JIM WASZAK: Mohammed is a very interesting fellow who has done a lot of different things. He’s owned five different businesses; he was at one point a news anchor in Houston; and is now focused on a company called Center for Strategic Solutions. The real mission of it is to get people back to work create more jobs in the States. He has worked on reshoring programs, which is bringing items back into our country to manufacture, and has become in this process kind of a guru of knowing about government programs that can actually help companies.
Often we hear the worst thing that can happen is somebody walks in your door and says, “Hey. I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” We joke about that, and there certainly are enough things the government does to get in the way of small business owners, but there are some things that the government actually can do to help. So, Mohammed, why don’t you give us -- What drove you into this work?
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Thank you for bringing me on here. What brought me to this -- Long story short, it was purely by accident. What brought me into business was by accident. I was working with Fisher Scientific for their light signals, Fisher Scientific division. Three years out of college worked with them in the Middle East, came back to the country, got married. My wife didn’t want to go back to Saudi Arabia, so we stayed over here. First year in Chicago had a head on collision with an 18 wheeler. You talk about getting a kick in the behind. I was basically paralyzed and couldn’t walk for two years after that.
So that is what took me to Houston. I tell people most of time that was the best thing that could have happened. That got me on the path that I am on now, and that got all those businesses quote/unquote “started.” Moved to Houston to get into rehab, warm climate, and everything. My uncle was there. He got me into a small clinical practice.
A couple of weeks into that I’m lying around, and I see a lot of empty space in this. So the doctors are coming out and checking up on me, and I casually said, “Hey, doc. Who does your marketing for you?”
And they said, “No. We don’t have anybody who does marketing. What do you know about marketing?”
“Well, I got a little background in marketing.” We started chatting.
They said, “Man, while you’re undergoing treatment with us, do you mind helping us out with some marketing?”
That’s how I got my first business started. I had absolutely no idea. I like to tell people this -- that there’s so many opportunities, especially -- I was here as an immigrant, not too many connections and stuff, didn’t grow up in this country. So they called their accountant over, and he said, “How much money do you have in your pocket?”
I say, “I got $20.00.”
He says, “Can you give me $5.00?”
I said, “Yeah, but I don’t know what you want to do with it.”
He said, “Well, I’m going to go down to Harris County. And I’m going to get you papers for a DBA.”
I’m like, “What is a DBA?”
“We can’t write a check to you as an individual. You got to have a company in order for us to hire you as a contract employee.” Contract. So we went and got the papers.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: $5.00, huh?
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: $5.00.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: It’s a little bit more expensive in especially Cook County.
JIM WASZAK: He wasn’t using O’Flaherty Law either.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: The point that I try to make to people is sometimes you are always thinking of doing things, and sometimes God has a way of making you do things, right? You got to jump in, especially as a new business. So we started this business called American Business Consultants because the accountant said, “You got to have a company that starts with A. Give me some choices.” Those are the days of the Yellow Pages, probably before you were born.
JIM WASZAK: You used to sit on them to eat breakfast. They put them on the chair.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: So that’s how American Business Consultants got started. It took me a couple of years, started walking around, and being as still as I could for 20 years after the accident. I just got better. That lead to a couple of other businesses. It was the recession in Houston in those days. The government had founded an organization called the Resolution of First Operations. I don’t know if you guys have heard of that or not.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: No, not really.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: They were liquidating properties. I managed to get my hands on a couple of buildings, which I think eight units had showed up there. They had to be rehabbed. While I was in rehab, I said, “I think I can do this myself.”
I became the general contractor, launched a company called Word of Mouth Construction Company. Now, while that is happening, American Business Consultants is going on I’m giving you some background so you can understand the depth of--
JIM WASZAK: It’s interesting.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: And then there’s a National Association of the Remodeling Industry. What is it? NARI. It’s here in in the Chicagoland area. I became a member of that. One day I casually said, “Guys, we need to have a radio program to promote our services.” My masters is communications and journalism. I also have a masters in psychology to impress people. He says, “You’ve got the background: You start it.” We started our running our show on Saturdays all day. I was getting free publicity. I was hosting it. That kind of developed into two hours, three hours, four hours Saturdays, four hours on Sunday. We were covering all types of topics from getting attorneys on, articles on, business people. Basically, blasting away at how we succeed in life.
Then the Seal of Communications came to hear about that and offered me an opportunity to launch the International News hour, producer/actor of the Houston market. That’s where the news anchoring part came in.
Now I’m working 24/7. A friend comes in and says, “You heard about Internet?”
I go, “Inter-what?”
“Well there’s a new thing coming in, and you said you have the marketing smarts. I know computers. Let’s come together and start something.”
So we started a company called Web Houston International, and we built it up into a powerhouse in the Houston market. One time, Time Warner Communications in Houston¬ posted our clients. Yeah, we got them on the Internet.
Eventually, I sold all that, and moved to Chicago in 2001. I was 46, 47, and my goal was to retire when I was 46. My wife’s family’s here, and they were having major health issues. Mother-in-law had cancer; father-in-law has strokes. So it was an ultimatum. My wife said either we move, or I move. So the boss made the decision. We moved over here. Couple of years, I did nothing, traveled, have fun. But, again, God has ways of pointing you in directions.
I had cataracts in both eyes. I can’t even see now. I had 10% left in one eye; one eye was totally blind. Showed it to a doctor. She said “You’re not going to drive; you’re not going to do anything; you’re going to sit at home until you get this surgery done.” I’m always hyper, typical Aries personality. I was bouncing off the wall. I get opportunities come.
My son, who’s now an attorney, he was going to Harper College, and in the evenings he was working at Marshall Field’s setting woman’s shoes. Anyway, my son comes home one day and says, “Dad, please do me a favor: Get out of the house. Do something.”
“Man, what do you want me to do.”
“Well, why don’t you come to Marshall Fields?”
I’m like, “Yeah, but I can’t do anything. I cannot be a consultant. I cannot be on the computers.”
“No, no, no. We’re not talking of those things, Dad. Why don’t you work on the floor of Marshall Field’s?”
I’m like, “Are you nuts? I had my own fan club in Houston. Two people would wait for autographs.”
He’s like, “Well, that was Houston. No one knows you over here. You’re just another Indian walking around the roads now.”
Tried my best to not do the job. I went in; I was not shaven; I had Indian spices coming out my clothes; I did not want that job. They called me up after I filled out the application downstairs and said when do you start? $8.15 per hour. This was the Marshall Field’s in Woodfield Mall. We lived in Hoffman Estates.
Man, first two weeks now. My son is taking me to work. He had scheduled us to where we could drive together two or three days in the evening. I was so afraid that someone would recognize me. I went up to the manager, and I said, “What do you want me to do?”
“Well, you want to work in the men’s clothing section.”
And I go and clean out the stalls and just fold the clothes. I don’t want to be at the register where people will come and see me. Couple of weeks went by like that, guys, and I’m like no one’s really noticing who the heck I am, so what should I care.
I started getting on the front register. That was the best job I have had in my life.
JIM WASZAK: Really?
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Honest. Enjoyed it so much. First off, I made a killer wardrobe, okay? So then you made all the sales. So a couple of months into it, they promoted me into commission sales, okay? I still hold the record of opening the most new accounts of any associate in Marshall Field’s. 640 accounts in the 8 months that I was there.
JIM WASZAK: Wow. That’s unbelievable.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Loved it. But now one day I’m standing over there, and I’m totally comfortable on the floor; I own it. Friend of mine walks in, looks at me, and goes, “Mohammed, is that you?”
JIM WASZAK: So it finally did happen?
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: I’ve been looking for this guy since I moved from Houston. His name is Paul Portillo. Paul used to be with the Schaumburg Police Department. And he was the first social worker hired by a police department. So Paul had retired, and he walks in with his wife shopping, gives me a big bear hug -- big guy-- and says, “Man, you finally lost everything in life? You’re working at Marshall Field’s?”
I’m like, “No, Paul. I’m enjoying this until I get my eye surgery done, and I’m not allowed to drive. I’m just passing the time having fun meeting people.”
He said, “What are you doing tomorrow?”
I said, “Tomorrow? I don’t have anything on my schedule. I don’t have a schedule anymore.”
He said, “I’m going to come home and pick you up and take you with me.”
So Paul comes home now, picks me up, and he drives us to an unemployment office. He had another gentleman with him that Paul was helping to file his claim. And we walk in, and we see all these resources there for employers, for job seekers, and my ears pricked up. I’m like how come no one has told anyone about this? Asked the secretary, “Who’s the manager of this place?” So, she points me to a particular room.
“There’s the manager.” We go, and we walk in the door.
“How come you got all this no one knows about these resources who does your marketing for you?” My favorite question.
He says, “Well, this is a state agency. We don’t have a marketing department.”
Now, Paul and I are driving back and Paul switches the radio on and it goes to 560 WIND. They had just changed formats from Spanish music to English talk. There were saying we would love to have new programs, and we are in Arlington Heights. I said, “Paul, swing around. Let’s talk to these guys.”
Paul said, “Yeah, man, with your background in radio and everything why don’t you launch a radio show to talk about these resources?”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
To make a long story short, we ended up launching a TV show because radio was too expensive for us, and we went on cable television to launch a show called Apartment Hour. If you Google it, some of the old shows are there. We didn’t know what we are doing, absolutely no idea. But we brought in employers; we brought in people who have succeeded against all odds, people who are job seekers. We brought in resources and started talking about what is out there. A couple of weeks later after three months in the show. I get a call saying, “We’d like you to join our team in the state office over there.” That is how I ended up in that office. Talk about best way to get the job --
JIM WASZAK: So your advice is try not to get the job, right? Things work out. To Kevin’s point to getting on topic, so that’s great. What are some of the things employers should be looking at in terms of where they can get help in one form of another from the government?
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: First off, let me put it this way. The government is not some aliens coming in from outer space. The government is you and me, we make the government.
The resources are phenomenal that the government has. Unfortunately, they suck at marketing. They feel that, “Okay, we got the programs. People will come to us.” There’s absolutely no awareness all. All these government servants that are out there are supposed to be people servants. They are there for their paycheck. They couldn’t care to make a difference. I started noticing that. So much out there that our tax dollars have paid for: that is either being misused or not used at all.
Especially now, from the business point of view, you have two things: You want to grow your business, and in order to grow your business you need to have the right people to work there. I like to tell people on the job seeker side -- I tell them what is a business? It is not investors; it is not the management; it is the people who make a profit for their business that make a business run. You got to have the productive employees, right? Without the employees you don’t have a business. With things constantly changing, technologies changing, you have to keep your crew trained on what is happening, what is coming down the pike. These are some federal programs. There may be some state programs also. I’m going to focus on a couple of programs today for the purpose of this discussion. If people want more information, they can always call us; they can always contact us, and we’ll be happy to. We’ll be happy to assist them. The program called the WIOA program, Workforce Investment Opportunity’s Act. It used to be the Workforce Investment Act, the WIA, a couple years back, then some smart person said, “We need to justify our existence to this system, so we’re going to rename it.” Basically the same darn program with a couple of new bills in business.
So the WIOA program has got couple of sides to it. One is focus on the job seeker, and the other is focus on the employer. The job seekers now who are being laid off, collecting unemployment, or facing some other barriers to employment like little family income and all that, or youth trying to come into the job market -- There are different grants available. These are called the 1V grant. It is for dislocated workers. 1A is for adults with barriers to employment, family income, all kinds of stuff. 1Y is for youth. Once people go to that grant, we started noticing that employers were telling us -- My job was to make sure employers got productive employees, and these people who are getting training at the end of the day -- the state would come back and ask us how many people got training? how many people got a job as a result of that training? if you don’t have a job, then the whole money is wasted right? We started noticing that employers were coming to us. They’ll say, “Yeah, fine. He got a piece of paper. She got a piece of paper. They don’t have any work experience, so we can’t hire them. We aren’t going to babysit them.”
We made a few suggestions. There was a grant that, for a long time back, it was a grant for on the job training that for some reason or the other was taken off the table. That was brought back about three years back now, four years back. That has been brought back to where an employer now can get a grant up to $10,000 in the Cook County area. These grants are driven by counties also. Cook County has a slightly different program; Will County will have a different program; DuPage county will have a different program. But with an employer, all you got to do is find out where your Workforce or workNet Center is. Reach out to them, and they will be happy to assist you.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So when you say a Workforce Center, would that be Googling DuPage Workforce Center, or --
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Absolutely. DuPage Center workNet.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: workNet?
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: The statewide branding now is workNet.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: workNet?
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Yeah. They went through multiple brandings at one time. The IETC, the prominent training center, the one-stop center. It happened during governors Blago’s governorship that the entire Workforce system was workNet or just branded as workNet.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: You can call them up and basically say, “I’m an employer; I’m looking to find out what grants are available.” Is that the best route to bring this to your attention, or should they start to you instead?
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: We would be happy to help, because it’s kind of difficult -- If you call the Arlington Heights unemployment office -- For example, it’s called the one stop center because it’s a combination of eight agencies over there. We have the Workforce, the workNet center there, which is run by business and career services, and then IDES is there -- Illinois Department of Employment Security -- the DHS, DRS, all of those, Harper College, CILA, all of those organizations.
There’s about eight different organizations that make up the work center in Arlington Heights. Skokie has a different service provider. National Able is doing the service providing over there. You got in Cook County you have about 48 different service providers now under the workNet branch one company. DuPage County the workNet office is in Lisle. So, I would be happy to connect any of the viewers any of the listeners with the right career resources.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So when you’re thinking about these grants, it’s basically if you hire the right type of person in conjunction with applying for one of these grants, you might be able to get some money back. So if I hire somebody that needs on the job training and I’m willing to provide it, I might be able to get $10,000.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Absolutely. Now, there are a few wrinkles to this. You cannot fire and hire someone in their place. That is the most important thing: You can’t let someone go and bring someone in under this program.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: I assume you have to keep the person you’re hiring employed for a certain amount of time.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Not necessarily. If they don’t work out, they don’t work out. There’s no force. But it would be in your best interest to work with them. Normally in Cook County the way the program is being run for the first six months -- The grant would pick up to 60% of the person’s salary to a maximum of $10,000. That’s a huge chunk of money.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: That’s where it incentivizes you to keep them on.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Absolutely. Okay. You do the preliminary interviews, and all that, and see if they have what it takes to be a good team member, then you take it from there.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Is there a ton of paperwork?
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Hardly any.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Really.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Honestly, the paperwork is so minimal. It used to be an application this thick. We’ve narrowed it down to where it’s maybe like a two- or three-page application.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: You submit before the hire has happened or after the hire has happened?
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Before the hire.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: And so you get approval before you hire.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: It is very important you get the approval before hiring someone. Normally, you call the workNet Center, and you say, “Hey, I got this job. Have you got a client with the required training or the skills?”
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: They’ll even put you in touch with the –
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Absolutely. Because a lot of the people who are collecting unemployment, who are coming to these centers, and they are getting the grants, they’re getting training, or if an employer is -- You have interviewed someone, and you found someone through XYZ sources. You can call these centers up and say, “I’m planning on hiring Kevin. Here is his background. Do you think he would qualify for the grant? That is called a reverse referral.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: This sounds almost too good to be true because you pay a staffing agency to find people for you, and you’re paying 50% of their salary to the staffing agency. You can go to workNet; they’ll find you somebody; and they’ll pay for part of their salary.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Unimaginable. That’s what I’m saying, guys.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: They do have terrible marketing.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: How come people don’t know about this? We don’t have a marketing budget. That has become a passion of mine -- is to take this information to where -- I’ve seen grownups come and sit down and cry that, “I’m at the bottom of my rope; I’ve been unemployed for so long; I’m not finding a job.” Then there’s this huge disconnect out in the market, but there’s skills shortage.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: As an employer, we always hear no one can find a job, then we can’t find employees when we’re trying to hire.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: There you go. So the program that we have developed -- We’re the center for strategic solutions, again -- is to bridge that gap. Job search itself is a skill that needs to be relearned. No one is teaching that. No school is teaching that. I’m sorry. No center is teaching that. No church is teaching that. No work force department is teaching that. They’re all following what color is my parachute. Who the heck cares. What I care about is that parachute functioning or not when I check out the plane. There’s that one program for employers. Flipping back a little bit, if you hire a worker -- Do you know how much tax credits you can get for hiring a worker?
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: No.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Between state and federal programs, about $17,500. The numbers might change a little bit, but I’m talking of current knowledge that I have at this point.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Is this something you do through work net too or is this a different program?
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: You would go to the Department of Employment Security, Department of Labor, or those things. There is a program called that WOTSC program. Work Opportunity Tax Credit -- Have you heard about that?
JIM WASZAK: I don’t think so.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Man…
JIM WASZAK: And partly because I haven’t been in the position of hiring.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: No, but it’s not just you. I have spoke with hundreds of employers in my database. I started a lot of crazy stuff with workNet, and they allowed me to do it. I started, for example, the first email newsletter program. They didn’t even have that. I completely redesigned their website for if you look at the workNet NCC Cook County website, I was the guy who resigned it, because with my web background. We won an award for the best website redesign in Illinois. The golden “something” award from the Publicity Club of Chicago. The bottom line is this -- You have the Working Opportunity Credit Acts that people don’t know about up to $17,500.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: I’ve hired a lot of people, and this is never on my radar. You as a resource -- People can call you and say, “I’m looking to hire this type of position. Where should I go?” Who should I be in touch with, and you can facilitate that?
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: I would be happy to facilitate that. We started this whole thing in April of this year. I had 30 people come in in the first hour of interviews to join the team. This was in Schaumburg Library, and we had an info session there. I said, “How many of you want to make money?” and all hands went up. “Okay, there’s the door: Walk out. How many of you want to make money while making a difference in people’s lives?” Out of the 30, we have taken 12 people on. They are undergoing some training at this point -- how to present our programs to jobseekers and employers. Our team is building up. They’ll be happy to help any employer anywhere. We can do it virtually; we can do it physically; we can go and talk to them.
JIM WASZAK: This is a fascinating discussion, but in trying to keep within somewhere close to our time frame --
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Cut the first half an hour -- all that background thing. Cut it off.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Unfortunately, we don’t have the editing capabilities, but it was really an interesting story. I didn’t want to interrupt you.
JIM WASZAK: I think a lot of times the people who come here from other countries -- They see the opportunities that the natives don’t because they’re used to being too comfortable.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: I was in a conference meeting the other day, and said, “The first generation makes the money, earns the money; the second generation has no idea how much; and the third generation burns the money.” But there’s a third program I want to bring to the table -- the state treasurer’s office. You know they have money for businesses to expand and grow?
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Did not know that either.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: That has nothing to do with the state’s budget. There’s a separate line item for that. You can go and talk to them. They come in, and they can guarantee the loan that you will be getting from the SBA. They can buy you a better rate of interest, and this is for business expansion if you want to add capacity.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Is that something you facilitate too?
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Absolutely.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So how does the Center for Strategic Solutions -- How do you guys get paid? If I call you up and you help with this, do you take a cut of the salary of the person I hire? How does that work?
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: That is something that is under review at this point, because we are not a staffing agency. Even after I left workNet, my relationship is very strong. In fact, they let me go on one condition -- that I should still have my office over there. So I’m keeping the office that I had in the beginning, and I was talking with my former boss about it. He said it’s a free government program, and you point people in that direction. Technically, if you make money off it, it would not be ethical. I said, “How would you advise me to do it?”
He said, “People can hire you, and they can put you on a retainer, You’re not getting a percentage of what you would get, but we could definitely guide you. You get the grant up to -- You don’t get 20% of the grant because that would be unethical.
There are so many other programs. I just mentioned a couple to you. There is another program to the federal grants program which is geared towards lay off awareness. If you have a bunch of employees -- and you are upgrading your systems for example -- and these employees don’t have the skills for those systems that you’re bringing in, instead of laying them off and hiring new people, you can partner with the government to provide training for your existing workforce.
JIM WASZAK: Like retraining more or less.
MOHAMMED FAHEEM: Retraining. The state picks up 50% of the cost. There are training programs available. There are trainers available. You decide what program you want to. Like you said you’re up grading your software system, right? You decide what program you’re going with; we can find you the trainer; we can connect you with this incumbent worker training program -- That’s what it’s known as. Your 50% contribution would be the salary that you’re paying to the employees, the space you’re providing for the training. You don’t even have to even put cash on the part.
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Kevin owns O’Flaherty Law, a general practice law firm with locations in Downers Grove, Elmhurst, and Naperville, Illinois. O'Flaherty Law's attorneys have expertise in many areas of law including but not limited to divorce and family law; civil litigation; estate planning; business and corporate representation; commercial and residential real estate law; elder services, probate and guardianship; immigration; bankruptcy law; and dui, traffic and criminal defense.
Jim owns Success Enhancement, Inc., which is geared toward helping you solve management problems in a way that is fun and engaging by using improv comedy techniques and role plays.
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