Wednesday, February 11, 1998
Business lunch group tastes success

The Cincinnati Enquirer

They gather indoors under framed posters of golf greens to work on their own game of success. And somehow, despite a name one might consider, well, pretty dull, they generate a good deal of excitement.

The Decision Makers Luncheon Group is composed of 20 or so executives from small companies, even one-person outfits, who get together each Wednesday for lunch and networking at Mancino's Pizza & Grinders in West Chester. A recent get-together of this Butler County group turned into a fast-paced, card-swapping, hand-pumping ''Lunch with Cliff.''

After business cards flew around the table, grinders - hoagies by another name - arrived in a flash. Everyone ate quickly while Rick Lipman stood and talked.

On the opposite wall hung a framed green titled, ''Success.'' Each poster sports a jaunty motivational saying. This one read: ''Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day-in and day-out.''

Rick is the group's founder and Oprah. He started the lunches in October to expand his business contacts and keep up with booming Butler County.

During the lunches, Rick eats and prowls. He makes introductions, shoots out topics and announces the group's own want ads.

''Laurie still has a home for sale.''

''Otto's son-in-law is transferring here from Atlanta and will be looking for a position.''

Rick makes these announcements in front of another poster. This one's labeled ''Opportunity.'' The slogan: ''The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.''

Rick runs Business Builders U.S.A. in Mason. Describing himself as ''a corporate matchmaker,'' he puts people and business opportunities together. For him, being a deal maker by trade, the lunch group seems a natural extension. All these people are here to deal.

Among them this week are: financial planners; a photographer; Web site designers; a garage door installer; loan officers; experts in cell phones, security systems and health insurance; a bill collector; a communications consultant; and a former Cincinnati Bengal now in the all-natural medicine business.

''It's not so much what we do for a living that's important,'' said Kevin Walker, a Bengals linebacker from 1988-92. ''It's that we all know people who can utilize the services that someone here has to offer.''

Kevin recently did such a deal while on a call for his company, Fourth & Goal.

A client mentioned a security problem. Kevin put him in touch with Larry Zakem of Electronic Eye in Sharonville, who Kevin had met at a Decision Makers lunch.

''If I had phoned this person directly with a cold call,'' Larry said between bites of his sandwich, ''I most assuredly would have gotten 'I'm not interested.' But since Kevin referred me, it looks like we're going to do some business.''

Four years ago, when Jessica Selasky, started her Maineville training firm, Confidence Builders, she would have lunch with a friend or a customer. ''But always just one at a time.''

Today, to keep up with a changing world and the hot local economy, she makes time for the Decision Makers lunch.

''We do more than get business for each other,'' she said as she picked up a stack of cards. ''We listen to each other's problems and solve them. We're a support group.''

I've been to my share of business group lunches. Often, while fiddling with the rubber chicken, I hear pinstriped suit talk that is mostly about maintaining a well-established network of connections.

But at this one, there's something different in the air, the electricity of growth and new connections. The mixed bag of people and professions here are building, making something. They're excited, eager to make their way.

And it's that atmosphere that makes those grinders taste especially good.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.