For CBIA staff, it’s all about meeting members’ needs
By Bill DeRosa
Photos by John Kallio
Throughout CBIA’s long history supporting Connecticut businesses, one thing has remained constant: our uncompromising dedication to providing our members with the strongest representation possible at the State Capitol and delivering products and services that offer outstanding value with exceptional customer service. How do we do it?
“Our people make the difference,” says John Rathgeber, CBIA’s president and CEO, who after 37 years with CBIA is retiring Jan. 1. “Looking back, one of the things I’m most proud of is putting together a talented, diverse staff of professionals who believe in our mission and are dedicated to serving our members. They’ve been central to our ability to build CBIA into a leading business advocate and membership organization and help Connecticut employers stay competitive regionally, nationally, and globally.
“Of course, none of what we do would be possible without the support of our members, many of whom I’ve had the pleasure to get to know and work closely with over the years. To all of you, I’d like to express my sincere thanks for your contribution to our mission and our organization.”
Joe Brennan, CBIA’s executive vice president, who will be taking over leadership of the association in December, believes that it’s an intensely member-focused organizational culture that distinguishes CBIA.
“What makes CBIA such a great place to work,” says Brennan, “is the commitment our employees show to our members and hearing members’ positive feedback about the constructive interactions they have with our staff—whether it be at one of our conferences, on the phone getting help with an HR issue, or working with our government affairs team on important legislation.”
In the pages that follow, we invite you to meet a few of CBIA’s 81 dedicated professionals and learn about some of the ways their jobs intersect with your passion for achieving business success in Connecticut.
Public Policy: Building Relationships
Central to CBIA’s mission is serving as a strong advocate for the business community at the state legislature and regulatory agencies. Our team of skilled lobbyists succeeds every year in not only in fighting off dozens of harmful bills but also working with policymakers to develop and support legislation and regulations that help make Connecticut companies more competitive.
One of the keys to the clout our government affairs team has at the Capitol is their ability to create the right partnerships at the right time.
“We’re the coalition builder, the relationship builder, and that’s what makes us unique,” says Bonnie Stewart, vice president and general counsel at CBIA and leader of the government and public affairs team. “We know the people to bring together to ensure success.”
During the 2014 General Assembly session, CBIA’s assistant counsel Eric Gjede, who lobbies on labor and employment issues, put together a coalition of business organizations representing small businesses and the retail, food service, and manufacturing industries to fight a bill that would have imposed a punitive tax on certain employers that did not pay employees at least 130% of the minimum wage. As a direct result of these efforts, the bill died in the Finance Committee despite an aggressive lobbying campaign by its proponents.
“Our staff is the key to achieving that kind of success,” says Stewart. “They have knowledge of the issues—a clear vision of the big picture and command of the details—and excellent relationship building skills.”
Those skills were in evidence early this year as the government and public affairs team recruited more than 60 business, professional, and community organizations to sign on as partners with CBIA to the CT20×17 campaign—a multi-year initiative to move Connecticut into the top 20 states for business by 2017 in national business climate rankings. Since then, the team has crisscrossed the state, educating CBIA members about the campaign and generating support.
“We’ve gotten a great response,” says CBIA public outreach specialist Nicole Cline. “Member companies have been displaying CT20×17 banners, posters, and lawn signs, and we’ve held lunch-and-learns for CBIA member companies and their employees to introduce them to the campaign and help them become better-educated voters.”
Cline and Adam Ney, CBIA’s outreach and engagement team leader, are frequently on the road visiting CBIA member companies
to get a better sense of the challenges they face, learn how CBIA can better represent them and add value to their membership, and provide tips and information to members who want to contact state legislators and regulatory officials directly.
“Going out to visit members is essential for ensuring that CBIA is meeting their needs,” says Ney. “One of the things I love most about that role is seeing the great things that Connecticut companies do and how they do it—how manufacturers, for example, have adopted lean principles, invested in new technologies, and increased worker engagement. Employees have become so vested in the process and the outcomes.”
This year, the government and public affairs team created opportunities for constructive dialogue between policymakers, business leaders, and company employees by arranging for more than 70 tours of member companies by candidates for the state legislature.
In addition, the team held more than 40 meetings in partnership with various state agencies to inform CBIA members about state business-assistance programs.
Over the years, CBIA has also given members an opportunity to build relationships with their peers and policymakers through participation on numerous councils and committees organized around various public policy areas and industry sectors, including environmental compliance, manufacturing, small business issues, labor and employment, and business taxes. As business-critical policies are developed, council and committee members have the opportunity to provide valuable input to legislators, the governor, and leadership at state agencies.
‘At the Heart of What We Do’
When it comes to workforce development, the ability of CBIA’s Education Foundation staff to forge partnerships is critical to fulfilling their mission to ensure that Connecticut businesses have the talent pipeline they need.
“Whether it’s matching students with businesses in internship programs or organizing companies and other stakeholders around the pressing workforce needs of manufacturing, building relationships is at the heart of what we do,” says Judy Resnick, executive director of the Education Foundation.
Currently administering seven federal, state, and private grants, Resnick and her team are managing a host of workforce
development projects funded by those grants that bring together stakeholders from industry, government, community organizations, and education. Projects include forming a partnership to define the specific workforce needs of Connecticut’s transportation, distribution, and logistics sector and create training to meet employers’ needs; and managing a pilot Connecticut Clean Trades Program in five technical high schools, a public-private partnership designed to spark students’ interest in green careers.
“Having built the relationships over many years to move projects like these forward, we’re in a unique position to understand stakeholders’ cultures and needs and work effectively with them toward a common goal,” says Resnick.
Insurance Partnerships That Work for You
Partnerships are also critical when it comes to CBIA Health Connections, our private sector health insurance exchange. CBIA’s ability to bring together the right insurance partners enables us to offer our members exceptional choice and value in employee health benefits.
Lynn Sorrentino, CBIA’s vice president of insurance marketing, works closely with our four health insurance partners—Aetna, ConnectiCare, Harvard Pilgrim, and UnitedHealthcare/Oxford—to design benefit plans to meet the needs of all of CBIA’s Health Connections members.
“Providing a variety of products lets employers customize their benefits package,” says Sorrentino. “We help them understand that they can set their cost at a certain level and then allow their employees to choose the carrier and plan that best suits their needs. And this is all done in a way that’s easy to administer. When employers can offer great health benefits at an affordable price, it can contribute to a stronger employer-employee relationship.”
Sorrentino and her team often work directly with CBIA members, helping them solve benefit or claims issues or simply understand more about plan administration.
“We try to make our members’ lives a little easier when it comes to choosing and administering an employee benefits program,” she says.
‘A Great Experience for Our Members’
An important part of making our insurance members’ lives a little easier, says Donna Klisiewicz, CBIA’s director of insurance operations, is providing outstanding customer service. That includes, she adds, making sure that when someone calls CBIA’s customer service phone number—which is answered by the insurance operations staff—they get a live person on the line who is ready to assist no matter what the issue.
“We’re not a robo-phone operation,” says Klisiewicz. “When someone calls, they get a real person—no button pushing. Our goal is 100% live call answering.”
Helping maintain the highest standard of customer service is Gina Giansiracusa, service team leader in CBIA’s insurance operations department. The bottom line for her team, she says, is making sure CBIA members are getting what they need.
“We want to build a great experience for our members. We want to listen, provide answers, or get the answers we may not have
ready access to. In those cases, we talk to our insurance partners, account managers—whoever we need to help us get the answers our members need. It’s extremely gratifying to me and my staff when we provide the kind of quality of service our members are accustomed to. It’s our personal commitment that makes us such a great team.”
That commitment is reflected in the feedback CBIA receives from members about their experience with Health Connections and the many other services—such as free COBRA and HRA administration and a free employee wellness program—that go along with it.
“Our enrollment into CBIA Health Connections…was smooth and hassle-free,” says Donna Galluzzo, president and CEO of HMS Healthcare Management Solutions Inc. in Wallingford. “In addition to providing a cost-effective insurance option to our company, CBIA has the value-added services that made choosing it a very easy decision. CBIA’s focus on health promotion and wellness and its outreach to our employees helped support and build on our corporate culture of addressing each employee’s overall well-being—mind, body, and spirit…We expect to have a mutually beneficial relationship with CBIA for a long time to come.”
Expertise and Information at Your Fingertips
CBIA staff pride themselves on providing our members with information and expert guidance on a wide variety of business-related issues, including economic trends, critical legislation, HR and safety compliance, fraud protection, the energy market, and much more.
In addition, CBIA members can get the information they need on whatever platform or through whatever means they prefer. Sources of information and expert guidance from CBIA include:
- CBIA’s website
- Social media, like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr
- Email alerts on critical legislation
- Regular radio broadcasts, including the CBIA Business Minute
- Print publications, such as CBIA News and the Government Affairs Report
- Valuable CBIA products, like our Employee Handbook Software and Poster Compliance Kit
- Electronic digests, such as the HR News, Health & Safety News, Family Business News, and Small Business News
- Economic and public policy surveys and conferences
- Conferences, workshops, and roundtables on HR issues, energy, environmental regulations, and more
- On-site training on such topics as sexual harassment prevention and basic employment law principles
- Free telephone consulting anytime you have a question or problem regarding personnel, employment law, taxes, or just about any business issue
One of CBIA’s most popular free telephone consulting services is our HR Hotline, where our human resources experts explain how to handle tricky personnel matters, resolve workplace conflicts, and stay in compliance with ever-changing state and federal labor laws.
“We feel a strong responsibility to be a resource for our members,” says CBIA’s HR counsel Mark Soycher, who fields many of the HR Hotline calls. “No matter the problem, we will get the answers, whether it’s through our own staff or our network of outside experts.”
Over the years, Karen Wetherell, director of human resources at Global Help Desk Services in Rocky Hill, has found CBIA’s HR Hotline to be a huge benefit.
“I’ve been using CBIA’s telephone consulting service for over seven years now,” she says. “When I call, I’m able to speak to someone right away, and I receive valuable direction on handling situations that come up with our employees. I prefer speaking with someone rather than searching online for information. It gives me the opportunity to discuss the situation, and I get best-case scenario options. It is so beneficial to receive input on something I may have a question about, particularly in cases where I think I know the right course of action but want to ensure that it won’t run afoul of any laws or regulations. When I call CBIA, either I’ll learn that what I was thinking was correct and why, or I’ll find out that there’s a better way to handle the situation and why. The consulting service has been an extremely valuable resource for me.”
Other sources of essential information and guidance on HR and other topics are CBIA’s conferences, workshops, and roundtables, where members hear about the latest trends and gain fresh perspectives while networking with their peers.
“Our events team is passionate about developing conferences and workshops where our members can learn—often from business leaders from other CBIA member companies—what is most important to them for running a successful business or overcoming a common challenge,” says Cindy Panioto, CBIA’s program and events manager. “When I’m at our events talking with our members, it’s very rewarding to hear that they’ve learned something that they can take back and use right away, or that they’ve made a valuable new connection with another member company.”
CBIA’s Purchasing Experts Save You Money
It’s no secret that Connecticut is a high business cost state, which is why CBIA staff are committed to helping members control their costs in as many ways as possible, including, as you read above, through offering great choice and value in health insurance products.
But CBIA also has a team of experts who leverage the association’s purchasing power to bring you steep discounts on office supplies, furniture, and equipment; video production services; online job recruiting; employee background checks; document shredding; debit/credit card processing; and other products and services.
Perhaps CBIA’s most notable purchasing program is Energy Connections, an approved energy representative in Connecticut for more than 14 years, since the beginning of deregulation.
Committed to working with you to establish an energy purchasing strategy that meets your individual business objectives, the Energy Connections team can help you make sense of today’s volatile energy market and lock in today’s prices with a long-term contract, protecting you from further price increases while giving you cost control and budget predictability.
“In these days of rising energy prices, it’s our duty to advise our members that the days of trying to beat the price of their last
contract are over, for now at least,” says Tom Guerra, CBIA’s director of products and services. “Our members understand this and have refocused their energy purchasing objectives toward cost certainty versus savings. Most industry experts agree that New England energy customers have to protect their position until at least 2017, when new planned expansions to natural gas infrastructure are in place.
“The thing that differentiates us from other energy brokers,” says Guerra, “is that we always recommend what’s in our members’ best interest, even if that means sending them back to the utility versus placing them in a new contract.”
Gary Gionet, general manager, production services, at Sargent Manufacturing in New Haven, says his company has participated in CBIA Energy Connections for 13 years for electricity and natural gas purchasing, with very positive results.
“What I like about it is that you get advice about market conditions as far as when it’s a good time to go out for bid,” says Gionet. “The competitive bidding process, where we have a number of suppliers bid on our business—I like that idea. It’s very objective, and all the suppliers that are bidding have been pre-screened, so we know they are financially stable, that they have the capability to deliver without interruptions. It gives us confidence.”
Gionet explains that suppliers not participating in Energy Connections call him, claiming they can give him a better price on an energy contract.
“Well, maybe they can for one contract or for some short term, but over the long haul, I think Energy Connections is the way to go. I’m very happy with the service and will stay with it.”
We Can’t Help If You Don’t Join
Most of the great products, services, and discounts our staff work so hard to provide are available exclusively to CBIA members, so don’t let your membership lapse! If you haven’t received your membership renewal notice yet, you will soon. By renewing, you’ll continue to have exclusive access to everything CBIA’s team of dedicated professionals has to offer.
If you have questions about your membership, contact CBIA’s Joe Dias at 860.244.1118 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ■
Bill DeRosa is editor of CBIA News. Contact him at email@example.com.