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Customer Profile: Opportunity, Inc.

One of the great pleasures of my day is sharing the stories of our customers. It allows me the chance to hear the passions and goals, strategies and tactics, of an array of non-profit and for-profit companies. And an extra delight is sharing them with you, our customers.

This month  we're sharing the story of Opportunity, Inc. As their website describes:

Opportunity, Inc. was chartered in 1976 as an Illinois not-for-profit corporation to help people with disabilities develop to their  fullest potential by working in a viable business enterprise that provides its customers with the best possible  quality, price, and service.

But an organization is more than a website. And Opportunity, Inc. is so much more as I found out.

I had the pleasure recently to talk with their CFO, Barry Shapiro, and their Sales Director and President of The Foundation for Opportunity, Elizabeth Golden.   Our call started my morning a few weeks ago. And they made my morning the most pleasant I've had in a long time as well as left me inspired and smiling for the rest of the day.

Barry and Elizabeth and the others there have created an inspiring place to spend the day. It's inspiring and motivating for those that work there. It's inspiring for their customers. For those that work there, it's more than a job. And for their customers, Opportunity, Inc. brings the highest level of industry-certification to the services they deliver

How much better does it get? You create a place where all the employees are excited about working AND a service whose quality is ranked highest among independent, industry, standards' boards.  ( Honestly, I think the two go together. But that's content for another post. )

After speaking with Barry and Elizabeth for over an hour, I asked them to answer in their own words a few questions to help share their story. And they gladly agreed. Here's their thoughts:

How long have you been with Opportunity, Inc?

Elizabeth: Almost 1 year - I started in late August, 2005.

Barry: 10 years.

What drew you to the company?

Elizabeth: I'm a breast cancer survivor.  After I completed all of the procedures at the end of 2003, I started considering alternatives to the corporate sales positions that I had held for 20 years.  When Opportunity approached me, it seemed to me to be the perfect fit!

Barry: I have always been an individual that wanted to not only support my family, but also do my share to improve the world.  This gave me the chance to do both.  The organization has a wonderful mission, it is not "eye-catching," but you see it in the eyes and spirit of the people who work here how much it means to have a meaningful job and to be productive in our society.  Also, being a small organization, it has given me the chance to wear a variety of hats, which has made the job more interesting.  Finally, as an added bonus, it is only 5 minutes from my home.

What's your greatest challenge?

Elizabeth: Finding the time to get everything done!  The wonderful thing about working for a small company is that you get to do things that you've always wanted to do, but are restricted in a large company.  For example, I've always wanted to work with marketing, but in previous employment, we had a marketing department.  IT and marketing controlled the web site.  At Opportunity, I am many departments - the sales department, the marketing department, web site design and I work with the Foundation.  All of us have multiple job responsibilities and the struggle is to try to give each attention so that none of them suffer.

Barry:  I agree with Elizabeth that the lack of time to do everything I want to do has been a challenge.  The other huge challenge is keeping the organization running without any endowment fund to fall back on in times of needs, which seem to come often.

What's been your greatest successes?

Elizabeth: Launching the Secure Document Destruction business.  When I came, Opportunity had two government contracts and just a few commercial accounts.  We are currently servicing 104 locations throughout the Greater Chicago Area.

Barry:  Putting the finance department on a more professional level.  Just being able to meet the payroll every two weeks has been a success.  Despite all of our struggles financially, Opportunity Inc is still here after 30 years.

What's been your greatest disappointment?

Elizabeth: The struggle in dealing with the lack of funds for growing the business.  For example, a retired advertisement executive gave us copy for 2 ads that we would like to run in Crain's Chicago Business magazine.  We have the ads, but can't afford to run them.  We would like to advertise on the radio, but are trying to locate a donor to make this possible.  Obviously our mission is to provide as many jobs as possible for adults with disabilities.  We need to grow to make this happen - advertising would help us quickly let people know about our mission and the excellent service that we provide in secure document shredding, medical device manufacturing and hand assembly projects.

Barry: The outsourcing of jobs to Mexico and China has hurt Opportunity, Inc. tremendously.  It has been difficult to just keep the jobs we have rather than being able to expand our workforce.

How did you build a Board of Directors with such impressive backgrounds? What drew them to you?

Elizabeth: (best answered by Barry!)

Barry:  Our President and CEO, Larry Rosser, inherited a board that was mainly made up of family members when he came in 1994.  He decided then that he wanted to bring on people from business that could add value to our board.  I believe that our directors as a whole have been successful in their professions, but also want to give back to society and they see their service to Opportunity as a means of accomplishing that goal.

Where do you see yourself and Opportunity, Inc. in 5 years?

Elizabeth:  I see myself managing sales and marketing as I'm doing now, but with a sales force!  There are companies like ours all across the country who sometimes don't have a seasoned sales professional on their staff.  I'd like to have the time to be more of a resource for them so that they can grow their businesses and provide many jobs for people with disabilities in their areas.  Hopefully we'll be able to eventually hire a Foundation Director so that I can concentrate on sales and marketing!

I see Opportunity, Inc. as one of the leading shredding vendors in the Greater Chicago Area.  It's my hope and dream that we will be able to build small shredding centers in various areas of the Chicago area.  It's extremely difficult for many people with disabilities to commute to work.    If we could be located in closer proximity to where they are living, we could reach more people and provide them with employment careers!

Barry: I still see myself at Opportunity in 5 years, but with a much bigger work force.  Our mission is to create careers for people with disabilities.  The unemployment rate among the disabled is tremendously high.  I would like to see Opportunity create a new 150 positions over the next 5 years. If we can create more jobs, we nor only improve their lives, they end up paying taxes to the government rather than be a drain on government resources.

How can people help?

Elizabeth:  More than anything, if people would spread the word about Opportunity - our mission and the services that we offer - that would be great!  We haven't focused on marketing our name and mission in the past to the general public, so very few people are aware that we exist.  People can see pictures and view videos that highlight our workplace and our employees on our web site  www.opportunityinc.org.  We welcome tours - if anyone is interested in a tour, please contact me at 847.831.9400 x 23. 

We are looking for leads for secure document destruction.  We offer both mobile and facility based shredding at very competitive pricing.

Of course, donations to the Foundation for Opportunity are always appreciated!  We are a 501(c)3 charity organization which receives no state fee for service subsidies like most Community Rehabilitation Programs.  We rely on donations and grants to supplement our growth and the well being of our extremely dedicated work force.

So those three things would be very helpful....spread the word, leads for shredding customers and donations!

Barry: Elizabeth's answer was pretty much on target.  Spread the word about Opportunity, leads not only for our document destruction division, but for other long running repetitive work for our employees and, of course, donations.

I still get a smile reading their words. And as Cindy Knowlton here in the company says, there you have it. Opportunity, Inc. shows you can run a successful organization, provide a great service to customers, achieve high professional rankings and certifications among your industry peers, create a workplace where people want to be there...and all the time while helping others.

Thanks, Barry and Elizabeth. I hope this begins to convey even a small sense of the inspiration I felt after meeting with you.

July 6, 2006 in Customer Profiles | Permalink

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