Tag Archives: B2B

Pretty in Pink

November 21, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nancy Osborn drops the pedal and rolls down the freeway in her pink Cadillac. Osborn, along with her sister, have the wind against their backs as they cruise to Aretha Franklin’s funeral. The radio plays the Queen of Soul’s hits, including “Freeway of Love,” the lyrics of which mention the blush-colored automobile. Osborn’s “trophy on wheels” is her symbol of success, freedom, and female empowerment.  

The week prior, Crisette Ellis, an independent national sales director for Mary Kay Cosmetics, called on her fellow beauty consultants to cruise to Detroit. Ellis thought a line of pink Cadillacs seemed a fitting tribute to R-E-S-P-E-C-T the late singer. Osborn, along with another 99 pink Cadillac owners, parked on Seven Mile Road outside Greater Grace Temple on Aug. 31.

“Who would have thought this small-town farm girl would be driving to Detroit to celebrate Aretha Franklin?” Osborn asks. 

Osborn believes in livin’ right, seein’ places, and drivin’ full speed. Her license plate proudly displays her credo—LIVE LRG.

“Go big or go home,” Osborn says. 

Osborn left small-town Nebraska many years ago, and for a time, felt stuck in neutral. She shifted into low gear after someone invited her to a Mary Kay party. Osborn fell in love with the product and positive environment. Although Osborn worked full-time, she sprinkled 10 hours a week into selling makeup. 

“Let me borrow your face,’’ she would say.

The business paved a road to independence. She ditched her non-supportive husband and former job. Osborn realized the company was much more than a tube of lipstick, and shifted into high gear as a full-time beauty consultant with Mary Kay in 1999. She rose through the ranks until she hit the top tier as an independent senior national sales director. 

“It’s a vehicle to change one’s story,” Osborn believes.

The company’s most coveted incentive dates back to 1969, when founder Mary Kay Ash first bestowed the powdery pink ride on her top sellers. Mary Kay is a multi-level business, leasing the Cadillacs to those who have sold at least $100,000 worth of products in a year. Some critics have dubbed the company’s sales methods a “pyramid scheme,” but the system has worked for Osborn. 

To earn the iconic vehicle, consultants must build a sales team of 12 members and reach a sales goal of at least $18,000 within four months. If the $100,000 mark is hit by the end of the year, Mary Kay will co-op a Cadillac for two years, or the consultant can opt for a monthly cash payment. Other sales-goal perks include all-expense paid trips, jewelry, and clothing. 

As each member steps up the leadership ladder, the coveted car comes closer to reality. The company reports that only 1,000 sales reps have earned the right to the pink Cadillac. 

And Osborn’s daughter is following right behind her—down the Mary Kay path and along I-80 to Detroit. Annaka Krafka and Osborn are the 11th mother and daughter duo to become national sales directors in Mary Kay Cosmetics. Krafka and her mother picked the 2017 CTS Luxury Escalade. The vehicles are both fully loaded, including rain-sensing windshield wipers, air-conditioned seats, and the automated ability to parallel park. 

“The pink car is about as close to a Barbie dream house as you can get,” Krafka says. 

On that rainy August day, the few miles to the cemetery took over an hour because thousands of people gathered on the streets. The crowd screamed, high-fived, danced, and sang, belting out Franklin’s iconic words: “We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway, of love, in my pink Cadillac.”


Visit marykay.com for more information.

This article was printed in the December 2018/January 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

From left: Nancy Osborn and Annaka Krafka

Circles of Support, Cycles of Life

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A giant ‘3801’ sign—the one hanging off the sleek new headquarters of Omaha’s Women’s Center for Advancement at 38th and Harney streets—stands out against the gray brick backdrop of this recently renovated property. Bold, rounded numbers point to the nonprofit’s updated building, where they provide aid to victims of domestic abuse.

The roundness of the numbers’ font is one of the organization’s many ways of telling the public there is an ongoing cycle of violence, while the size screams “We’re here.” The oversized loops of text were so large, the WCA needed to convince the city council that the sign’s height is appropriate, despite city codes restricting its placement.

“They have to know where it is!” CEO Amy Richardson explains, referring to clients and WCA supporters alike. “It’s really important that we’re identifiable. We’re not hiding this problem.”

Walls of rectangular glass panels wrap around the eastern corner of the building, reflecting that sense of transparency as sunlight passes though them and into the curved lobby. “Light is very healing,” Richardson says, and cites a need for it as the incentive behind a custom window film used throughout the building. Patterns of opaque dots, rings, and circles balance brightness with a sense of privacy, providing a one-way mirror effect for meeting rooms.

That circular theme is built into the very heart of the WCA’s home, where a cylindrical beam sprouts from the center of the building and through the middle of the client lobby, Richardson’s favorite addition to the new digs. Halos of light hang from a curved ceiling above various seating options arranged with intention—it’s almost impossible to look at one another while sitting in them—another piece of privacy in the clients-only space.

Waves and arches loop into the ceiling of the first-floor, guiding visitors past wall embellishments made from reclaimed wood and a modern, neutral palette combined with pops of color. New additions include a clothing boutique, an emergency entrance with an attached medical clinic, and legal workshops. Director of Marketing and Public Relations Elizabeth Powers points out how these services empower victims.

Richardson credits the vision behind the space in large part to project manager Andrea Kathol. “She was the conductor of all of it.” Other key players included RDG designer Alysia Radicia and Lund Ross Construction.

Kathol says her favorite part of the project was getting to work closely with such a great team.

“And the day the doors opened—just to see how proud everybody was of what we accomplished,” she says. “To understand what this means to Omaha to have a beautiful, healthy place for victims to go.”

The organization also realizes they need a circle of donors and volunteers from the community to help provide a vast array of services, including a medical clinic, legal workshops, temporary housing, and more. As a sign of gratitude, names of those who contribute are added to their donor wall, a collage of circular wooden art showcasing dozens of supporters.

On the upper floors, open office doors show comfy puppy beds and bouquets of birthday balloons orbiting staff and volunteer spaces, all pieces of a positive workspace intended to lessen the strain of dealing with trauma on a regular basis. Their goal? To unmask this issue, to provide a safe space for those in need, and to break this cycle of violence. In its comfortable, inviting new space, the Women’s Center for Advancement works round the clock to make Omaha a safer place for all.


For more information, visit wcaomaha.org.

This article was printed in the December 2018/January 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Storytelling for Television and Philanthropy

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

From life-altering surgeries to routine doctor visits, health care in the United States has become increasingly complicated. Regardless of the discourse that this far-reaching industry has produced, one simple truth remains: people get sick; and to get better, they need quality health care close to home. 

Maintaining that level of care for the Greater Omaha area and surrounding states is often only possible by the generosity of private dollars. This is where Tracy Madden-McMahon and her team at Methodist Hospital Foundation get to work.

Madden-McMahon serves as president and CEO of the foundation, which is at the helm of raising private dollars large and small to help fund sizable hospital projects. Since 2001, for example, the foundation has secured nearly $130 million for six capital and renovation projects. This year, the foundation has a $25 million goal, which will go toward renovating and expanding the Methodist Hospital Emergency Department.

Madden-McMahon is well suited to share stories from Methodist Hospital, its clinics, and its programs. Many in Omaha may recognize Madden-McMahon from her nights behind the anchor desk at WOWT. For 15 years she covered a variety of local, regional, and national news events for the station’s viewers. 

The Chicago-area native’s roots in storytelling run deep: her mother worked as a writer and columnist for the Suburban Tribune newspaper. Madden-McMahon says she did not have aspirations of working in broadcast news, but she longed to tell other people’s stories in the same way as her mother.

This is why, after a successful career in television news, it made perfect sense to chart a new path in a profession that tells stories while also making a sizable and tangible impact. By the early 2010s, with a young family to raise, Madden-McMahon was ready to make a transition.

“Changing jobs was a process—not an ‘a ha’ moment,” she says. “When looking at our children’s schedules and their needs, [my professional transition] was an evolution. I became the parent who was saying, ‘I would be there so long as there wasn’t any breaking news or severe weather.’”

The Methodist Hospital Foundation is the philanthropic arm for Methodist Hospital, Methodist Women’s Hospital, Methodist Physicians Clinics, and Nebraska Methodist College. Throughout the year, the foundation works alongside hospital leadership to determine how to best support patients, employees, and the community. 

“We raise the funds, we protect the funds, and we distribute the funds,” Madden-McMahon explains. “We take all three roles very seriously. It’s mission in action.”

Cultivating new donors, maintaining current ones, and telling the Methodist Health System story is all part of a day’s work. One such funder—the Dr. C.C. & Mabel L. Criss Memorial Foundation—is proud to support the Methodist Hospital community.

“I have been fortunate to work with Tracy Madden-McMahon and her team at the Methodist Hospital Foundation for several years,” says Andy Davis, a Criss Foundation trustee. “They are some of the most dedicated and compassionate people I have had the privilege of working with. Their enthusiasm for both Methodist and the Omaha community is inspiring.”

Madden-McMahon says philanthropy is an important part of her work, and home, life.

“[Many believe] only people who have lots money have legacies, but we all do. And it’s the way we live every day, and it’s what is important to us,” she explains. “Living that every day is pretty meaningful.”


Visit methodisthospitalfoundation.org for more information about the foundation.

This article was printed in the December 2018/January 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Changing Lives After a Life-Changer

October 31, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

She never imagined that checking a small box on a job application would have such a big impact.

Jasmine L. Harris was trying to turn her life around from a couple of misdemeanors as a young adult. She learned that answering “yes” to the question of criminal charges in her background put up barriers to employment.

“All I heard was, ‘We can’t hire you’ for almost two years,” Harris says. “And that was with misdemeanors. Someone with a felony on their record doesn’t stand a chance.”

With only her family in her corner and a young son for whom she was now responsible, Harris determined she was going to get her life on track and make a better way for others with similar life experiences.

“I had to get a grip on my life because I was going nowhere fast,” says Harris, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, then a Master of Public Health from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “If I didn’t make drastic changes, I was going to be dead or in jail.”

With her newfound lease on life, Harris became a health educator and tobacco prevention coordinator for Creighton University School of Medicine’s Clinical Research Office. She also served as civic engagement committee chair for the Urban League of Nebraska Young Professionals, where she focused on advocacy and awareness of criminal justice issues.

Her passion became helping those who wanted to move beyond past mistakes and find someone to believe in their future. That passion led Harris to co-found Waymaker LLC, an organization that motivates women and girls to overcome setbacks from being involved in the criminal justice system—the kind of service Harris could have used when she was climbing her way back. 

“We focused on making a way of life—creating second chances—for women and girls who were having similar experiences as mine,” says Harris, who focused much of her work in North Omaha where she grew up. “A lot of times, all someone needs is a second chance.”

Harris was the driving force behind efforts such as Black and Brown Legislative Day, when people of color were hosted at the state capitol to learn about the legislative process and register to vote. She also helped push for legislation that would remove the “Criminal History” section from an application for any job in the state—a bill that didn’t make it off the legislative floor.

Harris then turned her attention to volunteering with a new Nebraska organization called Defy Ventures, a group that works with incarcerated and previously-incarcerated people to help them land jobs or become business entrepreneurs. 

She deployed programs such as “CEO of Your New Life,” which focuses on character development, employment readiness, and entrepreneurship training. Defy helps people in post-release develop a new business pitch in a “Shark Tank”-like competition—with the idea that the new business will eventually hire others who have been in jail.

“The main goal is to help people, upon release, be ready for gainful, meaningful employment,” says Harris, who landed a full-time position as Defy’s post-release program manager. “We teach how to talk about your incarceration in a way that doesn’t turn off employers or cause them to pity you.”

Harris, awarded the Omaha NAACP Freedom Fighter Award in 2017 and named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Omahans by the Omaha Jaycees, knows there might be opportunity to help more people in a bigger city. But the “love-hate relationship” she had with her hometown when she was a teen is now all love. She is motivated by the endless opportunity she sees here.

“I came back here because I see the potential in Omaha,” Harris says. “I see people who sincerely want to help and are making the change. I want to be an integral part of that.”


Visit defyventures.org for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Setting the Example

October 20, 2018 by
Photography by provided

Stacy Martin knows she stepped into big shoes this past spring when she took over the leadership of Lutheran Family Services.

After all, the previous president and CEO, Ruth Heinrichs, spent most of her career—41 years from start to finish—holding the reins of the organization that positively impacts the lives of people throughout Nebraska and Council Bluffs with behavioral health, and child and community services. 

Still, Martin, who was born in Omaha and returned in April after several years as the executive vice president of programs at Lutheran Services Florida in Tampa, acknowledges she is not, and cannot be, Heinrichs. 

She has her own strengths and methods of leading that she is confident will continue to move LFS, which celebrated 125 years in 2017, into new areas of growth and impact. 

“I don’t pretend to fit into Ruth’s shoes; the path she forged was best for LFS and great for the history of the organization,” Martin says of Heinrichs, who announced her retirement in the summer of 2017. “It’s my goal to maintain the caliber of professionalism and continue to provide services of great quality. I don’t waste my energy on what I can’t change.”

Martin, who has dedicated her professional life to helping others, grew up in Kansas and graduated summa cum laude from Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas, with a Bachelor of Arts in English and secondary education. She earned an MBA from Eastern University in Pennsylvania and a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, where she was a presidential fellow.

In her role as executive vice president of programs at LSF, she oversaw a team of 600 and a budget of $50 million delivering programs that include child welfare, guardianship, immigration and refugee services, housing, youth shelters, sexual abuse treatment, and behavioral health services. With more than 1,500 employees and an annual budget of $220 million, LSF is one of the largest social service organizations in Florida.

Prior to this position, she served as the organization’s chief communications and development officer, and before that, was a vice president at Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service and the director of Policy and Advocacy for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Washington, D.C.

She returned regularly to Omaha through her husband’s work as a health economist. When they started looking for opportunities in the Midwest last year, they chose Omaha so Martin could be closer to her mother and other family members still in Kansas.

And while she admits she didn’t necessarily foresee a future in nonprofit leadership when she first started, she credits “amazing mentors” over the course of her career who encouraged her and helped her ascend the steps up the leadership ladder along the way. 

“All I can be is my best, most authentic self, and I believe we all can lead from any chair,” Martin says. “I know we can improve as an organization by being our best every day. I know I’m not the smartest person in the room, but it’s my goal to help encourage others to shine.”

And in her first few months at Lutheran Family Services, Martin says she sees ample opportunity for growth across the organization. 

“Lutheran Family Services has a firm foundation with dedicated staff that is willing to change and grow with the organization,” Martin says. “We all share a common faith-based goal to strengthen our skills to have an impact toward the common good. I see opportunity around every corner.”


Visit lfsneb.org for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

From Fried Chicken to Frozen Farro

October 16, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the early 1950s, at the dawn of the frozen meal era, it was fairly easy to predict the type of meals that appeared in those iconic, foil-covered aluminum trays.

“They very much reflected what was put on the kitchen table for an evening meal, a Sunday lunch, or something like that, with the fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and some kind of a brownie for dessert,” says Kristin Reimers, director of nutrition at Conagra Brands in Omaha. “It was such a new technology that there was a need to keep the food familiar.”

Omaha figured prominently in the development of frozen dinners and entrees, and it still does. Reimers describes Omaha as “command central” for Conagra’s innovation in such products.

“All of the technology [for innovation] resides here in Omaha with the 1,200 employees that remain in Omaha,” she says. “This is where all the research and development occurs.”

That research and development team includes such high-level employees as food science experts, chefs, and processing and packaging engineers.

In 1980, Conagra purchased Banquet Foods Co. (an early marketer of frozen entrees). The company was a competitor to Omaha-based C.A. Swanson & Sons, which developed the TV Brand Frozen Dinner in 1953.

Then, in the late 1980s, Conagra blazed a new path in the frozen meal and entree market when it introduced the Healthy Choice brand at the urging of then-CEO Mike Harper.

Healthy Choice signaled a change in frozen meals toward better nutrition, as well as convenience.

Reimers says that in recent years, Conagra has revisited not just Healthy Choice, but all of its classic brands to make them more appealing to millennials and others who seek restaurant-style meals at home that feature foods different from what they might prepare in their own kitchens. 

“People are looking for the convenience, but they don’t just want the convenience,” she says. “They want the experience.” 

“People are embracing it and loving it,” she says. “They’re looking at these frozen meals as they would a restaurant experience—some way to explore new foods at a very small risk. If you don’t like it, no big deal. You haven’t spent a lot of money or a lot of time. But if you love it, it’s like ‘wow’—you’ve experienced something really exciting—and really nutritious, too.”   

“We can offer foods to people that maybe they haven’t tasted before. We’ve been able to really explore a greater variety of foods,” Reimers says. Foods such as the Adobo Chicken and Korean-Inspired Beef versions of the company’s Power Bowls entrees, which were introduced last year. Items in that product line include whole grains and vegetables that consumers tend not to keep in their pantries.

In July, Conagra Brands introduced Morning Power Bowls, which variously include grains such as farro, quinoa, oats, and buckwheat. They offer an Unwrapped Burrito Scramble, Turkey Sausage and Egg White Scramble, Roasted Red Pepper and Egg White Shakshuska, and Pesto and Egg White Scramble.

And the bowls themselves are made from a plant-based fiber instead of a plastic, providing a nod to today’s more environmentally conscious consumer along with a reduction in energy use for the company.

Regarding nutrition, consumers need not fear they are missing out on key nutrients when they choose frozen meals. Reimers says the nutrition of frozen meals is comparable to that of meals prepared using fresh or raw ingredients.

Freshness is no concern, either. 

“Vegetables that are in the frozen meals are probably fresher than a consumer would be using at home,” Reimers says. 

Why? 

“The foods are harvested and brought to the frozen state, usually within the same day—hard to do, even if you have your own garden,” she says. “The amount of time that that food is exposed to air and to light that will cause the degradation of nutrients is very minimized in the frozen food.” 


Visit conagra.com for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Kristin Reimers, director of Nutrition at Conagra Brands in Omaha

The Genetics of Speed

October 9, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The family that accelerates from 0-60 in under 3 seconds together stays together. That observation holds true for at least one area father-son duo, Drs. Kam and Max Chiu. They are both radiation oncologists (Kam practices in Lincoln, while Max is completing his residency at UNMC). They both developed a love for automobiles early in life. And they both own ultra-high-performance sports cars built in Woking, England, by storied race car manufacturer McLaren.

The elder Dr. Chiu, whose love of fast cars is rooted in the hours he spent playing with toy cars at his father’s Hong Kong toy factory, kicked off this family’s mini British Invasion in 2013 with the acquisition of a McLaren MP4-12C Project Alpha. This English answer to Italian and German exotic dominance boasts 616 horsepower from a 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V-8 engine nestled behind the carbon-fiber passenger cell. The description, along with assorted industry reviews, was compelling enough to encourage Kam to make his purchase without driving any McLaren, let alone this $300,000-and-change special edition.

“I bought it off the internet…from [a dealer] in California,” Kam nonchalantly admits. He even traded in his beloved Ferrari F430 as part of the deal, not knowing if he would instantly regret the decision.

“So [the dealer] picks up the F430 and drops off the 12C, and that first spin? I take it out and it’s just fantastic,” recalls Kam. “The 12C is a lot more comfortable than the 430.” As one of only six Project Alpha cars created in collaboration between dealer McLaren Chicago and the factory’s McLaren Special Operations division, the orange-and-black 12C is a rarity among rarities.

Following his father into the world of mechanized speed was an easier decision for Max than following him into the medical field. And when it came time to dip his own right toe into the exotic market, the answer was obvious: The third generation of the MP4-12C, now christened the 720S (for 720 metric horsepower, or 710 by U.S. standards). “The 720 is definitely a lot more refined [than the 12C]. I drove it almost every day for the last month,” Max says of the 2017-edition vehicle. “But then I took it out on some twisting country roads last week…and it’s insane. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

While the doctors’ McLarens are two of only a handful in the area, they are part of a (perhaps surprisingly) thriving exotic automotive scene in Nebraska. “In a state of only a couple million, you have plenty of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, things like that,” reveals Kam. But the pair lament a lack of dealerships or other service options—the closest McLaren locations are in Chicago and Denver.

Numerous cars have cycled through their hands over the years, and the Chius currently own a handful of other high-performance vehicles, including a rare-for-America JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) Nissan Skyline GT-R. But the McLaren magic doesn’t seem likely to fade anytime soon. “I would most likely purchase another McLaren sometime down the road,” offers Kam. “It has the substance to back up the looks.” 

Although, when pressed to pick his favorite among all the vehicles he has owned in three decades of collecting, Kam admits, “If I could only own one car ever, it would be a minivan.”

Because even in the world of cars, sometimes function is more important than fashion.


Visit mclaren.com for more information.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Dr. Max Chiu between the 720S McLaren (left) and the Project Alpha 12C.

The Right Stuff

October 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Raymond Page can trace his family’s military history to the Civil War and the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment. Family members fought in World War I. His namesake grandfather survived a bullet wound after being shot on the beaches of Normandy during World War II.

Such a deep legacy of service may explain why, shortly after entering a university close to his rural northern Pennsylvania home, Page decided he wasn’t cut out for college. 

In 1988, at age 18, Page opted to follow his father and two older brothers into the U.S. Air Force. Another kind of education kicked in immediately at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue. 

“My first career was a radio operator, because I’ve always been into electronics,” says Page, 49. “Eventually I transitioned into meteorology and went to forecasting school. Offutt has the [Air Force Weather Agency] here, so it’s a job-rich environment.”

After ending his Air Force career as a major in 2014 after 26 years in the service, Page contemplated life as a civilian.

As he fielded several opportunities before accepting a position at Mutual of Omaha, Page discovered the reason transitions to the private sector run smoothly here: Omaha businesses need, actively recruit, and above all value veterans. 

Why?

“A better question is, why wouldn’t they want to hire a veteran?” observes Jeffrey Owens, vice president of Security Operations at First Data in Omaha and a Marine Corps veteran who enlisted during the Gulf War. “These young people trained, at a very young age, how to be leader[s], how to make decisions under high stress situations.”

The unemployment rate of post-9/11 veterans keeps trending down.  According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Labor Department, it stands at 3.3 percent nationwide. Still, many companies wonder why the number of employees with military experience isn’t higher, considering all the recruitment programs in place. 

The glitch may lie at the other end of the equation. 

“One of the scariest things for military people transitioning is there’s not a direct correlation of jobs [in the private sector],” says Page, echoing the thoughts of many veterans who may wonder, “Where do my skills fit in?” 

Page put his skills to the test in two war zones, Afghanistan and Iraq. During the Iraqi invasion in 2003, his weather detachment forecasted a monster three-day sandstorm, putting Army leaders in a position to keep their troops safe and hunkered down. 

“Even though I was a weather officer, I had a lot of experience in computer programming,” says Page, who lives in Bellevue with his wife and two children. “Military people, especially Air Force people, are wired to adapt quickly as we move from job to job. We show initiative.”

Owens, who also spent 14 years as a detective with the Atlanta Police Department, can’t speak highly enough of the qualities he observes every day in his employees. ”All the veterans I’ve had the opportunity to manage have exhibited loyalty, hard work, and they have a history and tradition built into them. Why wouldn’t you want those assets?”

Along with a lack of a business network, self-marketing may be a problem with many veterans. Military service focuses on the collective, making it difficult for a veteran to distinguish him-or-herself from the group, which is often an essential part of interviewing.

But that emphasis on the collective means many former service members will appreciate company values, missions, and visions.

First Data, founded in Omaha 47 years ago and now the world’s largest payment processor, reaches out to veterans through its First Data Salutes program. The company offers career opportunities and education resources for military personnel and their spouses; provides point-of-sale and business application technology free of charge to veteran-owned small businesses; and, like many local businesses, grants flex time to members of the National Guard or Reserves.

“What the company says to them is, ‘Hey, your job will be here when you get back.’ That gives them comfort and security while they’re [deployed],” says Owens.

First Data’s efforts on behalf of veterans, who made up 14.4 percent of the company’s Omaha hires last year, have won accolades. Military Times magazine has ranked the company No. 1 on its annual “Best for Vets: Employers” list the past two years, an honor “that cannot be bought, only earned,” according to the magazine’s editor. The rigorous survey, sent to 2,300 companies nationwide, contains 90 questions that companies must fill out and return. 

Page’s computer and leadership abilities caught the interest of Mutual of Omaha when the company hosted meet-up groups of software developers. Since joining the insurance company four years ago, he has thrived as an information systems manager. 

He has also positioned himself as a trusted adviser for Mutual’s military initiative, the Veterans Employee Resource Board. The group, in conjunction with the HR department, provides mentoring and assistance to people coming out of the service. Quarterly meetings focus on developing business knowledge and honing leadership skills. Members join their fellow Mutual employees in volunteering for community projects several times a year.

Page and other VERB members offer a bridge of understanding when it comes to the language of a veteran recruit’s skill set. 

“We also work with managers to help them decipher resumes,” Page points out. “What military people put on a resume is different from a civilian’s resume. I help interpret.”

Page realizes a lack of connections forms the biggest roadblock to people exiting the military. “I tell people to start networking, start visiting companies before they leave the service. Companies love talking to military men and women.”

Here in the Midlands, that’s sound advice.


Visit firstdata.com or mutualofomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Jeffrey Owens

Blockchain

September 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

To industries that depend on verification as a core factor of their business, blockchain technology has much to offer, according to Erica Wassinger, co-founder of The Startup Collaborative and senior director of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Greater Omaha Chamber. B2B recently caught up with Wassinger to get her take on blockchain and its benefits to companies in Omaha and elsewhere. 

B2B: Please explain what blockchain technology is. 

Wassinger: Blockchain is a new form of the internet. The distinguishing factor between blockchain and the internet as we know it now is the fact that blockchain is not controlled by any central entity or person. It’s completely decentralized and distributed. Think of it like a public ledger that can record transactions of any type. A simple parallel might be that it can be a supply chain for just about anything, including information. When you dig deeply into the industries of Omaha, you think about our density within the supply chain. We’re home to Union Pacific, Werner Enterprises, and some of these big logistics companies. Blockchain fits really nicely into the business models of those types of companies because it allows any organization or person to verify where something is on the supply chain. 

B2B: To make use of blockchain, you have to be appropriately credentialed, digitally, right? 

Wassinger: To an extent. Businesses can operate on blockchain, any person can cooperate on it. If you want to develop on the blockchain, it does require a certain level of skill. There are very few developers. I heard one source say there are as few as 1,300 true blockchain developers in the world. 

B2B: What are those individuals doing? Developing applications for different products? 

Wassinger: Yes. They’re thinking of different use cases just like we would for the internet, where we think of how to create a web platform or an app that solves a problem. Blockchain developers are doing that same thing for blockchain use cases. 

B2B: What are some blockchain use cases?

Wassinger: You see blockchain used in the food industry with the verification of crop growth product formation. For example, if, as a consumer, I want to eat a food, and it matters to me greatly that that is a wholly organic food, I might want to go all the way back to the point at which that was planted in the soil to figure out how the crop was treated, how often was it watered, when was it harvested, where did it go, and what happened to it at the next facility.

B2B: Is supply chain verification the most popular use of blockchain?

Wassinger: Yes, at least here in the Nebraska blockchain market, whether it’s the food supply chain or the information supply chain. 

B2B: What are some local use cases for blockchain?

Wassinger: Let’s dig into the economy of Omaha. We’ve got deep density in financial services— everything from payment processing to banking to insurance. All those bases are completely ripe for blockchain technology, especially when you think about the need for authenticating things. Think about insurance, for example. Wouldn’t it be great if, upon buying a new policy, you could record every transaction very simply? That’s happening now with certain insurance companies. They’re testing that, and some are live right now. You can also look outside financial services and into the food industry. There’s a startup we are working with called BlockEra that’s working on an ingredient-to-table verification process. You can also think supply chain logistics. For example, if I am Union Pacific and I want to watch my train go from here to there, and I want to know what freight was loaded, when it was unloaded, and all of the details of that experience, blockchain becomes very relevant. 

B2B: What about an international use case? 

Wassinger: The United Nations, which works with massive refugee populations, has a really interesting blockchain use case. As a refugee, your anonymity is important to you—the ability to transact in any environment is important. You also fully expect to have a physical wallet on you to carry cash. You’re going to be crossing borders and deal with this, that, or the other. So the United Nations looked at that. We can respect these people’s anonymity through leveraging the block chain by giving refugees tokens that will allow them to transact across any border. As they reach certain points in their journey, we can make sure that they have enough tokens to fuel that piece of their journey. 

B2B: The technology sounds great. How does anybody make money from it? 

Wassinger: A lot of people are still trying to figure all of this out. Because the transactions are happening on blockchain, they require use of cryptocurrency. When you hear “cryptocurrency,” a lot of people are going to initially think of bitcoin. But there are several others that come up, Ether being one. Ether is the cryptocurrency of choice for the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is an open- source blockchain that is hinged around the idea of a smart contract, which is a really transparent way of two entities agreeing on a value for something and then recording that agreement
transaction together. 

B2B: Is there anything you’d like to add? 

Wassinger: I think about Omaha and the talent pools we have here. I keep coming back to this: we’ve got really a strong agribusiness talent pool, we’ve got a really strong talent pool in supply chain and logistics, and we’ve got an incredibly dense and strong talent pool as it relates to financial services, insurance, and payment processing. I think our region needs to embrace blockchain. We need more people in the core industries where blockchain stands to be a major disruptive source to test and dabble and experiment earlier with the technology to look at it and say what levels of verification need to happen in those industries. I would love to see that embraced because I firmly believe that blockchain will be very important to the future of Omaha’s economy.


Visit blockgeeks.com for more information about blockchain.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

Erica Wassinger, co-founder of The Startup Collaborative and senior director of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Greater Omaha Chamber

Honoring Veterans

September 18, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Two years ago, my husband and I met a group of friends from Iowa City at Elk Rock State Park near Knoxville, Iowa, for a “meet in the middle” excursion. I made the mistake of booking sites for the six of us at the equestrian campground, which featured well-maintained trails that nearly every other camper, all horse owners, made use of that weekend.

Knoxville happens to be my hometown, so while in the area, we paid a visit to my parents. Upon explaining to them where we camped, my father said, “I think that was some of my guys who originally created those horse trails.”

‘My guys’ refers to veterans. My father was a psychologist for the VA Medical Center in Knoxville for 40 years.

These veterans came together to create trails at a state-run park that could be used by anyone, just as they came together during conflicts to fight for the U.S. They felt a sense of purpose and honor in coming together for the common good. This sense of honor, especially, is a trait that many veterans carry into the working world.

Veterans Day falls on Nov. 11, and as a way of saying, “thank you,” we have created features in this edition of B2B that are dedicated to honoring veterans. We spotlight two former servicemen who became entrepreneurs, we explain some legal considerations with employing National Guard members, and we help employers translate some of the great qualifications a soldier has from “government speak” to the business world.

Also, we at Omaha Magazine are creating a special event that will be perfect for networking. Learn more about the Best of Omaha Soirée (Nov. 8) in our “After Hours” department. I hope to see you there.


This letter was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Daisy Hutzell-Rodman is the managing editor of B2B, a publication of Omaha Magazine LTD. She can be reached at daisy@omahamagazine.com.