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Wordsmart on map nationwide

Investors draw up plan to put
Wordsmart on map nationwide

Wordsmart Inc., a business communications training firm, is going national with the help of some heavy-hitting businessmen.
The venture’s blueprint also calls for an initial public offering within three years.
Richard Kaplan began management consulting for Wordsmart president Germaine Knapp some five months ago. Kaplan–president of Richland Industries Corp., parent company of Max Pies and Rugs In Pieces, and chairman emeritus and founder of the Maxim Group Inc., a national carpet-services company–says he liked what he saw at Wordsmart and what he heard about it on the streets.
He also did some research and found the training industry fragmented and fraught with problems.
His solution was to plot a national strategy for Wordsmart, a 13-year-old company with tried training programs.
“We have developed a concept to take care of (training) problems,” he said, “to give consistency and continuity.”
Kaplan contacted Barry Keesan, founder of Logical Operations Inc., and A.J. Nassar, Maxim’s president and CEO, to join Knapp and him in forming Worksmart International Inc. The four are the only investors, and while Kaplan would not divulge the amount, he said they have contributed “a lot” of capital.
Worksmart will be the parent company of training centers across the United States, and eventually overseas, Kaplan said. The company has targeted 264 U.S. markets for Worksmart national training facilities, and expansion is slated to begin in June.
Kaplan would not divulge details of Worksmart’s strategy, but likened the training industry’s need for national consolidation to that of the carpet industry–something he already has tackled.
Kaplan and two colleagues launched the Maxim Group Inc. in 1992, taking the company public in October 1993 at $5.25 a share. This week, shares were trading at $13, with a 52-week high of $17.13.
Maxim expanded nationally by selling territories to existing carpet retailers in exchange for group-purchasing discounts, and training and consulting services in human resources, sales, merchandising and other areas.
Worksmart is looking for the appropriate established trainers in its targeted markets to bring in for Worksmart training, Knapp said. Careful and nurturing training, along with Knapp’s programs, will provide consistency throughout multiple training centers.
Consistency is only one quality that has been missing in the training industry, Kaplan said. He identified three training levels, all of which he said are flawed.
The process of program development and implementation is too long and involved for in-house trainers to conquer, he said. One program takes months to develop, while Wordsmart already has more than 30.
In addition, there are not enough good program developers to serve every company internally.
Like in-house trainers, local-level trainers–found at firms such as Wordsmart and at area colleges–cannot adequately serve companies with offices located in numerous states or countries, Kaplan said. Flying trainers to regional offices, or transporting employees to headquarters, is expensive.
And companies dealing with 10 or 15 vendors for different programs and separate locations find it hard to maintain their corporate cultures.
Finally, while national consultants like Anthony Robbins are good at encouraging employees for a few weeks, they do not remain nearby to see training implemented, he said.
Wordsmart, after a name change to Worksmart Inc., will operate as a training center under Worksmart International. Knapp’s role is to develop her business communications packages for easy transfer to other training centers, she said, and to keep the Rochester center a model for the others.
A native of Colorado with a master’s degree in education from Notre Dame University, Knapp launched her training company in 1982 and hired her first employee three years later. The firm now employs six full-time and five part-time staffers; Knapp would not release revenues. (Knapp writes a monthly Leadership column for the Rochester Business Journal. It appears this week on page 18.)
Worksmart has hired a national sales manager and is in the process of hiring a president and CEO; both positions are to be announced in early April. Kaplan will serve as chairman, and principals Nassar and Keesan will act as board members and consultants.
The company plans to go public in two or three years, Kaplan said, as well as tackle the Pacific Rim and Eastern Europe, two places crying out for Western training. He would not release revenue or growth projections.
Kaplan views Worksmart as a harbinger of changes in the training industry.
“While the idea (for Worksmart) is revolving around the quality of (Knapp’s) products,” he said, “my guess is in 10 to 15 years, the industry will consist of 15 to 20 companies with national training centers.”

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