Tuesday, February 17, 2015

UCG Alumni Success Stories: Keith King

This is the second in a series of interviews titled "UCG Alumni Success Stories" conducted by our marketing consultant, Francine Ciaccia, of MoMo Companies Ltd. We are pleased and honored to introduce former UCG Intern, Keith King. Keith, thank you for being a part of UCG's success!

Keith King
Chief Operating Officer
Scratch Off Systems

Keith King is Chief Operating Officer of Scratch Off Systems, a successful printing and label manufacturing company based in Brecksville, Ohio. Scratch Off specializes in label manufacturing; scratch and win promotions; gift card printing; and promotional printing. Scratch Off Systems manufactures all of their products in-house.

Keith King, COO
Scratch Off Systems

Keith was the second employee when he started in 2001.Today he is responsible for sales, marketing, human resources, estimating, operations management, and the overall supervision of their 45 employees.

I have grown this company by always ensuring that our value exceeds our price. I train my employees not to sell products, but rather to be a consultant and a problem solver.” – Keith King

Keith, in 2000 you were a freshman at David N. Myers University in Cleveland, Ohio majoring in Marketing. When and how did you meet Jim Kandrac, and how did it come to be that he offered you an internship at UCG?

Keith King, 2000
At the end of my senior year of high school I was the student council president at CVCC and they informed me about the internship at UCG. I wasn't really looking for an internship as an office assistant, but after meeting Jim Kandrac, I was interested in learning more about him and his company. Jim was very enthusiastic and seemed to know the secret to being happy and successful.

You were at the right place at the right time, and trusted your instincts; good for you! Please tell me about some of the responsibilities and tasks you were involved with during your year at UCG.

Thank you; that is true! Jim and UCG’s VP Mike Powall noticed my interest in sales and marketing and allowed me concentrate more of my time in that area than with the general office assistant duties. This allowed me to use my creativity to compose email invitations to seminars and demonstrations. I also took great pride in my ability to cold call prospects to develop leads for Mike and the rest of the sales team.

Jim and Mike clearly recognized your potential. In addition to growing your sales and marketing aptitude, what did you learn about the world of technology while at UCG?

Mike taught me the value of CRM software and how it can organize a company, allowing for simplistic production and communication throughout the organization. What was really interesting to me at the time was that end user companies who purchased VAI's S2K ERP Solution via UCG could have their customers check live inventory, pricing specials, and even configure complex product purchases. Today this is called "web self-service", saving their clients time, money, cost, and overall increasing efficiencies and responsiveness to client needs. Mike was a wealth of knowledge when it came to technology.

What did you enjoy most and what did you find most challenging during your year at UCG?

I loved learning how to sell from Jim and Mike. They taught me how to sell with confidence and how to get responses from my voicemails and emails. As a training initiative, just prior to a new marketing campaign Jim would have me leave him voicemails until I finally left a voicemail that would interest him enough to call me back. I was 18 years old, and Jim was the most intimidating person I had ever met, so having him listen to my voicemail within hearing distance was horrifying! After failing more times than I would like to admit, I was able to finally earn his approval. This was a huge boost to my confidence! I figured if I could get this 6'4” successful businessman with his powerful presence to approve my voicemail technique, then there was not much else out there to be afraid of. To this day there are only two people to ever intimidate me: Jim and my grandfather!

I also enjoyed going on sales calls with Jim and watching him command a room during a presentation. I remember how impressed I was to drive to the presentations with him in his white GMC Denali. After our first successful year at Scratch Off Systems, my first purchase was indeed a GMC Denali!

Those experiences are priceless, and were the catalyst for the wonderfully successful career you now have. What was your most valuable take-away when you left UCG to join Scratch Off Systems?

Absolutely! Being young and seeing the successful business that Jim and Mike created made me extremely hungry for my own success. When I started with Scratch Off Systems 14 years ago it was a very small startup located in the upstairs of a beat up old house. I took a huge risk to leave a thriving company for a small startup, but if I was going to be somebody in this world, I had to take a risk sooner or later. Using Jim and Mike's passion for success as inspiration, I was able to take the company from doing $25k per month in sales to over $150k per month in under a year! Today, we have a 25,000 square foot facility with 45 employees!

What advice do you have for individuals looking to set or adjust their career path?

The best advice that I could give anyone looking to adjust their career path is to find what you are good at and then dedicate your time and energy to perfecting that craft. Whether it’s sales, marketing, or website development, pick a skill and dedicate yourself to becoming an expert. I can train anyone to be great at what they do and to make a lot of money if they like what they are doing and are committed to improving their skill level.

I would also suggest finding a mentor who is successful in the field that you are looking to move into. I was able to learn a lot from Jim and Mike in a short amount of time that and that helped me to springboard my career. There is no question that you will learn much more from a successful mentor than you will ever learn from a book or in a classroom.

Keith King is 34 years old and married to his high school sweetheart; they have been together since they were 15. Keith and his wife have three children, ages seven, five, and one. He grew up in Macedonia, Ohio and currently lives in Hudson, Ohio. Keith enjoys hiking, fishing and sport clay shooting.

Learn more about Keith King by visiting his LinkedIn profile. Visit Scratch Off Systems online at scratchoff.com.

Learn more about United Computer Group, Inc.; James A. Kandrac, Founder and President; and Mike Powall, Vice President.


UCG Alumni Success Stories: Margie Martyn, Ph.D., Interim President at Harold Washington College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

UCG Alumni Success Stories: Margie Martyn, Ph.D.

One of the greatest benefits of LinkedIn and other social media platforms is that it gives us the opportunity to stay in touch and follow the success of individuals who began their careers at United Computer Group:  our interns and alumni. These individuals joined UCG full of potential and energy. It wasn't long before they became strong contributors bringing fresh ideas and building client relationships, all the while learning business strategies that would eventually support their growth into successful careers.

As business owners, of course we would prefer to keep our best employees forever, like UCG VP Mike Powall with over 20 years, and 12+ year veteran Vladimir Capitanov. Still, we encourage our employees to go after their dreams and find their true passion in life, whether here at UCG or in a different industry. Today's article is the first in a series of interviews, UCG Alumni Success Stories, conducted by our marketing consultant, Francine Ciaccia, of MoMo Companies Ltd. We are pleased and honored to introduce Margie Martyn, Ph.D. Margie, thank you for being a part of UCG's success!

Margie Martyn, Ph.D.
President at Harold Washington College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago

Margie Martyn, Ph.D.

Margie has been an educator and administrator in higher education for eighteen years. She is experienced in the areas of strategic planning, budgeting, accreditation, assessment, international programs, curriculum development, online learning and leveraging technology in teaching and learning, information services and adult learning.

Margie specializes in strategic planning, enrollment management and student retention, accreditation, assessment, online learning, and international programs.

Margie, when did you meet Jim Kandrac and how did it come to be that he offered you ​employment at UCG​?

It was 1992 and I was working for the owners of the building where his company was located doing some clerical and bookkeeping work. I think he noticed that I had some good "customer service skills" and saw potential in me, so he offered me ​a position in marketing and business development. ​ He told me that "my voice smiled on the phone" and it's funny because I wrote that in a cover letter for my next job and that is how I was able to enter the world of higher education. 

That’s fantastic; you were being interviewed by Jim all the while and didn't realized it! Please tell me about some of the most satisfying responsibilities and tasks you were involved with.

Margie Martyn, 1992
The most important thing that I learned was how significant excellent customer service is, and how critical it is to take care of each and every customer. Jim taught me and I quote, "people don't buy products from people, they buy the products and the service that comes with those products." Jim helped me understand by his example the importance of listening very closely to what customers need, excellent follow up skills, remembering personal information about our clients so that they knew we really cared about them (and we really did), etc.

I spent a lot of time on sales too. It's a great lesson for every single person to learn. I recommend that everyone work in sales at least for two to three years. You learn the value of persistence, of being told no, and how to turn a no into yes. During my time at UCG, I worked ​diligently, formed a relationship and closed a partnership deal with a ​very large​ ​global company​ that sold computer​s, parts and accessories​.  It made me realize that persistence is often rewarded with success!

You definitely began by learning the most valuable lesson: it’s all about the relationships. At the time, UCG was a five-year old tech company. What did you learn about the world of technology?

During that time I learned so much about the power of computers and how they can be used for communication and marketing. Jim had me write a newsletter about our products in Microsoft Word and I had never really used computers much before. I remember him showing me how to use one of the original Web search tools, Mosaic. I also learned a lot about the products that we sold (I/O devices) which allowed PC printers to connect to IBM AS400s and System 36 mainframe computers. I didn't even know what a mainframe computer was, never dreaming that in the future,  I would share with my students many examples about their use in business.

Jim sent me and another employee​ ​on our first business trip to Salt Lake City to visit I-O Corporation. I had never traveled for business and it was a wonderful experience to meet the vendor, learn about our products, and better understand how important vendor relationships were as well.

It sounds like you had a very fulfilling work and life experience at UCG. What did you enjoy most about ​working there?

The thing I liked best was learning from Jim. He is a bundle of energy, and is so focused. Each day he would come in excited to sell our products and to see how UCG could improve. He expected 120% from us all of the time and we loved delivering it. He was a lot of fun too. There were many times that we would laugh and have fun while we problem solved on how to increase our sales.

I learned the value of being part of a team and how much we needed each other, and how much we could accomplish together. I learned what a great leader looks like (Jim). He or she is driven, competitive, tough and kind. Jim expected a lot of us, but he rewarded us too. We got a percentage of our sales and it taught us that if we worked hard and helped the company do well, we did well too. He cared about our growth as employees and as people.  

It occurs to me that at the time, Jim was only in his early 30’s. Some people are just born leaders!

That was so impressive to me as well. I also want to mention that after I left UCG, Jim kept in touch with me over the years. He wrote a very kind recommendation letter which I used in my application for the
Baldwin-Wallace University  MBA program. He also took the time to present to some of my classes at Baldwin-Wallace University years later.

What was your most valuable take-away when you left UCG to ​join ​Baldwin-Wallace College?

I started ​at Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, OH as an Internship Coordinator in the Career Services department. ​ ​ ​My​ biggest takeaway was that you can't be afraid to learn new things and the only way to get ahead is by being a quick learner and through hard work. This reminds me of a saying that my current supervisor says (Chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago) which is that "You need to work hard. And if that doesn't work, work harder."

What advice do you have for ​individuals looking to set or adjust their career path? 

The best advice is to cast your net far and wide.  Check with your ​college to see if there is a career services department.  If so, go there and make sure that they know you ​what you are looking for. Add your resume to their ​resume ​database. Go to as many networking events that you can.  A lot of schools have them at their ​colleges, where companies come and meet students either formally or informally. Ask for business cards and then send a professionally written email thanking the person for their time and reminding him or her that you are looking for an internship. Attend free career fairs in your city and network there.

Create a professional LinkedIn account that shows your experience and background. Check all of your social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and take down anything that does not reflect a professional persona.

Do research on companies in your area to understand their mission, values, and goals. Take these names to your Career Services Department to see if there are relationships with the companies or see if they would be willing to reach out to them. Do volunteer work in the meantime to show that you are willing to work hard. Bottom line:  Don't wait for the ​opportunity​ to come to you;  go out and get it! 

Margie lives in Chicago with her husband Scott, who also works at the City Colleges of Chicago at the District Office in the Office of Strategy and Center of Excellence. They have three children, one  grandchild and two more on the way. In their spare time, they enjoy participating in Chicago 5k running races and the Chicago triathlon.

Learn more about Margie Martyn by visiting her LinkedIn profile.

Learn more about United Computer Group,  Inc. and its Founder & President, James A. Kandrac.