Prevailing over Toyota Tsusho in Court Battle

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In a classic David versus Goliath story, TroyGould attorneys Russell Glazer and Arvin Tseng, representing  Scott Vollero, prevailed in two arbitrations and a related federal court case brought against Mr. Vollero by Toyota Tsusho America and ELVCR (an internal division of Toyota Tsusho America).

In 2011, Mr. Vollero sold the assets of his company, Autocats Inc., to ELVCR, an entity established by Toyota Tsusho America for the purpose of a joint venture between Toyota Tsusho America and Mr. Vollero.  At the outset, ELVCR began suffering significant financial losses.

In 2013, Toyota Tsusho America brought a lawsuit in federal court against Mr. Vollero, contending that he made misrepresentations and omissions to Toyota Tsusho America and was responsible for the losses ELVCR sustained.  ELVCR brought an arbitration against Scott Vollero based on the same allegations.  Mr. Vollero responded that Toyota Tsusho America’s management was using him as a scapegoat for ELVCR’s business problems that were, in fact, the result of managerial ineptness on the part of ELVCR’s Toyota Tsusho America-installed managers.

Over Toyota Tsusho America and ELVCR’s objections, the cases were referred to a consolidated arbitration, with Toyota Tsusho America’s claims against Mr. Vollero to be heard first by a panel of three arbitrators.  The arbitration panel agreed with Scott Vollero.  It ruled that Toyota Tsusho America, even though ably represented by three separate law firms and private investigators, and given two years of discovery efforts, failed to produce any evidence that Mr. Vollero caused any damage to either Toyota Tsusho America or ELVCR.  The panel ruled that ELVCR’s losses were NOT the result of actions by Mr. Vollero, but the result of actions attributable to Toyota Tsusho America managers in charge of ELVCR.

The panel’s ruling, which was adopted by the federal court, rejected all of Toyota Tsusho America’s claims against Mr. Vollero.  In light of the ruling in favor of Mr. Vollero, ELVCR dismissed its arbitration against Mr. Vollero and his company.  For the legal team at TroyGould and Scott Vollero, these rulings were a resounding victory.

Any questions or comments regarding this matter can be directed to Russell Glazer at  rglazer@troygould.com  or Arvin Tseng at atseng@troygould.com

Boomers: It’s Not Too Late To Start Your Own Company

By Scott Vollero

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That’s been the conventional wisdom for a long time. But conventional doesn’t necessarily mean accurate. In fact, research shows that people ages 55–64 (baby boomers, as they’re called) have a higher rate of new business startups than their younger counterparts—people ages 20–34, the group that traditionally engages in risk-taking business ventures.

There is ample material on the internet proving that it’s not the age of the founder that determines whether a business will be a success. Younger entrepreneurs may be the ones who generate the flashy headlines when they start a business, but it is the older entrepreneurs who bring with them a lifetime of learning.

Those who start a business later in life can successfully argue that they have a better chance of reaching their goal of a thriving, successful business. In fact, if you are over 55, your chances of launching a high-growth startup is twice that of your younger counterparts. What you bring to the table cannot be imitated.

You have invaluable life experience

A baby boomer starting a business can contribute the unquestionable benefit of years of life experience to his or her new venture. Older entrepreneurs are seasoned in the realities of the world’s workings. They bring a level of business understanding that can only come from experience, and this experience can’t be duplicated by someone fresh out of college.

Boomers who start a business tend to be more patient and willing to work through the steps necessary for a successful business startup. They understand the importance of things like making a business plan, having a solid financial plan and conducting market research instead of diving blindly into a new venture.

You know people who know people

Most older people have a large and diverse network of colleagues and peers that’s been formed over a lifetime. These connections can be invaluable as your business is getting started. You’ve probably met and even worked with professionals and experts who could share their advice or support your endeavor with services in their area of expertise. You may know attorneys and accountants, venture capitalists and contractors, designers and writers who would be willing to work with you in getting your business up and running. A network of this depth can take years to build and is a huge asset when you’re starting a business.

You can set goals and then achieve them

An integral part of starting and running a business is setting realistic goals, and you need to know how and when to adjust these goals during the life of the business. Young entrepreneurs don’t always understand the importance of smart goal-setting in life, whereas older business founders are more experienced in setting goals and working toward a desired outcome. Many of the actions necessary for a successful outcome come second-nature to more seasoned entrepreneurs. Life experience can also help a founder remain objective when considering different paths to take to reach business goals and move the business forward.

Your experience appeals to investors

Investors are all about making money. Some may favor younger entrepreneurs because it is easier for an investor to get a bigger ownership stake (and thus, more control) in a startup by an inexperienced founder. However, older entrepreneurs can offer better chances of being successful and generating an income stream over a longer period of time. Many venture capitalists therefore look for the amenities that older entrepreneurs bring to the table.

You are more financially secure

If you start a business when you’re young, you’ll probably be juggling the cost of your business with the rest of life’s major investments, such as mortgage payments, child expenses, automobile payments and insurance payments. Although older people still have living expenses, older entrepreneurs are more likely to have already paid off a significant portion of life’s major purchases. This can free up cash to invest in a business.

You don’t fear failure

Everyone fails at something during their lifetime. The older we get, the more failures we have endured, and thus the more opportunities we’ve had to learn from our mistakes. Lessons learned from failures can be a huge benefit when starting up a business. Having failed and survived, you’ll be less likely to fear another failure. You’ll be more confident in your decision-making abilities, just one more powerful reason an older entrepreneur can start and build a successful business.

6 Mistakes To Avoid When Managing Millennials

By Scott Vollero

Who are these millennials and what are they doing in your workforce? We hear the term “millennials” all the time but do we really know who these people are? The ones currently joining your workforce were born between 1980 and 2000. They were raised by doting parents, in structured lives and surrounded by a diverse set of people. These millennials are accustomed to working in teams and they like making friends with the people they work with. They tend to work well with a diverse employee pool.

Millennials like feedback on how they’re performing—daily feedback, in some cases. They expect a variety of tasks and are confident they will be able to accomplish every one of them. They are confident and seek to take on leadership roles. They want to be challenged and definitely do not want to be bored.

These millennials want flexibility, including a flexible work schedule so they can build a life away from work. They are a connected bunch, interacting all over the world via email, through instant messages and text messages, and over the internet.

When working with millennials, there are specific adaptations you can make in the workplace to accommodate the unique nature of this group of employees. Effectively managing your millennials can ensure that you have a competent, trained workforce in your business at all times.

Provide structure

The bottom line is simple: Get your business practices organized. Reports need routine monthly due dates. Jobs should have relatively regular hours. Certain activities need to be done on a daily basis and should be scheduled that way. Got a meeting planned? Make sure the meeting has a stated agenda and minutes. Goals should be stated clearly, assignments should be well-defined, the factors that determine success should be delineated, and progress should be regularly assessed.

Give millennials guidance and show leadership

The millennials working for you want to look up to you and learn from you. They want your feedback, often on a daily basis. They want to be kept in the loop and feel like they are part of the whole picture. Know that you’ll need to spend a good deal of your time teaching and coaching them; make sure you understand this up front when you hire millennials. They expect your best investment in their success, and will give you their best in return.

Make use of the millennial attitude

Most millennials share a common self-assuredness and an “I can do this” attitude toward everything they attempt. Their personal self-image is almost always positive. Millennials feel they are ready to conquer the world—they were told by their parents that they could do it, and they believe they can. Don’t try to squash this attitude in them or contain their enthusiasm; doing so will not further your business goals.

Hear them out

Millennials grew up with loving parents whose worlds revolved around the schedules and activities of their children. These parents listened to what their children had to say. As a result, these young adults have their own ideas and opinions, and they do not like having their thoughts ignored. They expect you to listen to them and take them seriously, just as their parents did.

Let millennials multitask

Being required to do multiple tasks doesn’t phase millennials. They can carry on a phone conversation while checking email and juggling multiple instant messages, all at the same time. This is a normal way of life for millennials. If they find they don’t have a multitude of different tasks and separate goals to pursue each week, they could very easily become bored. And bored is not where you want your millennial employees to be.

Let them be tech-savvy

Millennials employees are electronically literate—they’re comfortable with computers, cellphones and social media. Take advantage of their knowledge for the betterment of your business. For example, you can capitalize on millennials’ affinity for networking. They aren’t just comfortable with teams and group activities; millennials actually enjoy electronically networking around the world. Because of their technology skills, millennials are sought-after employees, but understand that this skillset also lets them post their resumes to online job boards that are viewed by millions of employers. Millennials are loyal workers, but they will always keep their options open.

5 Ways To Build a Productive Remote Team

By Scott Vollero

Bob Dylan probably said it best in his iconic song “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Over the last decade, how we work and where we work has been a-changin’. Since 2005, the geography of the workplace has dramatically changed. People are working remotely—what we used to call “working from home”—more and more. In fact, the workforce of remote workers has increased by an incredible 80 percent. It has been estimated that approximately 43 percent of the entire U.S. workforce will be operating outside of the traditional office setting by the end of this year.

There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to using remote teams in your business. Remote teams give businesses a way to reduce costs and recruit top-level talent into vital positions. Working remotely can increase worker productivity and engagement. Too many companies, however, struggle to create a workflow model that fully captures the benefits of working with remote teams.

Building a productive, successful remote team isn’t as difficult as you may think. We’ve identified some of the best steps you can take to build your own productive and successful remote team.

Identify your business goals

Having clearly delineated goals drives accountability in your business, and unites and inspires your workers. As the old-timers are fond of saying, you cannot manage something when you cannot measure it. Despite knowing that delineated, measurable goals are imperative to a successful business, far too many continue to labor under business goals that are unclear.

Make clear, precisely stated goals the rallying cry of your remote teams. There should be no place in your stated goals for fancy business jargon or popular acronyms. Your stated goals need to be specific and measurable, with stated deadlines.

Know what every person should be doing

Once you have a clear goal in place, you can break it down into actionable assignments for your workers. Members need to know exactly what their tasks are and how they will contribute to the overall goal of the team. There should be guidelines in place that employees can reference on how to accomplish their assigned tasks.

Whatever management tool you utilize to measure your workflow, be sure it includes certain non-negotiable elements, such as time tracking, due dates for tasks and the project as a whole, allocation of staff and resources, and expectations for completion rates. Workers should have access to a comparative tool that allows them to view milestones for project tasks and the impact of each on project goals.

Utilize the right tools for your team

Technology can be a blessing or a curse when working with a remote team. The availability of productivity platforms and business-related apps is overwhelming. Unfortunately, they are not all created equal, nor are they all as helpful as they claim. By utilizing carefully selected and vetted tools, you can simplify your remote team’s workflow as well as reduce confusion and increase your team’s productivity.

Where possible, try to integrate your collaborative tasks and your team’s methods of communication into a common digital hub. Using fewer, more powerful tools can enrich your teamwork and provide an efficient way to allocate and save resources.

Get to know your remote workers

One of the downsides of working with remote teams is the lack of one-on-one interactions that are found in a traditional workplace. Remote teams give your workers freedom and flexibility but also put them at risk of isolation and a splintering of the team dynamic.

Workers may span the country or even the globe. They don’t get to huddle together around the coffee machine or brainstorm together over lunch. But there are ways to build and maintain a cohesive team without a face-to-face brunch once a month.

The team’s leader should touch base with members on a regular basis and make it clear that they can call on him or her at any time. Bring your employees into your inner circle, utilizing technology to get “face time” with each other on a regular basis. Make it clear that the team needs all its members functioning at peak levels in order to be successful.

Facilitate friendly relationships

A lack of personal relationships among team members can sometimes foster dissatisfaction. One of the pivotal goals of your project plan should be to provide a way for your team members to get to know each other on a more personal level. If possible, encourage collaboration outside of work hours, even meeting up offline when possible. Online, you can engage your team members in virtual board games or host digital happy hours.

Setting Out on Your Own? Don’t Neglect These 7 New Business Basics

Setting out in business for yourself? Good luck!

Just kidding… well, sort of. Starting a business is hard work, and it’s critical for established business people (and folks who have successfully exited and now enjoy the good life) to serve as mentors, role models and fonts of advice for those who come after them.

Happily, you don’t have to have a seasoned entrepreneur at your beck and call to learn from the best. If you’re hoping to learn all about new business basics, check out The New York Times’ helpful tips for new businesses and their intrepid owners. The most important to keep in mind include:

  1. Identify Your Customers

Every company needs customers. Clearly identifying your company’s customer base doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, but it’s a critical first step — and can be an early warning sign that things might not work out.

There are many ways to identify a customer base. If you’re entering a crowded market, simply look at the folks your competitors are targeting. If you’re playing in a more specialized niche, define and develop your product, determine the value it provides, and lay out the types of people (buyer personas) who’d be willing to pay for that value.

  1. Estimate Your Entry Costs

Business entry costs turn on numerous factors, many of them industry-specific. But you need to create as accurate an accounting of those costs as possible, or else you’ll find yourself short of cash right as you’re making your final push to market. Consider:

  • The cost of designing and prototyping your product or service
  • The cost of manufacturing or sourcing your initial inventory/SKUs, if applicable
  • The cost of hiring and training employees, if applicable
  • The cost of advertising, promotion and market-building
  • Buildout costs, if applicable
  • Overhead, such as rent and utilities
  • Logistical costs, including third-party fulfillment and transportation

Additionally, estimate your total time to revenue and profit. These timeframes are critical for determining the amount of cash you’ll need to have on hand and are essential if and when you look for startup financing.

  1. Analyze Your Competitors

Before you go into business, you need to know who’s already there. Conduct a competitive analysis of direct and indirect competitors — firms that offer similar or identical products and service in markets or verticals identical to or adjacent to yours. Learn as much as you can about their revenue and profit models, determining their strengths and weaknesses to the extent possible. And determine whether your competitors adequately serve their/your markets, or if there’s room for you to enter — either by acquiring their customers, growing the market’s overall customer pool, or creating a new market altogether.

  1. Make Sure Your Product or Idea Is Marketable

Will people actually buy what you’re selling? For entrepreneurs who’ve spent months or years working on an idea, this is the ultimate test. Hire a third-party firm to test your market or go the budget-friendly route and do your own research. Adjust your price points, change your approach, or scrap the whole thing as necessary.

  1. Create an Advantageous Legal Structure

Your business needs some sort of legal structure that keeps its assets separate from your personal possessions — a corporate veil, in industry parlance. Your personal situation, the nature of your business and the presence of other owners will determine the structure that works best for you. Common options include:

  • S-corporation: Also known as “pass-through” organizations, S-corps have some tax advantages and theoretically provide a liability shield for their owners. However, it’s critical for S-corp owners to strictly separate their personal and business finances or face grave liability risks.
  • Sole proprietorship and partnerships: These are cheap and easy to set up, but they come with a substantial liability downside that could hamper profitability.
  • Limited liability corporation: LLCs cost a bit more to set up, but they provide critical liability protection — which buyers may demand.
  1. Secure All Business-Critical Intellectual Property

Depending on the nature of your business, it’s possible that most or all of its practical value could be bound up in proprietary processes or technologies. To ensure that your intellectual property can’t be compromised by unscrupulous prospects or patent trolls, file patents for all of the technologies and processes you’ve acquired or developed in-house before selling anything.

  1. Explore Your Options for Raising Capital

Even if you’re not operating a particularly capital-intensive business, you’ll probably need to raise capital at some point, whether to get your firm off the ground, develop a new product, or expand into new markets. Traditional banks are usually cool to the idea of lending to unproven startups, so you’ll need to get creative. Common capital-raising options include:

  • SBA loans, though you’ll need to ensure that you meet occasionally byzantine eligibility requirements
  • “Friends and family” fundraising rounds, which come with strict rules on how you can offer shares
  • Crowdfunding, or offering non-equity consideration for small (usually online) donations from supporters
  • Equity crowdfunding, a relatively recent innovation that allows you to publicly offer shares to accredited and possibly non-accredited investors through regulated online platforms

Remember to Take a Breath

Many veteran business owners are quick to give another bit of advice that’s not so popular in rah-rah entrepreneurial circles: Don’t forget to take care of yourself as you take care of your business. Put another way, don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.

Running a business is hard work, but business owners who work themselves too hard risk burning out or getting caught in a self-defeating spiral of worry, doubt and fear. Working too hard can be bad for one’s physical health, too. You can’t run your business if you’re stuck in bed or laid up in the sick bay.

Ultimately, choosing to start a business is a personal decision with life-changing ramifications. If you’re worried that you’re not at the point in your life where you can handle the challenges and demands, don’t feel as if you’ve let yourself down. As the kids say these days, you’ve got to “do you.”