Where Do You Get Smarter?

This month, we asked members of EFBC to share their favorite places to get smarter.

With so many platforms and technologies available at our fingertips, there is a whole world out there full of resources and places to get smarter. With so little time in the day, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed in your search for the best places to find insights and information on the challenges you face in your business. That’s where the EFBC community comes in! Our organization is full of family business owners and entrepreneurs who share challenges similar to your own. What better way to find the best resources to find insights than tapping into the knowledge of other members?

This month, we asked members of EFBC to share their favorite places to get smarter. Here’s what our members said:

“EFBC is my most significant resource. My forum and non-forum friends often recommend books from which I find valuable insight. For example, Kevin Walter recently recommended “No Man’s Land” to me, which was life-affirming in many ways.”

-Dave Westerman, President at Carbit Paint Co.

“I listen to people.

I am surrounded by all types of people in my life. I work directly with our operators who do the manufacturing. I work directly with our management staff, who help control day-to-day activities. I listen to them all. They all have bits of information I use to understand all aspects of my company better.

Listening to others and using their information has been a great way to allow for easy change. It shows that everyone has a voice and they have a better chance of speaking up when an idea comes around. It also allows me to use their ideas and build on them. For example, if someone gives a bit of information and it isn’t 100% complete, we can adapt their suggestion in a way that would work for our company. The team also has a better chance of speaking up when there is a breakdown and change needs to happen.

I also use my everyday life to make changes and suggestions. Talking to friends and family that have their way of doing things allows me to have a conversation to see if it is something that we can incorporate into my business. Books, videos and podcasts are great, and they have helpful tools. I use everyday life and the people surrounding me to help make me smarter.

I love the saying, “I know what I know and don’t know what I don’t know.” Being open to people and their ideas allows me to grow as a business and person.”

-Scott Lichtenstein – President at Richardson Seating Corp.

“I generally keep track of WSJ, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, and Shopifreaks brings you e-commerce industry news in a short weekly email that is interesting for my business. Occasionally, I’ll try out a podcast, but I always appreciate suggestions from others!”

-James McHenry, Director, Sales at WIDGETEER

“I definitely tune into some podcasts, but they are more to keep me up to date with current events. I’ve found I learn the most when I’m interacting with others which why is I value organizations like the EFBC so much. Podcast and books are great resources but when you’re spinning your wheels and have others around you that can share and ask questions, I’ve found those conversations much more fruitful.”

-Ryan Huette, Vice President, Sales at Nu-Way

“Most of my strict business information comes from business books recommended by colleagues, investment advisors and even EFBC’s book club! I also subscribe to Yahoo Finance to help me keep a pulse of the macroeconomy and Axios Chicago for local insights.

However, the most influential source of reading I do comes from Quilette. Quilette is an Australian-based online magazine focusing on long-form analysis and cultural commentary. They are politically non-partisan but rely on reason, science, and humanism as guiding values. It is intentional that this is not a business-focused source because reading more about cultural commentary helps make me a more global thinker, which in turn helps my creativity to solve problems and ultimately be a better leader.”

-Jon Kabance,  President at BIOKINETIX


Let us Re-Introduce You To Brian Bernard, President of Sweet Solutions LLC

Get to know Brian, a new member of the EFBC, who re-joined us in 2022.

Sweet Solutions LLC
Founded: 2013
Location: Plainfield, IL
Forum: Kairos

Tell us about your career leading up to where you are now:

I was born and raised in Chicago. After high school, I attended Bradley University where I studied Engineering, Chemistry and Business.  My career began as a design engineer for May Assoc. working with Collins Electronics / Hughes Aviation on the TCAS project.  I moved back to Chicago to work with a Small Company called Specialty Process Engineering Company [SPEC].  I worked as an application engineer developing system designs for their food and chemical customers.  I quickly moved into project engineering and management.  I received my certificate of business management form University of Illinois in 2003.  After several years as Vice President with responsibilities of business development and management of projects, I was presented with an opportunity to acquire the company from the founding family.

In 2006 we began to grow and enhance the SPEC Engineering capabilities and expertise to better serve the Food and Chemical Process Equipment Industries.  We grew from under $5MM and under 10 employees to $20MM and over 60 employees.  We built a platform of engineered solutions with a true innovative and entrepreneurial approach that was highly valued by our customers.  We brought several designs to the market and founded three supporting companies: MixSys, Sweet Solutions and SPEC Equipment.

In 2018 SPEC was acquired by Gray Construction to provide the equipment and process engineering expertise within their large design build projects in the food and beverage industry.  In 2022 I separated from SPEC to provide vision and support to grow Sweet Solutions and the other innovative companies.  I now serve as President of Sweet Solutions, a company dedicated to providing development services to the specialty ingredient business within the confectionary, nutritional, bakery, snack and beverage markets.

What do you like most about what you do?

Setting a compelling vision and working with a team of people to work together toward the goals.  Helping people grow professionally and personally is the most rewarding.  Developing leaders within the organization provides the biggest benefit to all and builds a sustainable base for next step growth and success.  Establishing and protecting the culture of customer first has been our roadmap to consistent success.  The mantra “Give the customer what they want and a little bit more”.

How did you hear about the EFBC?

Originally met Judy Hogel at a Crains event in Chicago and joined in 2013.  I am fortunate to have the opportunity to come back to the Kairos Forum after a 2 year hiatus.  The EFBC is a strong organization and essential for me as a guide for my personal and professional grow with Sweet Solutions and affiliates.

Why did you join, and what do you hope to gain from your membership?

To engage in leadership opportunities and continue to learn from the network of outstanding professionals in the EFBC.  I hope to contribute within my forum and the EFBC to help the organization continue to thrive and grow.

Join us in welcoming Brian back to the EFBC community.


Discover Your Gifts and Transform Your Team: The Promise of Working Genius

Building a successful team is one of the most important roles you have as a leader. And understanding your teams’ talents is a critical aspect of ensuring that success. EFBC member and Bisco, Inc. EVP Julie Suh shares her experience with Working Genius, a new tool that helps individuals understand their talents, transform their work and be a part of better functioning teams. And we all know better performing teams are indeed Genius!

How did you learn about Working Genius?

Patrick Lencioni, the founder of Working Genius, was a speaker at a conference I attended earlier this year. He talked about the concept of Working Genius, and it piqued my interest. The conference also gave out a code for a complimentary assessment which I took. That led to me listening to the Working Genius podcast which in turn led to me enrolling in their certification course that provided me with materials and access to videos to help me implement the assessment at Bisco.

Can you describe Working Genius?

Working Genius is a model to help people discover what they are naturally good at to help them thrive in the workplace and in their life in general.

The model involves six stages of work: Wonder, Invention, Discernment, Galvanizing, Enablement, and Tenacity (W.I.D.G.E.T.). The premise of Working Genius is that two of the stages bring you energy and joy (referred to as Working Genius), two drain you of energy and joy (referred to as Working Frustration) and the other two you are good at but they don’t energize you (referred to as Working Competency).

Working Genius is different from other tools as it is more about productivity than personality.

How did you implement Working Genius with your team?

I first rolled it out to our leadership team. They took the assessment individually, and we reviewed the results at an offsite leadership meeting and discussed what we did and didn’t agree with the assessments.

A team map was generated as part of the assessment to illustrate everyone’s Genius and Frustrations. That allowed us to look as a team to see if there was a stage we were lacking or if we were skewed in any specific areas. On a well-rounded team, each of the stages should be represented as a Working Genius. After a good response from the leadership team, we rolled it out to the mangers and then our marketing and sales staff.

Has knowing the Working Geniuses of your team changed how you approach work at BISCO? 

We develop new products, and a lot of our activity is focused around product development and project teams. The assessments lend themselves well to determining project teams and understanding where individuals’ tendencies lie. Depending on the stage of work we are at, knowing the team’s Geniuses helps us better understand and evaluate each other’s responses and actions as well as our own. I now also use Working Genius to pull different people into certain types of meetings to get a more balanced group.

Is taking the assessment a long process?

It’s less cumbersome than some of the other assessment tools, like DISC. It only takes about 10 minutes to complete.

What was the most beneficial aspect of conducting the Working Genius assessment with your team?

It was hugely beneficial to understand our leadership team and where our pitfalls and tendencies might be. And knowing that from time to time we might need to “borrow” people to supplement a particular Genius. For overall career development of our BISCO employees, it provides an opportunity to look at their results and see how it aligns with the work they are doing.

Working Genius can also apply outside of work. It can apply to home life, volunteering, etc. and has actually helped some members of the team understand some family dynamics.

What are your Working Geniuses?

I am Discernment (The natural gift of intuitively and instinctively evaluating ideas and situations) and Enablement (The natural gift of providing encouragement and assistance for an idea or project).

In keeping with her Enablement Genius, Julie would be happy to answer any additional questions you have about her experience with Working Genius. Email Liz at to get in touch with Julie.


Health Insurance Renewals: What You Need To Know

A blog post written by Strategic Partner, Marcus Newman, RHU.

It is that time of year again.  The broker is calling, presentations are being made, costs are going up, plans are changing, meetings are happening, paperwork is flying, and what is the result … besides chaos?

Our office is seeing an average increase of approximately 6%.  OF COURSE, that means that half of them are bigger than that and half are smaller, as that is the nature of “average.” The most useful question you can ask is, “What can be done to control cost?”

If you ask that question, you may get a little frustrated with the answer.  Once upon a time, an employer could tinker with the nature of the insurance plan and reduce the cost – the theory was that if we increased the deductible then the cost would come down more than the new risk.  This makes sense, PAY LESS every month and if you get sick you will have to pay more … but the more wasn’t as much as the less.  So, it was a win.

Now, in the ACA Era, this is no longer a sound strategy.  The reason is that small changes do not move the needle on premiums any more … you can increase the deductible, but you only save approx. 1% in premium and … what is the point of that? To save 5% or more on premium the deductibles need to double or even triple.  The premium needle just doesn’t move without wholesale changes to the plan design.  This type of move ALWAYS puts more financial exposure on the employees than premium dollars saved and that is NOT a win, ever.

Where should an employer focus their efforts if plan design is not going to win the day? First, a full shopping of the market is in order.  Have you heard of Cigna-Oscar? Why not?

Next, examine your cost sharing with your employees. Are you too generous relative to the market?  Are you not generous enough to attract and retain quality employees? Have you seen any benchmarking data? Why not?

If ever a wholistic approach to health insurance and employee benefits was in order, it is now.  We are facing a national staffing crisis. Your employee benefits can help you to manage but you must make sure that your strategy is in line.  Beware of unintended consequences.

The post-pandemic ACA influenced benefits environment (call it the PPACAIBE … just kidding) is like a corn maze … you can get through, it will probably be frustrating, you can get stuck and have to retrace your steps, but you will get through … let the people who made it through guide you.


Now Hiring! From Anywhere!

Two of EFBC’s Strategic Partners share considerations when hiring employees who live out of state.

It seems like everywhere you look these days you see “Help Wanted” and “Now Hiring” signs. We know that many EFBC members are also trying to add talent to their teams, and for some, that has been a challenging process. With more and more companies adopting flexible work arrangements, expanding the talent pool and hiring employees outside of Chicagoland and even out of the state is becoming a more feasible option. But it’s not without complications. That’s why we went straight to the experts! EFBC’s Strategic Partners Karen Snodgrass at Cray, Kaiser Ltd and Rachel Bossard, at Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella give actionable guidance from a tax and legal perspective when contemplating hiring a team member from out of state.

We first spoke with Karen Snodgrass, CPA, Principal at Cray, Kaiser Ltd. and asked for her insights on the tax implications of hiring workers from out of state.

What tax considerations do employers need to keep in mind when hiring from outside their state?

It really depends on what that individual will be responsible for tackling. There can be some legal protections for the company from a tax standpoint. For example, if you have an employee that is only selling widgets from of a state other than Illinois, you may not be subject to all of the other state’s tax laws. But in general, anytime you hire an employee in another state, you are opening the company up to the tax provisions of that state. That could be anything from unemployment tax to withholding taxes, meaning you will need to withhold the other state’s taxes from the employee’s income. Hiring across the border could also open the business up to filing tax returns in that other state. Our recommendation is before you consider hiring someone in another state, definitely fully understand what your tax exposure will be.

Do the tax laws differ greatly from state to state?

Every state has its own rules, and every state has its own tax rate. For example, if your company is located in New York then you file income tax returns in New York. The New York tax rate is higher than Illinois. It doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily double-taxed, but it does mean less of your income will be taxed in Illinois and more is taxed in New York. Ohio, on the other hand, has different tax laws where only businesses that earn more than a specified amount are subject to tax in Ohio. So yes, tax laws do vary greatly.

I’ve had companies hire an individual in another state and based on that team member’s role, the company is not required to withhold state taxes.  Which means that the employee is then responsible for paying in-state taxes on a quarterly basis.   In terms of the employer/employee experience, especially in this labor market, telling a new employee their tax burden is increasing is not ideal.  This goes against why employers are crossing state lines to attract team members in the first place. Most companies want to make it as easy as possible for their new employees.

Does Illinois have any special agreements with border states with regard to taxes?

The state of Illinois has tax reciprocity with Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Are there any major drawbacks from a tax perspective?

It is not necessarily a drawback, especially when finding top talent is a challenge, but you need to be aware that you are exposing your organization to the tax requirements of different states which may add complexity for your tax teams. There are added compliance costs when an organization has team members in multiple states, as well as the possibility of higher taxes in that other state, including higher unemployment taxes or higher business income taxes.

Anything else you would like to share on the subject?

As employers, we all have to think outside the box these days. If there’s talent sitting in another state, you simply have to understand the additional costs associated with hiring that person. Long term, this employee may be a better fit or a higher skill set than someone you can find locally. If so, it may well be worth those costs. It is all about understanding your exposure so you can make that business decision, knowing if those extra dollars are nothing (if hiring in a state with reciprocity), are a few hundred dollars a year or are substantial. As with most things in business, it is being armed with knowledge so you can make a purposeful decision.

Rachel Bossard, Partner at Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella, P.C. also shared her knowledge on hiring employees who live in another state from a legal perspective.

From a legal perspective, what are the top three things to consider when hiring out of state?

When hiring an employee who will be working in another state, it is important for the employer to consider:

  1. Whether it needs to form a corporate entity/apply for a tax ID number in the other state in order to pay payroll taxes
  2. Whether the employer will need to obtain workers’ compensation insurance and pay for unemployment insurance in the other state
  3. Whether there are any state-specific employment laws that will apply to the employee in the other state

How different are labor laws from state to state? Any states that are particularly challenging?

Many laws differ from state to state, in particular the laws related to employee family or medical leave and sick time. In addition, state laws can vary regarding restrictive covenants such as non-solicitation and non-competition agreements. California is probably the most challenging state to contend with. For example, in addition to a complex set of leave laws that can vary by municipality, California requires that employers pay overtime to non-exempt employees who work more than eight hours per day, whereas Illinois requires the payment of overtime compensation only in excess of 40 hours per week. Also, it is worth noting that restrictive covenants are unenforceable in California.

What happens when the employer state and employee state have conflicting laws?

In most instances, the employee state will prevail. However, this depends on the state and the particular law.

Does Illinois have any special agreements with border states regarding employment/labor laws?

Illinois has reciprocal agreements with Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, and Wisconsin. As a result of these agreements, residents of those states who received compensation from Illinois employers, are not required to pay Illinois income tax on this income. This applies only to compensation received from wages, salaries, tips, and commissions.

Are there any major drawbacks from a legal perspective?

It can be complicated to have employees in several different states who may be bound by different laws, which require different employee policies and different employee handbooks or separate addendums for each state.

Anything else that you think is important to note?

While it can appear daunting, employers should not be so overly concerned about employing out-of-state residents that they stifle the needs of the business. Rather, employers should simply be mindful of the potential legal complications and should obtain the assistance needed to comply with the laws. Once compliance has been established, the monitoring necessary to maintain compliance should be minimal.

The key takeaway? Don’t be deterred if you find the perfect candidate and they live beyond the Illinois border. Simply do your homework – with the help of EFBC’s Strategic Partners – and understand the tax exposure for your business as well as the legal implications.