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Continuing education complicates, enriches workers’ lives

Submitted by Amaris Elliott-Engel on Sun, 04/29/2018 - 14:13

Here is a recent piece I wrote for the Rochester Business Journal about the benefits of continuing education despite the demands of busy personal and professional lives:

When Pamela Black-Colton, the executive director of admissions & student services for University of Rochester’s School of Education, was earning her MBA at night, she never went anywhere without her textbook. She would use any spare minute she could find to keep up with her homework.

Black-Colton is not alone in the local area in noting the challenge in balancing an existing career and other responsibilities like a family with continuing education.

But local educational leaders and students say that the challenge can be met.

David Kunsch, program director of St. John Fisher College’s MBA program and assistant professor of strategy, says that he also earned his master’s degree part time at night.

It’s important to set aside the nights you are not in class or one of your weekend days to keep up with the demands of a part-time program like the MBA or the Masters of Science in management offered at St. John Fisher, Kunsch says.

Being able to juggle work and continuing education, whether it’s a degree or some other form of training, “boils down to determination and dedication and discipline,” Kunsch says. “If you don’t have those three things, it’s going to be a tough go.”

Having an understanding partner helps a lot too, Kunsch adds.

Aparajita Verma, a Rochester-based MBA student at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business, has been working at local startup, Phello, while attending school. Verma agrees with Kunsch about the importance of having a strong support system in terms of family and friends. “Whenever you are down, they are the people you need to go to,” Verma says.

Verma also says it’s important to keep in mind that the most successful people did not get to their level overnight. “You have to realize it all comes in phases,” she says.

Lindsay Christensen, a mother of two from Geneva who is studying mechanical engineering at RIT, says that the key to her success is time management.

“A lot of times I am left with not being able to start homework or study until after my kids go to bed,” Christensen says. “The sacrifice of sleep really is crucial at this point. The biggest thing is I am very determined and want this for my life and my kids’ lives. I am determined to get my degree and start a profession and be financially stable and happy for our future.”

Christensen also recommends that students consider undertaking some of their continuing education first at a local community college as that was a money saver for her.

Nicole Viggiano, director of the Greece Central School District’s Office of Community Education, recommends that students get their plans in place before they begin their continuing education and know what their schedule is going to look like and what the expectations of their coursework is going to be. The office offers programs in adult education, workforce development and community programs like cooking.

It also is essential to communicate ahead of time with course instructors about other life responsibilities like family duties, Viggiano says.

Diane Ellison, associate vice president of RIT’s graduate, international and part-time enrollment services, recommends that students who are worried about how to juggle continuing education and existing responsibilities sit down with school administrators before assuming that nothing can be adapted for their situation.

She notes that RIT offers certificate programs as well as graduate degrees such as a newly developed graduate program in business analytics. There are short-term programs in which there is an in-person component for one week and the rest is done online, Ellison adds.

Black-Colton suggests that students first take a course as a non-matriculated student to test if they are ready to take a more intensive graduate degree or certificate.

Black-Colton and Kunsch both note that their programs are designed for students to be able to work and take classes at night.

Local educational leaders and students also say that rising to the challenge of working while undertaking continuing education is worth the challenge.

Black-Colton said the value of attending school while working professionally cannot be overestimated because “the things you learn you can put into practice right away, versus things seeming more theoretical until you get into the field.”

Verma says that being in the classroom alone is a safe cocoon. But working, while studying, means “you don’t know what is going to happen in the next hour. You have to be multitasking. You have to be pushing yourself to be better the next day,” Verma says.

Black-Colton also says that, in the crucible of continuing education while working, students often form a group of friends that they never would have met otherwise.

“It really expands your world view,” Black-Colton says.

Undertaking continuing education while still working is a signal to employers that someone is a “cut above in being able to manage a number of things at the same time and do well in all of them,” Kunsch says.

Christensen says that she was miserable working at the job she had before going back to school even though she was paying her bills and things were fine for her family financially. But there is a way forward to juggle the financial burden of college and having a family and a career, she says.

“A lot of people get stuck in their routine and think it’s too late to change it,” Christensen says.

Connecticut Law Firms Poised to Compete for Corporate Clients

Submitted by Amaris Elliott-Engel on Sat, 12/16/2017 - 15:18

Here is a recent story I wrote for the Connecticut Law Tribune about changes to the law for corporations and LLCs that went into effect earlier this year:

While Delaware remains the hub of corporate law with a large number of publicly traded companies choosing to incorporate there, Connecticut is aiming to compete with the state and other large commercial jurisdictions, as recent reforms have been made to state laws governing corporations and limited liability companies.

Corporate law practitioners say these changes to Connecticut’s LLC and corporations law are part of the state’s effort to compete in being friendly to businesses and to entice corporate lawyers to advise their clients to incorporate in Connecticut.

When the Connecticut Uniform Limited Liability Company Act went into effect July 1, it was the first major update to Connecticut’s laws about LLCs since 1993. And major changes to the Connecticut Business Corporation Act went into effect Oct. 1.

These reforms are “mostly for the benefit of lawyers,” said John H. Lawrence Jr., a partner at Shipman & Goodwin in Hartford and a member of the American Bar Association committee that promulgates the model law on which Connecticut’s corporate law is based.

“Clients spend very little time focusing on these kinds of issues,” Lawrence said. “These are really tools to make advice on business matters easier and clearer. A lawyer has to have confidence that Connecticut will be as up-to-date as Delaware or New York or any other big commercial state.”

Before Connecticut adopted the new LLC law based on the Uniform Law Commission’s model law, “it was difficult to recommend to clients that Connecticut be the jurisdiction where they formed their LLCs if they were looking for outside investment,” said Matthew H. Gaul, a partner at Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessy in New Haven and a member of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Business Law Section committee that vetted the model law.

In terms of attracting corporations, Lawrence said Connecticut’s adoption of the latest changes to the ABA’s Model Business Corporation Act will make it competitive with other commercial jurisdictions.

The new Connecticut law allows corporations to correct prior “defective actions,” which is something Delaware law allows, said Lane T. Watson, a partner with Day Pitney in Hartford who represents companies in mergers and acquisitions and venture capital financing, and on other issues.

The most common situation in which a corporation has taken a defective action is when more stock has been issued than the articles of incorporation authorized, Lawrence said. That could scuttle a company’s effort to go public because some stockholders would not be able to sell their shares, Lawrence said.

The new law also allows companies to require that lawsuits regarding internal corporate matters be heard in Connecticut courts and thus prevent forum-shopping by plaintiffs, Lawrence said.

New legislation also allows corporations to eliminate a board of directors member’s responsibility to disclose when he or she has an investment opportunity that would be of benefit to the corporation, Lawrence noted.

The change in the law “eliminates a complicating factor in what is a national and international economy” to obtaining investments from venture capitalists, Lawrence said.

Connecticut corporations also can now undertake “two-step mergers” without getting the approval of shareholders, Watson said. Delaware law allows two-step mergers, in which an investor who accrues enough stock can gain control of a corporation. Once an investor’s control is in place, the investor merges the corporation into a new entity, even if other shareholders object.

Allowing two-step mergers without shareholder approval is seen as another way corporations can be acquired, giving businesses a reason to incorporate in Connecticut and not elsewhere, Watson said.

Marcel Bernier, a partner with Murtha Cullina in Hartford, was an active proponent of updating the LLC law in Connecticut. He said adoption of the model LLC law will make the state more competitive with other states. One benefit of adopting the model, he said, is that Connecticut judges and lawyers will be able to look to case law that has developed in other states to develop Connecticut’s own version of the law.

That’s important, Gaul said, because Connecticut previously had only a few court decisions involving LLCs, and there were gaps concerning the fiduciary duties of LLC members.

“Investors really don’t like uncertainty,” Gaul added.

The new LLC law also extends some concepts from corporate law into the realm of LLCs, Watson said. That includes a ban on LLCs making distributions to members if doing so would make them insolvent, he said. It also includes allowing LLC members to bring a “derivative” lawsuit claiming there has been a breach of fiduciary duty on behalf of the LLC itself, he said. The old statute was silent as to whether a member of an LLC claiming there has been a breach of a fiduciary duty may file that claim directly or on a derivative basis, Bernier said.

As a result, there have been conflicting Connecticut Superior Court decisions on whether LLC members may bring derivative lawsuits.

The new law also allows for LLC operating agreements to alter the duty of loyalty or the duty of care, which Bernier said is important to encourage investment. The new law also allows for the complete elimination of the duty of loyalty.

Allowing the parties to have the liberty to enter an operating agreement that changes these fiduciary duties will encourage hedge fund managers and other venture capitalists to invest in Connecticut LLCs knowing they are “not more exposed to liability than their comfort level,” Bernier said.

Another legal change, albeit from almost four years ago, also will encourage businesses to form LLCs in Connecticut, Gaul said. Following Connecticut’s enactment of the Connecticut Entity Transactions Act on Jan. 1, 2014, Connecticut LLCs are permitted to change into Delaware corporations, Gaul said. “That matters, because most venture capitalists want to be investing in Delaware corporations,” he noted. That means corporate practitioners can advise their clients to form their LLCs and attract investors in Connecticut, while retaining the option to eventually incorporate in Delaware.

Women-led businesses find support in Rochester

Submitted by Amaris Elliott-Engel on Sun, 10/15/2017 - 10:44

Here is a recent piece I wrote for the Rochester Business Journal:

The Rochester region is open for business for women-owned enterprises, and several local female business leaders report that they have been able to find success for their companies no matter what type of industry they work in.

“The (Rochester business) climate is on fire for women,” says Lauren Dixon, chief executive officer of Victor-based ad agency Dixon Schwabl.

Dixon says that unlike some other communities, Rochester is “super-supportive of women and women-owned businesses. The mentoring and support that is going on in this community—in many other communities it is not going on to the extent that it is here.”

Tracy Scalen, president and co-owner of Rochester-based supply company Regional Distributors, says that women-led businesses can’t expect favoritism. At the same time, she says women-led businesses are not meeting prejudice, for example, because a majority shareholder at Regional Distributors is overseeing finance, human resources and receivables and payables.

“Our customers don’t care that I am a woman,” Scalen says. “They care that they get the best product at the best price with the best service.”

Christine “Chris” Whitman, the current chairman and CEO of Rochester-based package-fulfillment company Complemar, agrees.

“Rochester is very open,” she says. “There is a desire on the part of many companies to be able to find minority- and women-owned businesses to be able to provide services. I encourage both minorities and women to think about being entrepreneurs.”

While there is generally a positive climate for women-owned businesses in the Rochester region, some local women business owners say that they still face hesitancy from some quarters on doing business with them.

Sitima Fowler, co-CEO of Fairport-based Capstone Information Technologies, says that as a woman in the technology world “you have to prove yourself and show you do know what you’re talking about. That’s OK. I’m ready to work twice as hard as everyone else.”

Fowler’s spouse and co-CEO, Michael, once filled in for her on a sales call at the last minute. The potential customer indicated thankfulness that Fowler, an Indian-American, hadn’t been the one to make the call out of concern that she would have a thick accent and could not be understood, she recounts.

The lesson Fowler says she learned was that “there are people out there who are afraid to call us because they don’t think they understand us.” As a result, Capstone, which provides IT and cybersecurity services to small and medium businesses, started branding with both of the Fowlers.

Fowler, who is an electrical engineer by training, said that when she joined Capstone as co-CEO in 2006 her charge was to grow the business. She knew how to use project management to solve engineering problems, but she didn’t know how to make the phone ring with new business. So she studied up on marketing and sales, and she collected testimonials from clients as well. She developed a strategy of email blasts, social media posts and going to network events. Slowly and surely, Capstone grew to join the top 100 businesses of Rochester.

Fowler advises women to seek out the mentorship of other women and to launch their businesses without worrying if everything is perfect with them.

“Don’t worry if your product or service is 100-percent perfect,” Fowler says. “The hardest part is getting someone to buy it. Even if your product or service is halfway baked, once you start selling it you’re going to figure out how to sell it.”

Whitman agrees with Fowler that the tech world, in particular, has prejudices about women’s capacity to lead such businesses. But she thinks women can surmount that because success breeds opportunity.

Women entrepreneurs need to focus on the one thing they need to do to deliver effective results.

“If you’re bringing a solution to the table, companies will work with you,” says Whitman, who has grown several businesses throughout her career. She became CEO of one supplier of equipment for semiconductor and date-storage companies and led it into a successful acquisition by a competitor. As a partner in investment firm CSW Associates, Whitman also has invested in several tech startups and now is the CEO of Complemar in order to turn around the company.

Some women-owned businesses experience mixed results with the usefulness of being certified as a women-owned business, which qualifies them for the portion of New York State government contracts dedicated to women-owned and minority-owned enterprises.

David Scalen, vice president and co-owner of Regional Distributors, says that some women entrepreneurs who thought they would get a “marketing lead from their WBE status” probably have been disappointed. Regional Distributors has found that many of its competitors have figured out a way to skirt the state regulations regarding women-owned and minority-owned businesses, he says.

In contrast, Dixon says that becoming certified as a women-owned business has helped out Dixon Schwabl “by leaps and bounds,” including getting contracts involving the New York State Fair, for the del Lago Resort and Casino and for the World Canal Conference.

Another challenge for women-owned businesses is the balance between work and family, local business owners say, especially because many of their businesses are family-owned.

“The biggest challenge of running a woman-owned business is really striking that balance and not beating myself up if things don’t go as planned,” Dixon says. “If you have a bad day, there will be a good one tomorrow.”

Tracy Scalen says that her business wants its employees to put their families before work, adding that she and her husband have a saying: The top three things for every Regional Distributor employee should be God, family and work.

“If we’re number three on the list and they do the best when they’re at work, we can’t ask for more,” she says.

Amaris Elliott-Engel is a Rochester area freelance writer.

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