CRAL’s Craig Zinserling walks the talk

By Tami Scott

Perseverance is a character strength that most entrepreneurs would agree you must embrace to accomplish your dreams. This virtue is one that Craig Zinserling developed years ago, initially through watching and learning from his parents, Jack and Marcia. He would observe how they handled life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – just by sitting around their kitchen table and witnessing how they faced their challenges with a great attitude.

“You’re never given too much that you can’t handle,” he said. “My parents brought me up that way and [I’ve] been able to adapt that into my life.”

Zinserling, who founded CRAL Contracting, Inc., is celebrating the company’s 18th anniversary this year as an indoor air quality specialist. The “acronym” CRAL comes from combining Zinserling and his wife’s first names together: Craig and Lori. It’s perfectly fitting, too, since the company’s backstory involves a collaborative effort between the couple to get it started.

“I’d always watched my father in his business endeavors, and I always aspired to have my own business,” said Zinserling, despite having worked his way up to a vice president relationship working for a national environmental contracting company. “My wife Lori – she would encourage me. We had many, many long discussions trying to figure out how to make that leap even though we had a mortgage, three kids, and a couple of car payments – how do you pay all that?”

They persisted and they made that leap but not without a multitude of sleepless nights, seven-day workweeks, and attending many of his son’s soccer games with laptop in tow. As the sole “employee,” Zinserling wore many hats, selling, managing, and actually doing all the jobs on his own.

“In the beginning, it was hard getting established, but we made it through and we were able to establish a foothold through relationships we had built here in Syracuse, having grown up here my entire life,” Zinserling added.

CRAL now has two locations – one in Syracuse and one about an hour and a half west of Syracuse, in Rochester. Zinserling said the second location was a natural fit as he and Lori had lived there for some time, too.

The relationships he’s built over time have played critical roles in the building of CRAL and where it is today. For instance, once CRAL was established, its first customer was Crucible Steel in Syracuse – and that was in large part due to connections he made and maintained.

“If I have a friend who has a tax business or a barber shop, I’m giving my friend business even if it’s more money. I want to support my friends and those relationships that I’ve developed for over 55 years in Syracuse,” Zinserling said. “It’s a small town and doing work right and treating clients well will follow you.”

Loyal customers and a good-standing reputation also mean publicity in the form of “word of mouth.” When the pandemic began, Zinserling feared the worst.

“I think with any business owner, there was complete panic. From a business standpoint, I was wondering if I’d lose everything,” he said. “How do you close a business down and have no [money] coming in, and not being able to pay people – how will we survive?”

As the saying goes, perseverance pays off. Office staff continued to come to work and “didn’t skip a beat,” he remarked. The team was able to complete the projects for which they were hired and “like manna from heaven,” Onondaga County called CRAL for work. The first testing site had been set up in the inner city, but it needed disinfecting and sanitizing, of which CRAL is the expert.

“Our crews [went in] on a daily basis with specialized equipment. They were in full PPE, and we had HEPA air cleaning devices spread out throughout their facility and we were disinfecting and sanitizing around the clock,” Zinserling said.

Soon after, this service branched out to private businesses as well as nursing homes throughout NYS and downstate into NYC. “The nursing homes weren’t set up for isolation and that’s what we do. We’re very good at engineering isolation containment and we would contain an entire wing of these nursing homes and put them under HEPA negative air pressure and disinfect and sanitize around the clock.”

Other than a few calls here and there from a private business or nursing home, Zinserling said that type of work is essentially over. Regular services, such as mold remediation, lead abatement, and asbestos abatement, can again take the lead in project acquisition.

Giving back

Zinserling remembers what it was like to find and rent office space when he was just a budding business owner himself. About six years ago, he began pursuing real estate to purchase and eventually found a building that was reasonably priced but had a large footprint – 22,000 square feet. “I don’t need that much space,” he said. 

So, he came up with an idea that stuck and worked. He set up that building, and another one that he acquired, to be incubators for young local, minority entrepreneurs. “They rent a simple office from us and a space for their startup business.”

He’s had several renters leave to buy their own real estate to work from and he said it’s so fun to watch. “It’s absolutely a joy for me to watch these young guys and gals pursue their dreams and be successful.”

Zinserling also sits on the board for David’s Refuge, a local charity that over the years has grown exponentially. The nonprofit provides respite and other support to parents and guardians of children with special needs or life-threatening medical conditions. Warren and Brenda Pfohl formed David’s Refuge in honor of their son to encourage parents to keep pressing on. David was diagnosed with and battled Batten Disease for thirteen years.

“Parenting and marriage are difficult enough under regular circumstances and on top of being a full-time caregiver, it’s extremely difficult,” Zinserling said. “They really saw the need for caring for the caregivers.”

The organization provides caregivers with respite weekends, putting them up in nice places that also support the local community. To learn more about David’s Refuge, visit

Zinserling’s steadfast spirit is a trait that, by the way he chooses to live his life, does not go unnoticed. And because he has a deep, personal, and meaningful sense of meeting life’s challenges with patience and perseverance, he wants to help those he works with daily to adopt that same attitude.

Now having grown a company to include up to 50 employees, professionally surviving a pandemic, and personally helping others through complicated life journeys, Zinserling is a stellar example of success.

And so are those who have helped him achieve his dreams.

“We have a core group of staff that has been here from nearly the inception. They are the backbone of the business,” Zinserling said. “Frankly, I am no longer needed. They are so talented and caring that they run the business.”

Are We Ready for 2023?

Pierre Morrisseau

We have certainly been living through interesting times these past few years. Leadership has faced numerous challenges—some “once in a hundred years” events. Still, I am happy to report that the vast majority of our clients have thrived as they turned up their creativity and ingenuity, leaned their businesses, and opened their minds to new ways of operating. But as we all know; our work is never done. Change is the only constant, and leaders are looking cautiously toward 2023.

In a recent Gartner CEO and Senior Business Executive Survey, leadership’s greatest focus for 2023 boiled down to four “P’s”: People, Purpose, Prices and Productivity. I would agree and over the past year, we at OneGroup have doubled down in these areas as well as investing heavily in new technologies to increase our productivity and effectiveness in serving our clients in the new hybrid work environment.

While growth has always been the leading priority for any company to survive and thrive, we’re seeing from research and across our large client base, that there has been a dramatic shift in thinking toward the human capital that makes sustained growth possible. Our focus, like many others, has been on finding superior talent with superior work ethic. We have increased our training capabilities to ensure our employees have a clear path to growth and success with our company. We have organized our thinking and operations to recognize where an employee’s true talents and passion lie in order to maximize both retention and productivity. We have also focused intently on our workforce diversity and inclusion to allow us to take advantage of the broadest array of views. We feel strongly that these changes are allowing us to build a strong culture with a deep sense of purpose.

By way of disclaimer, as an engineer by education, I had always leaned toward data and process. Measuring data as gathered—a snapshot of time—allowed us to track our progress and amend our processes. However, limited our thinking to what “was” and prevented us from seeing what “could be” if we allowed for more flexibility and creativity within our workforce. I am very pleased to report that the results have been impressive. We certainly continue to capture and review data, but we now focus equally on how we can remove barriers to productivity and innovation. I believe this is creating a place that is more rewarding for employees and leading to better growth for our company.

Finally, the more troubling “P”—Prices—is a concern every leader is watching closely going into 2023. The Gartner survey showed that 62% of CEOs reported that inflation was expected to be high and to persist over the long term.

In our industry, we have been seeing steady increases in insurance premiums. There are many causes including higher overall prices for homes, automobiles, and repairs as well as increased risk in many areas including environmental, cyber-attacks, and supply chain woes to name a few. We see this putting a strain on business and draining dollars that could be deployed to increase productivity and growth. To combat insurance price volatility, we have expanded our risk analysis team, focus on identifying cost drivers and utilize our team of experts to find better solution. We also leverage our scale to offer clients more carrier options.  

Given all of the challenges we each share in our own industries, CEOs are an optimistic bunch. The latest Chief Executive CEO Confidence Index showed that CEO optimism soared 14% to nearly 6 in 10 believe that by this time next year, the country will be well into recovery. I, too, am confident that our work today will contribute mightily to our success in 2023.

I would love to hear your views and what you are navigating change. As always, I am happy to share what we are doing to grow our business.

Operational Excellence: A Journey

By: James A. D’Agostino, CEO, MEP Center Director

As its name implies, continuous improvement is a never-ending process. Whether it is the need for greater sales, increased productivity, or anything in between, there is always something that can be improved upon. Continuous improvement can occur as a major event or transformation such as a Kaizen event, or it can occur through daily, gradual improvements with a Kata approach. When organizations realize successes with these continual improvement efforts, many will claim to have achieved some degree of operational excellence. But what is operational excellence, and what does a manufacturing organization look like once it achieves a level of operational excellence?

Operational excellence does not have a singular definition that is universally agreed upon, nor should it. Every company is different, so operational excellence may mean different things. Companies measure performance and success differently, and many also have different operational goals and objectives. Operational excellence is a mindset that embraces certain principles and tools to create sustainable improvements within organizations, and it is achieved when every member of an organization can see the flow of value to the customer. Employees should actively try to improve both the value and its delivery. However, from a high level, operational excellence can be broadly defined through the following core principles:

  • Focus on the Process: When mistakes happen, the natural human reaction is to blame the operator. Deming, anyone? However, when we take a moment to analyze the issue, we should question why the process allowed the operator to perform in the manner that resulted in the mistake. We should strive to assess what part of the process the error occurred in, and then make the necessary process changes to try to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Promote Scientific Thinking: As we discussed recently with the subject of Toyota Kata, innovation comes from rapid experimentation and learning. By systematically exploring new ideas, an organization will encourage employees to do the same without fear of failure.
  • Emphasis on Value Streams and Systematic Thinking: Organizations must fully understand customer needs to create value (i.e., what customers are willing to pay for). Organizations that stop delivering customer value are not sustainable over time. In addition, systems contain many different interconnected parts that work together. It is critically important to understand relationships between each part to ultimately make better decisions that will positively impact customer value.
  • Flow and Pull: The goal of every organization should be to provide the utmost value to its customers. Interruptions and work stoppages create inefficiencies (i.e., waste), so organizations should ensure that processes and workflows are continuous. Hand-offs from one operation to the next should be crisp and tight.
  • Quality at the Source: Excellent quality can only be achieved when every part of the process is completed correctly. Workstations and processes should be structured and organized to allow potential problems to become visible immediately. When mistakes occur (and they will), work should be stopped immediately to correct the mistake before continuing, and time should be taken to understand what was learned by the mistake.
  • Respect All Individuals and Lead with Humility: Respect is a two-way street. One of the best ways to demonstrate respect for your employees is by involving them in continuous improvement efforts, especially those that affect them. This will lead to empowerment and greater engagement. Leaders should always seek to exercise humility, which involves a willingness to listen. Good leaders should also always give credit where credit is due.
  • Aim High: While perfection may feel unattainable, that does not mean that an organization should not strive for it anyway. By setting lofty goals and expectations, an organization creates a different mindset and culture.
  • Clear and Consistent Goals and Communication: Employees should continually understand and be aware of the goals and objectives of the organization, along with their progress towards meeting them. This will keep the organization aligned in its purpose from top to bottom.

Overall, operational excellence is not just about reducing costs or increasing productivity in the workplace. It is about creating a vibrant company culture that will allow you to produce valuable products and services for your customers and achieve long-term sustainable growth. Operational excellence is a journey that involves applying the right tools to the right processes at the right time. When this happens successfully, the ideal work culture is created where employees are provided for in a way that enables them to stay empowered and motivated.

Does your organization look and perform like this already? If so, job well done – you can pat yourself on the back! If not, do not fret. TDO’s team is fully certified to help manufacturers define and achieve operational excellence at all levels. Reach out today to learn more and schedule a free consultation!


By Jason D. Nickerson

The topic for this article came through a request that focused on Medicaid. However, I decided to expand the topic to include Long Term Care Planning because this is an extremely robust topic, as you will see.  The question that serves as the title of this piece illustrates how much confusion lies in this area of Wealth Management.

Let’s start with the ominous “They”.  Who are “They” and why are they taking people’s homes?  How does this link to me getting older and not having the ability to take care of myself?  While this is a very common concern, no one is in fact going to come and take your home.  This is a myth – that when you are unable to care for yourself, someone will show up, kick you out, and take ownership as payment.  This does not happen.

Instead, Long-Term Care generally happens in 3 phases:

  1. In-Home Care: Most people prefer to stay in their own home if they can by hiring people to come in part-time and help with daily activities.  There are two ways to pay for this: out of pocket or insurance. 

2.      Assisted Living: A location that people rent that includes some level of help with daily activities and onsite medical treatment.  Again, paid for out of pocket or with insurance.

3.      Nursing Home:  This is the level of care needed when you cannot be alone or need help with just about any daily activities.  There are three ways to pay for this: out of pocket, insurance, or Medicaid (also a form of insurance).

Medicaid pays for nursing home care when people cannot pay for it themselves or don’t have long term care insurance.  As stated earlier, they do not come to take your home.  Medicaid is not looking to be a real estate investor.  Rather, the value of your home can be factored into the assessment of your ability to pay for your care through assets and income.

Before we go much further, this is not an article about how to make yourself look “poor” to qualify for Medicaid.  There is a great debate over the ethics of these efforts and we will leave that discussion for another article.

The common questions we get asked are “What can I do to protect my house from the nursing home?” or “Do I need Long Term Care Insurance?”  At John G. Ullman and Associates, we enter these conversations with clients by asking one simple question (after preparing a detailed personal net worth statement); “Do you want to protect any of your assets for your heirs?”  If the answer is yes, then we need to discuss the different forms of insurance that may be available.  If the answer is no, then that is usually the answer for whether insurance is needed.

We then go on to one of the great philosophical statements: In order to get something, you have to give something up.  I believe the root of this should be credited to author David Levithan, different words, same meaning.

If you want to protect your assets, you can either spend money on insurance, or give it away to your heirs now (with no future benefit coming back to you).  If you give it away now, it’s not yours.  The protection you seek may not deliver what you would want for yourself for care going forward.  If you want top-notch care, you will need to give up some level of protection of assets for heirs and use it instead to pay for insurance and/or your care.

As this topic is extremely robust, my goal was to present a mental model for approaching it with your advisor, be it financial or legal, rather than lay out specific strategies.  That could take up a single volume of this publication all its own.  If you do not have a professional you are working with and need to on this topic, please contact us for a non-commercial (meaning free and we won’t sell you anything) discussion and we can get you started down a good path. 

So will “They” take your home? No, but you should still be preparing for future health care costs. It is not an enjoyable topic to consider or discuss, but you should not just table it for the future because the future might arrive sooner than you expect. You have options; take the time to explore them. In the end, whether you want to protect assets by using long-term care insurance or prefer to spend your own money is a choice entirely up to you. 

David’s Refuge, Pierre Morrisseau, and the Pineview Run Celebrity Challenge

By Christine Corbett, Director of Philanthropy, David’s Refuge

David’s Refuge is a growing local non-profit with a unique mission to provide respite, resources and support to parents and guardians of children with special needs or life-threatening illnesses in an effort to combat caregiver burnout.  They do this through an array of Respite, Wellness and Community programs which remind caregivers they are not alone, what they do matters, and that God and this community loves them.

In 2021, when planning for a unique event at Pineview Run & Country Club, Pierre Morrisseau, CEO of OneGroup wanted to include a charity component, and reached out to the team at David’s Refuge to explore the idea. When asked where the idea came from Pierre shared “I joined Pineview and realized quickly how great it is to have this right in our backyard.  The club really focuses on family fun and I think more people need to enjoy the sport of driving on a track. I’ve supported David’s Refuge for a long time and knew David personally.  It’s an organization that is focused on supporting families, so I thought why not put the two together?”

At that point, The Pineview Run Celebrity Challenge was born, with local friends signing up to be trained on driving the 1.1-mile racetrack, with a light-hearted race day scheduled for 1 month later.  During that month, drivers would raise at least $1,000 to support the mission of David’s Refuge.  As a competitive advantage, for every $1,000 that drivers raise, one tenth of a second is taken off their final track time. This means that the slowest drivers still have a great chance of winning the race and claiming bragging rights for the year.

Pierre is not just the brainchild of this event, but he is also a celebrity driver.  When asked why he chose to drive in the Pineview Run Celebrity Challenge, Pierre shared “It is a tremendous organization.  I have witnessed firsthand the relief, joy and satisfaction this mission brings to caregivers.  The rejuvenation it gives so that parents can bring that energy back to those they care for. It’s a gift that’s so important to give.” Pierre has succeeded in raising more than $14,000 for his races, all while introducing new friends to the mission of David’s Refuge.

The last two years have featured 24 amazing local “celebrities” in total and generated more than $75,000 in support of caregivers.

The 2023 Pineview Run Celebrity Challenge will take place in the Spring, if you are interested in joining as a celebrity driver, please contact Christine Corbett, Director of Philanthropy at David’s Refuge, at

Who Advocates for the Construction Industry?

Earl R. Hall, Executive Director – Syracuse Builders Exchange

Politicians.  Lobbyists.  Elected officials.  Legislation.  Laws.  Regulations.  Do those words generate a positive or negative connotation?  While answers will vary depending on individual circumstances or experiences, one thing is for sure:  They all impact how the construction industry functions and influence decisions of construction industry employers. The Syracuse Builders Exchange chooses to advocate and educate in an effort to support a position which is most advantageous to the industry.

Advocacy efforts happen every day, either by special interest groups, lobbyists or the general public, in an effort to influence politicians or policy makers.  But who is representing the interest of the construction industry in both Washington, D.C. and in Albany?  The answer depends on the position of subject matter and how much money one has to hire lobbyists to deliver a persuasive argument as to why legislation should be supported or opposed. 

Although some construction industry Associations have lobbyists, many local construction industry Associations and state-wide Associations do not.  In both cases, however, there is a coalition of industry Associations which generally work collaboratively in an effort to identify items of mutual importance to the industry, and then develop a strategy to advocate a position that the various organizations can agree with. 

Examples of advocacy provided by construction industry Associations may include:

  • Meeting with local and state elected officials in an effort to directly deliver a position of support or opposition, (example – Assemblyman Al Stirpe in central New York).
  • Meeting with appointed officials to mitigate or resolve issues impacting employers and/or the industry (example – Shaun McCready, NYS Department of Labor Director of Public Work).
  • Collaborating with like-minded Associations to deliver a “strength in numbers” campaign, supporting or opposing pending legislation, or urging the Governor to veto potential legislation (example – Associated General Contractors of NYS, Builders Exchange of Buffalo & Western NY, Eastern Contractors Association, Building Industry Employers of NYS, etc.).
  • Working with lobbyists to create positions of strength in an effort to effectuate change or educate (example -Hill, Gosdeck & McGraw, LLC).
  • Working with staff of elected officials to resolve industry issues or advocate for a position (example – Senator Charles Schumer).

While the Syracuse Builders Exchange does not have a lobbyist, nor do we pay for lobbying services, the Association does advocate for construction industry employers and the industry in general.  Representing the interests of the industry is critical in defending our industry from poor legislation, governance or regulations derived in Washington, D.C. or Albany.  And while many Associations do not have the financial resources to compete with special interest groups, the Syracuse Builders Exchange will continue to partner with like-minded construction industries Associations in an effort to educate elected officials on issues of importance and to advocate for our employers and the industry in general.