Tag Archives: professional

Expanding Times, Expanding Horizons

June 14, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Networking groups offer ideas and kindle relationships, but they also have drawbacks. “John” only sees the same people at his networking luncheon. “Bill” might desire to join the coffee group, but he needs to open his store by 8 a.m. And “Jane” doesn’t have $200, let alone $1,000, just to come once or twice per year. 

Michelle Schrage and Jay Miralles can relate, which is why they started Business4Business Professional Society in 2014, using a different business model that includes a variety of networking events like morning coffees, afternoon luncheons, and evening gatherings. 

They have been a part of traditional networking groups, including some based on professions such as bankers, drywallers, or real estate agents. Schrage and Miralles decided to bring together connected, motivated, and forward-thinking people, regardless of profession.

In the first couple of years, B4B’s leadership team and board were concerned that not having a regular, predictable meeting schedule might be making it difficult for businesspeople to connect and engage. It soon became evident that this strategy was actually advantageous. 

“We now embrace it,” Schrage says as the organization enters its fifth year and has hosted more than 100 events, or nearly two events per month. “Our members are busy professionals and we’ve found that they want access but not necessarily commitment…we have a core group of regulars but there are always new people from various walks of life and industries.”

As a single mom to a 13-year-old son and a busy professional herself, Schrage understands firsthand how important flexibility is to today’s professionals. 

The B4B founders discovered early that a lot of people did not want to pay a membership fee for a professional networking group. So, although a $249 one-year all-access pass allows unlimited entry to all events, attendees can also simply pay as they go on a per-event basis, Schrage says. Every event is self-contained and offers something different; i.e., in March, B4B was the first group to host an event on Blackstone Social’s new patio. 

“We maintain that our events are held at places that have a unique, interesting aspect to them whether they are brand-new, not accessible to most people, or not known to most people,” she adds. “It’s a great way to bring people together.”

Event elements may include workshops, efforts to support nonprofits, gala-quality fundraisers, speakers, and behind-the-scenes tours in addition to face-to-face networking opportunities. Speakers have included Firespring CEO Jay Wilkinson, Peter Kiewit Foundation Executive Director Emerita Lyn Wallin Ziegenbein, and motivational speaker Ron ‘Gus’ Gustafson.

“We’re constantly thinking, ‘what’s something new?’” Schrage says. “It gives us a lot of flexibility to keep our eyes and ears open to amazing people, amazing endeavors, and amazing companies we feel the community can benefit from knowing about.”

B4B regular Christopher Pfanstiel, director of business development for Hustad Companies Inc., says B4B has presented opportunities to connect with new people and businesses, and even helped him gain a new client or two.  

“I really enjoy B4B…it’s networking that’s done in a loose fashion versus a very canned environment,” he says. “You meet new owners, and managers, and entrepreneurs…you get to meet the key players and learn a little bit about them and their businesses.”

B4B succeeds because developing a face-to-face rapport is still important and relevant in the age of electronic communications, Schrage says. 

“When you get to share space with somebody, and read each other’s body language, and make eye contact, and exchange ideas that aren’t necessarily electronically communicated, you create strong bonds,” she says. “I think people are missing the mark if they rely too much on technology.”


To find out more about upcoming events, visit b4bsociety.com.

This article was printed in the June/July 2018 edition of B2B. 

Michelle Schrage

Fashion In Business Settings

April 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The worst thing I saw someone wear in a professional setting was a mini skirt with a backless blouse and tattoos showing when accepting an award,” says Gretchen Twohig, a lawyer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska.

Many executives would agree. Tales of skintight leggings, flip-flops, and ripped jeans appearing in a professional office abound. Some reports blame millennials while others consider the cause to be the rise of tech startup culture, but the rules are clearly not as black and white as they were in the Mad Men era.

JP Morgan formally embraced the informal trend in 2016 when they created new guidelines that took their offices from being full of suits and ties to ones that allow “Casual pants, capri pants, business-appropriate casual shirts, and polo shirts,” among other trends.

The variety even happens within industries. Nicole Seckman Jilek, a trial attorney at Abrahams Kaslow & Cassman law firm, wears a suit and pantyhose every day. If she wants to add a personal touch to her workwear, she uses accessories, especially black high-heeled pumps.

“If I’m going to be appearing in front of a judge or a jury, I’m probably going to choose a more conservative suit in a more conservative color: black, navy blue, some sort of neutral color,” she says. “But I do have a few of what I call ‘power suits’ that are emerald green and a couple of red suits. So depending on the circumstances, sometimes those red suits can project a more confident image than an all-black suit.” 

Jilek works in a setting that requires her to speak with a variety of clients.

“If I’m going to cross-examine or depose a difficult male witness, I may not want to wear certain colors because I want to come across stronger and bolder and more confident.”

Her personal preference to wear pantyhose every day doesn’t mean she finds it unprofessional if other women don’t. Jilek considers being too casually or youthfully dressed as crossing the line in a business formal setting.

Color choice can push the boundaries of acceptable business formal attire, too.

“There are certain circumstances that are the utmost professional setting, such as a jury trial, so I stay away from wearing a lot of color [in those instances],” Jilek says.

Twohig, on the other hand, works at a business casual workplace. She often wears accessories like jewelry, or brightly colored or patterned shoes.

She deems short skirts, anything with holes, or faded jeans as inappropriate for the workplace. Even dark jeans are pushing it.

Jeans, incidentally, are on the rise again, in terms of their prevalence and their waistlines. The 2018 spring fashion trends show everything from higher-waisted jeans paired with fuchsia blazers to jeans-style pants in sequined materials.

Michael Curry, a customer service training specialist and coworker of Twohig at Blue Cross Blue Shield, is known for having a playful sense of style.

Curry’s favorite way to express his personal style is with a boldly colored watch, belt, or shoes for that pop of color. He enjoys having more fashion options in a business casual environment like dressing down his outfit with a pair of white sneakers if he wants. But Curry also loves the polished look a tie can give when he needs to be at his best.

“My go-to work outfit when I need to feel confident is a cardigan over a button-up and tie with a tie clip, fitted slacks, leather band watch, eyeglass frames, and my signature fragrance,” he says. “I feel unstoppable.”

As workwear becomes more open to interpretation, the idea of acceptable fashion in business differs for each individual, and is only going to get more complicated, as millennials, who value personal expression over formality, rise to upper management and the conversations about gender identity and equal pay continue.

“Even at my office, there’s different dress codes,” Jilek says. “I wear different things depending on what I have on my calendar that day. I have a bunch of colleagues that also don’t meet with clients. They generally only see the people that we work with. So sometimes that can also justify a different look for them, but even under those situations, I always dress like I’m going to end up having a surprise important appointment or have to run down to the courthouse.”

And there’s another factor people sometimes don’t consider when hiring younger employees —those coming right out of college may not have much of a wardrobe budget.

“Early in my career, I didn’t have a lot of clothes to wear to work or the money to buy a lot of new things all at once,” says Twohig. “Now that I’ve been working for a long time, I have built a wardrobe.”

Even though Curry thinks jewelry should be minimal at work, he views a small eyebrow piercing or lip ring as still looking professional. Jilek sees fashion trends as a major influencer of what is considered acceptable business fashion.

“Ten years ago, you probably wouldn’t have seen any double-breasted jackets or suits in a store, but, in fact, I just saw a very successful, well-dressed evening news anchor wearing a double-breasted suit last week, and she looked great,” Jilek says.

Jilek, however, keeps her attention on the fact that she works in a professional setting.

“I’ve always kind of followed the mantra: dress for the job you want not the job you have,” Jilek says. “So if you want to be perceived as strong, confident, and capable—you need to dress like it.”

Nicole Seckman Jilek

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.

The Best Sales Call Ever

January 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I regularly get feedback from clients about sales calls. Recently a client came to me and said, “I had the best sales call ever!” What she told me warmed my heart because the call was almost effortless, the signed agreement was in her hands in record time, and the customer stayed in her selling system from beginning to end.

The sales process for this particular opportunity dragged out longer than my client wanted. Finally, the presentation was scheduled with the decision maker, (if it’s with anybody else, you are wasting time), and as she headed to the appointment, she said to herself, “I really don’t care if I get this business or not.” This mindset allowed her to relax and be objective when the presentation began. She began the meeting by setting the expectation: She was going to review the proposal, which would sell for the expected amount, and, if the prospect liked it, he would sign it and implementation would begin. There was clarity of purpose which came off as professionalism to the prospect, and, of course, the prospect agreed to the contract and the
presentation began.

There were about a half-dozen items to present on the proposal. My client started with the first item and presented how this item addressed the need of the prospect. It went well. She went to the next item and presented how this item addressed the need of the prospect. At that point, the prospect said, “Stop! I’ll take it!” He immediately signed his name to the proposal. My client’s one-hour presentation was over in 10 minutes. She planned on “closing” the prospect, but he simply bought it. When she returned to her office, even her coworker was surprised to see her so soon. Smiling from ear to ear she tells him, “Got it!” No pressure, no sweating, no haggling over price, no need to close the prospect—this is what the best sales call ever looks like.

Here are some key techniques my client had learned, and then used in this call:

1. Before the presentation started, she thought to herself, “So what if I don’t get this business. I have a meat-lover’s pizza in the trunk,” which means she behaved as if she is financially independent. This mindset eliminates pressure and frees up the salesperson to ask tough questions and take risks.

2. She had a deep understanding of her client’s problems and budget, which she reviewed prior to presenting the proposal to make sure there were no roadblocks on the way to the order.

3. She got a commitment to purchase before presenting her intellectual property. The proposal had to be met with 100 percent satisfaction from the prospect, but if it did, he would buy.

4. My client shut her mouth when the prospect said, “I’ll take it!” She let him sign the proposal and then thanked him for the business and left.

Sales should always be fun regardless if you win or lose. Yes, this is easier said than done. Follow the aforementioned system to start having the best sales calls ever.

Karl Schaphorst is a 27-year veteran of sales who now specializes in training other sales professionals. He is the president of Sandler Training.

This column was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

The Art of Selling

January 4, 2017 by

Sales is a great career option for the professional businesswoman. Through sales, women can escape gender inequalities in pay, since sales commissions are based on what is sold. The sales venue offers unlimited potential for upside growth. In sales, performance is the equalizing metric that objectively defines success for the professional man or woman equally. Nevertheless, it is true that the marketplace may not treat the professional saleswoman with absolute equality.

One important decision must be made for the saleswoman to defy the odds. That is: make a deliberate effort to master the art of selling.

Regardless of gender, almost all sales engagements start like this: The prospect (i.e., the buyer) takes the position of authority, and the salesperson takes the position of submission. I call this “selling from your knees or begging for business.” This posture is never favorable for the sales professional since this often results in salespeople providing free services and information to prospects that may not result in actual purchases.

High performing sales professionals demonstrate their expertise by tactfully establishing equal business stature between themselves and the prospect. For the female sales professional, establishing equal business stature can be more challenging, mainly because of traditional societal pressure for women (and saleswomen) to adopt a submissive role.

All professionals, men and women alike, have their own sets of challenges to overcome. Those who can overcome their challenges enter into the elite group of high performers. Sales professionals spanning all across the gender spectrum must understand the challenges in their market. Understanding any particular challenge is one step toward success, because the challenges can be overcome.

Sales is the highest compensated profession on the planet. It also can be the most challenging profession. It is the women and men of the sales profession who are the frontline soldiers in business. They take all the shots and rejection, and then they repeat the slog again the next day. If you enter the battlefield unprepared and/or undertrained, you will get blown up a lot…which can figuratively (and psychologically) tear you to pieces.

Saleswomen, you must make the decision to invest in yourself and get the same kind of rigorous training in sales as one gets from school or college when pursuing a degree. In other words, get your bachelor’s degree in sales. The self-investment will most likely have the highest ROI compared to any other investment you could make.

Now, let’s visit Marcy*. Marcy is a professional saleswoman who works in the commercial flooring business and is an expert in her field. She works very hard, puts in a lot of hours, and prepares a lot of proposals. But she earns a wage that is less than what she wants. Over and over, Marcy demonstrates her expertise by pulling together information, doing the research, bringing in the right products, and delivering a workable solution even on the most challenging of projects. Then, to her horror, she learns that her prospect has auctioned off her intellectual property to a lower priced supplier.

In such a predicament, the prospect was in control (the authority), and Marcy was the servant (the submissive). The sales engagement had begun with the prospect calling Marcy and asking, “Can you put together a proposal for this project?” For weeks, I had been instructing Marcy to demand equal business stature by responding with, “I have the highest prices in town.” But Marcy was not comfortable with such an assertive stance. For years, she had been playing the role of servant.

Finally, she got out of her comfort zone and started to push back. Something remarkable started to happen. Prospects didn’t hang up on her. They didn’t always pursue the lower priced suppliers. Instead, they wanted to know why her prices were higher, which then began a sales conversation where Marcy was in control.

The prospects that wanted low price moved on without consuming Marcy’s time in proposal preparation. Those were the same prospects that would have put her (submissive) to work, consumed her time, and still auctioned off her information to the low price provider. Her new posture funneled the price shoppers to her competitors and funneled the prospects that wanted her value into an equal business stature sales conversation (which, more often than not, resulted in business). The marketplace saw a sales professional in Marcy and made no judgment based on the fact that she is a woman. That is a real manifestation of gender neutrality in the sales profession.

It is you—not your product or your gender—that make your business great. It is here where investment should be made to grow your business. So, what is your answer? Are you a professional saleswoman?

*Marcy is a composite character inspired by real people.

Karl Schaphorst is a 27-year veteran of sales who now specializes in training other sales professionals. He is the president of Sandler Training.

This article was printed in the Winter 2017 edition of B2B.

Joe Shearer

August 28, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“I don’t hate on Nikon users,” photographer Joe Shearer declares. “I hope we can all get along. I’m pretty open-minded, but I’m going to blindly put my bias towards Canon because that’s all I’ve ever known.”

Shearer, 27, laughs easily, but at the core he’s extremely serious about his job. As photo editor of the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Gateway newspaper since 2010, he knows the meaning of hard work. He graduated from Gross Catholic High School in 2002 and went to UNO the following semester. He wasn’t sure what he really wanted to do, but he knew from his experience in yearbook class that he liked photography.

“It all started in my sophomore year of high school,” he explains. “I didn’t really have any extracurricular activities or athletics I was into at the time, but yearbook stood out. I did design, writing, and photography and ended up enjoying photography the most.”

Armed with his first professional camera, the Canon 10D (of course), Shearer started snapping photos of concerts he attended, sporting events, and everyday life. Then he hit a few bumps in the road.

“Whatever I contribute and turn in, I don’t want it to be sloppily put together. It should be award-winning journalism every day.”

“Life is weird sometimes. I was out of school for a couple years,” he says. “I just worked and traveled while learning life lessons and seeing the real world on my own. The whole time I did continue shooting photography. I did a few things for The Reader and Gateway before I went back to school. I never stopped shooting photos. I was just trying to grow up.”

Once back in school as photo editor, Shearer forged ahead with his career. For the past three years, he’s won several first place trophies at Omaha Press Club’s Excellence in Journalism Awards. This year, he won Best Feature Story (video), Best Feature Story (print), Best Sports Photo, and Best Feature Photo in the student category, as well as the Best Photo Essay award in the professional category. He also landed an internship at KETV News, where he’s preparing for a career in photojournalism. His dream job would have something to do with ESPN, music, or traveling, although he insists he’s “not a sports nerd.”

“Whatever I contribute and turn in, I don’t want it to be sloppily put together,” he says. “It should be award-winning journalism every day. There are a lot of talented journalists and artists in the Omaha area. We have a lot of incredible television, radio, and print. It’s a very creative city. If I could be associated with all of the greats in town, that would great.”

Time to Get LinkedIn

August 26, 2013 by

I like Facebook. I entered this social media space with a passion, thanks to the Creighton students I was teaching at the time. I have more than 1,000 friends, including my four teens, because I bought their computers and iPhones and because I want to embarrass them.

But my teens have actually moved on to Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine, and I feel the need to move on myself, with a renewed passion, to LinkedIn. There are a few reasons I recommend you do the same.

The first is that it’s important as a professional to separate your personal and business lives. Facebook can make that a little dicey. The second reason is opportunity. LinkedIn is now the world’s largest professional network. It limped along for a time, being one of the world’s “older” social networks, but it’s cracked the code on changes in technology, target, and services for professionals that make LinkedIn the ideal place to connect.

With more than 225 million users in 200 countries, LinkedIn gives you access to 2.7 million business pages, 1.5 million groups, and your share of 1 billion endorsements. How you leverage all this is up to you. My advice: Spend more than the average 17 minutes per day on the site to get your profile up to speed. Follow industry leaders, post so you get followed, and enjoy the ride! Here are some specifics to get you started:

  • Download the LinkedIn App for your mobile device (Android, Blackberry, iPad, iPhone, Windows Phone).
  • Complete your profile. This helps LinkedIn connect you with people you used to work with and people in industries similar to yours.
  • Build your network. Import contacts from all your other channels. Invite people you know to connect with you. Add a personal note about how you know the individual and why you want to connect. Go further than the typical template invitation and make yourself memorable.
  • Join groups that interest you. Look for groups that you’re marketing to or that may help you move your business.
  • Consider forming a group. Lead the way and post. Refer to articles.
  • Build a Company Page, especially if you are an entrepreneur.
  • Check the Channels (business news topics) on LinkedIn Today, the site’s e-zine. LinkedIn will recommend Channels, but you should check in regularly to follow Channels that help you improve in your career.

Wendy Wiseman is Vice President & Creative Director of Zaiss & Company, a customer-based planning and communications firm in Omaha.

Sammy Sunshyne

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The most surreal event of Sammy Sunshyne’s life happened last year, at the Electric Forest Festival in Rothbury, Mich.

“It was the biggest show of the festival,” recalls the Omaha acrobat, “and I got to go inside of a giant inflatable bubble and crowd surf.” The plastic ball made for a rough ride with such a big crowd (she estimates there were 50,000 people), but it was probably the most awe-inspiring thing she’s ever done. “It was only six minutes, but it was the best six minutes of my life. I ran back and hugged my friend, and she spun me around because it was the most beautiful thing.”

Just two years before in 2010, Sammy (Samantha Mixan) had attended a different music festival that introduced her to hoop dancing. “Hula hooping was where it all started for me.” Today, she’s a professional acrobatics performer with shows in Downtown Omaha clubs, at festivals and concerts all over the United States, and at international events. Though she will graduate in December with a degree in psychology from University of Nebraska-Omaha, it’s her performing career that has captured her focus.20130503_bs_3087_Web

While Sammy’s current proficiency is in hooping and fire dancing, she’s training in contortion as well. “It’s all about increasing my flexibility, mobility, arm strength,” she says. “I’m working on a contortion act with fire for this year.”

She’s debuting the act on her summer tour with Quixotic Performing Arts Ensemble, the same troupe she performed with at last year’s Electric Forest Festival. Except for a couple weeks off here and there, she’s traveling with them as a fire dancer for most of May through August.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity to work with a group on their level of performance,” Sammy says. “They’ve been so inspiring, and they’ve taught me a lot about performance. They’ve taken me to the best places I’ve performed, the biggest places. It’s a huge part of my career.”

When Quixotic contacted her to work as a performer, “it was a dream come into motion for me.” Sammy gives the credit for that connection to the tightly knit community of acrobats in the Midwest. “It’s small and interconnected and people know people. That’s how most opportunities present themselves, through people you know.”

“I’m trying to push the art aspect of performance. I want to make it into a work of art that you refine to be something impactful and beautiful as opposed to the sexy entertainment aspect.”

Attempts to train alone are things of the past since she injured herself trying for more complexity on a tour in India in 2010. “There’s a subtle strength that’s needed to control the body in those really intense poses,” she says. Sammy now travels to Kansas City frequently to train at Quixotic Performing Arts, perfecting the lessons at home in Omaha. She practices yoga, takes ballet, and is what she calls a six-day-a-week vegetarian. It also helps that she has access to a great training facility locally, thanks to her position as a tumbling instructor at Elite Cheer. When she can, Sammy trains with circus performers she knows from Montreal and San Francisco, such as Haley Rose Viloria.

In Omaha, she attends hoop jams, little get-togethers of amateur and professional performers around town, such as Circle of Fire at McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe and a group at Elmwood Park. “We get together to show off our skills, and there’s usually a drum circle.”

Professionally, Sammy’s performed at Sokol Auditorium electronic dance music (EDM) parties. “They have their own show going on, and I’m a bit part of that.” She worked at the Mayan New Year’s Eve at House of Loom and last year’s Omaha Fashion Week after-party at the Burlington. Sometimes, you can catch her work at clubs like Red9 in Lincoln and Halo and Rehab in Omaha. She’s also performed at the Bourbon Theater in Lincoln, both with Quixotic and her fire-dancing partner, Ken Hill.Maybe-_Web

“She’s amazing,” Hill says emphatically. “I’ve seen her since the beginning up to this point, and it’s been awesome to see.”

She makes all her own hoops (out of polypropylene) except for her fire props, which are custom-made. Sammy dips the fire-resistant Kevlar spokes into a white gas fuel before performing. “You shake off the excess fuel, and then you light them,” Sammy explains. “It burns the gas, not the Kevlar. So when the gas runs out, your fire prop goes out.”

Little scars run up her hands and arms from fire spinning. “I don’t get burned every time, but it’s just something that comes with it. Obviously the more proficient you are, the less likely you are to get burned.” Sammy uses safety precautions such as putting up her hair, wearing lip balm when she’s fire eating, and perhaps squirting a water bottle on her hair and clothes. And when she gets burned during a performance, she doesn’t give it away. “Sometimes, you don’t even notice them until later.”

Sammy estimates she performs about twice a month in the off-summer months. “The community’s really growing,” she says. “It’s slowly getting bigger. More people are getting interested in it.” She feels two urges: to experience the performance scene in cities like Oakland, Seattle, Portland, and New York City, but also to bring that scene to the Midwest. “Event planners are only now realizing performers could add so much to their shows, so they’re just now starting to hire them. They add so much atmosphere.”20130503_bs_3073_Web

Sammy’s signature performance style is breezy and fun. Constantly smiling, she never makes poses look taxing or difficult; hence her stage name given to her by a friend. “There’s no possible way I could do this without a support system helping me,” she says. “I wouldn’t have these opportunities if I didn’t have the connections. You have to go out there and meet people who can make your dreams happen.”

While pursuing her dream on tour this summer, Sammy’s put a lot of thought into instilling her performances with a message. “I’m trying to push the art aspect of performance,” she says. “I want to make it into a work of art that you refine to be something impactful and beautiful as opposed to the sexy entertainment aspect.”

For her summer tour, she’s created a backstory for her fire-spinning piece. “So I’m a lost girl looking out over the audience, with my one light,” Sammy explains, “and she’s looking and searching, not knowing where she is. Then she becomes possessed by this inner being, this other side explodes through her personality. She’s confident and doing things that don’t seem possible for humans to do.”

Juggernaut Interactive

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The office space for Juggernaut Interactive mimics characteristics of the company itself. You couldn’t find it if you weren’t looking very, very hard. Even when you reach the business park it hides in just west of Westroads Mall in Miracle Hills, you’d never guess what’s really behind the corporate-looking oak door.

If Brian Daniel, owner of the two-year-old interactive web-experience company, is in the office, Zeke might be, too. The six-year-old toy poodle will happily chase a laser pointer around the small office’s common room, which is lime green. The one white wall displays a projection of comic sketches instead of typical office artwork. A visitor could almost mistake the place for a trendy frozen yogurt shop, except that Sharpies fill the glass apothecary jars instead of coconut flakes and candy.20130419_bs_1310_Web

“When we moved in, this space was really dark,” Daniel says of the 1,850-square-foot office. “The wainscoting, the trim pieces were all black.” Within the last two years of Juggernaut Interactive inhabiting the small suite, black has been relegated to tasteful accents only, giving bright colors the stage.

Cindy Ostronic, an interior designer with The Designing Edge, helped Daniel pull colors from the company’s own brand to fill the area with lime green, maraschino red, and what really should be called Orangesicle. From the multicolored couch pillows to the red iPad cover on a black sideboard, pops of the signature hues are everywhere. Ostronic was also the one who realized that a traditional reception desk/receiving area shouldn’t be a part of Juggernaut Interactive’s space. “That’s not really how they work,” she points out. “They needed more of a collaboration area out in the open where people can do their thing.”20130419_bs_1353_Web

Each room is named: The Grotto, the Hotbox, the Dojo, the Darkroom (oddly enough, as a corner office, it’s the brightest room), the Rabbithole (“You go in there, and things get lost”), and the Boiler Room (“It gets so darn hot in there”). The break room is called Red Mango after, yes, the yogurt shop, which is a Juggernaut Interactive client. The fridge is stocked with a variety of beers, the cabinets contain salty snacks, and lunches are up for grabs in the freezer. The office as a whole is nicknamed Gotham.

“We voted on all the names,” Daniel says, referring to his 10 or so employees. “What’s the personality of the room, why are we meeting in there, you know.” In the interactive branding business, he states, the more comfortable and relaxed you can be, the better.20130419_bs_1357_Web

What’s more relaxing than a little personalized mood music? “We have three Sonos systems running through here,” Daniel says, each of which enables employees to play different music zones on one of Juggernaut Interactive’s three networks. When guests come in, Daniel tends to ask what their three favorite songs are. “Everybody can control their own music, which is kind of nice,” he says. George Strait gets carried away in the Dojo, for example, while Adele sets fire to the rain in the Darkroom. The Sonos systems and two independent Apple TVs run off the office’s main network. The other two networks are for guests and voice over IP. Two Epson projectors work with the Apple TVs to showcase everything from a client’s desktop to late-night YouTube videos.

A huge part of the office’s aesthetic is obviously its tech. Juggernaut Interactive employees are drowning in it. Everyone has either a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, an iPad 2 (some also have an iPad mini), as well as a 27-inch Thunderbolt Display monitor, “which is complete overkill,” Daniel admits, “but they all have them.” Except, that is, for Daniel, who doesn’t use a monitor or really even a particular office. His workspace is his iPad mini, a projector, and whatever dry-erase surface happens to be nearby. A phone call to the office rings three times before it goes to Daniel’s cell, making sure that the state-hopping owner doesn’t miss a call.20130419_bs_1327_Web

“I’m creating a business for the lifestyle I want,” he says, which does not include an office full of people he has to babysit. “I want this to be a creative space where people come in, get their work done, get out.” The office attitude is indeed come and go. Daniel says his employees have been around the block enough with their careers that they work very efficiently. The office space reflects that attitude: informal but professional. Sharp and tidy, but colorful and creative.

Opera Omaha Guild

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In 1958, a volunteer organization called the Omaha Civic Opera Society took the stage, creating and fostering an opera-loving community in Omaha. After tremendous support, the organization became fully professional in 1970, making Opera Omaha the only professional opera company in Nebraska. As Opera Omaha has expanded its seasons of mainstage productions and increased musical events throughout the community, the company has found constant encouragement in the dedicated, fully volunteer-based Opera Omaha Guild, originally called Omaha Angels when it began in 1967.

The Guild stands behind Opera Omaha each year, raising funds to support its productions, creating outreach opportunities, and educating the community about opera through memberships and events.

“Omaha has a strong fine arts community, and it is so very important that opera continues to play a prominent role,” says Jillian Tuck, current president of the Opera Omaha Guild.

Tuck moved back to Omaha from Fort Worth, Texas, a few years ago and found that she wanted to support the arts in her former community. “I had been involved with a Fort Worth Opera volunteer group, so I decided to seek a similar opportunity here in Omaha.” Luckily for Tuck, the Opera Omaha Guild had just what she was looking for—a passion for opera and activities and social events that were accessible.

“Omaha has a strong fine arts community, and it is so very important that opera continues to play a prominent role.” – Jillian Tuck, president of Opera Omaha Guild

As president of the Guild, Tuck presides over the Guild meetings, appoints committee chairpersons, and serves as an ex-officio member of all Guild committees. “The Opera Omaha Guild is a working board with committee chairs and volunteers bringing the effort, organization, and energy behind all of the events. They are the reason for our success.”

Tuck loves opera and says that being in the Guild has allowed her to share that love with other people every day. Recently, she had the opportunity to talk about her passion at the Guild’s Cotillion graduation dinner. The Cotillion—French for “formal ball”—is one of the Guild’s fundraisers and provides the opportunity for Omaha sixth-graders to learn the art of formal dining, mature communication, and ballroom dancing through several classes and a final graduation dance.

Because the Cotillion supports Opera Omaha, Tuck knew she could reach out to a younger generation about opera. “Speaking to adults about opera can be challenging because they often have preconceived notions, [but] speaking to 300+ sixth-graders and their parents was something I found inspirational.” In her five-minute speech, Tuck felt she was able to open the door to an art that most of the children had never experienced. “I believe that opera truly is for everyone to enjoy throughout a lifetime, and creating young opera fans through the sharing of my own love for opera is something I will always cherish.”

Funnily enough, it was the Cotillion that got President-elect Lisa Hagstrom involved with the Guild. “I was in the first Cotillion class that Opera Omaha conducted in 1985,” she explains. “I had been looking for volunteer opportunities within the arts community and had attended a couple fundraising events for Opera Omaha. [Since then], I have been involved with the Guild as a board member for 10 or 11 years.”

“The great thing is that nearly 100 percent of all money raised [at Spirits of the Opera] goes back to Opera Omaha.” – Lisa Hagstrom, president-elect of Opera Omaha Guild

Hagstrom helps with several of the Guild’s events, including the Cotillion; the annual Opera Omaha Gala, which was held in February this year to celebrate the partnership of Opera Omaha and artist Jun Kaneko for the production The Magic Flute, one of Mozart’s most famous operas; and the currently on-hiatus Burgers & Bordeaux chef competition event.

The Guild’s most notable event, however, is the award-winning Spirits of the Opera fundraiser, which replaced an event called Wine Seller. “Wine tastings became a very popular fundraising idea for many groups, so we thought a cocktail tasting would be something different,” explains Hagstrom. “The first year of [Spirits of the Opera], we matched cocktails with operas, and attendees tasted eight different cocktails. It was a fun event, but it was lacking ‘something,’ and we just didn’t know what that was.”

Fortunately, the president of the executive board for Opera Omaha at that time, Jim Winner, found exactly what that “something” was while he was eating at Dixie Quicks, a Southern comfort food restaurant in Council Bluffs. One of the well-known Dixie Quicks servers, Bruce “Buffy” Bufkin, suggested to Winner that the Guild include a drag show as entertainment at the event.

Today, Spirits of the Opera is a drag show set to opera with the performers singing popular arias and other opera selections of their choice. The event is held at local hot-spot The Max, which is known as the best gay dance club in Omaha. The Max donates its space for the event, and all of the performers donate their time and talents. “It is an amazing experience,” says Tuck. “It blends the classical arias of well-known operas with some of the region’s most talented female impersonators.” In addition to the drag show, the event has the themed cocktails, silent and live auction opportunities, a raffle, and food from local restaurants, including Dixie Quicks.

Drag performers from the 2012 Spirits of the Opera event.

Drag performers from the 2012 Spirits of the Opera event.

“The great thing is that nearly 100 percent of all money raised goes back to Opera Omaha,” adds Hagstrom, who went out to Philadelphia last June to receive the Most Unique Fundraising Event award for Spirits of the Opera, presented by Opera Volunteers International.

As the Guild looks forward to this year’s Spirits of the Opera in May and further into 2013, Tuck says their goals remain the same. “[We just want] to support Opera Omaha and provide opportunities to educate the community about the importance and joy of opera.”

This year’s Spirits of the Opera will be held May 4 at The Max (1417 Jackson St.). For more information about the event or about the Opera Omaha Guild, visit operaomaha.org or call 402-346-7372.