Dennis Seeds

Rick L. Hull liked the world of a small community bank, where he had lots of individual loan authority and was able to interact with clients. The problem was he was the CEO of a large regional bank and just wasn’t happy in what was not a kinder, gentler world.

So he hooked up with a private equity firm and struck a deal to acquire a woe-begotten bank so he could breathe new life into it. And after 18 months, regulators declared the bank safe and sound (although Hull had hoped for about a 12-month time span).

“I really just had to follow my own advice,” says Hull, president and CEO of Premier Bank & Trust, formerly Ohio Legacy Bank. “I had spent my entire career telling everybody who worked for me that life is too short to be unhappy. If you find you wake up in the morning and you really don’t want to go to work, do something different.”

Hull knew change had to start with changing people if the bank were to thrive.

“There was a real stagnancy about the place but there were folks who really wanted to do something,” he says. “I think some of them simply just did not want to get re-energized. So you have to go and take care of that quickly.”

Once Hull excised the deadwood, he knew he had to assure those who were left that stability would return as guided by new management.

“I think you have to be quick to make change; it will resonate with others in the organization ? ‘OK, there was a willingness to make the tough decisions and do those for the benefit of the organization.’”

If you have a basic philosophy such as Hull’s ? life is too short for you to be miserable ? this was the time to explain it.

“I should have written the book, ‘The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t,’” he says. “Robert Sutton wrote it, and it exposits the theory that I have always had ? if someone is making you miserable, you don’t want to be party to that.

“We really invoked that and made some changes quickly. I’m a big believer that you need to make those changes fast. You have to be willing to hemorrhage for a short period of time as opposed to a slow bleed-to-death. You want to get everybody back to that feeling, ‘OK, there is some certainty. I wasn’t one who was released. I am part of this team.’”

Once Hull formed his team, it was time to get out the playbook and make sure everyone was on the same page.

“You need to meet everyone in the organization,” he says. “Take a humanistic type of approach ? you want them to be happy. If they do not think this is the place for them, then please, they should look someplace else.”

An important part of the plan is your expectations for the employees during a specified time frame, for instance, 90 days.

“Track that about every 30 days, giving a kind of periodic update,” Hull says. “Here’s where we are relative to this point ? staffing issues, things relative to systems, processes, procedures, all those types of things.”

If you want your vision to resonate with the staff, even though you come from a larger institution, stress the familial aspects.

“You want to define both internally and externally who you are and what you are looking to do,” he says. “Take the time to make certain there is really a family feel to it.

“If folks respect you as a leader, they’ll certainly do a lot of things for you,” Hull says. “If they really care about you and know that you care about them, I think they really will want to succeed. They have a sense of pride themselves. They also want to make you proud.”

How to reach: Premier Bank & Trust, (330) 499-1900 or www.mypremierbankandtrust.com

Committing to a sales culture

When Rick L. Hull was resuscitating the former Ohio Legacy Bank, he noticed it was missing something quite important.

“This little bank did not have any type of sales culture,” says Hull, president and CEO of the bank now known as Premier Bank & Trust. “They had never made a proactive sales call, ever.”

To develop a sales culture, you have to target with whom you want to do business ? small business owners, doctors, lawyers, accountants ? the ones who may have not been getting great service from one of the bigger players.

Next, your assignment is to institute strict guidelines for the sales department.

“I want you to make three outbound calls per day, and I want to know who you are going to talk to, what you are going to talk to them about,” Hull says. “I’m going to ask for your commitment, then somebody’s actually going to follow up at the end of the day to see if you did that. It’s a responsibility. If I ask you to do something and value your time enough that I’m actually going to follow up with it, you will feel a sense of ownership in it.”

Finally, make certain that everybody commits himself or herself to the process.

“Evoking a sales culture here was really embraced by some; it wasn’t embraced by others,” Hull says. “The ones who didn’t embrace it are no longer here.”

How to reach: Premier Bank & Trust, (330) 499-1900 or www.mypremierbankandtrust.com

Curt Moody was finding it tough in a down economy to find construction projects for his architectural firm to design. And the competition was like none he had ever seen before.

“One of the difficulties in this market is the small firms are doing everything they can just to survive ? and the large firms are doing the same,” says Moody, president and CEO of Moody-Nolan Inc. “The large firms are coming after the smaller work. A lot of times, clients are looking to say, well, they would prefer the personal touch of a small firm on a certain project type.”

So to address this challenge, you need to set up your firm to respond to both ends of the spectrum.

“We build our practice around being able to service and give the personal touch by having our project teams small enough to be able to respond in that way,” he says.

“But there’s the understanding that, let’s say, when a schedule gets pinched, you need to be able to add personnel quickly, so you need an approach that allows you to augment your core teams with other staff members when necessary.”

It was even more of a challenge since he built his company over the last 30 years, and to his credit, it is now the largest African-American owned and operated architecture firm in the country ? 162 employees work at the $26 million organization.

You’ll find that restructuring is not magic in itself, and it will still take you some solid selling efforts to overcome what might be assumptions about a larger company.

“When you reach over 100 employees, clients just look at you as a very large company and impersonal,” Moody says. “So work very hard to show that with your past clients, what you committed to them you fulfilled.”

You will need to explain to prospective clients that you will do that for them as well. Make sure you focus on how well past clients of similar size were satisfied.

“You will have good client references if the new clients want to dig into that,” Moody says.

The composition of the project team is important. To maintain the small company feel, you should have the team that presents the initial sales pitch be the same one that carries out the project. If your company is divided into specialty areas, you can make the head of the particular division the point person to serve as the project’s executive. He or she would name a project manager who would choose a team of very experienced people in that project type.

“They are all going to have the skills that any of your competitors will also propose ? but you’ll have them,” Moody says. “The team is built around those skills but the responsibility is to service the client. Therefore, they have the responsibility of getting to know the client more than just as a project, so you can address their overall needs, not just the specific needs of a one-time project opportunity.”

When you discuss the client’s needs and budget during the sales pitch, again use a small business approach.

“What you should try to say is that you can fulfill those base needs, making sure you give them the full program, that you meet their budget, meet their schedule, and by the way, you are going to be as innovative as they desire,” Moody says. “So it’s basically the client’s determination how far you go, not your own, because you can go from one extreme to another.”

In other words, you should show a client what the client has asked you to do, and then show what you can do that expands on what they asked for.

“Try to show them that you can meet their basic criteria ? here it is ? but they have an opportunity to go beyond that and here’s how you can still meet their criteria and go beyond what they might have been thinking,” he says. “And by doing that, you are giving your clients more choices than some of your competitors. That gives you an edge. You have to have a strategy that is going to work to help you be successful no matter whom the competition is.”

How to reach: Moody-Nolan Inc., (877) 530-4984 or www.moodynolan.com

Getting that next project

When Moody Nolan Inc. opened a new office in Dallas, Curt Moody knew one of the first orders of business would be to impress upon his staff the challenge of getting the next project.

“You can be very solid for the present,” says Moody, president and CEO. “But when you finish that work, what is next?”

If you don’t have something following quickly, you’re either going to have a large payroll expense during a time when you are not generating sufficient revenue for it or you are going to have to reduce expenses.

“A lot of firms are going to cut positions,” he says. “The problem is that you have gained some experience on that project and now you are letting it step away because you are waiting on another opportunity.”

You need to try to stay away from that and be in environments where you don’t vary your staff levels. Build upon the skills that you retained, keep the skills of that environment, and you can do better by maintaining a healthy workflow.

“You have to know when somebody has a dream,” Moody says. “You have to know when somebody says, ‘We are growing, we have a need. Should we consider building or expanding?’ You’ve got to hear about those things; follow it wherever you can find it, then follow up: ‘You know you are thinking about this ? can we help you?  Can we do an analysis or some planning to see what might be in your best interests?”‘

How to reach: Moody-Nolan Inc., (877) 530-4984 or www.moodynolan.com

Rick L. Hull liked the world of a small community bank, where he had lots of individual loan authority and was able to interact with clients. The problem was he was the CEO of a large regional bank and just wasn’t happy in what was not a kinder, gentler world.

So he hooked up with a private equity firm and struck a deal to acquire a woe-begotten bank so he could breathe new life into it. And after 18 months, regulators declared the bank safe and sound (although Hull had hoped for about a 12-month time span).

“I really just had to follow my own advice,” says Hull, president and CEO of Premier Bank & Trust, formerly Ohio Legacy Bank. “I had spent my entire career telling everybody who worked for me that life is too short to be unhappy. If you find you wake up in the morning and you really don’t want to go to work, do something different.”

Hull knew change had to start with changing people if the bank were to thrive.

“There was a real stagnancy about the place but there were folks who really wanted to do something,” he says. “I think some of them simply just did not want to get re-energized. So you have to go and take care of that quickly.”

Once Hull excised the deadwood, he knew he had to assure those who were left that stability would return as guided by new management.

“I think you have to be quick to make change; it will resonate with others in the organization ? ‘OK, there was a willingness to make the tough decisions and do those for the benefit of the organization.’”

If you have a basic philosophy such as Hull’s ? life is too short for you to be miserable ? this was the time to explain it.

“I should have written the book, ‘The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t,’” he says. “Robert Sutton wrote it, and it exposits the theory that I have always had ? if someone is making you miserable, you don’t want to be party to that.

“We really invoked that and made some changes quickly. I’m a big believer that you need to make those changes fast. You have to be willing to hemorrhage for a short period of time as opposed to a slow bleed-to-death. You want to get everybody back to that feeling, ‘OK, there is some certainty. I wasn’t one who was released. I am part of this team.’”

Once Hull formed his team, it was time to get out the playbook and make sure everyone was on the same page.

“You need to meet everyone in the organization,” he says. “Take a humanistic type of approach ? you want them to be happy. If they do not think this is the place for them, then please, they should look someplace else.”

An important part of the plan is your expectations for the employees during a specified time frame, for instance, 90 days.

“Track that about every 30 days, giving a kind of periodic update,” Hull says. “Here’s where we are relative to this point ? staffing issues, things relative to systems, processes, procedures, all those types of things.”

If you want your vision to resonate with the staff, even though you come from a larger institution, stress the familial aspects.

“You want to define both internally and externally who you are and what you are looking to do,” he says. “Take the time to make certain there is really a family feel to it.

“If folks respect you as a leader, they’ll certainly do a lot of things for you,” Hull says. “If they really care about you and know that you care about them, I think they really will want to succeed. They have a sense of pride themselves. They also want to make you proud.”

How to reach: Premier Bank & Trust, (330) 499-1900 or www.mypremierbankandtrust.com

Committing to a sales culture

When Rick L. Hull was resuscitating the former Ohio Legacy Bank, he noticed it was missing something quite important.

“This little bank did not have any type of sales culture,” says Hull, president and CEO of the bank now known as Premier Bank & Trust. “They had never made a proactive sales call, ever.”

To develop a sales culture, you have to target with whom you want to do business ? small business owners, doctors, lawyers, accountants ? the ones who may have not been getting great service from one of the bigger players.

Next, your assignment is to institute strict guidelines for the sales department.

“I want you to make three outbound calls per day, and I want to know who you are going to talk to, what you are going to talk to them about,” Hull says. “I’m going to ask for your commitment, then somebody’s actually going to follow up at the end of the day to see if you did that. It’s a responsibility. If I ask you to do something and value your time enough that I’m actually going to follow up with it, you will feel a sense of ownership in it.”

Finally, make certain that everybody commits himself or herself to the process.

“Evoking a sales culture here was really embraced by some; it wasn’t embraced by others,” Hull says. “The ones who didn’t embrace it are no longer here.”

How to reach: Premier Bank & Trust, (330) 499-1900 or www.mypremierbankandtrust.com

Rick Solon started working at the former Figgie International when Matthew Figgie, son of company owner and Cleveland industrialist Harry E. Figgie Jr., was 10 and would pop in now and then wearing his T-ball uniform.

Little did Solon know then that the company culture he was absorbing would later play a big part in saving the life of that boy who grew up to be the chairman of Clark-Reliance Corp.

“Harry and his wife Nancy both started the culture and the mindset that this company was going to be run in as familial a way as it could ? that we wanted to make sure the community benefitted from that in ways that perhaps weren’t always particularly obvious.”

Solon shaped that philosophy further, empowering employees to be passionate about their work and equally compassionate in community and philanthropic activities. He and employees built a distinguished record of community involvement in causes such as the Cleveland Public Theater, the United Way and the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

But it was with the challenge of chronic kidney disease where the culture of giving also took on the sense of giving life.

Solon, president and CEO, spearheaded an effort to find a compatible donor for Matthew Figgie, his friend and colleague who was ill with kidney failure. In an incredible response, more than 80 people including a number from Clark-Reliance offered to be potential live donors.

“The doctors said that had never been heard of before,” says Figgie, chairman of Clark-Reliance. “That is humbling to say the least. The sheer numbers were unbelievable, and I to this day still get goose bumps.”

Solon, likewise, feels the same emotions.

“The fact that employees know Matthew is going to take his ? I will call it newfound life ? knowing that he is taking that so seriously and is willing to pay it forward, not only at the company level but at the community level and make sure to get involved in causes like the Kidney Foundation and such, that's incredibly inspirational to anybody, and it gives me goose bumps just talking about it.”

Figgie received a kidney donated by a Clark-Reliance employee, Dave McKee, on Dec. 1, 2009. Both Figgie and McKee are doing well. McKee gave Figgie some further reinforcement of his mission while they were both in University Hospitals.

“I was standing in his hospital door and said, ‘Saying thank you is so lame, what do I do?,’” Figgie says. “Dave said, ‘Matt, because of who you are and what you do, you are going to be able to touch hundreds of thousands if not millions of people. Make them better.’ So that's my daily mission to try to help other people.”

As for Solon’s mission, he chaired the 2011 Cleveland Kidney Foundation Walk to raise a record-breaking $185,000. Clark-Reliance was a corporate sponsor and its 162 walkers raised $2,869 in addition to a $7,500 scholarship donation from the company. Figgie will chair the 2012 Kidney Walk.

“Matthew’s need and desire for a kidney was our primary inspiration to get involved with the Kidney Foundation and the Kidney Walk in particular, but we got into that and found out that there are so many people waiting for a kidney,” Solon says. “When you are on the kidney transplant list, you are not sure there is going to be a life.”

“Kidneys are taken for granted until there is an issue,” says Amy Solmos Wayne, Northern Ohio regional director of the National Kidney Foundation. “Our job at the end of the day is to educate everyone. Diabetes and hypertension are the leading two causes of chronic kidney disease, and that is affecting a lot of Northeast Ohioans.”

Solon’s success with the 2011 Kidney Walk pointed out the importance of corporate sponsors and raised awareness about organ donations.

“It was a direct relation to companies that are doing business with Clark-Reliance,” Wayne says. “It's a whole community of support. It's their colleagues supporting their charitable initiatives. It's Rick Solon picking up the phone, telling people, ‘This is what we are involved in, we think it's a great idea and your company should get involved too,’ and they do. It is a perfect model of how this event supposed to work with having a corporate chairman.”

The Kidney Foundation asked Solon to serve on its board of directors, and he has accepted.

“With Rick on our board, we feel we will have a long-time corporate sponsorship, and we know they are going to want to be there because of Matthew's kidney transplant,” she says. “I think they will always continue to be one of our top five corporate teams, whether Matthew or Rick are chairing the event or not. They take it very seriously. They love what they've seen happen with the employees getting involved.”

Jeff Heintz isn’t bragging when he says the legal firm where he is managing partner, Brouse McDowell LPA, made it through the recent recession without missing a beat ? it’s a matter of fact that the firm only had a few scratches.

“We did OK because we stuck to what we did best; I think our reputation served us well,” he says.

Once Heintz realized that the 92-year-old company’s brand was the best weapon in his arsenal to fight the recession, he instilled a way of thinking to bolster that premise for the 120 employees.

“We adopted the philosophy that we are going to control the kinds of things we can control,” he says.

The first premise pertains to the quality of work, an obvious aspect that can be controlled.

“If you work hard, and you have high character, and you behave in a manner that is befitting of things like ‘A Lawyer’s Creed’ and ‘A Lawyer’s Aspirational Ideals,’ good things are going to happen to you,” Heintz says.

“If you develop skills that enable you to help your client as a technician and develop the feelings that enable you to discern how best to direct your client, whether or not a particular strategy has short-term or long-term benefit, then you can become a trusted adviser,” he says.

“There’s no better feeling in the world than being a trusted adviser, somebody who works hard, develops a business and builds it into something grand, and it is the centerpiece of that person’s life and perhaps that person’s family,” he says.

Place a high premium on community involvement, and feel an obligation to give back to the extent you can by participating and furthering the efforts of nonprofits and volunteering because it is the right thing to do.

“It also gives your people an outlet other than just coming in and putting on their miner’s helmet and cracking away at work. It keeps them fresh, focused and gives them some perspective.”

Dedication to clients can also be controlled.

“We’ve had relationships with clients that go back decades,” he says. “We’ve been through tough times with clients and we’ve been there for them. This time it was tough times for everybody.”

With a relationship that has developed trust and understanding over the years, there are often mutual benefits.

“You and your clients benefit from the strength and depth of your relationships because businesses across the board were facing issues that they never faced before, having to consider choices that they never considered before, and I think it is a considerable comfort to them to know that when they would pick up the phone to call their advisers, it’s a number that they have been calling for 30 or 40 years.”

One of the tools that may serve you in being open with clients is what Heintz calls the “sneaky direct approach.”

“You just sit down with them, and you tell them the truth,” he says. “You let them know even if you can’t lay out for them chapter and verse what will happen, you lay down for them as best you can your belief about what will happen and what steps you are taking to control what can happen. I think people tend to react well to that.”

Another factor to control is the seriousness with which responsibilities are taken.

“Take that commitment of trust very, very seriously,” Heintz says. “One of your first thoughts should be how is this going to benefit your client ? not how much money can you make, not how quickly can you get this job done, not how much personal goodwill can you get from this.”

As a final matter, protect yourself as best as you can against the things you can’t control.

“Ignore a lot of the chatter for things that happen at the federal level ? the preoccupation with the recent Washington gridlock, for example ? as difficult as it is,” Heintz says.

How to reach: Brouse McDowell LPA, (330) 535-5711 or www.brouse.com

Availability is king

It’s been said that no matter recession or economic growth, your ability to succeed in business is only limited by your availability to your customers.

Jeff Heintz, managing partner of Brouse McDowell LPA, believes in that. In fact, he has his home phone number on his business card.

“If you make your clients know that you are available to them pretty much 24/7, they appreciate the commitment and are very conscientious how they use it,” he says.

Likewise, cascade that premise of availability throughout your staff, from top to bottom.

“If you are accessible, that’s a talisman of your commitment to your clients,” Heintz says.

“Don’t tell them, ‘You need to get a hold of me between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday because I’m not going to look at my mail over the weekend, and I’m not going to answer my phone.’

“Not everything’s an emergency, and there are people out there that live their lives at general quarters ? and everything’s an emergency ?but there are emergencies out there, particularly as we increasingly get to a global economy where it may be 7 p.m. on Friday night in Akron, Ohio, but 9 a.m. elsewhere on the globe where people are at work when you are at play. But most people use their best judgment, and they have the ability to discern between what’s an emergency and what’s not.”

How to reach: Brouse McDowell LPA, (330) 535-5711 or www.brouse.com

When Jeff Miller became president and CFO of Dawson Resources five years ago, he found a phenomenal service organization, but it wasn't as outbound as it needed to be to grow.

To be more outbound, he wanted to see more “push” marketing, rather than “pull.” There needed to be more marketing such as commercials, print advertisements, cold calling, tradeshows and e-mail blasts. In short, the staff needed to think more like a salesperson.

“Ask for the business,” Miller says. “Talk about the company. Spread the word.”

At nearly the same time, he could see that the economy was heading toward recession, and it necessitated reducing nine offices down to two, with the money saved being reinvested on the sales and service side of the business.

The reorganization allowed him to focus on developing a management strategy that would motivate the employees to excel toward being more outbound. The approach was to educate employees, to treat them — and get them thinking — like business owners. Initially, it involved finding out what was on employees’ minds.

“The first thing you have to do is ask and listen,” he says. “It seems simple but they often never do get asked. I was in on every meeting, asking and listening, caring about what they thought.”

Putting employees in hypothetical situations allowed them to wear bosses’ hats. Miller posed questions that would exercise their analytical and decision-making processes.

“What would you do to improve your own division?” he says. “Where would you spend money? If I had $5,000 to improve your division, where would you spend it? Put together a plan for me.”

Along with making those types of executive decisions, employees have to learn that business owners largely can set their own hours but have to decide what is the most effective use of their time.

“There used to be a distinction between home and work,” Miller says. “Today, it is blended. Sometimes it is hard to see the difference. You have to kind of embrace that now.”

While many companies may frown on employees taking time off for doctors’ appointments, Miller’s plan gives it merit because it requires the employee to decide how a business owner would make a decision.

“If it makes sense for you to go there and sacrifice two hours of work, then do it because that’s what you need to do,” he says.

In addition, many of the younger workers have grown up being connected 24 hours a day and have no problem working at home, especially if it means getting paid for results rather than by the number of hours put in.

“If it’s eight o’clock at night and something pops up, you check your e-mails or voice mails ? and address them,” Miller says. “You know that time is now and if somebody took the time to send you something at eight o’clock at night it seems they want to hear from you.

“It’s like we kind of expect you to have the same mentality when it crosses into your personal life,” he says.

You don’t have to send an elaborate reply but at least send an acknowledgement.

Getting paid for results involves a salary-plus-incentives arrangement. While not exclusive to business owners, it still offers the opportunity for self-direction.

“Show the employees what the return on investment is, how much money they are making the company and what percentage they’re getting,” Miller says. “Keep your fixed costs down by keeping salaries and other areas set.”

Then if employees want to earn more, it’s based on sales results, and they control that.

“So you give them that good culture but also tie it to their W-2s,” he says. “Make them produce.”

The result of Miller’s approach is an engaged work force that tries to create a partnership with clients.

“We’re trying to make their business better,” he says. “That’s something we all strive to do.”

How to reach: Dawson Resources, (614) 255-1400 or www.dawsoncareers.com

‘I got this’

As Jeff Miller was wondering whether his strategy was working to increase employee engagement through a method of treating them as if they were business owners, he came upon a valuable method to determine the buy-in.

He didn’t take a survey or wait for employees to e-mail him about their appreciation for the opportunity for personal growth.

Miller could tell from the one-on-one conversations with employees about a client if his message was hitting home.

“They will come in if they complain about a client or what not, and say, ‘I will get this thing handled because this is my account,’” says Miller, president and CFO of Dawson Resources, a 55-employee company with annual revenue of $26 million.

“You see the ownership of it,” he says. “‘I’m just letting you know so you are aware of this, but I got this.’ There is a lot of ‘I got this.’ I always use the term ‘punt.’ I don’t like it when people just punt ? ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do; I’ll just punt. I’ll just send it somewhere else.’

“We don’t have a lot of punters here, which is a good thing,” he says. “On fourth and long, you go for it.”

How to reach: Dawson Resources, (614) 255-1400 or www.dawsoncareers.com

Phil Derrow had been kicking around the idea of investing in the future of his company, Ohio Transmission Corp., for some time. One way or another, he was going to do it, but the question was this: Should he spend the cash when business was so bad during the bottom of the recession or wait?

With several locations outside of the state, it was simple to see that it was time to drop the “Ohio” tag from Ohio Transmission and Pump Co., a division of the corporation, because it was becoming more of an issue as the company grew.

“It wasn’t that much of an issue; we were able to deal with it, but when you’re down in Kentucky, they want to work with Kentucky people, not Ohio people,” says Derrow, president and CEO. The situation was the same in West Virginia. “You know, people have a sense of place; they have a sense of their own community, and being an outsider is never a positive thing.”

Not only that but the types of products offered and the focus of the business had changed since 1963 when it was founded by Derrow’s father, David Derrow. Also, the website needed a major makeover.

The second division, Air Technologies, also needed some investments along the lines of staff and production facilities.

Deciding if the projects, which would include rebranding and capital improvements, were worth the money during a recession hinged on a feeling that the recession had bottomed out ? and a belief in the future. The moves put the company back on the growth track.

Five years ago, the corporation had 290 employees and annual revenue of $100 million. Now, it has 360 employees across seven states, and 2010 revenue was $116.5 million.

The new website brought results almost immediately. More traffic was seen on the first day than what was seen in the previous six months. The switch to the name OTP Industrial Solutions brought all positive reactions.

Here’s how Derrow used belief in a better future to take action and grow the company.

Have confidence and believe

Change is said to be the only constant thing in life. When business is going really well, it’s easy to forget the fundamentals, such as that the economy will change at some point. Derrow believed that rather than pull back, he would opt for change.

Derrow was considering ideas for both divisions. Ohio Transmission and Pump Co. needed to be rebranded; Air Technologies needed to expand to fill the growing demand for industrial air compressors. The only question was, “Why spend money now when things are so challenging?”

The recession was tightening its grip on the company. With nearly 15 years under his belt as CEO, Derrow had been following good business practices. They put the part employee-owned company in a position to hopefully weather the storm. The company was not overleveraged and it didn’t get too far out on a credit limb with customers. In addition, it had employment practices that had some self-adjusting mechanisms, for instance, a compensation structure that was somewhat self-correcting, linking company financial health to wages.

“Business was down quite a bit, and our sales teams and managers were trying to figure out how to maximize business as much as we could,” Derrow says. “We decided not to conduct layoffs, we had plenty of people, and it was a decision to go ahead and do this now because we believe in the future, we know recessions end, we have the fat, let’s go ahead and make this investment.”

He saw some indications that the recession had bottomed out, and while he doesn’t quite call it a hunch, he felt it was time to take action.

“If you believe and know recessions always end, then there is frankly no better time to invest in the end of the recession than during the recession,” Derrow says.

Prices for labor and material are likely to be bargains, and through investment, you may be able to increase your market share even though the market is contracting.

“Continuously invest in yourselves and your company,” he says. “I make a big deal about the fact that investment is a continuous and ongoing process, and it is an essential statement of a belief in the future. If you believe based on knowledge that recessions always end, then you continue to invest. It’s no more complicated than that.”

You have to have the confidence to know that recessions end and act accordingly. If you don’t believe things are going to get better, and you aren’t prepared to act accordingly ? act in ways that they will get better ? then it is difficult to take advantage of the opportunity.

The reality is the United States economy follows a cycle, although expansions and recessions cannot be pinpointed ahead of time. Recessions happen about every five to seven years ? the National Bureau of Economic Research notes recent recessions happened in 2007, 2001, 1990, 1980, 1973, 1970, 1960, 1957, 1953, 1949 and 1945.

“There will be another recession,” Derrow says. “There will be another recovery. And so on and so forth. Even as each one is different, there are enough similarities in actions to take before, during and after that it isn’t impossible to make a plan.”

Energize employees

Darrow’s strategy was to rebrand Ohio Transmission and Pump Co. into OTP Industrial Solutions, with a new logo and website, and to invest in employees and a new factory for Air Technologies. With those as objectives, he set out to energize the troops.

“Actually, I would say if there were any concerns, it was over not doing it,” he says. “In most of our markets outside of Ohio, we were downplaying the Ohio element of it anyway. We were going to market as OTP rather than Ohio Transmission and Pump. So there wasn’t much of any resistance. But to the extent that there was any, it was, ‘Well, gee, this isn’t free. Why should we spend money now when things are so challenging?’

“That is where leadership is so important to demonstrate to people by action that your core values actually mean something,” Derrow says.

He found it more important than ever to reinforce the company’s core values of integrity, achievement, balance and, especially, investment. By showing that a core value (investment) was being shored up with the decision to spend during a recession, it elicits trust and confidence from employees.

Derrow took advantage of the culture of collaboration that had been built at Ohio Transmission Corp. to get the employees engaged in the investment “fever.”

“We talk about everything,” he says. “Involve your management, executive management, local management, sales people and staff people. We talked about the entire process, what the name was going to be, what the logo was going to look like, we talked about all of it.”

Cultural collaboration eliminates a sole deciding figure. Accordingly, decisions are those of a team.

“There isn’t one person who gets to say, ‘We’re doing this,’” Derrow says. “Even in my position as chief executive, one would think that I can, and maybe even should, simply say, ‘We’re doing this and everybody has to follow along.’

“I may have a good idea, and I certainly do have responsibility to set primary strategic goals, but even that is a process of talking to your folks, listening to your folks, listening to what your customers say and in making decisions that are collaborative no matter what your role is.”

If you don’t have a culture of collaboration, bring in outside resources that have the talent or skills you need.

“It is still then a matter of what you want to do as a company, where are you trying to go, and what is your objective,” Derrow says. “Ultimately, you end up collaborating. You have a culture of collaboration of some sort whether you like it or not, even if you are bringing in outsiders. It’s a collaborative process for you to tell the outside entity, the consultant, what it is you are trying to accomplish and you work together to get the outcome.”

You have talented people who built your success and are best positioned to make decisions about where you’re going next, and you can bring in outsiders to help you go where you want to go rather than tell you where that ought to be.

“An interesting part of this is I was not involved much at all in the details of the rebranding process and the website design,” Derrow says. “That was something mostly our team did. My role was to say yes to the investment, and I do care about the design looked like, so I had input what the logo was and color scheme and such for the website, but other than that, our team and our service providers ? they made all the decisions.”

A new logo was designed for OTP Industrial Solutions, along with a new, interactive website.

Meanwhile, Air Technologies received a large investment in not only a new factory, but in a decision to keep all employees on the payroll and even add some sales representatives.

“We were not sure that we would be able to regain profitability during the recession, because it was a deep one,” Derrow says. “Yet we believed that our people are the ones who are responsible for our success and that when times get tough, it’s not our way to just toss people overboard.”

The decision to invest in production facilities was made before business had fully recovered. The company’s Direct Air product, which is compressed air as a utility much like natural gas, has been a fast-growing business for Air Technologies. The new factory went online last year.

“Those (the staff and the factory) were significant investment decisions when business was still pretty bad,” he says.

Don’t forget the human factor

Even though the strategies were accepted and the rebranding and expansion projects were going ahead, Derrow still had to contend with managing during a recession.

“Our sales volume dropped very rapidly and that’s always one of those things that comes as a surprise, and is not a particularly positive surprise,” he says. “So I guess for us, and this really gets back to the notion that each company is unique, each company’s culture is unique, the attitudes and objectives of the owners and leaders of each company are unique, so there isn’t one right answer on how to manage through a recession.”

For Derrow’s company, it was a matter of collaborating with the people and talking openly with the teams.

“We have 360 people now, and you can’t manage through such a challenging period without engaging the people in the organization,” he says. “We believe in being open and honest with our people and telling them what’s going on, telling them the company’s position, telling them our strategy and making them part of the process from start to finish.”

Within a small group of options, communication methods are fairly standard. What Derrow found important was that the more effective you want your message to be received, the more methods you should use.

“Have meetings, send out e-mails to folks, to all of your associates, share what’s going on and what you are doing on an ongoing basis through multiple means,” he says. “Have corporate-level meetings and all-associates type e-mails, local meetings and one-on-one conversations with people. People get nervous. People have families to take care of. They have their own mortgages to pay.

“There are individuals who work for you who have their own lives and so during a tense period, you have to be receptive to the fact that there are real individual human beings involved,” he says. “So you could have global e-mails and meetings, but at the end of the day, you have to be one-on-one with people and listen to their fears and concerns and show them the way forward.”

The good thing is that your managers are people, too ? they have their own fears. They carry it out in the same way that the executive team carries it out with them.

“So if you start there, and make it clear that you expect that the kind of conversations you’re having with the executive team the executive leaders are having with their managers, expect their managers to have those very same kinds of conversations with the people on their teams all the way to the line-level people that work there.”

How to reach:Ohio Transmission Corp., (614) 342-6123 or www.otpnet.com

The Derrow File

Phil Derrow, President and CEO, Ohio Transmission Corp.

Birthplace: New York City. But I was only there for three days, or for however long they kept my mother and me in the hospital. My family lived in New Jersey at the time, and the hospital was in New York. I’m from Columbus. My family moved there when I was 3.

Education: I am a graduate of The Ohio State University. I was a marketing major. I suppose you could say I minored in engineering, but my degree did not say engineering. I took mechanical engineering classes and then moved to the business school and got a marketing degree.

What was your first job?

My very first job out of college was with a local car dealer, selling cars. That particular profession has a lot of negative things associated with it, and the reality is I worked for a good guy, and I learned how to sell. I learned that the best way to sell is to listen to customers and let them sell themselves. It was a straight commission job, and if I wasn’t any good at it, I didn’t make any money. No draw. I would say there were some valuable lessons and there were also some valuable lessons about how to manage differently, shall we say. I didn’t want to manage others the way I was. I was there six months.

What was the best business advice you ever received?

The best business advice came from watching my father who was the founder of the company along with a partner. So this kind of takes the form of a story. Leadership and management are always about others. It isn’t about you. So that’s how I would phrase the best business advice. And the story is, I think I was about 8, and I wanted something as most 8-year-olds do, and my father said no. I said, ‘How come?’ and he said, ‘Because we can’t afford it.’ I said, ‘Why not? You’re the boss; why don’t you just take more money?’ His response was something along the lines of, ‘There are other people who work for the company, and if I just take more for me, then I’m not treating them with the respect that they deserve. They’re the ones who are helping to build the company along with me.’ So it was one of those lessons that said it isn’t all about you. It’s about others.

What’s your definition of success?

Getting back to the best advice ? it isn't about you, it’s about others ? my definition of success would be defined as creating a workplace where others can be successful together and create a thriving and successful business.

Jeff Heintz isn’t bragging when he says the legal firm where he is managing partner, Brouse McDowell LPA, made it through the recent recession without missing a beat ? it’s a matter of fact that the firm only had a few scratches.

“We did OK because we stuck to what we did best; I think our reputation served us well,” he says.

Once Heintz realized that the 92-year-old company’s brand was the best weapon in his arsenal to fight the recession, he instilled a way of thinking to bolster that premise for the 120 employees.

“We adopted the philosophy that we are going to control the kinds of things we can control,” he says.

The first premise pertains to the quality of work, an obvious aspect that can be controlled.

“If you work hard, and you have high character, and you behave in a manner that is befitting of things like ‘A Lawyer’s Creed’ and ‘A Lawyer’s Aspirational Ideals,’ good things are going to happen to you,” Heintz says.

“If you develop skills that enable you to help your client as a technician and develop the feelings that enable you to discern how best to direct your client, whether or not a particular strategy has short-term or long-term benefit, then you can become a trusted adviser,” he says.

“There’s no better feeling in the world than being a trusted adviser, somebody who works hard, develops a business and builds it into something grand, and it is the centerpiece of that person’s life and perhaps that person’s family,” he says.

Place a high premium on community involvement, and feel an obligation to give back to the extent you can by participating and furthering the efforts of nonprofits and volunteering because it is the right thing to do.

“It also gives your people an outlet other than just coming in and putting on their miner’s helmet and cracking away at work. It keeps them fresh, focused and gives them some perspective.”

Dedication to clients can also be controlled.

“We’ve had relationships with clients that go back decades,” he says. “We’ve been through tough times with clients and we’ve been there for them. This time it was tough times for everybody.”

With a relationship that has developed trust and understanding over the years, there are often mutual benefits.

“You and your clients benefit from the strength and depth of your relationships because businesses across the board were facing issues that they never faced before, having to consider choices that they never considered before, and I think it is a considerable comfort to them to know that when they would pick up the phone to call their advisers, it’s a number that they have been calling for 30 or 40 years.”

One of the tools that may serve you in being open with clients is what Heintz calls the “sneaky direct approach.”

“You just sit down with them, and you tell them the truth,” he says. “You let them know even if you can’t lay out for them chapter and verse what will happen, you lay down for them as best you can your belief about what will happen and what steps you are taking to control what can happen. I think people tend to react well to that.”

Another factor to control is the seriousness with which responsibilities are taken.

“Take that commitment of trust very, very seriously,” Heintz says. “One of your first thoughts should be how is this going to benefit your client ? not how much money can you make, not how quickly can you get this job done, not how much personal goodwill can you get from this.”

As a final matter, protect yourself as best as you can against the things you can’t control.

“Ignore a lot of the chatter for things that happen at the federal level ? the preoccupation with the recent Washington gridlock, for example ? as difficult as it is,” Heintz says.

How to reach: Brouse McDowell LPA, (330) 535-5711 or www.brouse.com

Availability is king

It’s been said that no matter recession or economic growth, your ability to succeed in business is only limited by your availability to your customers.

Jeff Heintz, managing partner of Brouse McDowell LPA, believes in that. In fact, he has his home phone number on his business card.

“If you make your clients know that you are available to them pretty much 24/7, they appreciate the commitment and are very conscientious how they use it,” he says.

Likewise, cascade that premise of availability throughout your staff, from top to bottom.

“If you are accessible, that’s a talisman of your commitment to your clients,” Heintz says.

“Don’t tell them, ‘You need to get a hold of me between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday because I’m not going to look at my mail over the weekend, and I’m not going to answer my phone.’

“Not everything’s an emergency, and there are people out there that live their lives at general quarters ? and everything’s an emergency ?but there are emergencies out there, particularly as we increasingly get to a global economy where it may be 7 p.m. on Friday night in Akron, Ohio, but 9 a.m. elsewhere on the globe where people are at work when you are at play. But most people use their best judgment, and they have the ability to discern between what’s an emergency and what’s not.”

How to reach: Brouse McDowell LPA, (330) 535-5711 or www.brouse.com

Jim Camp has seen his share of mergers and acquisitions. The general manager and partner of Cutler Real Estate, Camp has guided 12 mergers or acquisitions involving smaller companies over the last 15 years. However, it’s not the number alone that he sees as a success indicator but the way company cultures have been merged successfully.

“Our mergers fortunately have gone pretty well because we have experience and know how to do it and try to minimize concerns and issues,” Camp says about the firm, which has 300 Realtors and a support staff of 60.

The biggest issues with M&As often tend to be in terms of processes. Employees from the acquired company are anxious to find out the procedures of the new company and want answers to questions such as “Who will be my boss?” and “How will I be evaluated?” Their concerns have to be answered. If they are not, there is a chance that key employees could decide to bail out and take a job with a competitor.

“When combining two offices, probably the biggest thing is the issue of ‘We never used to do it that way’ or ‘You’re favoring your people instead of our people,’” Camp says.

If you reassure the incoming employees throughout the transition by listening and communicating with them, it will show your willingness to resolve company culture issues.

“You have to be very careful, pay attention and listen,” Camp says. “You may learn that there is a new way to do something that isn’t necessarily your way but may be a better way to do it.”

Keeping an open mind is one of the fundamentals when going into a merger. Take the attitude of nothing should be cast in stone, and everything is on the table for discussion.

“Look at it from an open view of not being close-minded to think, ‘This is the way we’ve always done it so we are always going to do it that way,’” he says.

You may be gaining some valuable employees that can benefit your company who may bring some good ideas with them.

“One of the biggest benefits from some of our mergers and acquisitions has been some of the folks who have come along and the talent they brought to the company,” Camp says.

On the other hand, realize that you can’t accept all the ideas presented by the company acquired.

“But also don’t reject them out of hand,” he says. “Work very hard at saying, ‘Yes, we will consider that,” and actually consider it. Don’t just blow them off.”

In the end, it is a high level of communication that can best lead to a successful merger or acquisition.

“Don’t jump to conclusions about what people want,” Camp says. “Encourage your managers to sit down with new staff and ask, ‘What are your goals; what are you looking to do?’”

More can be accomplished when you try to listen as you talk to new employees than when you try to guess or assume what they are looking for. Get to know the people and listen to them.

“It’s important that they know you care about them,” he says. “They aren’t just a number and that kind of thing.”

A final piece of advice is that there are always some surprises in mergers and acquisitions. By doing your homework, you may be able to find trouble spots before they become problems.

“Try to do your due diligence but you have to continue that due diligence after the merger happens because there are some things that you may not know until you actually are working more closely with folks,” Camp says.

How to reach: Cutler Real Estate, (800) 423-2004 or www.cutlerhomes.com

Jump on the ‘brandwagon’

When Cutler Real Estate left the franchise world in 2005 and became an independent company, General Manager Jim Camp saw it as an opportunity to jump on the “brandwagon.” Instead of having to use the franchise’s marketing guidelines, a whole new world opened up.

“We had the opportunity to decide who we wanted to be,” Camp says. “We chose the very strong colors of orange and blue and maintained them all the way through the company signage and collateral.”

Making those types of decisions should involve professionals, even though you may be tempted to have your own marketing department run the show. Working with a professional can be an eye-opening experience.

“The difference in terms of working with a professional is significant,” he says. “The first decision to make is to interview companies to find somebody to work with, and go in with an open mind.”

Cutler Real Estate chose Innis Maggiore Group Inc. for its rebranding.

Once you have hired an agency, you will need to abandon any preconceived notions of what you want your brand to look like ? what you want it to be. Invite the agency to generate a variety of options.

“Just ask the marketing folks to do their vision,” Camp says. “You obviously have some thoughts but you should also be open to ideas.”

You will need to have some patience as well. The time frame may run from 12 to 18 months from concept to rollout, but it can be definitely worth the time and expense.

“I wouldn’t do it any other way, knowing now what we were going to face in the next four or five years,” he says. “We might have cut our budget in some areas, but frankly, we had a very successful rollout ? our competitors were hoping that we would stumble in terms of the conversion of our brand.”

How to reach: Cutler Real Estate, (800) 423-2004 or www.cutlerhomes.com

When Rob Hillman speaks about the needle, the president and general manager of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Indiana isn’t talking about a shot in the arm.

Rather, it’s about efforts to move the needle on key company performance metrics that measure how well employees are building relationships with customers and how well customers are relating to Anthem.

“When we are talking about a high-ticket item like health care and how personal it is, relationships are very important,” Hillman says. “Things work so much better when you focus on the value of the relationships and not the value of the transactions.”

While companies are putting more emphasis on communicating with customers and employees through ever-developing means, it still boils down to the best ways to develop personal interaction.

“Maybe I'm old school, and there are a lot of this social media out there today, but relationships are very important,” he says. “We spend a lot of time with our associates, talking about the value of our relationships and how important an asset our relationships are with the broker community, with our customers, with our medical providers in the community.”

The results? Anthem is growing its footprint in the marketplace in terms of customers served, and the percentage of customers sticking with Anthem year after year is above the industry average ? typically in the high 80s to low 90s as a percent range.

Here’s the prescription Hillman uses to build relationships to help push the needle upward for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Indiana.

Diagnose the situation

To understand the role of relationships, the first steps are to study your core values and look for common threads among them. Draw conclusions as you examine them. It often means taking a look at the basics and factoring in what will make the relationship thrive.

In terms of core values, companies can’t go far off track if they set customer service and integrity at the top.

“What we sell every day are sheets of paper that have promises written on them,” Hillman says. “When all you do is sell promises, customer-first and integrity are No. 1 and No. 2.”

But tangible and intangible products both share a promise ? a manufacturer or organization will stand by what they deliver. The recipe is the same for both types of companies.

“The customer is first, and if you meet or exceed their expectations, you have delivered on your promise,” Hillman says. “Any company that does this consistently, no matter what it is they sell, builds brand loyalty, repeat business and referrals. They are well-positioned for success.”

Do some thinking about your promises. Stick by the ones that you will deliver, whether they are merchandise or services listed on a sheet of paper.

“If it is adhering to the language of a contract, the performance of a product or delivering on your commitments, they all have the same effect ? you build credibility, trust and confidence in your company,” Hillman says.

The benefits you sell to your customers are the same benefits you provide to your associates. This indicates that you believe in your product.

“If you don’t believe in it for your own employees, then don’t try to sell it to your customers,” he says.

“You have to make sure that the way that your contracts are written and the benefits that you have sold are the promises that you can deliver,” Hillman says. “If you can't deliver, if there has been a miscue, and if you have a promise that you sold to someone that seemingly you can't deliver on, you have to make sure that you make it right.”

Remember in your analysis that there is only one occasion to make an initial impression, and doing that correctly will go the distance in establishing a relationship.

“Try to do it right the first time,” Hillman says. “If you mess it up, make sure the second time you do it right.

“Everything has to be tied together in terms of your systems, your people, their focus, to make sure that they know what to note in those promises that you sold and that you are delivering on the promises.”

Examine as well the localness of your product or service.

“Make sure that you are providing the type of value that the local market wants and needs,” Hillman says.

Evaluate the role of the customer. He or she is more than just that. You want to create loyalty, that the person will be a return customer and that the interactions the customer will have with the company will leave him highly satisfied.

If you have been mindful and put the customer first, operate with integrity, and hold employees personally accountable for excellence in everything that you do, those are the common threads that over a period of time will allow you to retain the local touch.

“Customers are folks that you define as more than just people you send a bill to and they send a check every month,” Hillman says. “By virtue of that fact, they are customers. But the thing that can be attributed to success is how you define customers based on the relationships that you have with them personally.”

When it comes to considering how to build successful relationships across the widest possible segments, expand your definition of customer. Anyone who expects you to deliver at some level qualifies as a customer, ranging from the traditional definition to the level of subcontractor to consultant.

“When there is that expectation that you’re going to deliver, however that’s defined by any one of those constituencies, regard them as customers,” Hillman says. “So the key is, it may be a cliché, but you need to deliver what you promise. If you do that basic blocking and tackling, you’re going to build relationships over the years.”

Examine how it is beneficial to keep your focus on your pledge over the long term. Concentrating on short-term gains disregards the consequences that may happen and can give a distorted picture.

“Customers may leave, but they will always come back if you’ve dealt with them with integrity and delivered on your promise,” Hillman says. “And if you don’t, some customers are very difficult to get back.

“If you bat with a good average of delivering on your promises and value those relationships that build because of that, whether it’s internally or externally ? brokers, customers or the folks you work with every day at the company ? that’s a pretty good recipe for success over a long period of time.”

Learn the value of metrics

If you are going to focus on evaluating relationships, performance metrics can help a company compare its operation against customer requirements and the value created. In short, metrics can help keep the company on track and ensure consistency.

In an organization the size of Anthem with 5,000 employees, metrics are part of the core value of continuous improvement. In order to maintain a competitive position, a company has to strive to better itself.

“There are all kinds of activities that end up impacting either your service level, your ability to grow your business and ultimately whether or not you are able to produce a successful bottom line,” Hillman says. “Every input or activity that can impact any of those three, measure it. If it moves, measure it.”

For instance, WellPoint’s member health index measures more than 40 areas of the quality of care an individual has received, some of which were developed using national standards and others which were developed by WellPoint’s clinical experts.

There’s a unique connection that Anthem uses, as do the other divisions of parent organization WellPoint Inc. They directly link improving the health of members to the compensation of every associate in the company. Improvements in members’ health index are used to help calculate employees’ annual bonuses.

“These could be things like were we able to move the needle along the percentage of women who had mammograms,” Hillman says. “Were we able to move the needle on individuals who have reached a certain age needing other types of preventive measures and scans?”

Another indication of how well a company is doing in terms of growth is an analysis of its market share.

“When you couple market share with the fact that you’re growing at the same time that you’re losing some percentage of your business (in part due to the economy), that means that your value proposition for those folks already on board is resonating with those who are just deciding to do business with you,” Hillman says.

Metrics are not only important in helping gauge a company’s performance with its customers, but for its employee-management relations, as well.

Conduct an annual employee survey to measure strengths and weaknesses between both parties. The goal is to nurture continuous improvement.

“Tie every manager's performance review to some degree to associate survey results,” Hillman says. “It is something to take very seriously. Benchmark yourselves not only within the industry but outside the industry to what's considered best in class as well as to what is the average across the entire organization.”

If you are clear about the mission of the company, what the core values are and the level of seriousness that is given to employee engagement, you will obtain positive results.

Watch for threats

Relationships that stand the test of time are those that have received consistent care and feeding ? and that have survived challenges. A company that continually monitors them is in a position to prevent derailments.

Complacency ranks as one of the top concerns that can sink a relationship. It can prevent a company from seeing it needs to change and grow.

“Don’t take any success that you're having for granted,” Hillman says. “Take your eye off the ball, the train leaves the tracks, and it's a bumpy road to get back on. When that happens, you lose customers.

“You lose credibility. You jeopardize relationships.”

Promises made but not kept are often at the root of failed relationships. Going hand-in-hand with keeping promises is the proper attitude toward standardization.

“A second threat is not maintaining discipline in your decision-making ? deviating from the kinds of types of decisions that have helped you become a success and just becoming less disciplined,” Hillman says

While inconsistent discipline is equally a threat as complacency, its effects are different. Sticking to the standards that are ethical and morally right is a desirable quality. Human nature sometimes lets discipline slide just at the moment it may be needed the most.

“Being less disciplined is sort of moving the edges of what are acceptable decisions and non-acceptable decisions out a little bit,” Hillman says.

A third major threat is losing touch with your customers. It’s often said that the longer a company is around, the greater the danger it has of losing customers. Maintaining a personal connection comes down to building relationships, building trust, keeping promises and delivering.

While maintaining a connection can be a time-consuming process, it is necessary part of a disciplined approach to your business.

“You have to stay connected with your customers,” he says. “You have to understand what issues they’re dealing with. You can’t allow a competitor to come in and drive a wedge between you and your customer.”

How to reach: Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Indiana, (317) 488-6000 or www.anthem.com

Takeaways:

Customer service and integrity should be top priorities

Measuring performance ensures consistency

Complacency is a top threat

The Hillman File

Born: I was born in Shelbyville, Ind., and I grew up in a small town called Fairland, now the exit off I-74 for Indiana Live Casino, which growing up in a rural farming community, I thought would never happen.

Education: Purdue University, with a bachelor of science degree in management

What is your definition of success?

Delivering on my promises, the ability to deliver on our promises, to our customers, to our sales associates, to our shareholders, staying true to the company’s mission and our core values.

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

You can only lead from the front. There are many people who think they can lead from the back of the pack. To lead from the front, you must lead by example in all that you do. That’s a full-time effort. It’s not a part-time thing because your customers, your fellow associates or whomever you do business with will see through that in a second.

The second advice is you can’t fall off the floor, which has always been to me courage and conviction in your decision-making. If you’re confronted with a challenge, you have to make a tough decision and have the courage and conviction to make that decision, particularly if you are the leader of the organization because that is your job.

What was your first job?

It made me not want to be a farmer ? it was baling hay and detasseling corn. I was probably 10 years old, and it’s hard to detassel corn when you are only 10. [I wasn’t] tall enough. It was $1.55 an hour. I would have rather been paid by the tassel.