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In a span of six months, K.B. Chandrasekhar found himself in the position of having to reduce his company’s headcount from more than 250 people to a handful of employees between its India and California operations. For the 24 months leading up to 2000, the party had been nonstop, but when the dot-com bubble burst, Chandrasekhar suddenly had to keep the doors from closing on his business.

“So we know for the next two to three years nothing would happen, but you have to keep the lights on and keep the engineers motivated and other people motivated in developing the product,” says Chandrasekhar, chairman and CEO of the cloud technology company, Jamcracker.

“The question is, at that time, how do you move from the party binge to develop a sober mode and still keep the core employees? But at the same time, you have to go through the painful exercise of probably reducing the company size to a fraction of it was before, then grow back up in a manner that positions itself for the market to come back and then take the leadership.”

After reducing head count, it can be just as hard to convince people who are invaluable to your company to remain loyal and stay motivated.

“I think the challenge is constantly looking at what kind of people you need to stay ahead,” Chandrasekhar says. “Our business is all about people business. If they are great people, we know we can scale great heights.

“Many of the times, I think this is where the leadership comes into play, because you have to lead from the heart at that time, in terms of the vision and the conviction and why this is going to be big in the future. In the near term, it’s why we all have to sacrifice. At the same time, keep the faith at a heighted level so we are sustained for success.”

To do this meant opening up the channels for honest and open communication about how Jamcracker would move forward. Because people can see every day what is happening in the company and outside, hiding news just erodes employee trust, so transparency for Chandrasekhar was critical.

“In tougher times, people want to ensure that they hear from you a little more regularly, and you also use electronic communications whenever possible,” he says. “So a judicious mix of the two helps you stay in front of your crowd.

“It is being upfront about it rather than trying to sugarcoat it. But at the same time keep emphasizing the vision, and where we are going and why this is a great opportunity as the next big thing.”

When people’s jobs are vulnerable, it’s critical that a leader demonstrates to the people that he or she is also willing to make sacrifices to commit to the long-term vision.

“I must be willing to put myself up to say, ‘Here is my resignation letter,’ if I’m not performing to what I said I would perform,” Chandrasekhar says.

Even though the company was losing money, Chandrasekhar was passionate about getting Jamcracker back on track. So he invested his own money to show his team his renewed commitment.

“We bought out all the other investors to bring in my own money, because we said this is going to take a longer time and other investors may not be around to make it happen — or rather, may not have the appetite to make it happen,” he says. “That boosted the confidence of all employees by reminding people that, ‘Chandra believes in it.’”

By keeping the vision at the forefront, Chandrasekhar has successfully built Jamcracker back from a low of 11 employees to 200 people in 2011.

How to reach: Jamcracker, (408) 496-5500 or www.jamcracker.com

Switching gears

In addition to empowering your team, K.B. Chandrasekhar, CEO and chairman of Jamcracker says successful growth requires leaders to sense when to let go of conservatism and know when to move into high gear.

Here are Chandrasekhar’s tips for how to prepare your company for when the market turns.

Set a scalable structure.

“Most times companies implode because they are not able to scale effectively. The key is to put in a structure that will enable a company to scale successfully when the opportunity is in the market.”

Be flexible.

“Second is what I call the willingness to change the rules as the situation demands, because you are not the only stakeholder in the company. There are a number of stakeholders in the company, which means you must know when to really take risks and when not to take risks. You are constantly juggling between growth, value, creation and just management.”

Feel it out.

“If you are an early stage company and entrepreneur, you may not have all of the parameters to back up everything that you do, which means you are going to rely a lot on your intuition, on your gut and your perception of where the market is going. It’s important to have that third dimension of that.”

Published in Northern California

While many businesses have used the economy as an excuse to pile work on employees the past few years, Fleet Response didn’t buy in to that thinking. Despite the tough economic times, the company, which provides fleet management services, takes time to make sure its people aren’t buried. As a result, Fleet Response grew during the downturn from $47.4 million in revenue in 2008 to $58.4 million last year and earned a spot on the Weatherhead 100 list of fastest-growing companies in Northeast Ohio this year while also celebrating its 25th anniversary.

“In our marketplace is the fact that we’re at the highest level of service, and if our employees are burnt out or experiencing too heavy a workload, that performance will show up in their ability to keep up in the quality in their work,” says Scott Mawaka, president and COO.

One of the biggest keys to growth has been making sure employees don’t get loaded down with too much work. It can be challenging to figure out work loads, but Fleet Response has built systems around performance metrics to gauge employee activity levels and determine what’s manageable and what’s not. Allison Lanzilotta is the vice president of business development, and one of the big tasks she does daily is analyzing the activity by looking at data to make sound decisions.

“There’s a lot of information you can get and a lot of different ways you can look at it,” she says. “Start somewhere. Look at it every week, every month, and chart things out, and you’ll see what makes sense and what the right numbers should be. … You can’t look at every single number at the beginning. You’ve got to focus in on a few key things and go from there, otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed with all the information.”

For example, on the call center side of the business, two numbers she gauges are how many calls each representative is taking and the length of hold times. In the claims department, she looks at the total number of claims employees have in their portfolios versus the optimum number they’ve determined for peak service.

Beyond just the numbers, Mawaka also gauges workloads by walking around to ask employees how they’re doing.

“Are they able to keep up with their work load?” Mawaka says. “Are they excited about a new client? If they’re terribly busy, you will get their opinions delivered to you, and it’s something where you can talk to the other people involved with them to understand if it’s just a point in time where work was above the norm or if it’s a routine that we need to address [with an] increase to employment.”

As volumes pick up, it’s important to communicate your intentions with employees and thank them for their extra efforts.

“You put a lot on your employees, and you want more and more, and, ‘Oh, here’s another client — and another.’” Lanzilotta says. “It’s great, but you want to appreciate all the work they’re doing and let everyone understand that we’re doing well, we’re growing, and we’re going to keep motivating people by letting them know we’re not going to bury them. We’re going to get the right staffing and reward them appropriately.”

Those rewards come in the form of midyear and year-end bonuses and sometimes additional time off, but beyond that it’s many little things throughout the year too, such as hosting lunches, company outings and parties. 

“Your employees are the lifeblood of the organization from day to day and a reflection of how we’re doing,” Lanzilotta says. “It’s very important that we don’t just keep piling things on our employees but we stop and appreciate some of the successes as they come along.”

And if your employees can’t work effectively, your business won’t grow.

“It’s all about the people,” Mawaka says. “It’s what matters most in the world. Medicine, manufacturing or service — it’s all about two people working together to succeed.”

 How to reach: Fleet Response, (216) 525-3870 or www.fleetresponse.com

Focusing on clients

Fleet Response's people focus the past few years hasn’t been limited to employees.

“Everything starts with people — that’s both internal and external,” says Scott Mawaka, president and COO.

To grow, the company has also made clients a major priority because they’re experiencing stress just as much as employees are.

“They’re wearing more and more hats,” says Allison Lanzilotta, vice president of business development. “The more that we’ve been able to provide them flexible service and accommodate administratively, [the more that] we’ve been able to bring on new clients.”

Providing flexible services starts with building stronger relationships. Initially, Mawaka approached its largest clients to offer discounts in exchange for extending contracts in order to ensure revenues for Fleet Response and familiarity and savings for clients.

Fleet Response people also went to clients’ offices and vice versa to ask what has challenged them and what they need help with.

“Often, they know right off hand some things that take a bunch of their time that they’d love to get off their plate,” Lanzilotta says. “It’s really keeping that communication line open, not just via e-mail but face to face and phone, if that’s the only option.”

As clients talk about problems they have, customize your services and offerings to help meet those needs.

Mawaka says, “That was probably one of the key facets of growth for us over the past few years was just exploring new angles with our clients and communicating with them about challenges they had internally.”

Published in Cleveland

Todd Beckman wants his employees at The Tan Co. to think of really big things and really big goals that they want to accomplish in their lives. If for some reason they’re not sure how to proceed with these lavish wish lists, they need only step into Beckman’s office for guidance.

On his desk, they’ll find a picture of the house Beckman wants to build some day and a model of the car he’d like to eventually own.

“I just always try to keep myself moving forward,” says Beckman, founder, president and CEO at the 400-employee chain of tanning salons. “Usually, I do that not only with the business or family, but with some sort of a toy. A car, a boat, a house. I have that in front of me at all times. I just do things like that to keep my head in the game. We have to constantly be hitting on all cylinders to hit those goals.”

The growth of The Tan Co. from a small two-salon operation in 1994 to more than 70 locations across 13 states today can be tied directly to ambition, Beckman says. The trick is to get your people to share the passion and energy that you possess as leader of the company. You’re going to need it if you want your business to grow.

“I have goals that I want to achieve for the year and we work toward achieving those on a weekly basis,” Beckman says. “Everything has to work. Otherwise I don’t achieve my goals. So I have to come in and be excited and positive about where we are going and what we are trying to do so everyone wants to follow that.”

There is a board at the corporate office of The Tan Co. and Beckman has employees post their dreams and aspirations on the board for all to see.

“It can be anything,” Beckman says. “It can be anything from a purse to a car to a house. Whatever they think they want to achieve. Even to be higher up in the company.”

The goal is to get your people to adopt an attitude of continuous improvement that will hopefully come through in their work.

“That’s the whole trick of it,” Beckman says. “I have to make sure that everybody is working hard and that I am leading them as hard as I can to make sure we can achieve our goals. It’s impossible to do it on your own.”

On the business side, you need to work with your people to set goals that they can pursue and not just blindly assign them without any dialogue.

“They feel like they are part of the company and that they’ve helped to make those decisions,” Beckman says. “They come into the office on a weekly basis and we go over where their store is at and what kind of numbers they are doing. Then they talk about their numbers in front of their peers. A mix of all of that is what motivates our people to want to work here.”

You need to demonstrate that you are working hard, that you have goals that you’re pursuing and numbers you need to meet and that you’re part of the team if you want to get support. Your belief and confidence in your ability to achieve those goals can make a huge difference.

You can’t let yourself get down when challenges arise.

“You just can’t allow that to happen,” Beckman says. “Even in the worst of times and the worst of days, you just have to figure out a way to not go into the office with that attitude. That’s what I try to do. It’s not easy, but at the same time, if you’re going to be leading, you’d better be on your game.”

How to reach: The Tan Co., (866) 668-2626 or www.thetanco.com

Learn to unwind

Todd Beckman starts each day at the gym with a workout and a three-mile run. It’s a crucial step in his ability to be an effective leader at The Tan Co.

“If it wasn’t for that, it would probably be a lot harder of a struggle for me,” says Beckman, founder, president and CEO at the 400-employee chain of tanning salons.

“You just relieve a lot of stress and anxiety when you’re at the gym running. I run three miles a day and then just do a workout. That helps me.”

It also puts Beckman in a better position to deal with employees who are going through a tough time and get to the root cause of what is bothering them.

“We’ll sit down and talk to them about it,” Beckman says. “It’s just really going over the whole wheel again and starting from scratch. What is it you’re not happy about? Where is it that you want to go? What is it you are trying to achieve? Why aren’t you achieving it? It’s just going through the steps. That’s what all of our training is all about. We’re constantly helping people to be better.”

How to reach: The Tan Co., (866) 668-2626 or www.thetanco.com

Published in St. Louis

Julie Smolyansky was living a dream. She and her family had escaped the old Communist regime in the Soviet Union in 1976 and come to the United States. Twenty five years later, her father was leading a successful business in Chicago in Lifeway Foods Inc. while her mother had opened a popular delicatessen in the city. All seemed right with the world.

And then in a flash, it seemed as if her world was crumbling all around her.

“My dad died suddenly, unexpectedly, out of the blue,” Smolyansky says. “There was no road map for this. I had been with him for five years, and I was kind of his right-hand person, but I was 27 at the time. We’re not talking about a little mom-and-pop store.”

Far from it. Lifeway Foods had about 90 employees and $12 million in annual sales in 2002 selling kefir, a milk-based cultured drink that is healthier than yogurt and attractive to those seeking good nutrition.

But her father’s death had suddenly filled many in the company with doubt about the future.

“At my father’s funeral, I heard friends of my family and friends of my father say, ‘Well, this company is done,’” says Smolyansky, the company’s current president and CEO. “I had to live with that and wake up and try to steer the ship even though it was a personal tragedy for me as well as a business tragedy for the company.”

Smolyansky was filled with pain and anger. But she used work as a place to refocus her energy and at least temporarily, push the pain to the side. Her father had made a huge sacrifice by leaving his homeland and taking his family to Chicago and then worked hard to build a successful business. She was not about to let that effort be for naught.

“You have to roll with the punches and if you can’t, if you crumble, it might not be the place for you to be,” Smolyansky says. “If you can’t take the heat, get out.”

Smolyansky let people have their moment of doubt about the future. But she quickly followed that up by demonstrating her resolve to keep the business going.

“When you assemble the team, steer them,” Smolyansky says. “Lead them. That’s what we do. Hopefully a good leader has a sense of Zen or calmness even when it seems like chaos is happening. It’s really up to you to navigate through those moments and make it OK for everybody and begin to problem solve.”

Get into the steps that need to be taken to overcome the challenge and move on from it. Focus on the task at hand.

“Something has happened,” Smolyansky says. “Now what are the steps we need to take to resolve it? How do we get to those steps? Start to assign people to get to those steps. Maybe have a brainstorming session. I get away from the drama of what happened and straight into, ‘OK, what are we going to do to solve this?’”

You’re only human, of course. So what about those anxieties or doubts that you’re always trying to keep under wraps?

“I manage those personally on my own,” Smolyansky says. “Not always with my team. Or I might have a go-to handful of people I can bounce things off of.”

If you’re a true leader, you’ll find a way to deal with the doubts and continue pushing forward to conquer your challenge and lead your business through the storm.

“I completely just focused on my work and getting the company stable and the team stable and had complete pinpoint focus on what things we needed to get done to be where we are today,” Smolyansky says.

Where the company is today is 315 employees and $63.5 million in gross sales for 2010.

“I just kept repeating like a mantra, ‘Failure is not an option,’” Smolyansky says.

How to reach: Lifeway Foods Inc., (877) 281-3874 or www.lifeway.net

Don’t give up

If Julie Smolyansky feels “gung ho in a very crazy way” about a product, she gives that product an excellent chance to succeed.

“The leader has to get behind the product,” says Smolyansky, president and CEO at Lifeway Foods Inc. “You really have to have your heart in it to successfully launch something with great success. If you have any doubt in it, that’s probably when you don’t get to success.”

So why do some products have people clamoring to buy them while others just sit on the shelf and collect dust? Smolyansky has grown her dairy company to 315 employees and $63.5 million in 2010 gross sales, but that doesn’t mean she has any foolproof solutions. One thing she does believe in quite strongly is the positive power of passion and energy.

So if your product isn’t a hit right off the bat, try to figure out why it’s not working, apply what you’ve learned and take another shot at it.

“Even out of something that is failure, if you learned something that maybe gave you the tools for the next thing you’re doing, maybe that was a success then,” Smolyansky says. “It’s optimism and the ability to take punches. You can assemble a different team or position it in a different way. Go after a different market. You have to be intuitive and open your eyes and ears to other ideas. You really have to personally want it.”

Published in Chicago

Audrey Dunning is CEO of Summa, an IT consulting and software engineering firm. Dunning and the folks at Summa are helping companies cut through the hype and understand how they can identify real opportunities for accelerating the business value for their business with cloud applications.

“That’s our role as a consulting and integrating firm,” Dunning says of the $14 million company. “Cloud computing is really a way for companies to add new capabilities, increase capacity, essentially on demand, without needing to invest in new infrastructure, training new people, and licensing new software.”

Cloud computing is being used more and more and it’s companies like Summa that help others better understand how it can be utilized to it’s best and fullest potential. “It’s clearly one of the fastest growth opportunities that we’re seeing in the business,” she says. “Some see it as a seismic shift in IT and others just sort of see it as a next-step evolution.”

Generally, cloud computing is a subscription-based pay-as-you-use versus more traditional models of acquiring IT computing resources. People tend to think of cloud computing as covering three areas. “Software as a Service (SaaS) is one,” Dunning says. “There’s also the notion of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). That’s an aspect of cloud computing about getting access to compute cycles. The third area of cloud is Platform as a Service (PaaS). Platform as a Service is probably the newest notion of cloud that’s really hot right now for 2011.”

Whatever area of cloud you may be considering or already using, it is important to have someone help you make sense of it all. Summa uses the cloud application readiness assessment offering.

“That allows us to work with an organization, help them evaluate whether [cloud] fits and the intersection of the business value of a cloud solution with technology within their company,” she says. “It looks at the economic drivers for leveraging cloud in their environment. It helps educate them on the different cloud types and associated services that might be out there. We help them take a look at the real opportunities in their organization and where they can take advantage of it. We help them rank the different potential initiatives and which might have the nearest-term business benefits.”

Cloud computing is everywhere right now and gaining a solid understanding of it and where you can use it moving forward is what will set your company apart.

“Starting with a pilot somewhere is something we advocate a lot to take a look at what are the candidates,” Dunning says. “Pick a place to get started and then work through a pilot application. Something we advocate a lot to organizations is transitioning to new technologies in an incremental way versus a big bang approach.”

There is a lot of information available so you’ve got to take that into account and make sure you know what area of cloud you want to start using.

“There is a lot of hype around the cloud right now and a lot of product vendors and technology vendors are seeking ways to rebrand their solutions with cloud in the name,” Dunning says. “You have to be a bit careful of the vendor hype. You have to educate yourself and really understand your organization. Take a look at where it might make sense to get started based on the needs of your organization and priorities and your readiness to adopt a new solution. And obviously work with a provider who can help give you good advice in that process. You have to get educated about the space and what it is and what it isn’t and where would be a good place to get started.

“There’s all sorts of research and statistics out there that say large percentages of organizations are going to be shifting to this model. I think at this point it’s become something to not really avoid, you have to have an eye to it. You have to look at where you can get started and get your feet wet.”

HOW TO REACH: Summa, (412) 258-3300 or www.summa-tech.com

Look Out

While cloud computing is stirring up a lot of interest, Software as a Service is still largely the model that most companies are utilizing.

“Salesforce.com is an example,” Dunning says. “Salesforce.com is a pretty popular application for customer relationship management and sales force automation. The Software as a Service model is basically a way to deliver functionality to many customers at once through a service versus installing that software on premises.

“Some of the advantages of that to businesses are it increases their agility and the ability to bring up new functionality and new applications quickly. It has the promise of reducing their costs.”

Summa got involved in that particular part of the cloud computing space. It acquired a company last summer.

“We acquired a local firm called Harvest Gold,” she says. “They were an existing Salesforce.com business partner, so their experience was more along the lines of helping organizations with their sales business processes. As more companies and larger enterprises are looking to the SaaS model for deploying application functionality, Summa was involved with Harvest Gold as a partner. We saw an opportunity to bring Harvest Gold into the firm as a way to really represent an end-to-end solution from the business through the IT organization. It helped to fuel our growth.”

Published in Pittsburgh

When Daniel Moore became president and CEO of Cyberonics Inc., a medical device company focused on epilepsy and other debilitating neurological disorders, in 2007, he faced a company that wasn’t growing and had several issues in need of fixing.

“The company had lost more than $50 million in each of the two prior years and owed $132.5 million dollars,” Moore says. “The first problem was a financial problem and the long-term viability of the business. The first job was to turn that around. Had we not done that, the company would have been out of business in 18 months.”

Cyberonics was forced to do layoffs to stay in business and dropped from nearly 600 employees to 430. Since then, Moore has emphasized a unified vision and a strong, open culture to get the now 530-employee company, which saw fiscal 2011 revenue of $190 million, back on track.

“You have to start with the vision,” Moore says. “What do you want this to become? Before I came into the company there were several members of the board who were new board members and we ensured that … we all shared the same vision.”

The company had been going in another direction which had led to some of the company’s challenges. It shifted gears and focused on epilepsy as a business. It was important for them to all be on the same page.

“The alignment has to be there at the top first,” he says. “I have been in situations where the board is not in alignment and if the board doesn’t have alignment, then the senior team is allowed to not have alignment and that trickles down throughout the organization. If you have the alignment and you share a common vision for what it is you’re going to do, that allows you to layout a plan in order to get to success.”

Communication during this process is crucial for alignment throughout the organization to occur.

“Once you have alignment on here’s what we’re going to do, the second part of that … is saying what you’re not going to do,” he says. “If you do those two things, say what it is you’re going to do and then what it is that you’re not going to do … I think you’re on your way.”

During turnarounds and periods of change there is often opposition to that change. It was vital to Cyberonics’ turnaround to allow for constructive debate and a culture that stressed that importance.

“You want to have a culture where people are free to express their thoughts,” Moore says. “You want to have a culture where that debate is encouraged.”

Constructive and spirited debates are often a good thing. You have to understand that your idea or direction isn’t always the best or right way to go.

“You have to ensure that you have an environment for which [constructive debate] can happen and opportunities for it to happen,” Moore says.

It is up to the CEO to make sure the culture of constructive debate reaches everyone in the company.

“Speak to the benefits with sincerity, letting them know you believe we will be best if we utilize the intellectual capacity of all of our team members and help each other grow and develop by learning through sharing ideas,” he says. “If you don’t believe that openness and constructive debate are good and you have all the answers, there is a bigger issue and you’re that issue.”

You have to demonstrate the culture you want to see within your company and ensure it’s happening.

“Don’t put people down in discussion,” Moore says. “Acknowledge their input and let them know when you agree and they’ve changed your position and let them know when they haven’t and why.”

Whenever possible, show your employees they can change your mind.

“When you can show real world examples people see that you are willing to not have the final say in every matter and that you, as CEO, are not always right. It gives them confidence for future interactions.”

HOW TO REACH: Cyberonics Inc., (800) 332-1375 or http://us.cyberonics.com/en 

Look out

To create a strong culture and one that directly affects the growth and performance of your company, you need strong employees.

“Get good people on the team and they will really make things good overall,” says Daniel Moore, CEO of Cyberonics. “It’s about that team coming together with their individual functions and putting it all together into the broader team.”

To get the most out of your employees, you need to make sure they are being challenged enough in their roles and have an opportunity to grow as the company does.

“To grow and develop people, you need to be honest with people as to where they are and you need to be honest with people as to where you see them being able to go,” he says. “We hold people largely accountable for taking control of their development plan. We create an environment where they can grow and develop, but they need to be the point person in their growth and development.”

Employees will only be able to grow if your company is behind them in that growth.  

“You want to ensure you have an environment where people can get a variety of challenges. You want to provide that environment that allows for growth and development and you want to make sure people understand that it’s their responsibility to be in charge of their development.”

Published in Houston

André Thornton doesn’t make excuses. He didn’t do it as a baseball player with the Cleveland Indians and he doesn’t do it as president and CEO at ASW Global LLC.

In both cases, he faced sizable challenges.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the man once known as “Thunder” hit a lot of home runs, but played in front sparse crowds at cavernous old Cleveland Municipal Stadium with a team that had almost no hope of ever winning a title.

Today, Thornton leads the 170-employee supply-chain solutions company in the midst of an Ohio economy that is still recovering from the 2008 recession. But just as he did in his playing days, Thornton stays laser focused on the job at hand.

“You can’t sit back and say, ‘Well, I’m in here in Northeast Ohio, so therefore, I’m crying about business going out all over the world,’” Thornton says. “Well, that’s not going to change. You have to figure out a way to be competitive and to survive in an ever-changing global marketplace. That’s what a leader and his leadership team is always thinking about.”

When Thornton bought ASW in 2007, he saw employees that had quite a bit of fear about what the future might hold.

“People’s anxiety levels were up,” Thornton says. “Frustration was up with things going on around them. To go through those ups and downs, you really have to trust the people you are following.”

So it was up to Thornton to be open with his people and give them a reason to trust him.

You need your employees to be an active and committed part of your team so they can do their best to help you compete. You can start by clearly explaining to them what you’re looking to do.

“It’s making sure that the plan you have in place, people can understand it, they can believe in it, they can trust it and they can see the practicality of it,” Thornton says. “They can see the progression even though they may not see all of the plan rolled out at once. They can see a progression of where you are trying to go.”

Thornton draws a parallel to the very nature of his business, which is to provide solutions for clients with warehousing and distribution needs. You need to do the same with your employees.

“This is where we’re going and this is why we’re going there and this is what we want to accomplish along the way and this is the benefit to all of us,” Thornton says. “Those are things that a leader has to establish.”

But it’s not just your ability to explain a balance sheet or lay out a strategy that is going to make the difference for your business. You need other people who can play leadership roles too and help you move things along.

“I need to have the right people in place to help promote, direct, guide and advocate the vision throughout our organization,” Thornton says. “That’s through leaders both formal and informal in your organization. They have to buy into it and continue to advocate. They have to be people that have the respect of the organization. What I mean by that is they are not only saying something, they are doing it. Their lifestyle and management style is one of respect and one of integrity.”

And while respect doesn’t have a slot on your balance sheet, it’s probably as important as anything in determining whether your business succeeds.

“It’s the way you carry yourself,” Thornton says. “It’s what you do and how you do it. It’s how you treat people. It’s how you listen. All those things are vitally important because for you to follow me, there’s a respect level that needs to take place.”

Evaluate yourself

André Thornton is a respected man in Northeast Ohio and that’s something that matters a great deal to him. It should also matter to you as the leader of your business.

“We see leaders struggling today,” says Thornton, president and CEO at ASW Global LLC. “It is often around a lack of management around their personal life. Look at the breakdowns that we see taking place in the business community and the political arena. “You are constantly being bombarded with all sorts of information, challenges, requests and opportunities. If you don’t have a way to manage that in your own life, it could throw you off kilter. Whether it’s success or lack of success, people respond to those things in ways that are not healthy.”

So take a moment once in a while to look in the mirror and assess what you see.

“Be honest in assessing your own personal management,” says the leader of the 170-employee supply-chain solutions company. “That it is not a hindrance or deterrent to the success of your organization. Secondly, make sure that what you’re doing organizationally is not a deterrent to the success of your organization.”

How to reach: ASW Global LLC, (888) 363-8492 or www.aswglobal.com

Published in Akron/Canton

When Chuck Wade worked as a narcotics officer, he seized more than $25,000 in drugs 11 times, and every operation didn’t start with shady people in sketchy alleys — they began undercover in a company, where he would, inevitably, end up arresting the No. 1 drug dealer in that business.

“I saw firsthand the problems (drugs) were causing with productivity and absenteeism and tardiness and leaving the worksite without permission, and it was truly destroying a company from within,” says Wade, president and CEO of The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Inc. and state director for Drugs Don’t Work in Georgia. “Quite often, upper-level management wasn’t even aware it was happening until it was too late and the company was suffering and they were bleeding red ink, and they began to realize there was a problem there.”

But often, management wasn’t aware that drugs were the issue, which is why creating a certified drug-free workplace can help prevent problems from even forming. On top of reducing problems, there’s a financial incentive, as well. Twelve states in the country, including Georgia, have a state-mandated discount on workers’ compensation insurance for certain state-certified drug-free workplaces. The discounts range, but Georgia has the highest with a 7.5 percent discount, which means savings of a few hundred dollars a year if you’re a smaller business, all the way up to as much as $100,000 for some large companies. 

If these numbers have caught your attention, then the first step to becoming a certified drug-free workplace is to put a substance-abuse policy in place.

“If a company does not have a substance-abuse policy in place, then the company has put themselves in a precarious legal position,” Wade says. … “Every company, regardless of size, needs to have a substance-abuse policy.”

If you don’t have anything in place, the simplest way to get started is to contact Wade, who can e-mail you a fill-in-the-blank policy that was created by the organization’s attorney, who has more than 25 years of labor law experience and specialized in workplace law.

“He wrote the law on drug-free workplace here in Georgia, and he wrote the law on substance-abuse policy,” Wade says. “It’s the most legally sound substance-abuse policy a company can have.”

The policy is written in a way that it can be customized to any size business, and it’s absolutely free.

Once you have a policy in place, then the second step is to do drug testing. On average, a drug test costs $25 if it’s processed externally.

“All companies need to be doing drug testing, primarily because they don’t want to inadvertently hire a drug user,” Wade says. “One drug-using employee can single-handedly destroy a company from within, and I’ve seen that happen many times.”

In addition to applicant drug testing, participants are required to do post-accident testing. Not only does it increase safety in the workplace, but it protects the employer. For example, Georgia law states that if an employee tests positive for drugs within eight hours of an accident or for alcohol within four hours, the employee will not win a workers’ comp claim against the company. On average, it costs about $75,000 to treat a back injury, so if one of your employees gets hurt, and your insurance provider has to pay that much, your rates will go up.

“There are companies that have gone out of business for one reason and one reason only, and that’s because their workers’ comp rates got so high because there were so many claims filed against them they couldn’t afford workers’ comp insurance anymore, and they were forced out of business,” Wade says.

In addition to these two types of testing, participants are required to do reasonable suspicion testing and post-treatment/rehabilitation testing.

After testing, the third step to becoming a certified drug-free workplace is drug education. This is critical because Wade says 77 percent of drug users are employed, so education in the workplace is the most effective way to reduce demand.

Education can be through guest speakers, DVDs or newsletters. Most companies opt for the newsletter option, which costs $150 a year, as it doesn’t require employees losing productivity to sit through a speaker or DVD. Newsletters are often more effective than the other options, because employees can refer back to them and share the information with family, too. Additionally, Wade says research shows that employees will retain only 9 percent of the information they hear in a presentation.

The fourth step is supervisor training, which can also be done through the same three ways as employee education. The supervisor newsletters cost a company $110 a year, and the training helps teach supervisors to recognize warning signs of drug use.

Then the last step is to provide either an employee assistance program or a list of treatment counseling centers to give employees if they test positive, so they know where to get help.

Overall, it costs $35 a year to apply for certification, which goes to the state. Other than that, the only costs are for the newsletters and drug testing, but given the payoffs that creating a drug-free workplace can provide, it’s cost-efficient.

“For more than 20 years now, all the Fortune 500 companies have been drug-free workplaces — not because of the workers’ comp discount,” Wade says. “The reasons these big boys and girls have done this — and this is one of the reasons they became the big boys and girls to begin with — is because they do the right things right. And they know with a drug-free workplace, you increase productivity, reduce your absenteeism and your tardiness, cut workers’ comp claims in half, reduce medical costs by up to 300 percent, increase overall workplace morale, cut turnover rate, reduce death and crime in the workplace, and all of that positive affects the bottom line.”

 How to reach: The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Inc., (404) 223-2480 or www.livedrugfree.org

Published in Atlanta

In 2008, The Progressive Corp. began looking at ways it could make the 3,500 vehicles in its company fleet more environmentally friendly.

You’ve probably seen the white vehicles with blue lettering around, or maybe you’ve even had to deal with one for an accident you were involved in. Either way, about 3,000 of those 3,500 vehicles are used by the company’s claims department and are constantly out and about. And in the past, many of those vehicles were six-cylinder Ford Explorers — large vehicles that use a lot of gas.

“When it comes to our fleet, this was an opportunity for us to look at what do we really need as a business as far as a vehicle and look at our costs and then look at emissions,” says Wanda Shippy, Progressive’s social responsibility manager.

Progressive's fleet operations team started looking at more fuel-efficient alternatives, and they discovered the four-cylinder Ford Escape, which is a less-expensive vehicle and is more environmentally friendly, so they decided to replace the Explorers with Escapes.

“The way that it happens is when those leases come up for renewal or replacement, we then make the transition from the six-cylinder to the four-cylinder,” Shippy says. “It’s a gradual process.”

By the end of 2008, Progressive had transitioned 9 percent of its vehicles. By 2009, it was at 28 percent, and by the end of 2010, it was around 41 percent.

The organization has embraced the efforts, but even though people wanted to make the change, it didn’t come without its share of challenges — the largest being how to identify realistic goals and how to move forward on those.

“It starts with understanding your business and knowing, based on the type of business that you are, where can you be socially responsible?” Shippy says.

Kathy Schulz is Progressive’s manager of travel and fleet operations, and she says it’s important to really look at your business closely before you make any major decisions regarding your fleet and sustainability initiatives.

“It’s important to understand your business, and every business is different, and they use their vehicles differently,” Schulz says.

She says they look at how much their vehicles are used and how exactly employees use them.

“There are opportunities, so not only could you reduce your carbon emissions by buying more environmentally friendly vehicles, but also, if you’re not utilizing to full capacity, reduce the number,” Schulz says. “That’s the greatest reduction in emissions by having less vehicles out there.”

To do that, Schulz says she looks at the costs and usage of all its vehicles, and she also looks at rental vehicle usage combined with fleet usage. While these numbers are important, they also have to keep the customers in mind.

“It’s a balancing act,” Shippy says. “You have to look at how many vehicles do you need in order to provide the service you promised when people purchased your (product), and then how can you do that by using them efficiently and having the usage high on the vehicles you have. [Look at] how many vehicles do you need to do that, and that can fluctuate as the business changes.”

It also comes down to weighing the initiatives against some of the organization’s core values, as well.

“We always want to focus on one of our main core values, which is the Golden Rule — to treat others as you would like to be treated,” Shippy says. “Our CEO constantly says just do the right thing. We make a decision that we think is right for the business and right for those that we serve every day.”

How to reach: The Progressive Corp., (440) 461-5000 or www.progressive.com

Find a plan that fits you

By Mark Scott

You can make a difference in the environment even if your business does not have a fleet of thousands of vehicles taking the road each day. That’s the message from Jason Mathers, project manager for the Environmental Defense Fund. The nonprofit organization helps businesses find solutions to environmental challenges.

“Anything an employee is doing for the company on behalf of the company, the emissions associated with that are part of the environmental footprint,” Mathers says. “Just because you’re not able to easily track something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

Figure out what impact your company does have in terms of the number of vehicles you put on the road and how much they are used. Encourage your employees to be better drivers by not speeding, idling or hauling unnecessary weight in their vehicles.

“You’re talking about vehicle efficiency and routing, driver behavior and all these things that have a very significant return on investment,” Mathers says.

If you do have fleets, look at the vehicles you have and whether a more fuel-efficient model could do the same job.

“If you can take a modest step over your entire fleet, that can add up to a significant impact,” Mathers says.

How to reach: Environmental Defense Fund, (617) 406-1806 or www.edf.org/greenfleet

Published in Cleveland

When Mark Leuenberger was considering integrating GPS technology into part of Cox Enterprises Inc.’s 13,000-vehicle fleet a few years ago, he was looking at it from a customer service improvement standpoint. But in doing so, he discovered a way for the fleet to be more environmentally friendly, as well.

“As part of collecting that data, we monitored idle time, and that’s really where it came up, and we had a real opportunity to reduce our carbon output and create a fairly large green initiative with that,” says Leuenberger, assistant vice president of supply chain services and fleet management.

He saw that many of the drivers were idle more than they were driving, so they implemented GPS technology into 5,000 vehicles that sends alerts when the vehicle has idled too long and shuts it down. This encourages employees to finish paperwork up in the home instead of in the vehicle. They also implemented a new routing system that leads the trucks on tighter routes, which reduces the mileage and the amount of time the vehicles are on the road.

“Telling your techs where to go next and how to get there really has an impact on our green initiatives,” he says.

As a result of these initiatives, the drivers were able to reduce idle periods by as much as 84 percent, depending on the market. The new routing system reduced mileage by about 15 percent. On top of these reductions, Cox was able to reduce its fuel consumption about 8 percent, and it has reduced the overall fleet size by about 400 vehicles over the past few years, because not as many were needed anymore as a result of the efficiencies created.

One of the biggest things he says you have to keep in mind when rolling out new green initiatives is communication.

“Start communicating long before you implement the initiative,” Leuenberger says. “Prepare people for its coming and the why component of that communication is extremely important. You definitely want to lay out that this is going to be advantageous to you.”

For Cox employees, the changes gave them the ability to perform more work, which meant more money in their pockets. Additionally, it was simply the right thing to do.

While these are great reasons to make the changes, he says it also comes down to costs.

“It has a positive impact on vehicle repair costs and vehicle wear and tear,” Leuenberger says. “All that behavioral changing, all that doesn’t just save us the amount of fuel we burn. It has impacts in all these different areas, so you really want to communicate all the different areas of the job or the company where it has a positive impact.”

He says if you want to make green changes, you have to look at what the cost and return is.

“The biggest challenge is financial,” Leuenberger says. “You’re obviously not going to put in big components that have a negative impact.”

Another big key to implementing a greener fleet also comes down to leading by example. Cox has one of the largest executive fleets in the country with more than 600 vehicles and quite a few more on a cash allowance for driving their own vehicle. All of the cars in the company fleet must meet a minimum of 27 miles per gallon.

He says, “The company cars that are driven by everybody from our chairman all the way down to direct levels are fuel-efficient vehicles.”

How to reach: Cox Enterprises Inc., www.coxenterprises.com

Find a plan that fits you

By Mark Scott

You can make a difference in the environment even if your business does not have a fleet of thousands of vehicles taking the road each day. That’s the message from Jason Mathers, project manager for the Environmental Defense Fund. The nonprofit organization helps businesses find solutions to environmental challenges.

“Anything an employee is doing for the company on behalf of the company, the emissions associated with that are part of the environmental footprint,” Mathers says. “Just because you’re not able to easily track something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

Figure out what impact your company does have in terms of the number of vehicles you put on the road and how much they are used. Encourage your employees to be better drivers by not speeding, idling or hauling unnecessary weight in their vehicles.

“You’re talking about vehicle efficiency and routing, driver behavior and all these things that have a very significant return on investment,” Mathers says.

If you do have fleets, look at the vehicles you have and whether a more fuel-efficient model could do the same job.

“If you can take a modest step over your entire fleet, that can add up to a significant impact,” Mathers says.

How to reach: Environmental Defense Fund, (617) 406-1806 or www.edf.org/greenfleet

Published in Atlanta