A Penny Saved . . .

Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the August 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The money you save on energy costs goes straight to your bottom line in the form of profit. Whether you own or rent your facility, there are plenty of no- and low-cost steps you can take to reduce energy expenses. The U.S. Department of Energy suggests you:

  • Adjust thermostats. Don't pay for heat or air conditioning when the building is unoccupied.
  • install water-flow restrictors and aerators in sink faucets. You'll save money by reducing water use.
  • Reduce lighting. Certainly you need to maintain safe and adequate lighting, but don't use more than you really need, and turn lights off when they're not in use.
  • Turn off equipment when not needed. Don't underestimate the energy-savings you can get by turning off unused computers, monitors, printers and copiers. New equipment is designed so repeated cycling on and off won't damage it.

vBuy energy-efficient equipment. When buying or replacing computers, copiers and other office equipment, compare energy requirements of various models.

  • Keep exterior doors closed as much as possible.

Encourage employees to be energy-conscious. Employee practices and activities can make or break your energy-saving efforts. Consider offering a small reward or other incentive to employees who come up with energy-saving ideas.

For the free 28-page booklet, Energy-Saving Tips for Small Businesses: Hands-on Solutions to Improve Your Profits & Productivity, call (800) 363-3732 or write to the U.S. Department of Energy, EREC, P.O. Box 3048, Merrifield, VA 22116.

Parent Trip

Remember when your parents came to school to see what you did all day? Maybe it's time to invite them to your office so they can see what you do all day now.

Last year, employees of The Edison Group, the graphic design division of Martin/Williams Inc., a Minneapolis advertising agency, realized they had trouble explaining their jobs to their parents. So they decided to hold a Parents' Day so their mothers and fathers could see their workplace.

The day consisted of lunch, a presentation of a typical design project, a display of employees' work, and a tour of the firm. It was such a success, plans are underway to make Parents' Day an annual event.

Tom Dupont, Edison's vice president, has some advice for other companies considering such an event: Establish a budget--then let the employees plan and implement the program. "If your employees are excited about the idea, turn it over to them and let them do it," he says, adding that this is an easy, economical way to help employees feel more connected to their families, as well as their work environments.

Childs Pay

Would you purchase shares in a mutual fund that sends you a yo-yo?

The folks who run the Stein Roe Young Investor Fund are betting you will--and so far, they're right. Although this fund, as its name implies, targets young investors, it's a good vehicle for investors of any age who are comfortable with an aggressive investment strategy. That approach has paid off in rapid growth of shareholders and assets: Since the beginning of 1996, the fund's net assets have grown from less than $42 million to $257 million.

About that yo-yo: Stein Roe views it as more than a marketing gimmick. One of the fund's goals is to broaden the pool of mutual-fund investors, particularly among children. To that end, the fund gives shareholders information many fund companies don't provide. The Stein Roe Young Investor Fund Owner's Manual explains what a mutual fund is, the merits of diversification, and the rewards of regular investing--all in terms children (and adults) can understand. Kids will find this no-load fund's minimum purchase of $2,500 a bit steep, but to encourage regular saving, Stein Roe also offers an automatic investment plan that requires only $100 to get started.

The Young Investor Fund boasts a total return of nearly 38 percent over the past 12 months, a performance that ranks it second among the 177 large-growth offerings Morningstar tracks. (Large-growth funds invest primarily in the stocks of big companies that are expected to continue posting strong earnings increases.) Since its May 1994 inception, the Young Investor Fund has outpaced the surging S&P 500 by more than 25 percentage points; only 22 equity funds in Morningstar's entire database exceed the fund's total return during that time.

The Young Investor Fund employs an aggressive investment strategy to obtain these breathtaking returns. The types of fast-growing companies the fund typically buys are very pricey. Its price/earnings ratio is above the average for large-growth funds. (A company's P/E ratio is simply its stock price divided by earnings per share during the past 12 months.) In a market correction, this aggressive stance could hammer the fund's returns harder than those of its peers because high-P/E stocks are usually hit hardest when a company reports unexpectedly low earnings or the market declines.

The fund's charter dictates 65 percents of fund assets be invested in companies that affect the lives of children, although in practice, management can also invest in companies that indirectly affect the lives of children, such as franchisor HFS, which owns Avis and Century 21, among others. That flexibility is a plus, though, because it allows management to invest in what it believes are the best, most attractively valued firms--not just those that directly affect children.

The Young Investor Fund isn't old enough to earn a Morningstar risk score, which is awarded after three years, but its high P/E certainly increases investor risk. Therefore, this fund is most appropriate for those who are willing to weather the short-term ups and downs its aggressive management.

The Big Picture

Want to build a great company? Learn from those who have already done it. InBuilt to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (HarperBusiness), co-authors James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras reveal the reasons behind long-term American corporate success stories. They offer these tips to help keep your company successful for the long haul:

Be a clock-builder, not a time-teller. A time-teller is a charismatic leader with great ideas but someone on whom the company relies to operate; a clock-builder builds a "clock" instead, which runs itself even in his absence. "Most entrepreneurs and small-business owners are time-tellers," says Collins. "To create a great company, you have to make the shift from being a time-teller to building a clock that can tell the time whether you are there or not."

Build your company on core values. "All great companies, big or small, without exception, are built upon a rock-solid set of core values," says Collins. "Many of them also have a clear sense of purpose that is beyond just making money."

Be willing to change everything--except your core values. Consider how different many of today's corporate giants are from when they started, in terms of products, strategies and methods. As an example, Collins cites Motorola Inc.'s history: Once a leading TV and radio manufacturer, the company no longer makes the products that led to its early success. Motorola is now thriving as a two-way radio, semiconductor products, and cellular paging and equipment manufacturer. "One of the reasons many small businesses never become great companies is they become too fixated on their first products and first business strategies," Collins says. "You have to be willing to change, to make progress, while simultaneously remaining true to your basic value systems."

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