A healthy workplace is of utmost concern – now more so than ever. With the right business credit card, Dean Calhoun has helped keep employees safe for years.
As the world grapples with coronavirus, a healthy workplace is of utmost concern. Dean Calhoun, an American Board of Industrial Hygiene Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH), has been immersed in the process of keeping employees safe for decades.
Before launching Affygility Solutions in 2002, Calhoun was the associate director of environmental health and safety for Gilead Sciences, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company that develops pharmaceuticals for infectious, viral and oncology applications. Affygility Solutions provides occupational health and safety products and services to biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical device companies in 63 countries.
“I’m very passionate about this,” says Calhoun. “We are helping make workplaces throughout the world safe for the employees when they’re manufacturing important drugs. These compounds often have adverse health effects that the consumer can experience with one or two pills. Imagine what can happen during the manufacturing process when employees are handling much larger quantities. A lot of what we do is educational, such as teaching classes and giving guidance. Only five companies do what we do.”
Because of the company’s global presence, Calhoun needs to travel to far-flung destinations. One credit card ensures his ability to spread the word about safety, safely.
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What was the beginning of Affygility Solutions like?
Starting a business is the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life. There was a year when I never earned a dime. I paid my employees, but not me, and used up my savings.
It was an up and down roller coaster of emotions. You get a big project and you’re dancing in the streets, then the next day it’s all over. One client took six months to pay me.
Cash flow is the most important thing and I found that the bigger the company, the worse they are for slow payments. I wasn’t taught any of this stuff in college, so I had to learn by doing. People should know that starting is easy, but executing is hard.
Regarding projections, were there any expenses that were particularly pricy?
Healthcare insurance costs were and continue to be a big problem. As we started adding employees (we have 11 now), it became a significant expenditure. Oh, and worldwide liability insurance, too! I pay kidnapping and extortionist insurance. I’m in some very unstable and dangerous countries, so personal safety is important.
We needed good legal counsel, too. For this business, lawyers charge $600 to $800 an hour – but if you don’t have the right legal advice, you’ll make more costly mistakes. One of my early regrets is not getting better legal counsel to cover subcontractors. It hurt our bottom line for a while.
How have you been using credit cards for the business?
We use The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. This year alone, I traveled to nine different countries, so a great travel card is extremely important. I don’t like carrying cash, so I use the card for pretty much everything. Everyone takes it and it has no foreign transaction fees.
Since November, I’ve accumulated over 140,000 points – and I did it in part by adding employees to the account. This is a high-trust environment, so they all have a card.
The points go to my account and I can maximize the rewards this way. It’s great for my employees because they get access to the Centurion lounge, which is really nice. Other benefits are the $200 annual airline fee credit, free checked baggage and Wi-Fi.
I use the points for personal travel as well as business. I apply them to upgrade from economy to business. Sometimes I use them to buy Amazon gift cards and buy anything I want.
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What do you normally charge and how do you manage your account?
Everything goes on the American Express: subscriptions, travel and Microsoft. The Salesforce annual subscription alone is $10,000. You can get sticker shock when you get the bill, but it’s also a lot of points for that one purchase!
I’ve set the card up for automatic payments, and I’ve synced it with QuickBooks. I review the account every morning, and briefly scroll through to make sure everything is categorized correctly.
Right now, I don’t pay in full every month, but I do pay way more than the minimum. I try to keep the balance below a certain level. We’ve been doing extremely well in the past five years, so managing the account has been easier. It was hard for a while, since we were adding $20,000 in new charges to the account a month.
Any advice to entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
If you have a significant other, talk to that person – have a heart to heart. They’re your partner in this, too, and will see you stare at the ceiling hoping for a miracle.
You might be extremely depressed sometimes and then super excited. You may be working seven days a week, and then traveling.
They have to be willing to put up with your emotional roller coaster and crazy schedule.
What about borrowing money for the business?
I learned credit cards are different than lines of credit (which are usually secured with collateral). Banks aren’t always clear on that, and you may be personally responsible for the debt.
If your company goes bankrupt, they can come after your home. That’s scary. You never know if something is going to go really bad, and it may not be under your control. Read the agreements carefully because you have to be able to handle the risk.
Missed payments will really hurt you, so don’t be afraid to communicate with your creditors when things go wrong. For example, once I was expecting a big check from a client and they were late. I asked American Express for help. They did, so my credit was protected.
Always keep an eye on your balances and go through your statements every month, line item by line item. Mistakes and identity theft happen.
Someone once charged $1,000 worth of Beanie Babies and $600 in Prince tickets to my account! Thankfully American Express reversed those fraudulent charges.