about some opportunities he could offer, we settled on an Allentown, Pennsylvania answering service business, Tel-A-Talk TAS, Inc. We agreed to exchange information and meet again that Saturday to see if we could put a deal together ourselves. The following day he faxed me the financials of this business, and I spent most of Friday reviewing the financials and talking to my advisers.

Saturday arrived and I told my wife that I was going to do this transaction if the price was right. It was now July 25, and I was going to keep my promise of being in business by August 1. Bill and I met at his office, and after some quick small talk we agreed on a price. When he told me how much he wanted I said, “That’s a high price.” He responded, “That’s your price of admission.”

From There to Here
Realizing my dream of business ownership certainly wasn’t a smooth process. It taught me that sometimes, in order to get what you want, you have to change your idea of what you want and how to get it. I also reached back to my education at Syracuse University as a Policy Studies major – a program designed to teach students how to analyze a situation and determine the best course of action – to guide me through the process.

The willingness to remain flexible and open to possibilities has fueled the growth of AnswerNet, which now owns and operates over 50 call centers. Whether it is being open to new acquisitions or being willing to push ourselves to deliver our services in new and unique ways, the spirit of flexibility and seizing opportunity is inextricably woven into the personality of AnswerNet.

Gary A. Pudles is President and CEO of AnswerNet. He founded AnswerNet in 1998 and has driven the growth of the organization through sales, acquisitions and partnerships. Gary has won the prestigious “Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year” award and has led AnswerNet to Inc. Magazine’s Inc. 500 List of America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies and Customer Inter@ction Solutions Magazine’s Top 50 Teleservices Firms on multiple occasions.

Gary is also a nationally recognized speaker and presenter on telecommunications, business motivation and business operations and is a regular contributor to the award-winning website Inc.com. His articles have appeared in well respected industry publications, including Connections Magazine, Contact Management, Customer Inter@ction Solutions, DM News, Multichannel Merchant and Risk Management. Gary has also appeared and been quoted on television, radio and in a number of newspapers. He regularly addresses leading associations and conferences, among them; the American Teleservices Association, the Association of TeleServices International, the Canadian Call Management Association, Disaster Recovery Journal’s Spring World and Fall World, and ICCM.

Gary remains very active outside of AnswerNet, instructing students at the Wharton School of Business’ SBDC and participating on the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s Technology Advisory Board. Gary earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Public Policy from Syracuse University and a Juris Doctorate Degree from the Washington College of Law at American University.

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2010 in Business, Uncategorized

 

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Succeeding with Social Media

Today’s guest post is by Leland Strott, NEW ’08

I first got into social media thanks to classes I took my senior year at Syracuse – Web Journalism and New Media Business. I signed up for them thinking they would supplement my Magazine Journalism career. Now, hardly a year later, social media is my passion and my main career interest! I work in Baltimore, Maryland, and two of my current jobs – an internship at an advertising firm and a part time social media position at a local sports network – were set up because of online interactions. My obsession with Twitter and social media have really paid off for me!

Even if you don’t want to tweet professionally, social media can connect you to a job in your chosen career field.  I’m a firm believer that sites like Twitter and LinkedIn are a tremendous benefit to the job hunt by building a professional community. Beyond that, blogs and other networking sites can help you establish a presence in your field. Here are a few tips for doing so:

On Twitter:
- Build a professional network. Follow experts and companies in your chosen field, especially those in the locations you want to work in.  It’s beneficial to read articles they post, and catch up on any news they mention to see what issues are important to them, which means they should also be important to you.  But don’t just follow their tweets – make your presence known by joining in conversations with them. Regular engagement is the key to establishing a more meaningful relationship, the kind of relationship that will get you a job!
- Go to Tweetups – it’s a good way to make a real connection with professionals around you.  Once you’ve established an online connection with local professionals, networking events like Tweetups are a great opportunity to cement those relationships.

Blogs:
- Set up a blog to write about your career field and professional topics, to showcase your ideas, or provide examples of work you’ve done before. This is equivalent to a portfolio, and it can show potential employers how knowledgeable (and therefore valuable!) you are.  Use a blog to fully develop ideas you may discuss on Twitter, for example, and you can send the link to show off your thoughts.

Networking sites:
- On sites like LinkedIn and Brazen Careerist, join groups related to your career field and interests. Chime in on discussion boards and start conversations. It’s a common theme, but getting your name and ideas out there will help you get noticed.
- Don’t be afraid to request connections with people whose careers you admire – take initiative and send them a message to see how they got where they are.  The worst they can do is ignore you, and at best, they could become a valuable career connection.

Last but not least:
- Make it known that you’re looking for employment. If you’ve taken the time establish yourself as a valuable member of your field, there’s a greater chance that people you have connections with will think of you first when there’s an opening in their companies. If you make a good impression online, don’t be surprised to see job offers even if you’re not looking!

Leland Strott, a native of Baltimore, MD, graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in 2008 with a degree in Magazine Journalism. She is currently back in her hometown, interning and working part time while she completes a Master’s degree in social media from Birmingham City University. She hopes to turn her passion for social media into a full-time job in advertising or marketing.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2010 in Networking, Social Media

 

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On being connected

Today’s Guest Post is by Amy Merlino Coey, VPA ’94

I’m from Philadelphia, where my maiden surname belies my blood ties to some notorious organized crime figures, so being “connected” for me was always a dubious distinction.  Nevertheless, “connected” in the mafia-sense of the word means something positive.  If you’re connected to a powerful mobster you might get a V.I.P. table at a restaurant or dodge a speeding ticket, or obtain even bigger and better rewards.  But it has been my connections to Syracuse University that have truly shaped my career path and my adult life.

In my business, which is the business of Broadway, the Syracuse “Mafia” is well-known and regarded.  Powerhouse Producer Arielle Tepper Madover ’94, Producer and Merchandising wiz Michael Rego ’90 and Bona-fide Broadway diva Julia Murney ’90, are just a few of the illustrious alums who are making their mark on the Great White Way.

Being connected to these and other SU grads has been about more than sharing an alma mater, though.  A colleague from Syracuse got me my first job in commercial theatre (well, he set up the interview…I like to think I got myself the job!)  I was at a crossroads—I knew I was meant to be in the management side of theatre, but I wasn’t excited about the non-profit world.   My SU friend not only intuited what the perfect job for me would be, he introduced me to the people who could make it happen!

Recently, I was chatting with colleagues from a rival “mafia” (another University well-represented behind-the-scenes on Broadway) and we were reflecting on the fact that you never quite know when you choose a college, how very important that decision will be.   My Syracuse connections got me my dream job, which led to a thriving career, and my career led me to my husband, and hence my son.  I believe in Fate to a certain degree, and if Fate exists, then Fate first and foremost brought me to Syracuse.  Happily, all the rest just followed.

Amy Merlino Coey served as the Company Manager of the original Commercial Off-Broadway productions of FULLY COMMITTED and THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES.  She was the Assistant Company Manager for the Broadway stagings of THE GRADUATE and the 2002 revival of MAN OF LA MANCHA.  She has company managed both LITTLE WOMEN: THE MUSICAL and WICKED on Broadway, as well as the 1st National Tours of THE GRADUATE and BILLY CRYSTAL’S 700 SUNDAYS.

Now the mother of a young son, she works part-time as a Management Associate for 321 Theatrical Productions, a General Management firm currently represented on Broadway by WICKED and NEXT TO NORMAL.  She is a member of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (ATPAM).

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2010 in Networking

 

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