Eulogy for my dad, Robert Nemes

IMG_6137EULOGY FOR MY DAD, ROBERT NEMES

MONTREAL, CANADA

AUGUST 30, 2015

THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR COMING HERE ON THIS SUMMER DAY TO HONOR MY DAD AND SAY GOODBYE TO HIM.

IT’S RARE THAT WORDS FAIL ME, BUT THIS IS ONE OF THOSE MOMENTS BECAUSE WORDS FALL SHORT OF DESCRIBING MY DADDY’S LIFE AND WHAT HE MEANT TO ALL OF US.

BUT I WILL TRY.

HE WAS KIND AND HUMBLE, SELFLESS AND OPTIMISTIC.

HE WAS TOUGH AND RESILIENT. HE HAD THE STRONGEST WORK ETHIC OF ANYONE I’VE EVER KNOWN.

HE WAS FUNNY AND A GOOD STORY TELLER.

HE LOVED HORSES, AND HE LOVED THE DOGS THAT WERE LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE A BUTCHER IN THE HOUSE.

HE SAW BEAUTY AROUND HIM AND LOVED HIS FLOWERS. HE TENDED HIS VEGETABLE GARDEN AND WAS A PROMOTER OF LOCAL FOOD LONG BEFORE IT BECAME FASHIONABLE.

HE WAS A GREAT DEBATER OF WORLD POLITICS AND HE CREATED A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS WITHOUT GETTING AN MBA.

HE CARED DEEPLY ABOUT THE FUTURE OF ISRAEL AND HIS LOCAL JEWISH COMMUNITY. HE EMBODIED THE PHRASE “THINK GLOBAL, ACT LOCAL.”

HE WAS A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR. BUT HE DIDN’T JUST SURVIVE. HE THRIVED.

AND HE ALWAYS GAVE UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.

MY COUSIN YAEL WROTE TO ME THIS MORNING AND SAID OF MY DAD: “HIS PRESENCE WAS ALWAYS BOTH GENTLE AND FORMIDABLE.”

AS MOST OF YOU KNOW, HE HAD THE MISFORTUNE OF BEING A YOUNG BOY DURING ONE OF THE DARKEST MOMENTS IN RECENT HISTORY. AT 14, HE WAS PUSHED ONTO A RAIL CAR AND SENT TO AUSCHWITZ WITH HIS TWO YOUNGER BROTHERS AND HIS PARENTS. HE WAS THE ONLY ONE OF THEM TO EMERGE FROM THE CAMPS ALIVE.

AS AN ADOLESCENT DURING THE HOLOCAUST, MY DAD WAS AMONG THE LAST SURVIVORS WHO WERE STILL AROUND TO TELL THEIR STORIES TO ANYONE INTERESTED ENOUGH TO ASK. MANY YEARS AGO HE HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING ASKED TO SHARE HIS  STORY WITH STEVEN SPIELBERG’S SHOAH PROJECT, A MONUMENTAL ENDEAVOR TO CAPTURE ORAL HISTORIES OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS, PEOPLE OF ALL RELIGIONS WHO HID JEWS DURING WORLD WAR TWO, RESISTANCE FIGHTERS, AND MORE. 

I SPOKE TO HIS FRIEND “FOOKSY” YESTERDAY, ONE OF MY DAD’S FEW REMAINING BUDDIES THAT WAS IN THE CAMPS WITH HIM AND IS STILL AROUND TO BEAR WITNESS TO THEIR SHARED HISTORY. HE SAID TO ME, “WE’RE THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS.” AND HE’S RIGHT.

NOW ONE MORE SURVIVOR IS GONE. BUT MY DAD WAS NOT SILENCED. THAT’S BECAUSE THE NEXT GENERATIONS OF HIS FAMILY WILL KEEP TELLING HIS STORY SO THE WORLD NEVER FORGETS.

WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO DO ALL IN OUR POWER TO PREVENT UNSPEAKABLE ACTS FROM HAPPENING AGAIN. AND SOMETIMES THAT MONUMENTAL TASK BEGINS WITH SIMPLE ACTS OF KINDNESS TO THOSE CLOSEST TO US.

HE HAD EVERY REASON TO BE A BITTER MAN BECAUSE OF WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM AND HIS FAMILY IN EUROPE. BUT HE CHOSE INSTEAD TO LIVE A LIFE OF OPTIMISM AND ALWAYS LOOKED FOR THE GOOD IN PEOPLE.

HE LOOKED AT LIFE AS A GLASS HALF FULL AND HE IMPLORED US TO DO THE SAME. HE URGED US TO MAKE CHOICES THAT RESULT IN ADDING GOODNESS TO THE WORLD.

HE LOVED MY MOM WITH ALL HIS HEART AND THE TWO OF THEM WERE A GREAT TEAM FOR 63 YEARS STRONG. THEY WERE SO INCREDIBLY DEVOTED TO EACH OTHER  THROUGH THICK AND THIN, AND SHE WAS ALWAYS THERE BY HIS SIDE, ESPECIALLY DURING THESE LAST DIFFICULT MONTHS.

IT SEEMS FITTING THAT HE PASSED AWAY QUIETLY ON SHABBAT. HE ALWAYS HONORED THE SABBATH, WHETHER HE WENT TO SHUL IN HIS COMMUNITY OR DAVENNED ALONE IN HIS HOME. MY MOM SAID TO ME AFTERWARDS, IT WAS A MITZVAH FOR HIM. AND I KNOW SHE WAS RIGHT.

I FEEL PRIVILEGED AND HUMBLED THAT I COULD SAY ROBERT NEMES WAS MY FATHER. I WAS SO LUCKY TO HAVE HIM IN MY LIFE FOR MORE THAN A HALF CENTURY.

I’M GRATEFUL MY CHILDREN, REMY AND COLE, WERE ABLE TO SPEND MANY YEARS WITH THEIR ZAIDY. THEY HAD THE GOOD FORTUNE TO GROW UP KNOWING HIM, HORSING AROUND WITH HIM, LEARNING FROM HIM, AND HEARING HIS STORIES FIRSTHAND. HE SHOWED THEM WHAT UNCONDITIONAL LOVE FEELS LIKE.

WORDS, IN THE END, ARE MEANINGLESS. IT’S HOW YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE AND ACT TOWARDS OTHERS THAT MATTERS. MY DAD SHOWED US ALL HOW TO DO THAT.

DADDY, YOU WERE MY ROCK OF GIBRALTAR, MY NORTH STAR, AND THE VOICE OF WISDOM AND REASON THAT HELPED ME THROUGH SOME OF MY TOUGHEST MOMENTS.

MOST OF ALL DADDY, YOU FILLED MY LIFE WITH LOVE AND SECURITY.  I’LL MISS YOU DADDY. I MISS YOU ALREADY. BUT YOU WILL BE WITH ME ALWAYS. 

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The New Game-Changing Luxury Real Estate Trend

Originally published in Michigan Avenue Magazine
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July 2015

The latest trend in Chicago real estate? Luxury homes that seamlessly integrate indoor and outdoor living.

A new-construction home on the site of the old Wonder Bread factory was designed with a number of innovative openings to the outside.

Part optical illusion, part clever architectural design, a hot new alfresco trend is taking hold in Chicago luxe living: A growing number of high-end homeowners are replicating the chic outdoor entertaining spaces they’re discovering on vacations, where walls disappear and walking out onto a terrace feels as seamless as gliding across a wide-open room.

Just ask Kelly and Justin Palmer. The couple moved into their 4,500-square-foot Lincoln Park duplex penthouse with views of the downtown skyline three years ago and left one of their decks mostly unfinished until they decided how they wanted to use it, recalls Michael Maschmeyer, principal and architect at Urban Rooftops (773-857-6411), a Chicagobased designer of outdoor spaces, who transformed the 500-square-foot deck this spring.

“Everything about the building and the unit is designed to use the downtown skyline as the focal point, so we thought, Why not extend the inside outward to maximize the living space and keep that backdrop in full view?” explains Maschmeyer.

Inside, the open floor plan has contemporary, eclectic furniture that includes blue velvet couches in the family room and a rustic wood-slab table in the adjacent dining area. The kitchen boasts rich dark-wood cabinetry, and the countertops are gray granite with a backsplash blend of turquoise and green granite.

When the collapsible glass wall to the fourth floor deck (by NanaWall) is pushed aside, the same color scheme continues outdoors, says Maschmeyer. A built-in grill and outdoor kitchen mimic the same dark cabinetry as indoors, and the granite countertop matches the colorful backsplash inside. The rest of the outdoor decor blends with the interior too, including aquamarine ceramic stools, wicker chairs, a dining table with a natural concrete top, and lightweight porcelain tiles on the floor that match the indoor color scheme.

In this conversion of a two-flat to a single-family home in Bucktown, a glass wall of black-framed windows allows the kitchen/family room to flow seamlessly into the outdoor space.

When new-home construction started revving up again in 2010, outdoor designers and architects in the Chicago area began finding creative ways to respond to city clients asking for better ways to capture their additional outdoor space. Maschmeyer estimates that adding glass walls that open or giant glass sliding doors and high-end outdoor kitchens and living space can cost at least $50,000 and often much more, depending on deck size and design elements.

“People want the same luxuries outdoors when the weather is favorable as they have inside,” notes Maschmeyer. “They want an outdoor living room with comfortable furniture just like they have indoors. They also want cooking and great sound and TV.”

These outdoor living room spaces often incorporate fire pits and electric or gas heaters so homeowners can entertain under the stars earlier in the spring and later into the fall, he adds.

A new-construction home in Lincoln Park on the site of the old Wonder Bread factory was designed with a number of innovative openings to the outdoors to maximize the luxuriousness of an expansive 50-foot-wide lot for a couple and their four children. Chicago architect Seth Romig(773- 961-7872) designed the 7,500-square-foot home and included 17 feet of an accordionlike glass NanaWall on one side of the kitchen so the family can easily access the built-in grill outside on the deck and dine alfresco at its long table, which handily seats eight or more. The clean lines of the kitchen’s interior and warm neutral tones are repeated in the adjacent 200-square-foot outdoor space with a natural stone-top table, classic stainless steel chairs, and ipe wood decking, explains Romig.

In a nearly complete conversion of a two-flat to a single-family home in Bucktown that Romig designed for a couple with grown children, a glass wall of black-framed windows of varying sizes at the back of the house creates an illusion that the kitchen/family room continues outdoors, even though only a regular-size glass door opens on one side of that wall in the backyard. A similar pattern of those windows was installed on the far side of the 16-square-foot outdoor lounge area leading to the garage to create a harmonious feel between the spaces, Romig notes.

Much of the area will be filled with midcentury furniture, inside and out. Some pieces, like an Eames lounge chair and ottoman on the inside, have a seethrough quality with raised, skinny legs that don’t block the view to the back, explains Romig.

The home is on a short lot, but the couple decided to skip the formal living room of a typical single-family home, says the architect, “because they wanted a meaningful outdoor component [that suited the] way they live.”

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Chicago Buildings with the Best Outdoor Spaces & Amenities

Originally published in Michigan Avenue Magazine
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May 2015

For some of Chicago’s hottest properties, a sumptuous rooftop deck is the ultimate must-have amenity.

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Rooftop amenities are now de rigueur in Chicago as residents seek to maximize outdoor time.

Despite living in a city that has more months of cold weather than warm, a growing number of Chicagoans are putting a serious premium on outdoor living space. Rooftop decks at luxurious high-rise rentals and condos are huge draws these days, and many building managers say it’s now de rigueur to offer loads of outdoor amenities—not to mention a great view—if they want to make it onto the list of the hottest buildings in Chicago.

“In other climates, rooftop areas are a big deal [to residents] because they can use it all year-round,” observes Jennifer Saucedo, community manager of North Water Apartments (340 E. North Water St., 872-253-0060), one of the city’s newest and most deluxe rental buildings, which is positioned atop the sleek new Loews Hotel on North Water Street, close to Lake Michigan. Ironically, Saucedo notes, “It’s an even bigger deal in Chicago because [we] can’t enjoy it year-round.”

850 Lake Shore Drive uses strategically placed plantings to delineate space on its rooftop.

Aside from the lake views, there are plenty of playtime opportunities built into North Water’s 50th-floor recreational space. An indoor party room, decked out with four large flat-screen TVs and comfy lounge furniture, opens to a sprawling outdoor deck with more seating space and another large flat-screen TV. Notes Saucedo, “We’re planning to schedule some terrific events up there, including wine socials, cooking classes with big-city chefs, and brunches, too.”

As if that weren’t enough, a second, more elaborate outdoor deck, positioned 35 stories below (just above the Loews Hotel section of the building), boasts an outdoor kitchen and fire pits. Such amenities, Saucedo adds, are crucial to drawing residents. “When new [prized high-rises] are charging about $2,000 for only 550 square feet,” she says, “residents talk about [communal] outdoor space as a way of getting more value.”

When investment group 850 Investors LLC completely renovated the landmark 1920s building at 850 Lake Shore Drive (312-915-0850) last year, they placed a major emphasis on maximizing the 21st floor’s 6,700 square feet of rooftop lounging space, says Matt Phillips, the group’s principal. Featuring an outdoor kitchen with grills and dining tables as well as clusters of plush, oversized chairs and chaise lounges, the communal deck has become a top selling point for the building

The 50th-floor rooftop at North Water Apartments includes an indoor chef’s kitchen with an extensive outdoor terrace.

Landscaping on the rooftop, designed and installed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, is a large contributor to the mood of private spaces the developers desired, explains Phillips. Strategically placed plantings (including several varieties of sedum and allium) take up roughly 40 percent of the expansive grounds, and many groupings are mounded high or feature taller plants that serve as a de facto barrier between the roof’s sunning and dining areas (another soft hill shields views of a dog run). “They visually separate the space, and the separated spots feel more intimate as a result,” notes Phillips.

And just off Michigan Avenue, the Optima Chicago Center’s (200 E. Illinois St., 312-527-0800) 41st-floor Sky Garden Terrace boasts an “Arizona modern” feel, explains leasing specialist Taylor Payne, with fire pits, serene desert grasses, and a massive Jacuzzi that can fit as many as 20 people. “The east side lounge area reminds me of Pop Art—bold and colorful. It’s really fun up there,” says Payne.

Like the other two high-rises, it’s the spectacular views that wow residents and their guests. “On the roof, it feels like you could reach out and touch the Chicago Tribune building, or modern towers like the Trump building,” says Payne. “You can even see on the roof of the Intercontinental Hotel, an old landing pad used for hot-air balloon rides in the 1920s. How cool is that?”

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Haute Property: Green Acres

Originally published in Michigan Avenue Magazine
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Spring 2015

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The story of the first African-American first lady

Originally published in Crain’s Chicago Business
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April 3, 2015

The author discusses what inspired him to write the first lady's unauthorized biography.

The author discusses what inspired him to write the first lady’s unauthorized biography.

A new biography of Michelle Obama by Northwestern University associate professor Peter Slevin, a former reporter at the Washington Post, details Obama’s early years growing up in a working-class family on the mostly segregated South Side of Chicago.

“Michelle Obama: A Life” follows her to Princeton and Harvard universities, and back to Chicago, where she pursues a successful law career and mentors a bright young lawyer named Barack Obama. The story traces her outreach work in Chicago’s South Side communities, her marriage to Barack Obama and the birth of their two daughters. The book also recounts what she contributed—and what she gave up—to help her husband win the 2008 presidential election, as well as the passions she has pursued during her time in the White House.

The unauthorized biography is published by Knopf and hits bookstores April 7.

Slevin is on leave from Northwestern during this academic year and will return in the fall. Crain’s caught up with him before the official book launch.

Crain’s: What inspired you to write about Michelle Obama?

Slevin:I wrote extensively about Michelle during Barack Obama’s first campaign for the presidency. She’s a force. She had a very impressive 20-year career working on the South Side of Chicago trying to make a difference in people’s lives quite apart from Barack’s career. While she’s been in the White House, she’s had a great deal to say and accomplished a lot. I thought that warranted a real biography.

Do you think you captured an authentic picture of the Chicago native who ended up as the first black first lady in the White House?
I hope so. I think it’s significant that her voice carries throughout the book. I had the great fortune to read hundreds of thousands of words that Michelle has spoken in speeches, interviews and many obscure ones dating back many years that no one really ever looked at. No one has really tried to connect the dots before.

Is there something particular about growing up on the South Side in the 1960s and 1970s that played a unique role in shaping Michelle Obama?
Very much so. Understanding Chicago is central to understanding Michelle Obama. And she was born in 1964, the year the Civil Rights Act was passed. Michelle grew up seeing how pernicious racial prejudice could be. She also grew up with opportunities that her parents could hardly have imagined.

How did that sort of upbringing influence her professional choices? 
Her 20-year career in Chicago and her White House projects each reflect an understanding of inequality and an effort to improve opportunities, especially for disadvantaged Americans. It’s her effort to “unstack the deck.”

What was different about Michelle Obama that led her on a path to Ivy League schools and the professional successes that followed?
Michelle talks about how she had the good fortune to grow up with tremendous support from her family and how much they valued education. She was very disciplined and worked hard. She often got up before dawn at their apartment in South Shore to study while it was quiet.

She’s also very competitive. She learned about Princeton through her older brother Craig and said, “If he can get in, I can get in.” All her friends talk about how competitive she is, and Barack jokes about it, too. They all describe her as overprepared in everything she does. It even carries over to board games and sports.

How did Michelle Obama contribute to her husband’s political journey to the White House? 
Michelle is not a fan of politics and never has been, but there’s no doubt she is a huge asset to Barack’s political career. She’s grounded, she thinks about how policies connect to real people. She’s a shrewd judge of character. Michelle’s friends describe her as the most strategic person they’ve ever met.

 - Peter Slevin, author of

Peter Slevin, author of “Michelle Obama: A Life”

How did Michelle handle setting aside her own formidable career aspirations to focus on her husband’s political pursuits and her young children?
It cannot have been easy for her to give up her career to be the candidate’s wife and to be first lady. But she always found a way to pursue issues and interests that she cared about. One of the fascinating things to watch after they leave the White House in 2017 is what Michelle will do once her life is again hers to live on her own terms.

Have you ever met the first lady?
I interviewed her twice during the 2008 presidential campaign. Following her to nine or 10 states over the years, I’ve been struck by her remarkable ability to connect with people, with a comment or a hug. She’s also really, really funny.

When you think about Michelle’s time in the national spotlight, what is most striking to you?
Michelle is broadly popular. She’s more popular than her husband, in fact. But before I wrote the book, I did not fully grasp the amount of vitriol—and I mean real hatred—that she endures. The Internet comments, the Photoshopped images, the racist “jokes,” some of them shared by well-known politicians who have later apologized. It’s awful and it continues.

Did you get access to anyone close to Michelle for the book?
Early in the project, I dropped in on the Englewood synagogue of her cousin Capers Funnye, a rabbi. He helped me and then connected me with Michelle’s uncle, Nomenee Robinson, who introduced me to his brother Andrew Robinson.

What surprised you most about researching Michelle for your book?
She had one close relative who was chiefly influential in integrating Chicago department stores. She was responsible for hiring hundreds of African Americans. She had another relative who sued Northwestern University for racial discrimination in the 1940s. She had an uncle who graduated from Harvard Business School and I found a photograph of him in the New York Times with Jackie Kennedy in India when he was in the Peace Corps.

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Will Work for Education

Originally published in USGBC+
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March-April 2015

Starbucks takes the lead in social responsibility at home with a college program for its workforce.

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Starbucks is often touted as one of the more enlightened corporations in the U.S. that’s working hard at shrinking its carbon footprint and pursuing global social responsibility initiatives. Those goals are achieved through innovative green building programs, sustainable operating practices, and sourcing fair trade coffees to improve the lives of coffee growers (and their workers) around the world.

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It should come as no surprise that Starbucks’ leaders recently expanded their efforts in social responsibility—only this time a lot closer to home. Last summer, the Seattle-based company established a college education program in a unique partnership with Arizona State University (ASU) that encourages its own employees to finish college. The carrot for that nudge to go back to school is tuition reimbursement so individuals who start out at Starbucks can aspire to even greater opportunities and achieve improvements in their quality of life. Starbucks estimates about 70 percent of its workforce are students or individuals who would like to go to college, and many of them would do so if they could find an affordable and manageable work/life balance to make that happen.

U.S.-based Starbucks employees who work 20 hours per week or more can sign up to earn a bachelor’s degree in one of 40 undergraduate degree disciplines offered by ASU’s prestigious online program, according to Starbucks. Degrees are awarded for majors that include education, engineering, business, psychology, communications, and retail management. The program is open to workers (called “partners” internally) at all company-owned stores nationwide, which includes its other affiliates: Teavana, La Boulange, Evolution Fresh, and Seattle’s Best Coffee. Employees at support centers and company plants also are eligible.

Employees who are already en route to acquiring a bachelor’s degree and enroll as juniors or seniors will get full tuition reimbursement from Starbucks for every semester of fully completed courses, the company says. Freshmen and sophomores who enroll at ASU online through the program can receive partial tuition payback and need-based financial aid, according to Starbucks.

No strings attached

Perhaps most surprisingly, Starbucks employees who graduate aren’t obligated to continue working for the company once they’ve received their bachelor’s diploma. They can move on to pursue a career in their area of study or go after any opportunity that could improve their standard of living, notes Starbucks CEO and President Howard Schultz. He explains the motivation for initiating the College Achievement Plan, or CAP, was to encourage more individuals to finish college who couldn’t otherwise afford to do so.

“There’s no doubt, the inequality within the country has created a situation where many Americans are being left behind,” observes Schultz. “The question for all of us is, should we accept that, or should we try and do something about it. Supporting our partners’ (employees’) ambitions is the very best investment Starbucks can make.”

The motivation for initiating the College Achievement Plan was to encourage more
individuals to finish college who couldn’t otherwise afford to do so.

—STARBUCKS CEO AND PRESIDENT HOWARD SCHULTZ

The CAP program, which launched officially last June, has been wildly popular. By spring semester 2015, which started in January (2015), about 1,500 Starbucks employees across the country had enrolled and nearly all 40 majors were represented among the degrees being pursued, says Carrie Lingenselter, a spokesperson for ASU online. The most commonly selected degrees among the group include psychology, organizational leadership health sciences (healthy lifestyle coaching), mass communication and media studies, and English.
Shawn Walker, a barista for Starbucks in New York City, was a year away from completing his bachelor’s degree in graphic information technology, but quit a few years back because he couldn’t afford to repay mounting student loans. Now he’s back in school at ASU, working part-time and hoping to move on when he graduates.

“Now I see that it’s possible for me to move my life forward,” says Walker. “I am confident I will be successful doing something I love and this opportunity is a new beginning for me.”

Abraham Cervantes, another Starbucks barista, is now studying music at ASU as part of the CAP program while he continues to work. “I want to teach at a university, and for that, you need a college degree,” he explains. “For me, the opportunity to earn my degree means I have the chance to teach others and make a better life for myself and my mom, who raised me and my three siblings on her own.”

Two-tiered reimbursement, extra support

The program has two levels of reimbursement. Starbucks is offering maximum incentive to individuals who are closer to completing their degrees, but also gives partial reimbursement to freshmen and sophomores as a motivator to get on the path to higher education. Students receive a small scholarship from Starbucks when they first enroll, which never has to be repaid. Participating employees pay upfront for the rest of their tuition and other fees, but then are reimbursed by Starbucks every time they complete 21 credits (the estimated equivalent of a full semester of classes).

While financial support is critical for employees who participate, Starbucks and the university assembled a support system of professionals to ensure students have a better chance of making it to the finish line. An enrollment coach will be assigned to each student, as well as a financial aid counselor and an academic advisor who makes sure they are taking the right courses and staying on track toward graduation.

In addition to the 40 existing majors available at ASU online, Starbucks and the university created a new Retail Management Degree that’s geared toward employees who are interested in expanding their skill set for a retail environment and staying with the company after acquiring their degree, says Dayna Eberhardt, Starbuck’s vice president of Global Learning.

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Eberhardt, who helped design the new retail degree with professionals at ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business, says there are five general categories incorporated into the curriculum for the degree that are important to Starbucks. They are: people and team leadership; critical thinking and problem solving; business management; customer service; and sustainability.

Launching the Starbucks’ CAP program has naturally boosted enrollment for ASU, but Michael M. Crow, the university’s president, says the incentive for collaborating with Starbucks was not about numbers. It was more about fulfilling the university’s mission to widen diversity among its student base and encouraging more individuals who don’t have the luxury of attending college full-time to find ways to obtain their degree, he asserts.

“ASU is pioneering a new university model focused on inclusivity and degree completion, and Starbucks is establishing a new precedent for the responsibility and role of a public company that leads through the lens of humanity and supports its partners’ life goals with access to education,” says Crow.

So far, ASU hasn’t collaborated with any other corporations to create a similar program, but is already receiving calls from other interested companies as Starbucks broadcasts success stories about the alliance, says Lingenselter.

First graduate will inspire others to follow

Kaede Clifford, a 13-year Starbucks veteran, claims the spotlight as the first company employee to report success in the College Achievement Plan program. She graduated summa cum laude in December with a bachelor of arts degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies.

Clifford started college years ago while she was working for Starbucks, took a semester off and never returned—until last year, she says. In the interim, she moved with various company positions from Seattle to Arizona and Germany, and then back to Washington state.

“It was important to me to finish my degree,” Clifford emphasizes. “I wanted to finish something I started and also I know it will provide more opportunities to further my career.”

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Cocktail Courier hopes Chicago will drink to its new delivery service

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune
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February 27, 2015

Cocktail Courier

Baby it’s cold outside, and a new online cocktail delivery service wants to bring drinks — Chicago mixology originals — to your home, where you can stay warm and cozy.

Cocktail Courier, which launched Tuesday in Chicago, says each delivery  contains all the spirits, liqueurs, mixers and fresh garnishes for four to six drinks designed by a bartender at one of the city’s hip and trendy bars and restaurants.

Scott Goldman said he and his brothers Curt and Ryan launched the business about two months ago in New York City and saw Chicago as a natural second market. They plan to keep expanding with interstate deliveries from Illinois in late March and a rollout in the San Francisco market later in the spring.

“We’re living in a golden age of cocktails,” Goldman said. “As much as the consumer has shown an appreciation for well-made drinks, most of us are also relatively inexperienced and intimidated when it comes to making great cocktails at home.”

The company’s booze-in-a-box concept aims to demystify the process with serving recommendations, instructions for measurements and details on how to mix and shake the ingredients in the proper order, Goldman said.

Initially, the delivery area will cover the Loop, north to Wrigleyville and west to Logan Square. The company aims to expand beyond those boundaries in the coming weeks, Goldman said.

Cocktail Courier delivers on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and Goldman said the company promises next-day delivery for orders placed before 9 p.m. The service currently offers no same-day delivery.

Customers can order one-time deliveries a la carte or sign up for a subscription that sends a weekly package to their door. Prices range from $36 to $90, depending on the recipe. Prices include tips to the bartender who designed the drink, and deliveries include premium brands and artisanal varieties, Goldman said.

Customers visit the company website and select from among available custom cocktails. As of early Friday, the Chicago service offered five cocktail options, three of them from Chicago bartenders or bar managers — Matty Eggleston of Nico Osteria in Gold Coast, Peter Vestinos of The Betty in West Loop and Liz Pierce of The Drifter in River North.

Goldman said the company plans to each month offer nine new custom drinks from Chicago bartenders.

“It’s a great promotion for the bartenders and the bars where they work,” said Vestinos, who created his version of the Old Fashioned for the first round of offerings.

Vestinos, whose company The BarMedic provided consulting services to Cocktail Courier, said he thinks the format “puts the bartender forward, and the consumer makes a connection to that person within their own home.”

Goldman said he and his brothers found the bar business right for them because their parents for years have owned bars and restaurants around Philadelphia. Cocktail Courier follows their first bar-related venture, Shakestir, a four-year-old international online community for bartenders and managers to post portfolios and connect with others in their business.

For Cocktail Courier, Goldman said, he and his brothers invested their own savings and then tapped friends and family for additional funds. He said they’ve had Chicago on their minds for a while.

“With such a great culinary scene here and vibrant cocktail market, it made sense that Chicago would be the next city on our radar,” Goldman said. Besides, he said, “Chicago people have more square footage in their homes compared to New York and they host more parties.”

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Emerging LEED: A Look at Innovation and Inspiration in Sustainability

Originally published in USGBC+
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February 26, 2015

If  you threw a dart at a map of the U.S., chances are good you’d hit a city with some innovative green projects in the works, yet some urban centers stand out more than others. They’re emerging as leaders in specific areas of sustainability that are likely to change the character of their city and the way they’re viewed nationally, even internationally. Seattle, Houston, and Atlanta exemplify some of the ambitious green endeavors underway in the country. We’re betting they can offer inspiration to green champions elsewhere.

Seattle

Seattle isn’t likely to come to mind when you think of an emerging sustainable city in 2015. You could argue Seattle emerged on the green scene more than 20 years ago, long before most other urban centers in the U.S. were even thinking about how they could embark on sustainable endeavors. And yet, the city on the (Puget) Sound is at it again—pushing the green envelope in new ways that once again raises the bar on reimagining our urban eco-experience.

“There was this combination of a creative city with lots of economic vitality and set in a beautiful and somewhat wild setting that created tension and opportunities 20 years ago,” says Tom Paladino, founder and CEO of Paladino and Company, a Seattle-based green building and sustainability consulting firm. “LEED (the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system) emerged from that.”

“Today that continues in Seattle with a focus on carbon reduction at the city level, a wave of building renovation based on seismic upgrades and great interest in older structures, and a heightened focus on the wellness of the people that live and work in the buildings,” says Paladino, who is considered one of the pioneers of the green building movement and one of the original creators of the LEED green building rating system.

New kinds of green building experiments are underway in Seattle that will likely redefine the boundaries going forward. Architects, engineers, consultants, and interior designers are collaborating on new structures that are more mindful than ever of energy and water consumption, building materials, and air quality. There’s also a lot more emphasis on how people working within those buildings interact with their surroundings for a more healthful, positive experience.

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Tom Paladino is the founder and CEO of Paladino and Company, a sustainable consulting firm in Seattle. Photos: Paladino and Company

In addition, there’s provocative design work taking place that is finding new uses for older buildings and new design strategies that emphasize how workers use the space.

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As older cities—including Seattle—reinvent themselves, there will be lots of renovation of older structures because that’s where the creative types want to work, asserts Paladino. “People want soul and character to a building so there’s a renewed appreciation for the randomness and grittiness of the city that they find in these older structures.” His firm continues to work on projects on that cutting edge of excitement in green building.

 

The Union Stables renovation project, now under construction and nearly completed, is a great example of a Seattle structure being transformed to meet those new workspace expectations. The 1909 building was originally a parking garage for horses, filled with stables for the animals when they were off the streets. The historic landmark, which had been vacant for the last 15 years, had a brick exterior and timber frame interior, explains Paladino, whose firm was a consultant on the project. Tenants for the four-story building will include Weinstein A+U, the Seattle architectural firm that redesigned Union Stables, a technology company, and a pub.

There are many challenges renovating older buildings and incorporating the latest iterations of green building design. The Union Stables team had to decide what to save and what to take out. “This is a building that has a beautiful set of old bones, but you have to find a way to elegantly mesh modern people patterns to the historic bones of a different era,” says Paladino.

Architects redesigning the windows on the Union Stables building, for example, had to adhere to strict landmark designation rules to preserve the exterior look. They had to simultaneously meet tough city energy codes with a well-sealed window design. And the windows had to be operable so they could be opened during the day and meet wellness standards of fresh air circulation for employees who work there, explains Paladino. “You need a much more complex brain to operate these kinds of building systems, especially when there’s a higher interaction of people with the building systems.”

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Seattle has become a testing ground for an innovative green design concept called the “Abundance Approach.” Developed by Paladino and his colleagues, the concept encourages designers and architects to first look at what is present on the project in abundance, and then figure out how to put that resource to work. He used the new 10,000-square-foot Seattle headquarters office renovation of Paladino and Company in 2014 as an experimental opportunity to apply that design technique.

So lots of bicycles become art on the wall instead of gear that requires a closet. High concrete ceilings became part of the cooling system rather than a rough surface that needed to be hidden, he explains.

In another example, employees there spend a lot of time collaborating on projects during the day so they decided to designate more of the office footprint to the group space instead of the individual desk areas, says Paladino. A huge box of “we” space was created within the central area of the full-floor office that included collaborating rooms with floor-to-ceiling glass whiteboards and another wall with a stickable pinup surface. The rooms come in different sizes to accommodate different size groups including those with two, four, or eight people. There is a larger 24-person room and a 40-person version as well.

There also are spaces within the office that have access to more sunlight and open work areas with walls that are brightly painted; there are other work spaces with colors that are more subdued to appeal to different moods of the staff at any given time, he explains.

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“We give people the ability to move their location in the office rather than placing a lot of technology to change the thermostat or increase air flow at their stationary desk,” he explains.

As a result, the individual “me” spaces are smaller than the average office cubicle and the open “we” or communal workspace is much larger. “We said: What’s the smartest use of our people and let’s configure our space to that,” says Paladino. “That’s the new formula for green design. Before, we would measure and tape the work space and put people in it.”

Paladino’s office renovation garnered a LEED v4 Gold rating from the USGBC, a relatively new upgrade to the organization’s rating system. That rating is difficult to achieve because of its rigorous requirements, including inclusion of wellness standards for employees in the building. The Paladino office renovation project was only the seventh certified LEED v4 Gold rating in the world and the first one in the Pacific Northwest.

These kinds of office designs are going to be essential to attract creative millennials to work for certain types of companies, insists Paladino.

“When you have a digital native and you hand them a laptop, cell phone, Skype, and the ability to work remotely from anywhere, you have to create an effective workspace that makes it a better place for them than working at home or at a coffee shop,” he says.

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Houston

Houston is often considered synonymous with the big oil and petroleum companies that are headquartered there. But if Roksan Okan-Vick has her way, very soon more people will think of the “Bayou Greenways” and alternative transportation when Houston is the topic of conversation.

Indeed, an ambitious $220 million public/private partnership now underway is radically transforming and creating 300 miles of greenways throughout the bayou waterway system in Harris County that leads into Houston and criss-crosses throughout the city. The plan is to create a continuous path of biking, running, and walking that will touch just about every community in the city, according to Okan-Vick, executive director of the Houston Parks Board, a nonprofit organization that works in partnership with the city of Houston on parks and other green spaces. The initiative will connect mismatched pathways and build new ones where none exist. Some 4,000 acres of new green space up and down the corridors alongside the bayous will be created as well, she says.

“The bayous already are part of the fabric and quality of life we have here,” explains Okan-Vick, who also is an architect and urban planner. “They drain the lands all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. But they also are the most beautiful natural happening in our city with bayou corridors that are incredibly rich ecologically.”

Many other U.S. cities are undertaking their own flavor of off-road trails as alternative means of transportation for residents to get around for both work and play. The Houston initiative, however, is more ambitious than most in the sheer magnitude of the pathways that will be created and interconnected. City planners also were intent on making sure that every neighborhood in Houston benefits from this project instead of just carving out neighborhoods with high real estate values for the benefit of a smaller fraction of the population.

What’s more, city officials intend to tout this project as a reason for people to move to Houston. The city won’t just be about oil any more.

“We’re growing so fast as a city and we want to make sure we can attract the best and brightest to come live here,” says Okan-Vick. “Environmental leadership is something we need to pay attention to in a real way and the Bayou Greenways project is a way to use our natural assets as a draw to our city.”

Big population boosts can offer both a blessing and a curse. The greater Houston area has close to four million people today (about 2.2 million living within the city limits) and is on track to double in the next 30 years, says Okan-Vick. From an urban planning standpoint, there was some urgency to create solutions for the projected congestion of so many more cars anticipated on the roads that go hand in hand with population growth. The Bayou Greenways will hopefully inspire many people who work relatively close to where they live to ride bikes to work and leave their cars at home, she notes.

“We are so in love with our cars in this city that it will take a mind shift to get people out of their cars to use the greenways instead,” she suspects. “But we have a few counters in some spots and the numbers of people using the greenways there are staggering. When we build more of it, I’m sure more people will use it.”

Houston is known for having a decent amount of green space but much of it is clumped together in big parks. Many underserved communities in Houston have relatively little or no green space at all, explains Okan-Vick. An important element that got city officials and some private donors on board with this project was the underlying equity factor: The greenways would be equally distributed throughout the county and all neighborhoods within the city of Houston, says Okan-Vick.

“Some parts of the city are park-poor and that population doesn’t have access to nature where they can get exercise and stay healthy,” argues Okan-Vick. “The need for these greenways is more important in these neighborhoods where there are higher obesity rates. By bringing those green assets closer to these residents, there’s an incentive to take a dog on a walk or go for a run. This is really important for the health of our city.”

When the entire project is complete, it’s expected that more than half the population of Houston and Harris County will be within 1.5 miles of a greenway path.

Another impetus to get this project off the ground was an analysis that determined more established greenways alongside the bayous will aid in flood control of storm water, and overall water quality enhancement. More land next to the bayous will absorb more water during major rain events and could prevent floodwaters from heading into nearby neighborhoods, she says.

“By virtue of having green, spongy land next to the bayous, the stormwaters slow down and filter into the water, which improves the overall quality of our water,” explains Okan-Vick. Besides, “It’s harder to build in a flood plain so it’s not likely that highrises would get built on that land any time soon.”

The initiative for this mammoth green project started about five years ago with various players gathering to look at the best ways to maximize the natural resources of the city. They settled on the obvious: connecting a long corridor of paths for biking and hiking that would run along the hundreds of miles of existing bayou waterways. After analyzing the full scope of this endeavor, the project’s planners concluded they would need $490 million for the countywide component, recalls Okan-Vick. They decided to divide the project into two phases—the first phase would focus on the area within the city limits with a cost estimate of $220 million.

They approached the Mayor of Houston, Annise D. Parker, and asked if she’d include a request for $100 million in a planned $410 million special bond issue referendum that was scheduled for a vote by city residents in November 2012. The nonprofit told the mayor they would launch a fundraising campaign to solicit the remaining $120 million from private foundations and corporations.

The mayor agreed and the bond referendum passed with approval for the $100 million earmarked for the Bayou Greenways initiative.

Now that the project is underway, “The Bayou Greenways 2020 is a showcase project for Houston because it demonstrates the interconnectivity of sustainability and resilience,” says Mayor Parker. “The connected greenways and hike and bike trails demonstrates our commitment to providing alternative transportation options. Bike commuters will have an added option of taking a scenic ride along the bayou to get to work, and we are excited about this opportunity to help alleviate some traffic congestion in our city.”

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Okan-Vick was grateful to the mayor for getting behind the project in its early stages and supporting the request for public funding. “I need to give the mayor credit because she led this effort not knowing how it would turn out,” she says. “Public funding for these projects can’t happen without elected leadership behind it.”

On the private donor front, an impressive $80 million of the total $120 million was raised as of late 2014. Some of the private funds already are being used to buy land next to the bayous that are owned by the county, and other private interests.

Big chunks of donations have come from prominent family foundations. The Elkins Foundation, which focuses on Houston-based projects, was eager to get on board.

“The Bayou Greenways project touches almost every corner of our city and will enable many more Houstonians to have access to the most significant natural assets we have in the midst of our fast-growing urban environment,” says Leslie Elkins, a trustee of the Elkins Foundation and an architect whose work is rooted in sustainability. “It resonated with our trustees because of the huge impact it will have on the quality of place for all of us who live and work here.”

In 2013, Mayor Parker told the C40 Cities Climate Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, that “Houston has proven to the world that it can maintain its title as the energy capital of the world while at the same time pursuing green policies that lift our reputation as a world leader in sustainability.”

The entire Bayou Greenways project is expected to be completed in about six years. Luckily, they have had community support that included residents at the grassroots level voting in favor of the bond issue, private funding stepping up, and elected leaders in high office getting behind it too.

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Atlanta

Atlanta is on a quest to be recognized as a regional leader in sustainability. Civic leaders in Atlanta, like many other cities that are building new sports stadiums, museums, and other large-scale gathering venues, are commissioning them to be constructed with green design features so they can tout their metropolises as more eco-friendly. Getting that LEED certification plaque in the front lobby is certainly one measure of proclaiming how green you are.

For the most part, it’s not the bragging rights they’re after—it’s the desire to construct sustainable buildings that will leave a softer carbon footprint on the planet going forward since those structures are likely to be part of the urban landscape for the next 50 years or longer.

But what happens when city officials turn their attention to a massive meeting place that’s already been around for decades—like the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC)—and apply the same LEED certification requirements to bring it up to current sustainability standards? The folks running the facility get a daunting project on their hands.

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Last fall, the convention center, with 3.9 million square feet of space spanning across three connected buildings, was awarded the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Existing Buildings (EB) certification at the Silver level. As of last fall (2014), the GWCC, which is governed by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, nabbed the title of world’s largest LEED-certified convention center.

“Documentation for LEED certification is very rigorous,” observes David Freedman, executive director of the Georgia Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. “But it means something. The USGBC isn’t trying to scare people off from going through the process. But when you go into a building and see the LEED plaque, people know that a lot of effort went into making that happen.”

The GWCC’s ability to attain LEED certification is a huge accomplishment on its own, but it also simultaneously catapults Atlanta into a bigger spotlight as a city that’s going green in a big way, asserts Freedman, who also runs Freedman Engineering Group in Marietta, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb.

“In the Southeast it’s not obvious to be green compared to other parts of the country,” explains Freedman. “Atlanta is a big metropolis in the Southeast and it has an opportunity to distinguish itself in the region. If you go to Charlotte or Nashville, it’s not quite as commonplace to find many certified LEED buildings. Atlanta wants to be an example to other cities in the Southeast.”

While the recent LEED certification for Atlanta’s convention center was touted as a green milestone for the city, it’s noteworthy that GWCC joins a growing legion of high profile buildings with LEED plaques that are mostly clustered together in the downtown area. A new Center for Civil and Human Rights and the College Football Hall of Fame were recently awarded LEED certification. The Philips Arena, home to the Atlanta Hawks basketball team, received LEED for Existing Buildings. And the new Falcons football stadium currently under construction will also seek LEED certification, notes Freedman.

The focus on making the convention center a greener facility started back in 2005, with the idea they would seek LEED for Existing Buildings certification as part of that effort, recalls Josh Robison, director of engineering. By 2008, Robison and his staff realized the task was too overwhelming for them to pursue and maintain their day-to-day responsibilities at the same time. As a result, Timothy Trefzer was brought on board as the Georgia Congress’ first sustainability manager who would focus solely on greening practices.

“They wanted to do the right thing for years, but they needed someone to lead the charge,” observes Trefzer, who was hired with an agenda to begin pursuing LEED certification. “When I started, only the convention centers in Denver and Portland had a sustainability manager.”

Competitive interests drove some of the impetus to get moving on the sustainability front as well, admits Trefzer. Newer convention centers were being built to LEED standards and they were beginning to pop up in smaller cities in the region (Charlotte and Nashville, for example) that previously couldn’t compete with Atlanta’s huge meeting venue, explains Trefzer. “Until recently, we only had to compete with Orlando and Chicago,” he notes.

Besides, more groups looking for convention space are seeking out greener venues. Leaders at Atlanta’s GWCC saw a need to listen to their customers. Trefzer says about 25 percent of the center’s potential clients ask about their sustainability practices and whether they have LEED certification. How green they are isn’t usually the deciding factor for choosing the venue, but that may change in the years to come.

Trefzer predicts the demographics of the workforce will continue to create more demand for partners who are concerned about sustainability and are pursuing practices that minimize their contribution to climate change. “As the younger generation moves into roles of meeting planners and suppliers who already expect sustainable practices to be in place, all convention center buildings will have to go after benchmarks for sustainability or they’ll stick out as a sore thumb for being the only one that isn’t doing it,” asserts Trefzer, who is 28 and was raised with recycling and other green practices that seem second nature to him and many in his age group.

The conference center is such a high visibility structure in the city that Trefzer hopes the LEED for EB certification sets an example for more building owners in Atlanta to follow in their footsteps.

“My goal is to make sustainability in Atlanta more ingrained in the culture by using our facility as a catalyst for change,” he says. “I also hope this creates an economic benefit to the city. We’re the second largest economic engine in the state (behind the port in Savannah).”

Perhaps the biggest challenge of seeking LEED for an existing building of this size is the grand scale of every aspect of the project, admits Robison. The convention center was built in several stages beginning in the 1970s;

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it kept growing to meet the demand of groups that wanted to hold bigger shows there. Some of the earlier sections of the center were constructed at a time when there weren’t indoor air quality requirements, which are standard now for LEED, he explains. They had to review all their air handling units meticulously to check which ones had to be retrofitted to meet LEED’s criteria.

“I’ve got over 500 air handling units in the buildings and most were in really good shape,” he says. “The newer ones were in closer compliance [with LEED] so they were easier to update, but we had to retrofit others, too.”

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Aside from retrofitting air handlers, the convention center had to inspect and update some of its 26,000 light fixtures and 57,000 light bulbs. Even though Robison has a staff of 80 engineers, they had their hands full maintaining the buildings and running operations for the shows while a simultaneous certification process was underway. Since the documentation requirements were so intense, an outside firm was hired as a third party to bring in the manpower necessary to test and balance all the inner workings of the building and do any retrofitting that was needed, he says.

Documentation was tough. Robison estimates they submitted tens of thousands of pages of information to demonstrate their compliance in all the categories to meet LEED’s standards. Interestingly, Robison and his team were already implementing some of the sustainable practices required to qualify for LEED, which was just part of their own upgrading agenda.

For example, last fall they were in the process of renovating about 100 restrooms in one of the buildings and they were already including low-flow fixtures and pint-flush urinals. “We were doing it because we were following best practices,” he says. “We just had to get all that information rounded up in some semblance of what they [LEED] were looking for.”

Even upgrading lighting to meet LEED’s criteria was no small feat. Some 1,200 light fixtures were changed in all 12 exhibit halls at the convention center, says Trefzer. They expect the retrofit will also result in a 25 percent savings in energy consumption.

Other big green achievements posted in fiscal year 2014 included: diversion of over 275 tons of single-stream recyclables, 119 tons of organics for composting, and donations of over 58 tons of food to local organizations. They baled over 27 tons of cardboard and diverted a total of 602 tons of material from landfills.

Trefzer says one of the most important ingredients to getting a massive LEED certification project to completion is a good dose of patience. “This was a four-year process for me and people had been trying to get the LEED effort up and running before I got here,” he says.

In addition, working well with partners is essential. He credits working closely with the mayor’s office of sustainability, the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, and other outside parties that helped get the job done.

Robison’s advice to others: Don’t be afraid to tackle big endeavors. “You’re probably already doing most of the things the LEED requirements are asking for. You just have to learn how to document these facts or activities in the format the USGBC demands.”

And finally, taking on such a huge project also takes leadership. Adds Freedman: “You need people who are willing to step out on a limb to make this kind of project happen. You have to find those green champions wherever you are.”

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Brazil’s New Finance Minister Has Ties to Booth

Originally published in Chicago Booth
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January 5, 2015

Joaquim Levy, a member of Chicago Booth’s Global Advisory Board who earned his PhD in economics at the University of Chicago in 1993, faces a tough mission as he becomes Brazil’s finance minister in January.

Levy’s appointment in late November is widely considered an attempt to reverse growing capital market concerns over the country’s worsening economic situation, which has been largely blamed on president Dilma Rousseff’s interventionist policies in recent years.

Turning around the Western Hemisphere’s second-largest economy will call on all the talents the respected banker has acquired while compiling a growing resume of prestigious government finance posts.

“Levy is a highly competent economist with enormous executive capacity,” said Paulo Sotero, executive director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. “He doesn’t suffer fools easily and once he gets a mission, he’s determined to accomplish it.”

Brazil economic woes have grown in recent years after spending on social programs kept expanding during Rousseff’s first term, while revenues to government coffers failed to keep pace. National debt as a proportion of GDP remains near 57 percent, according to Brazil’s central bank.

The central bank hiked interest rates recently to 11.75 percent, significantly higher than the 7.25 percent interest rates of October 2012. And for the first time in recent history, Brazil’s economy has a federal deficit and stagnant economic growth, Sotero noted.

“I think the president was under pressure to send positive signals to the market and also to signal that she will validate and embrace a serious adjustment of the economy; Joaquim will embody that,” said Alberto Ramos, a managing director at Goldman Sachs Group and head of the firm’s Latin American economic research group.

Ramos knows Levy well. They crossed paths at the University of Chicago while they were both pursuing their PhDs in economics. They also were colleagues at the International Monetary Fund from 1996 to 1998 and have remained in contact.

Levy maintains deep ties to the university. He serves on the Americas Cabinet of Booth’s Global Advisory Board, which advises dean Sunil Kumar and offers input on significant strategic issues facing the school globally.

Levy’s list of accomplishments in Brazil are impressive: He was treasury secretary from 2003 to 2006, and from 2007 to 2010 he was finance minister for the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Most recently, he was the director and chief strategy officer at Bradesco Asset Management, the second-largest private investment management firm in Brazil. He is lauded for his successes at each of his previous posts and is known as a champion of free market forces.

Levy’s appointment as finance minister is considered a move away from the Rousseff administration’s interventionist policies that included spending programs for job creation, controlling national gasoline and diesel prices, and subsidizing select companies and industries to stimulate economic growth.

The expectation among many in Brazil is that Levy will introduce rigorous economic policies to restore fiscal balance to the federal government. Levy has said publicly that he will brake spending, rein in inflation, and convince the capital markets that Brazil will follow new economic policies that will put its fiscal house back in order.

“The policies that are about to be implemented (under Levy’s direction) will be a radical departure from the policies that characterized the first four years of the Rousseff administration,” Ramos said. “It all boils down to the degree of autonomy he’ll have. I think the president picked him with the understanding that he may believe in different things, but she’ll give him enough leeway to implement the economic policies the country needs. Only time will tell if that happens.”

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Enlisting Veterans to Boost Employee Forces

Originally published in Middle Market Growth
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January/February 2015

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Midsize firms are turning to military vets for talent

BY JUDITH NEMES

At a veterans-only hiring event in the Chicago suburbs last October, some 40 companies were on hand to size up prescreened military officers and enlisted personnel on their way back to civilian life. The job fair was put together by Orion International, a recruitment firm that specializes in helping companies identify and recruit former service members into their workforce.

“Patriotism is a very strong part of our culture here and we want to give back to our country by hiring (veterans),” says Nancy Mora, a corporate recruiter at Integrated Project Management, a Burr Ridge, Illinois-based project management consulting firm with 125 employees that was scouting talent at the job fair. She brought along one of the firm’s consultants, a former Air Force officer, to help in the hiring process.

IPM has hired about 20 junior officers from the military over the last six years and expected to bring on two more by the end of 2014, Mora says. The midsize company interviewed 11 candidates that day, calling back five for a second round.

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 Middle-market companies—often lacking the extensive human resource machines of their larger rivals—are especially keen on hiring veterans. Their strong work ethic and ability to operate within structured systems make them good bets. Many have sharp leadership skills honed under stressful conditions; others have technical skills in short supply in the general labor pool. Most have worked in highly collaborative situations and are used to culturally diverse environments.

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They include men like Joe Shupe, a 33-year-old junior officer who was counting on his military background to ensure a smooth transition.

“I have real-world leadership and management experience, and I worked in an environment where individual failure is not an option,” says Shupe, who spent 11 years in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army. “There’s no such thing as an excuse when we have to show results. All employers can relate to that.”

Shupe, most recently stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was willing to move anywhere in the country. His resume includes completion of the prestigious Navy Nuclear Power Program, service on the USS Ronald Reagan nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and training as an engineering lab technician and communications officer.

He was interviewed by seven companies from the Orion job fair and called back by four at the time of publication.

Editor’s Note: Following the publication of this story, veteran Joe Shupe was offered a position with Nalco, an Ecolab company. He accepted.

 GLUT OF CANDIDATES

Some 1.5 million military personnel will retire from the U.S. Armed Forces in the next five years as the United States winds down military initiatives in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

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Even without the huge drawdown, an estimated 200,000 military personnel exit the service each year. The tremendous rush of returning American troops presents terrific opportunities for U.S. companies, including many that complain there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill job vacancies.

“An officer might have an engineering degree, but it’s their skill set as project leaders that gets them the job,” says Mike Starich, president of Raleigh-based Orion. “A lot of these people have been battle-tested … you’ll find very young people that are a notch or two above civilians their age in maturity, decision-making, judgment and accomplishing a mission under stress.”

Depending on the health of the economy and other factors, Orion installs between 1,500 and 3,000 veterans in the civilian workplace annually. As of mid-fall, the firm was on track to place about 3,000 in 2014. Fifteen percent are women, mirroring the percentage of females currently serving in the military.

“We start working with people about one to 1.5 years before they’re actually discharged, so they’re in good shape to translate their military experience to the civilian workplace when they’re just about to leave the service,” says Starich, who served as a Marine from 1985 to 1992.

 BATTLE-TESTED HIRING PROGRAMS

Middle-market companies interested in hiring veterans can turn to several resources. Besides Orion International, recruiting firms specializing in matching businesses with military personnel include Lucas Group  and Bradley-Morris. 

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Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a robust program called Hiring Our Heroes  run by its foundation. And the International Franchise Association’s VetFran  program introduces vets to franchisers looking for potential operators or owners of franchised businesses.

Uncle Sam, for its part, is also trying to ensure that returning veterans have more civilian opportunities. Under new federal guidelines, American companies awarded at least $100,000 in business from the federal government are now obliged to benchmark their progress  in hiring veterans.

 MANY PROS, BUT SOME CONS

Orion’s staff—comprised entirely of military vets—helps candidates write and refine their resumes, conducts mock interviews and coaches them on what to wear and how to comport themselves during an interview. Each year the firm holds 55 to 60 hiring events across the country.

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All of the officers and many of the enlisted personnel Orion places have college degrees, says Starich. Most officers have between five and 10 years of military service and are in their mid-to-late 20s or early 30s. Some are older.

At vet-oriented hiring events, employers can expect to find officers with skills that translate to three major job categories: engineering, operational leadership (supervisors in all sorts of industries) and sales (often for high-caliber products requiring technical proficiency), according to Starich. Enlisted personnel are primarily technicians, many with electrical or mechanical specialization.

To be sure, there are also challenges for veterans interviewing for positions in the mainstream workplace. Starich cautions that some struggle to abandon military terminology while others can come off as a bit stiff and take longer than non-military peers to adjust to a new environment.

 BRIDGING THE GAPS

In 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched the Hiring our Heroes program to address concerns of its member companies over the growing U.S. skills gap in areas such as transportation and logistics. It also aimed to reverse the escalating unemployment rate—as high as 30 percent—among young military veterans, recalls Eric Eversole, executive director of the program.

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“The military does a tremendous job for them when they come in but not so good when they get out,” says Eversole, an active Navy reservist. “Through our vast network of local chambers, we saw that we could tap our resources to connect the two groups.”

The program is already producing great results for midsize companies. Local chambers, with assistance from federal and state government partners, have been sponsoring hiring fairs nationwide. Member companies have so far snapped up about 25,000 vets and their spouses from contact begun at these fairs, Eversole says.

 The program is expanding to military bases in Europe and elsewhere because more vets will be transitioning to civilian life directly from overseas locations in the years ahead. Last November, Eversole traveled to Ramstein Air Base in Germany with representatives from more than 20 companies with U.S. operations keen on recruiting military personnel. He organized panel discussions and workshops to coach vets on resume writing, interviewing and Internet job-hunting strategies.

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The U.S. Chamber launched a more recent campaign called Hiring 500,000 Heroes, which asks American business owners and corporations to pledge employment to qualifying vets and military spouses in the near future. More than 2,000 businesses of all sizes have committed to hiring 474,000 military veterans and spouses as part of the campaign. Eversole says that to date more than 300,000 hires have been made and thousands more are currently in the pipeline.

 KEEP ON TRUCKIN’

PGT Trucking Inc., a Monaca, Pennsylvania-based flatbed carrier, has for years hired veterans to haul steel, building materials and other industrial supplies across the country, says Rachel Stewart, a recruiting manager with the company. The midsize firm has nearly 1,000 drivers, including more than 150 with military backgrounds.

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The company recently pledged to hire more vets through the Hiring 500,000 Heroes program. It has already made good on that commitment, bringing 15 new drivers on board in the fall. And PGT expects to hire more soon.

“Right now, the trucking industry is facing a driving shortage and (it is expected) to get worse,” Stewart says. “The majority of the younger generation seems to be heading toward college training and office careers. However, we need technically skilled individuals to become professional drivers.”

The company’s president, Gregg Troian, is a military veteran, but Stewart says that isn’t the main reason PGT has a policy of recruiting vets. “The commitment, dedication and passion they show to our country are the same qualities you want in someone who works for your company,” she says. //


THE FRANCHISE WORLD // ANOTHER OPTION FOR VETS

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The International Franchise Association, a trade group, created an innovative program within its nonprofit Educational Foundation in 1991 that specifically targets veterans to consider buying or operating a franchise. In general, veterans are particularly well-suited to run franchises because of their training and experience working within structured systems, says Kevin Blanchard, project coordinator for research and strategic initiatives with the IFA.

“In the military there’s a standard operating procedure for everything you do,” explains Blanchard, who served in the Marine Corps and was discharged in 2006. He adds, “There’s a playbook for franchises—they have a system that’s been proven and tested because some entrepreneur already figured out the best way to do it. You buy into a system and you’re expected to follow their operating procedures. Military vets seem to make a smooth transition to this type of business.”

Participation in the IFA’s initiative, called VetFran, has skyrocketed in recent years, in part because the IFA boosted the resources it is spending on running the program, Blanchard notes. Between 2011 and 2013, VetFran assisted nearly 151,000 vets in either starting a franchise, getting hired by one or securing a job at the corporate level of a franchise operation. Among that group, close to 5,200 vets actually launched their own franchise, Blanchard says.


FINDING AND RETAINING VETERANS //

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As associate vice president for innovation and policy at the nonprofit Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, Amy Sherman travels the country, working closely with employers on strategies for hiring veterans and keeping them happy on the job.

“Hiring and retaining veterans can provide companies with mission-oriented employees who have developed strong skills in leadership, problem-solving and teamwork—all qualities that contribute to a company’s success,” she says.

She offers some tips on veteran recruitment:

Conduct targeted outreach

• Set up a dedicated page for veterans on your company website.

• Establish incentives for employees to find veteran job candidates.

• Train personnel on how to translate military skills to civilian jobs.

Create a veterans-supportive environment

• Establish a veterans employee resource group that also engages military spouses and families.

• Recognize your employees’ veteran and military family status on appropriate days of reflection and holidays.

• Train supervisors about potential challenges such as reintegration and post-traumatic stress.

Identify and link with community resources

They may include:

• Workforce system representatives (known as Local Veterans Employment Representative and Disabled Veterans Outreach Programs)

• Local Veterans Affairs office

• Community service providers

• Local colleges and student organizations

• Military bases or installations

Track your progress

• Document your recruitment efforts.

• Ask on job applications if applicants have ever served in the military.

• Track hiring and advancement of veteran employees.

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