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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

In this LAB, business world is under microscope

When the invitation arrived, I didn’t know what to expect.

Most times, when I hear the word “LAB,” I think back to Bunsen burners, beakers and frog dissection during my school days.

Turns out, I wasn’t far off on the school part. It’s the science I had wrong.

“LAB” in this case is short for “Learning About Business.” It’s a program for students from Lake, Geauga, Cuyahoga and Ashtabula counties who will enter their senior year in the fall.

The students gather in Lake County and do just what the name says — learn about business.

They learn how to run one. They learn how to be an employer. They learn how to handle a crisis. They learn how to negotiate with their workers.

In essence, they learn what we adults do every single day of our lives at work.

But they learn it in an atmosphere that’s calm and nurturing.

That’s not to say there’s no pressure.

Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I was honored to receive an invitation to attend a luncheon celebrating this year’s participants in LAB. They wanted those taking part to get there early so they could chat with the students.

Sounds easy, right?

Don’t forget refreshing.

As I was putting on my name tag, a couple of young ladies from Lake County high schools walked up and introduced themselves. Then they put their hands out for a handshake.

I reached back and was met with a firm squeeze of hands.

“OK,” I thought, “they’re teaching the right things.”

How many times have you reached out to shake someone’s hand and come back with what could have doubled as a dead fish? Limp equals wishy-washy to me.

I know some of you are probably saying that’s a better alternative than the hand-crusher version. I disagree. When I get one of those, I know they’re serious and on their game.

And, these teens were on theirs.

But, immediately after saying their names and where they go to school, they let me take the lead.

I asked how they enjoyed their time in LAB and what they’ve been working on. They explained that the students broke into teams and “launched” a business — in the electric car field.

They had to figure out what was unique about their car, what would make it sell and how to get that done.

They said that the night before the luncheon, they’d undergone a session with a “negotiator,” who had simulated a labor issue and had the company’s executives deal with it. His job was to get concessions from the company before its workers would go back on the job.

It was a stressful exercise conducted by John Rampe, general manager of Torque Transmission in Fairport Harbor, who admittedly puts the students through the ringer during the negotiations.

He’s tough, trying to push them to make good decisions, as they try not to give up too much to the workers.

After hearing about the session from the first young ladies I spoke with, I asked the others I met about it. They all made the same eye-roll-with-deep-breath move that indicated pain and suffering had occurred.

When Rampe, who was honored during the luncheon with a Pauline Krug Excellence in Entrepreneurship award, spoke to his victims, er, students, he stressed that what they learned during a week of LAB will stay with them as they move forward in their lives.

It was a common theme from all the award winners.

“The only advice I want to give you is go out there and do it,” Rampe said.

He’s no-nonsense, which the youngsters said came across during the activity the day before.

Another nominee, Pam Trivisonno, who owns Trivisonno CPA in Mentor, spoke from the heart as she told the students that she has been involved in LAB since her own graduation from the program in 1980.

A 1981 Mentor High alumna, Trivisonno said she has stuck close to Mentor her entire life, leaving only to attend Bowling Green State University. She told a story about dreading a final course in her accounting program. When she sat down on the first day and looked at the syllabus, she said she thought, “This is LAB. I’ve already done this.”

The worries were gone, Trivisonno said.

“Appreciate what you have today, and know that it will be with you in the future,” she said. “Thirty-two years later, and I’m still involved.”

At the end of the luncheon, one of the volunteers who works with the students got up to address them.
Donald Wayne McLeod didn’t need the help of a microphone as he pushed them to remember the passion used to complete the program.

He also encouraged them to always maintain eye contact. As he spoke, he studied their faces, giving them a life-size example of his lesson.

The founding partner in Listen UP!, an area public relations and communications company, McLeod clearly inspired his students to follow his example. If they remember the many lessons learned last week at LAB, they’ll be steps ahead of their peers when they start their careers.
Twitter: @Lauranh


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