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Survival over long run requires reinvention

Rochester Business Journal
April 29, 2016

Businesses have many options when it comes to reinventing themselves to survive in the long term, but for Rochester’s top employers a customer-driven focus, as well as collaboration and adapting to new technology, have played major roles in that.

“Over the course of many years we’ve needed to reinvent ourselves,” said Elena Kilpatrick, Frontier Communications Corp. senior vice president. “Way back when, we were that traditional, legacy phone company, but … the demands our customers have on information services and applications really put the onus on us to make sure that we can evolve into that data-driven type of communications company … that customers are looking for.”

Frontier, which employs 1,800 people locally, spent $47 million on capital investments in the Rochester area last year, Kilpatrick noted. And in the prior three years, the company spent more than $90 million.

“Putting that capital infrastructure in place in order to meet the information demands that businesses and consumers alike are looking for is critical to be able to stay current,” she explained.

Kilpatrick acknowledges the company is not necessarily going to immediately try the latest and greatest as it is not a research and development company.

“What we do is we look at what’s happening in the marketplace, what’s happening in the industry,” she explained. “So, (it’s) understanding what are the trends coming from customers, what are they asking for. We do lots of surveys. We monitor social media to help understand what kinds of trends are out there and how we need to stay current to be able to meet those demands.”

Evolving in order to stay relevant is at the heart of what makes YMCA of Greater Rochester successful. The YMCA movement was born in 1844 in London and by 1854 had made it to Rochester. The concept at the time was a very narrow focus on improving the spiritual condition of young Christian men of the evangelical faith, CEO George Romell said.

“Over its 165-year history that evolution has changed dramatically,” he said. “As things evolved, it became developing of young men as leaders in the community. Then it evolved into preparing young men to go to war.”

The organization, which employs nearly 3,000 in Rochester and is the 26th-largest YMCA in the nation, has adapted tremendously through the years. By the middle of the 20th century, the YMCA in Rochester had begun to focus on support services for military, then support services for railroad workers and for anyone who needed a home away from home, Romell said.

“It really was known as the affordable place to live if you were a young man coming to town,” he explained, noting that the original downtown YMCA had 450 dormitory-style rooms.

Eventually, the YMCA became about not just spirit but mind and body. And as Rochester moved from an urban to a suburban community, so too did the YMCA.

“In the ’60s was a period of tremendous change and growth as society changed and grew and moved to the suburbs,” Romell said. “And the Y was right there. The Y built numerous suburban facilities. The No. 1 decision was to engage the entire family.”

Changing with societal, and customer, demands has been at the forefront of the YMCA’s mission. Collaboration also has been a key to the organization’s success and longevity. The YMCA has teamed with several area groups and associations focused on child care, housing, health care, help for the needy and elderly, among other things.

“We don’t feel we have to own every program. We have to collaborate,” Romell said.

The most important evolution in the last 10 years has been the YMCA’s ability to collaborate, he added.

“We cannot be a silo anymore. Our collaborations with Foodlink, Lifespan, Bivona; our collaboration with the county; our collaboration with the University of Rochester … we’ve got to solve community problems as a community, not as an organization,” Romell said.

Collaboration and working with other leaders in its field have helped HCR Home Care, a home health care agency with nearly 800 employees in the Rochester area, advance and adapt to a changing climate.

“We try to stay at a leadership level in our industry and in the fields that support our industry like nursing, physical therapy and so forth,” said Louise Woerner, founder and executive chairman. “So it’s very important to stay within the national and state leadership so we’re current on what the health futurists are thinking about.”

To that end, HCR’s executive staff members are involved in numerous health-related organizations such as the American Academy of Nursing and the New York Organization of Nurse Executives & Leaders, among others.

“So that enables us to have contact with the thought leaders across our industry and in various components of (it). We’ve been able to bring that back into our organization and really stay up on how the science is changing the practice and what the industry innovations are,” Woerner said.

Technology has played a large role in HCR’s longevity, she added, in particular with the adoption of telehealth, the delivery of health-related services and information via telecommunications technologies.

In 2010, HCR upgraded its technology to a state-of-the-art platform that allows it to make the efficiency gains neccessary for success in an environment where payments and reimbursements are ratcheting down, Woerner noted.

“People want to be with an organization that is looking toward the future,” she said.

Technology, as well as correctly gauging the economic environment, have helped DeCarolis Truck Rental Inc. grow and thrive in its nearly 80 years in business. The firm now employs nearly 600 people locally.

“Being in the truck rental/leasing business, the rental business seems to be a real gauge of the economy,” President Michael Margarone said. “When we start seeing rental business decline, it’s almost the precursor to things softening in the market. When we see rental pick up, all of a sudden you start seeing the indicators over the economy pick up. So, we really monitor from a business standpoint our rental fleet utilization.”

And like the executive team at HCR, DeCarolis stays active in the industry, Margarone said. That includes being involved in community organizations as well as an industry Twenty Group.

“We share information and we meet on a regular basis to help each other with what trends are happening and what’s going on with trends in our industry and business in general,” he added.

Technology plays a big role in the trucking industry, particularly in terms of emissions and mileage. DeCarolis is using new technology as quickly as it comes to market.

“(We have) units in the trucks to basically do everything from GPS to diagnose problems,” Margarone said. “So, if a truck is failing, a lot of the new technologies will not only show the location of the truck, they’ll send indicators if there’s a failure of a component to alert the driver.”

With new emissions regulations come better mileage, and having that technology is an advantage with customers. It also keeps the company on the cutting edge.

“We stay in tune with the new technologies to offer to our customers because basically they’re outsourcing to us,” Margarone said. “They operate a truck, but we maintain it so they don’t have to do that. Trying to stay on top of the changes in the industry has helped us to grow and solidify our relationships with our customers.”

4/29/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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