Thom Stork was walking through The Florida Aquarium one day when he passed by the shark exhibits. As he watched the divers swimming in the tanks, his curiosity led him to begin posing questions to a nearby employee: ‘How many people go in the tank? How often? Has anyone ever been bitten?’ And before long, he asked the kicker: ‘Can we put our guest in there?’

“He looked at me like I was crazy, ran away and came back a few days later,” says Stork, who became president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium Inc. in 2002.  “Then he said, ‘OK. Listen, we can do this.’”

Before heading up Tampa’s not-for profit aquarium, Stork worked as a marketing executive for Busch Entertainment Corp. for nearly three decades. When he retired, he was approached by the aquarium’s chairman with a proposal to bring his marketing expertise to running the organization.

“I said, ‘I’m not a scientist. I’m not a biologist. I’m not an oceanographer. I’m a marketing, business guy,’” Stork says. “And he said, ‘That’s what we need.’”

Since the aquarium implemented its “Dive with the sharks” program, the exhibit has been extremely profitable and remains sold out. It’s these kinds of unique and memorable experiences that connect people to the organization Stork aims to create every day. To accomplish that, he encourages his people to run with their ideas, even when they seem a bit nuts.

“They come to my office,” Stork says. “They grab me in the hallway or they grab me over in the restaurant and say, ‘Have you ever thought about doing this?’ Every time you hear that you go ‘Yeah! Let’s think about that.’”

In addition to offering encouragement, when you ask people to be proactive in trying new things you’ve also got to be able to demonstrate follow through and constructive feedback once they do. Otherwise, people may get discouraged.

“They have got to understand that it failed,” Stork says. “It failed. This did not work, and here is the reason why. Or ask them, ‘Why did it fail?’ Just have that dialogue.

“They know they are not going to be criticized for wacky-ass ideas.”

When a dive master presented his idea for a “Biologist for the day” program to the senior management team, Stork gave him kudos but also asked him to think bigger picture than the proposed $300 annual profit. The employee was able to rework the program, which today brings the organization thousands in revenue.

“I went, ‘Michael, you did an incredible piece of work here, but here is my challenge for you,’” he says. “‘I want you to go back and I want you to figure out how we can make $30,000.’ He was thinking in a not-for-profit mindset.”

Whether it’s creating new education programs or adding unique events and exhibits — the aquarium recently developed a one-of-a-kind penguin attraction — Stork challenges his 159 employees to explore the boundless possibilities for growth while staying committed to the mission of the organization.

“I believe strongly in the adage that there is not an original idea,” he says. “So I constantly look at what other facilities of our type are doing. I read extensively about new products that are out there for zoos and aquariums and theme parks, trying to determine what works in terms of bringing people through the front door. But then I also do put on my mission hat and say is it good for our business, does it further our mission, does it further our culture?

“So today I say, when I do retire, my legacy will be that I was able to take a bunch of scientists, biologists, teachers and environmentalists and turn them into entrepreneurs, to think about how to make the business work.”

How to reach: The Florida Aquarium Inc., (813) 273-4000 or www.flaquarium.org

Capital ideas

Thom Stork, president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium Inc., is always asking guests what they want to see at the aquarium, whether it’s dolphins, sea lions or what he and his team affectionately call “big-ass sharks.” Yet now that the organization is in a position to look comfortably into its financial future, prioritizing what people want versus what the business needs has become more important.

“In the analysis of everything, you have to look at the things you need to do to further round out this facility and this business,” Stork says. “So we’ve spent a lot of time over the last 18 months looking at what we need to do.”

This year, Stork spearheaded a $15 million capital campaign to address the needs of the organization’s 700,000 annual visitors and 100,000 school kids who visit for its education programs. The project, which broke ground in September, will incorporate lobby renovations, expand classrooms — there are currently two — and add much-needed event and exhibit space, including a ballroom to seat 500 people.

“The priority is ‘What do we need?’” Stork says. “All of those things have a return on investment. They will produce revenues for the aquarium which will further grow the aquarium.”

Published in Florida

Of Beef ‘O’ Brady’s 213 restaurant locations, Chris Elliott has eaten at 50 of them to date. He’s tasted every single item on the menu and is prepared to tell you what he thinks, good and bad. Yet that kind of honesty was harder to dish out last March when he joined the company as its new CEO. After eating at several of the restaurants, Elliott had the difficult task of sitting down with his franchisees to tell them candidly, your food isn’t very good.

“What franchisee wants to be told by a new guy, who they think doesn’t know anything about our brand: ‘Guys, I’ll be honest with you. The food is mediocre, and on top of that, the execution is very uneven from store to store,’” he says.

As a new leader, Elliott was also trying to build relationships with franchises in 23 states — consisting of more than 5,000 companywide employees. Understanding that they had faced several tough financial years prior, he knew that to execute a strategy that could reposition Beef ‘O’ Brady’s for growth, he first needed to win the trust and buy-in of his people.

“You have a new guy coming in, and the last three of four years have been very difficult,” Elliott says. “So it’s a matter of gaining the trust of the franchise community.

“I said, ‘This is what I see, and then based on my experience if we are going to move this business back to where you want it, back to where it belongs, back to where it deserves to be — we’re going to have to fix the food quality and we’re going to have to fix the execution. We get focused on those things and then we get after it. That’s what we’ve been doing in the last year.”

Engage people

When you are a new leader trying to gain perspective on where your company stands, a good place to start is by talking to the people in the company who have been there and understand the brand’s history.

“The first thing I do is sit and listen to what people have to say about the past, what they are passionate about as far as the brand is concerned and what they think the brand is all about,” Elliott says.

“You have this sort of window of opportunity when you come in new to company to establish this trust level that makes people comfortable in dealing with you, which makes people more likely to try and implement the things you ask them to implement.”

Because the company is 99 percent franchised, right away Elliott decided to create a ‘franchise advisory council’ to consult with him on decisions. Made up of a diverse group of 15 franchisees nationwide, the council has been vital in helping him gain a range of opinions and insights on how the business operates.

“I try to get a broad spectrum of people’s input to make sure that we fully vet the ideas,” Elliott says. “Sometimes a good idea is not meant for a particular system. So it’s not only finding the right idea, but making sure that you can actually implement the idea within your system. That’s why, for me, the more people I involve up front, the higher the probability I feel that we’ve made the best decision we can make.”

Furthermore, people are much more receptive to changes when they don’t feel like they are being bossed around. While Elliott knew major operational changes were in order across the board, he realized he couldn’t lead those changes successfully from a corporate office.

“There’s a natural dynamic tension between franchise owners and franchisees,” he says. “We own the brand, but they own the business. They paid for that business. So if they don’t feel like they are getting good leadership, good communication, good ideas and good business results from the franchisor, then they feel like, ‘I’ve got to save myself.’”

It would take relationship-building and strong, two-way communication to keep people from jumping ship and get everyone in the company moving together in a new direction.

“The power of a brand is in consistency,” Elliott says. “It’s everybody on the same team, everybody on the same page, everybody running the same menu and executing at the same level."

By showing people you want and need their help, you build a foundation for trust that helps them accept what you have to say.

“You involve them much earlier in the conversation,” Elliott says. “Collaborate with them on how to do it. Don’t come and tell them how to do it. Collaborate with them so it’s as much their ideas as your ideas, and that carries a lot more weight.

“I like people to challenge the ideas that we come up with and I look at a lot of different points of view to make sure we didn’t miss something. Almost inevitably you will if you don’t have that kind of organization where you are collaborating with the people who are actually going to wind up implementing your plan.”

To find out how he could improve alignment and engagement of his team, Elliott held private meetings with all 30 corporate employees as well as with franchisees on the advisory council.

“I said, ‘Look, I’m just here to learn what the issues are, what the challenges are, what’s been happening and how do we get better,’” he says.

“The human relations aspect of any business relationship is huge. It’s e-mail. It’s picking up the phone and calling. It’s getting out into the field and being present. There’s a lot of ways. Basically, we call it engagement. It’s one of the four principles of our franchisees.”

Elliott also began checking in more frequently on communication between franchisees and the corporate office, setting a more stringent expectation about getting back to franchisees, answering their questions and solving their problems.

“There were some silos in the departments and now that’s gone,” he says. “Everybody is working with everybody, communicating with everybody. The increased communication builds trust but also holds people accountable.”

Provide evidence

To convince people to take action on the company’s issues with food and execution, Elliott realized he also needed some hard evidence on where the company stood against competitors. To put the business’ strengths and weaknesses into a larger context, he and senior managers spent a lot of time initially studying the company’s competitors such as Applebee’s, Chili’s and Buffalo Wild Wings to clearly define the company’s niche in casual dining.

“You need to thoroughly understand the business that you are working in,” he says. “You need to really understand your niche.

“You benchmark your company against other successful organizations, and you demonstrate the benefits of the types of changes that you are proposing in ways that are meaningful to your employees, that would be meaningful to your customers and that would be meaningful to your franchisees.”

Elliott principally examined Buffalo Wild Wings’ restaurant concept, which is similar to Beef’s in many ways and offered some key insights into where the company could improve.

“We looked at them very hard,” he says. “We benchmarked sales volumes. We benchmarked the sales in day parts. We benchmarked the sales in particular items. We benchmarked everything you can think of, the initial investment, the profitability and all of that. It was a real eye-opener for a lot of our franchisees to see how other companies that are similar to us in a lot of ways do so much better in certain areas of their business.”

Then you look to your customers. In addition to working closely with his franchise council, Elliott visited many of the restaurants in person to try the food and listen to people’s ideas, concerns, attitudes and recommendations. He also communicated the importance of making decisions based on experience and data rather than just people’s opinions.

“Very early on I said to the franchisees, ‘This is not about what I want and this is really not about what you want,’” Elliott says. “‘What it’s ultimately about is what our customers want. So in any arbitration of what we’re going to do next, we’re going to let them tell us what they want to do next, what they like.’ That makes it easy for us to make a better decision. We always come to the table with the consumer data to support what we want to do next.”

The company has done more consumer research in recent months than it did in a whole year prior, using outside research firms to evaluate ideas, conduct segmentation studies and put on focus groups.

“Every time we have an idea to go out in the field and set up a field test, we test it for several months and gather the data and then come back,” he says. “That’s very time-consuming and it takes a lot of energy and a lot of resources, but that’s the only way to do it.”

Show results

Even if you get people to buy in to the value and vision behind making changes, winning them over long-term is a matter of proving to them that you can deliver success.

“When you come in and you say we’re going to do these things differently, and then it works, that helps build trust,” Elliott says.

“Once we have an agreement to move forward and are excited about where we are going to go, then it’s be persuasive. You can’t force a plan down people’s throats if you really want it executed. You’ve got to persuade them. That takes relationships. That takes communication. That takes some selling skills.”

Instead of ordering franchisees to switch from frozen to fresh marinated chicken tenders, Elliott convinced them to make the menu change by showing them the results of doing it differently.

“They went bonkers,” he says. “They didn’t think that was possible. So we actually had to go into the stores on Friday night during the busiest part of the night, set up a little station and do it to show the franchise community that ‘Yes, you can do this.’ And not only can you do it, they got to see how consumers reacted to the new product versus the old product.

“There are a lot of things that we did like that. We just recently changed out our burger. We had a good burger, but we went to a better burger. We went from a frozen steakburger to a fresh Angus burger. And that’s one of the reasons our sales turned around in May.”

After pulling the entire menu apart at the corporate office and spending about seven months fleshing out and testing ideas, Elliott estimates there are now 20 examples of ingredients or products that the company has already improved on or changed. The lunch menu now includes smaller portions and lower prices, and there is a stronger focus on efficient execution. Phase one of the main menu innovation launched in January 2011 with phase two implemented in August.

When one franchisee said to Elliott, ‘Why you would spend your time working on something that’s not broken?’ he tried to explain the problem behind that way of thinking.

“I said, ‘It’s not about it not being broken,’” Elliott says. “‘It’s about: Is it as good as it can be? Is it better than what anybody else has got?’ Because the way you’re going to get somebody away from these other customers is to have a better burger, not just a good burger.”

Today, the numbers speak for themselves. The company achieved positive comparable store sales growth in the first quarter of 2011 for the first time since 2006.

“It sort of opened up their eyes to the possibilities that exist out there when you do things a little bit differently,” Elliott says.

“That process of explaining why we were doing what we were doing and then seeing the results of it is beginning to get more and more franchisees on board.”

As people see the small successes add up, they can buy into bigger changes ahead.

“What people are seeing is we can effect positive change in a difficult environment, if we stick to our knitting, if we do some of the basic things better than other people are doing,” Elliott says. “That builds confidence in the franchise community and it also builds the willingness to not just listen to your ideas, but to get behind your ideas, push your ideas harder. It builds that bond of ‘Hey, maybe these guys do know what they are doing, and if we work together we’ll really get this thing on track.’”

How to reach: Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, (813) 226-2333 or www.beefobradys.com

The Elliott File

Chris Elliott

CEO

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s

Born: Montgomery, Ala.

Education: University of Georgia, BBA in accounting, 1977

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?

Having my Starbucks Grande Bold coffee before I get started.

Who are your heroes in the business world and why?

Any and all entrepreneurs. It takes guts, determination and a belief in your own ability to step out and be your own boss. Where would we be without entrepreneurs? I wouldn’t have this job.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?

I play guitar and sing a little.

If you could have dinner with one person you’ve never met, who would it be?

Dead — Abraham Lincoln. He was a great storyteller and master politician. Alive — James Taylor. I love his music, and maybe I could get him to show me his technique.

Favorite part of the job: The whole act of drawing on your experience, assembling a team and the data needed to analyze a problem, then developing a solution that you find out later actually worked. In short: problem-solving.

Elliott on hiring good people: I’ve been doing this a long time and I can tell you if you have really good people working for you, life is good, and if you don’t, nothing ever changes. You spend all of your time managing people instead of managing the business. So a smart executive will hire really good people so they don’t have to spend all of their time managing people. They spend their time managing the business.

Published in Florida

Three years ago, Matt Carter was the president of a business unit that was anything but booming.

The competition was, however.

Carter was the president of Boost Mobile, part of Sprint’s prepaid wireless group. Boost had made its name catering to lower-income customers in urban centers. But staying confined to that niche wasn’t helping expand the division’s market share.

“It was a very challenging situation,” says Carter, who is now the president of Sprint Global Wholesale Solutions Group, an Irvine-based division of Sprint Nextel Corp. that generated $1.8 billion in revenue last year. “Boost was in a category that was growing, but we were the only brand in the category that wasn’t growing. So it became very critical to give people a sense of reality, but it couldn’t just be me that was standing up there and saying, ‘Here is the state of the business.’ Half the deal was really presenting facts and data, and letting folks come to that conclusion themselves and buying in to the need of finding new ways of doing things.”

Carter needed to leverage the brainpower of his people to help redefine the Boost brand. But in order to get people at Boost thinking, he had to engage them in the process of developing new ideas. This meant everyone under Carter’s leadership umbrella had to realize their input and opinions mattered to management.

“It’s critically important in that situation that you let folks know that you are the leader, but you aren’t going to do this all by yourself,” Carter says. “This isn’t Moses laying down the Ten Commandments. You have to let folks know that you’re there for them, that you’re here to serve them and that you want them to buy in to what you’re doing and trust you in leading them. But you can’t force it. You have to figure out a way to get them to want to believe in you and what you’re trying to accomplish. That’s the type of trust that helps you move a business forward.”

Envision the vision

Carter was the leader, but he was also the new guy. He had people on his staff who were much more familiar with the Boost brand than he was and could see the potential directions for growth more than he could. Early in his tenure at Boost, after talking with a number of employees, Carter started to see the brand through the eyes of his people — and it was a brand with a great deal of untapped potential.

“Many of our people felt that there was a great deal more underlying value here that can appeal to a broader segment of the population,” Carter says. “Not just credit-challenged people, but people who are simply looking for good value.”

Carter developed a vision for Boost as a company that could appeal to consumers of different age groups and different income levels, in the city, suburbs and outlying areas. Boost began developing a diverse selection of marketing campaigns, broadened its product distribution and expanded its product offerings.

It sent a strong message to consumers, and it also sent a strong message to Carter’s work force.

“They started to see that, ‘Hey, he’s listening to what we have to say,’” he says. “There is greater potential here than just where we’ve been. Everything from our devices to marketing to distribution, it was all affected by the input I was getting from our people out there.”

Carter gathered the input by getting on the road. He spoke with customers and employees. Many company leaders pound the pavement, interacting with stakeholders and soliciting feedback, but Carter says the most critical step is the one he took next. He turned the talk into action in a short period of time.

“What happens in that process is that as you get their input, they start to see action that reflects the things they were talking about,” Carter says. “It makes them feel as though they had a vested interest in the process, in the outcome, in the decision. It wasn’t just me as the leader, sitting in a room by myself. It was really me getting input from a lot of smart, passionate, engaged people. As most folks saw that, they bought into what we were doing. They felt like, ‘Hey, I’m being heard.’ You can’t underestimate the importance of that. It just makes people more engaged.”

Make it cultural

Once you’ve set a tone of collaboration, it’s up to you to continue reinforcing that message to your employees. If you start out working hard to seek input and turn that input into action, but let the momentum trail off over the following months and years, you’re going to kill the cultural seeds you planted at the outset.

To make collaboration and engagement a part of your culture, you need to hire the best people, define their roles and continually show them how their work benefits the organization as a whole.

Ultimately, Carter says that as a top-level executive, you’re not in the business of manufacturing your company’s product or providing your company’s service. That’s the job of those under you. As the leader of the team, you’re in the people business.

“I view myself as a player-coach,” Carter says. “I’m in the game, but I also coach and provide guidance. As a leader, your first job is about people. You have to make an evaluation around the type of people you have on your team, who is working collaboratively, who are the people who will help us get to where we need to go. At the same time, you also have to make the tough decisions around those who are not part of those plans. So, it’s being really clear about how you maximize the team’s capabilities. That is absolutely numero uno for me as a leader. It is my belief that it is all about how you maximize your team’s capabilities.”

You need the right puzzle pieces on the table, but you also need them to fit. Fitting the pieces together requires you to define roles for the people on your team. If your team is comfortable with collaboration and sharing ideas, your people need to know what you expect of them and what they can expect from you.

“I don’t try to come in and prejudge people,” Carter says. “I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Some people work better with certain types or leaders or in certain types of situations. What you try to do is come in with an open mind and a clean slate. This is what I need from you and your team, and this is what you can expect from me. And that starts the evaluation process. How are they performing against the expectation that is required for the team to be successful?”

Some people will perform above expectations, some will perform at the level of expectation and some will fall below. If someone falls below, you take corrective steps. If those don’t work, then you are forced to make a judgment call on whether you can move forward with that person as a member of your organization.

“The worst thing you can do is keep bouncing around people who are not performing,” Carter says. “You have to protect the integrity and the performance of the team.”

Develop solid practices

Carter says there are few things more important in business than defining metrics and goals and consistently executing on them until you’ve gotten it right. Without practice and execution, Carter and his team would never have seen their vision for Boost Mobile come to fruition. It’s a lesson he’s seen illustrated in pro sports.

Former NBA league MVP Allen Iverson once famously ranted to the media after he was criticized by his coach for missing team practices.

“Maybe Allen Iverson didn’t completely believe in practice, but you have to practice,” Carter says. “You have to be able to work on your game. So I have put in practices that allow us to have good habits as an organization.”

Carter and his leadership team continually assessed Boost’s performance with a series of metrics and used some tools they formulated to help keep everyone abreast of how the company — and their department — was performing against the metrics.

“Every week, we made sure everyone was clear on the state of the business,” he says. “We had a weekly scorecard to indicate how we were performing against all the key metrics. It was set up like a gas gauge, with red, yellow and green. Green meant you were performing at or above the plan, yellow was kind of a warning area and red meant you were underperforming. The goal of that was to get everyone performing from the same sheet of music, the same metrics we were going to use to evaluate the business. Everyone has a common language. And you don’t want to underestimate the importance of that. Having a common language is what allows everyone to have a robust conversation as an organization.”

If you don’t have that method for uniform measurement that allows for consistency in your execution against your goals, you end up like the Lakers did this past spring when they were swept in the second round of the playoffs.

“The Lakers are unquestionably one of the best teams in the league, and what happened to them? There were all kinds of personality issues, emotional distractions, psychological drama,” Carter says. “They’re people, and they weren’t all operating on the same page. And they collapsed. L.A. could still have lost that series, but I don’t think they should have been swept four games to none. And the same thing applies in business. People come to work, they have all kinds of things going on, and you as a leader have to figure out how to keep people together and focused on helping the team best the best that it can be.”

With that approach, Carter had refashioned Boost as a prepaid wireless services brand with appeal to many different market segments by the time he was promoted to lead Sprint’s 4G network expansion in 2009 and to his current post in 2010.

“It just keeps coming back to the fact that it wasn’t just one person as the head of the business, telling everyone else what to do,” Carter says. “We had a forum that was collaborative but invited dissent. You get different points of view and then encourage debate around those points. At some point, if you reach a stalemate, the leader has to make a decision. But you get everyone to understand where we’re going, how we’ll get there and the pros and cons of any decision.

“Having that as part of the process was absolutely critical to getting people to buy in to the vision. And that’s really what you’re trying to do — establish habits and routines. Practice still makes perfect, and you have to put some form of practice in place.”

How to reach: Sprint Global Wholesale Solutions Group, wholesale.sprint.com

The Carter file

Matt Carter

President

Sprint Global Wholesale Solutions Group

Education: Radio, TV and film major at Northwestern University; MBA, Harvard University

First job: I did the newspaper thing. I used to deliver the Boston Globe back in the day, when people used to read the paper.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

It is about people. You get things accomplished through others.  As soon as you understand that as a leader, the better off you are.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

You have to be competent at what you do. You have to have confidence, exude optimism and communicate. You don’t have to speak like Barack Obama, but you have to have a willingness to reach out and engage people. And you have to have trust. People have to see that you as a leader are trustworthy. You need to have their back.

What is your definition of success?

It’s living up to your capabilities. If your capabilities can only get you onto the junior varsity team, then so be it. For me, success is really about giving it your all, to the best of your capabilities. Don’t be like Mike. Be like you, do the best you can do. If you can’t live up to what Michael Jordan did, you don’t need to feel like a failure. You give it your best try. It’s when you don’t give it your all that you fail.

Published in Orange County

Because it meant coming out of retirement to take the reins at MSC Cruises (USA) Inc., Richard Sasso did have some reservations when the company first asked him to lead its North American expansion in 2004. Yet with his track record in the industry — and having served as the president of his own cruise line, Celebrity Cruises, in the past — it didn’t take long for those reservations to give way to excitement. First of all, Sasso realized he already had a great product and brand to build on with the MSC parent company.

“We think that the product itself is the one thing that will always be your ally,” says Sasso, the president and CEO of MSC Cruises (USA). “So if you have a strong product, you not only can sell the product easier, but you can also have referrals and repeat guests.”

Yet to achieve fast success in a new market, the company needed to set itself apart from competitors with its service, as well. That’s why Sasso’s strategy for growing the brand began first and foremost with a foundation of customer service excellence.

“The cruise sector is very much a product, but it is about the customer and customer service. … At the end of the day, if we don’t have a customer and we don’t satisfy him, then they’ll be an end of the road for us,” he says.

“We want to have our best foot forward 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s much more important for an emerging brand to follow the customer and the experience of the customer than an established brand that may already have its own accolades or its own position in the market.”

Drawing from his long career in the cruising industry, Sasso focuses on this objective at the company by ensuring every one of his 70 corporate employees as well as thousands of offshore team members are aligned toward improving and enhancing the guest experience. Consequently, the 36-year cruising veteran is now heading up the fastest-growing cruise line in the world — in fact, the fastest-growing cruise line in the history of cruising. Last year, the Fort Lauderdale- based company sailed with more than one million passengers.

Hire the right people

No matter what the product or service you’re selling, the real predictor of a company’s success or failure begins and ends with your people. By making sure you hire people who have the tools to succeed in a customer-service-driven organization, you set the groundwork for a highly successful service culture.

“This is a professional business, and we need to find the right caliber of people,” Sasso says. “Age is never a factor. It’s if they have the right characteristics to be a good customer service representative. Those characteristics are a lot in the speaking skills, language skills and technology skills … and do they have a customer service mentality? So one is you find the candidate.

“We’ve been at 100 percent occupancy since day one, and with very few exceptions, we’ve been able to fill every ship we’ve brought out and increase our presence around the world at the same time. So it’s been a challenge, but one we’ve been able to manage because from the beginning, we’ve had the right people in the right seats.”

One way to find people with specific traits is through targeted recruiting. While experience is important for senior leadership positions, the recruiting process can help identify other intrinsic qualities people have, such as attitude, communication skills and friendliness.

“You always need to make sure you have the most talented, qualified, enthusiastic people running your company. The guy who is the CEO or the guy who’s the president, he may get all the accolades and all the awards for stellar performance, for a company’s growth and all of that, but at the end of the day, it’s the result of everybody in the organization and in our case, it’s support staff and shore-side staff. We have to have great customer service on both ends of that.”

To recruit team members that excel in specific roles, Sasso enlists the help of agencies all around the world to locate qualified people that fit MSC’s criteria for characteristics such as enthusiasm, professionalism and the ability to adapt and solve problems creatively.

“So you’re constantly looking for ways to improve and be the best you can or better than the competition in almost every area of your business,” he says. “We encourage our management on a strategic level to have those kinds of thought processes.

“We constantly have our executives in each area thinking outside of the box to figure out what is the best way for us to get our message out, what’s the most cost-efficient way, how would you do that and which technology would you use to do it.”

In addition to a strong skill set, Sasso looks to fill leadership positions with people who can demonstrate a history of effective leadership. To determine this in an interview, Sasso says the best question to ask is if the person can provide references of former employees rather than former bosses.

“I want to know more about what the employee who worked for him says about him than somebody he worked for,” Sasso says. “Think about that. If you ask John to give me references and he gives you his boss as a reference, well, of course, he was brownnosing the boss all the time and was there. But I want to know what Mary Lou says about John and how he was as a boss. That is one of the first questions I ask in an interview to help weed out the kind of people I want working in the organization.”

Be forward-thinking

The long-term test of a company’s customer service doesn’t come from just being able to meet the needs of today’s customers. You also have to meet the needs of future customers. When it comes to customer service, it’s important to make sure that your organization is positioned to anticipate customer needs and be able to adapt to meet them effectively. To keep MSC customers happy, Sasso knows he always needs to be thinking one step ahead.

“Change is so fast nowadays, you’ve got to keep on top of things,” he says. “Even though you don’t think it’s broken, look at it again and see if you can make it better. Some companies fail to do that, particularly when it comes to addressing the customer’s needs. If you’re not addressing the customer’s needs of what you think he’ll want from you tomorrow and not just today, you’re going to start losing some ground.”

To plan for what customers are going to want, you need to stay attuned to how their needs and interests are changing. Utilizing feedback forms that measure and track consumer trends over time can help your organization make knowledgeable decisions on how to adjust and grow. MSC relies heavily on its comprehensive customer comment forms — passed out by ship management — to identify where its services can be improved in the future. Sasso then uses a two- or three-year cycle of strategic planning to evaluate improvements in areas such as entertainment, ship remodels and adding new destinations or services.

“We really dissect the experience through the comment form,” Sasso says.

“Then we take those forms within one week of the cruise being finished — we analyze all of those forms and look for trends. We look for positive trends and we look for negative trends. If there’s something that looks like it’s producing some negative comments, we look to fix it immediately. So we’re able within a week to measure everything that’s happened on board with our ships in terms of the quality experience.”

By taking swift action to analyze and categorize the feedback, the company is able to head off smaller issues as they arise while staying abreast of larger trends.

“In order to keep ahead of the curve you always have to be looking out,” Sasso says. “You’ve got to be thinking about what might be the next phenomenon or the next type of on-board service people are expecting. Twenty-five years ago, spas on cruise ships were just small rooms with some dumbbells and a couple of bicycles. Today, those ships that we’re building have 20,000-square-foot spas. And why did that happen? [It’s] because we started to forecast the consumer’s appetite was starting to be a little bit more pampering, a little bit more spa driven, and we started to make sure that our ships could now accommodate that desire.

“We have some of the finest spas in the world on our cruise ships, but that would have been too late to think about it today. You needed to think about it three to five years in advance of that. So that’s how we plan the future.”

Reinforce accountability

Helping employees succeed as ambassadors of MSC customer service is the overarching goal for Sasso. Yet even when you hire and train the best people as quality representatives for your brand, there is always room for improvement. It’s important to provide clear goals and feedback for employees about their performance.

Leading a culture of accountability from the top down is an important aspect of that. Sasso makes himself and his senior leadership team available and open to assist and mentor employees. In addition, there are several levels of managers whose job on board the ships is in large part to oversee the execution of customer service.

“Their job is to witness the process and to try and intervene in the process if it’s not working,” Sasso says. “They also do reports that will tell management what’s going on on board and what we may want to think about to improve the guest experience.”

On the ships, MSC also uses its customer comment forms to keep tabs on its service execution. Because they take time and effort, Sasso encourages the ship staff and management try to give the forms out to guests at times where they are most engaged, including during on-board entertainment and surprise events. When you approach people in these appealing environments, they are often in a better mood and may be more uninhibited in offering their opinions. Once guests receive the comment form, they are able to assess everything from employee performance, housekeeping, food entertainment, quality, management and cleanliness to the overall cruise experience.

“If we look at something that’s producing some very high-level positive comments, we look to improve on that and to do more of it,” Sasso says. “That goes down to every skill set. If it’s about a crew member, we might even look in detail if this crew member is getting a few complaints about not serving properly or the housekeeper wasn’t attending to the cabin as sufficiently as we have in our protocol. We’re able to pinpoint it right down to an employee.”

Once on the ship, the feedback is customer-driven, but on shore, Sasso utilizes technology-driven metrics to monitor individual performance.

“On the shore side, we are able to monitor every phone call,” Sasso says. “We have supervisors and manager-trained people who do a lot of phone interviewing where we can listen to the caliber of conversation. We can listen to the techniques. We have performance skill metrics that are technology-driven. We know how long they were on the call, what the benchmark is for the time they should have been on that call, so are they being efficient? How many sales they convert on a call is benchmarked through technology.”

The goal of performance metrics isn’t to police employees, but rather, give everyone tangible goals by highlighting areas where they can enhance skills or improve through training. Having ongoing feedback about how your service culture is performing keeps everyone accountable to its continued success.

“You can never think you’ve done it all,” Sasso says. “I’ve had phrase in my vocabulary for many, many years, and it’s a takeoff on that phrase that says, if it’s not broken don’t fix it. My phrase is, if it’s not broken, make it better. I think some companies become complacent if they are doing well and not getting complaints and they’re just kind of rolling along. That’s complacency that doesn’t fit today.”

How to reach: MSC Cruises (USA), www.msccruisesusa.com

The Sasso File

Rick Sasso

president and CEO

MSC Cruises (USA)

Born: Bronx, New York

Education: Miami Dade College

Residence: Delray Beach, Fla.

First job: During college, I was the special service representative for British Airways in Miami Airport. At the time, it was called British Overseas Airways Corporation.

What are the characteristics of good leadership?

I have been in this business for 39 years. I’ve been the president of two cruise lines and been a senior manager running an office since 1979, 30 years actually running an office and being a leader. The characteristic that I have always deployed and one I will never not deploy is you need to make sure that all of your employees realize that they can make a mistake. They will make a mistake. Just be honest about it and let us know so we can fix it together.

I always have that conversation with anybody that works for me. And the other is that I’m always there to be with them. The CEO should not be behind a closed door. He should answer his own phone. … He should never exclude himself from anything in the office and he needs to be part of the process with the open door. Answer the phone when somebody calls.

Published in Florida

Andy Ball is a leading advocate of new technology implementation at Webcor Builders. Under his leadership, the San Mateo-based company has become a pioneer for innovation of LEED and virtual building in the construction industry. Yet incorporating cutting-edge technology is just one way Ball embraces change to position Webcor for success in today’s business environment.

“What I’ve found is the best strategy is that most of the time you don’t completely know just what it is you are preparing for, but you’re improving the company, you’re making the company better, you’re training people, you’re bringing in good people, and you’re doing the right thing,” says Ball, the president and CEO of Webcor. “You’re preparing yourself. Opportunities will come up, but if you don’t prepare yourself, one, you won’t recognize an opportunity when you see it, and two, even if you did, you would not be able to take advantage of it.”

In recent years, Ball’s role as a change agent has been even more vital in helping Webcor adapt to challenges in its industry.

“Change is never easy, and it has an emotional toll and it has a financial toll,” he says. “Initially it has a reduction in productivity in order to have a significant gain in productivity. So all of these things sort of work against change, but if you don’t embrace it and you don’t move forward, you’re just going to move backward and fall off the back because it occurs every day.”

When the economic downturn caused a complete collapse of private sector financing, which typically funded the company’s projects, Ball was forced to change the company’s business model completely so Webcor could survive.

Smart Business spoke with Ball about how he’s kept Webcor in front of change and focused on continuous improvement to stay competitive.

Build client relationships

When growing in a new area, you have to make sure you have a thorough understanding of that market’s needs so you know how to meet them. To prepare Webcor for a transition into public sector building, Ball realized the first step was to forge strong relationships with new and potential clients to find out how their needs varied from and aligned with Webcor’s strengths.

“That really was a surprise but shouldn’t have been — that we really had to learn about our clients,” Ball says. “We had to understand what they wanted and we had to understand how to respond to their requests. It comes down to people. You have to get out and you have to meet the people who make these decisions. You have to meet the people, talk to the people, allow the people to understand who you are. You have to develop the trust relationship with them. These things are every bit as important in public or government contracts as they are in private sector contract.”

Fortunately for Webcor, the company had begun taking on some public sector work several years prior to the downturn, including the $120 million California Academy of Sciences project, partly funded by the city of San Francisco. As Ball and his team worked with city leaders, they realized a new process for selecting subcontractors better suited the client’s goals for the project. After implementing the change with positive results, Webcor was able to secure future projects with the city, including the San Francisco General Hospital.

“In succession, we started to pick up these large public- and federal-funded public sector projects that we had not done before,” Ball says. “And when the market turned down, we were very fortunate to have already started growing in that sector and taken on some very significant large projects that we could turn to.”

Ball also saw building companies grossly under do projects because they didn’t take time to create solid client relationships. In these cases, the company and the client often end up worse off. Understanding the full magnitude of your client’s needs is how you adapt and develop solutions that are innovative as well as effective.

“It takes time to build relationships,” Ball says. “You can’t do that overnight. And to say that, ‘Wow, the bottom’s falling out of our market so we need to just go and do public work.’… You’re not just going to waltz in there and figure out what is important, how do you staff it, what are the expectations.

“You really have to understand the agency that you are dealing with. You have to understand their strategy. You have to understand how to respond to their request for qualifications, what they are looking for, what makes the difference.”

Make big bets

As a leader, adapting your business for growth requires you to identify and evaluate growth opportunities constantly. It also means you have to be able to make a decision when the right one comes along and not be afraid to put in legwork to seize it. To excel in an increasingly competitive industry, Ball isn’t afraid to takes risks in areas that build on Webcor’s strengths, such as being a leader in virtual building.

“People often believe that the easiest task is to broadcast and integrate new technology into your own company, and actually that’s probably the hardest step,” Ball says. “You have to get your finance department to believe in the investment, you have to get the people in operations to change the way that they’ve been doing things for their entire career.”

Implementing technologies at Webcor, such as building information modeling and integrated project delivery, has involved significant training, resources, financial investment and buy-in. Yet Ball and his team have continued to invest further in virtual building technologies because they also represent significant long-term value — for example, allowing architects to send digital drawings in hours instead of weeks.

“By very nature, any return is a risk,” Ball says. “Without taking a risk, you will never get a return. A lot of people fail to see that … I went all in on virtual building. I went all in on implementation of technology. I completely believed and dreamed and did it before people could prove to me that there was return on it, just because we believed that it was the right thing to do.

“That is never ever easy to do and most people look at it and say, ‘Well, that was easy.’ Yeah, it is easy when you look back to know what happened and know that you were right or you were wrong. But it’s never easy when you look forward.”

Even though there are bumps along the road to change, it’s by taking risks that you learn how to adapt and improve. Though some risks may prove less successful, Ball doesn’t just see them as failures. Instead, every outcome is a source of information in how Webcor can address its weaknesses and exploit its strengths.

“The wrong decision is to not make a decision, so you have to get over that,” he says. “Then you have to also understand that some of the time when you make a decision, you will fail. If you are not failing, you’re not going forward. You’re not taking risk and you’re not changing anything and you’re not improving anything, because you will have failure.

“There is a lot of pushback any time you try and change things — change the technology, but we were successful to the point it became an industry standard. Widely embraced building information modeling followed, and now our bet is on virtual building.”

Lead by example

To have a culture that embraces change, people have to be comfortable with constantly altering the way they are used to doing things. Because Ball asks his team to engage in and embrace changes in areas such as new technology, he shows employees that he is also walking the talk.

“I think that this organization would say I am not an obstacle to change,” he says. “In fact, I am one of the leading advocates for change. We constantly have to embrace change, so I like to lead by providing an example of how we innovate, how we embrace technology, how we embrace green practices and how we change as we go forward, because I’m trying to lead the charge in every case and encourage that.

“I’m usually the guy that first uses technology. I think a lot of companies, they say the last person to embrace new technology is the CEO and typically it’s driven by the younger people. They want to use it and then they drive it to the top. In this case it’s the other way around. I’m the guy that loves technology and I want to try it out and I want to use it.”

Ball models the behaviors he wants his team to engage in from the top of the organization down. If he promotes or employs a new piece of technology at Webcor, it’s because he’s used it himself and decided it was worth pursuing. This shows his team that decisions about using new technology aren’t arbitrary but well-thought-out, so they are more likely to respect them.

“Before I sort of force that onto other people, I’m going to use it myself to see how it works and if I think it actually creates a benefit,” Ball says. “If it does, then I will go beyond just discussing it with my IT vice president. I’ll say let’s try and roll this out to a few people and see how they react to it and start to implement technology and change from the top.”

As Webcor has shifted into public sector building, Ball also supports and motivates his team by helping them focus on the positive aspects of change.

“It has been over 30 years since I was actually out in the field with my work boots on,” he says. “So I now have to take what I actually did in the field and say, ‘Well, over the years that’s changed. That’s changed for these reasons.’ I’ve got to, on a regular basis, get with my people at every different level and sector of this company and talk to them about what’s working, what isn’t working, what do you think we can do to improve and be very open to employees. I find that when I do that, people speak up and they’re not afraid to come up with great ideas because they believe that they are going to be listened to and that they are actually talking to me, somebody who understands.”

Ball’s lead-from-the-top philosophy works to cultivate a team dynamic at Webcor that supports change and enables the company’s continuous improvement. As a result, Webcor has been able to change its business dramatically in the midst of a recession. Though some outsiders doubted its ability to compete in the public sector, today the $680 million company brings in 80 percent of its work in the form of public and government sector projects.

“I think they were shocked when we got the Transbay Terminal and [San Francisco] General Hospital and the PUC building, the Cal Memorial Stadium … and the hospital in Guam, saying ‘Oh my God, Webcor has hardly ventured outside of California. How can they do something in Guam?’” Ball says. “But we’ve always been very creative. We’ve been forward thinkers. We’ve been visionary. We’ve been flexible and we’ve been quick to react. Those skills become heightened and more important in a recession. I think we surprised a lot of people when we very, very quickly adjusted, adapted, changed and brought on some really nice, new work and just kept moving forward.”

HOW TO REACH: Webcor Builders, www.webcor.com

The Ball File

Andy Ball

CEO

Webcor Builders

Born: Ojai, Calif.

Education: I attended school at Arnold House School and Highgate School in London, England between the ages of 6 and 15 years old. I was a weekly boarder at Highgate School which means I lived at Highgate during the week and went home on weekends. After Highgate School, I spent two years La Serna High School in Whittier, Calif., followed by my senior year at the Singapore American School in Singapore. I took undergraduate studies at UC Davis and the University of Utah, graduating from the University of Utah with a bachelor of arts degree in architecture.

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?

I like to have a hot lunch each day with Webcor employees or clients. This is a holdover from my school days in England where the midday meal was the largest meal of the day and consisted of warm dishes such as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Although I enjoy this type of midday break, I don’t like to linger over lunch too long. An hour is a more than adequate break.

What do you do to regroup on a tough day?

At the end of a tough day, I enjoy going on a good, hard, bike ride. A 30-mile ride with lots of hills to climb is a great way of relieving stress.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I enjoy working with a project team — owner, architects, engineers and subcontractors — to solve design problems and develop cost-effective solutions during the pre-construction phase of a new building. I also particularly enjoy the challenge of incorporating cutting-edge technologies into the building process, resulting in new ways to build and do business.

Published in Northern California
Sunday, 31 July 2011 20:28

Weaving a virtual world

Operating in the network storage space, the biggest challenge for Michael Klayko hasn’t been growing his company, but growing it fast enough to keep up with customer demand.

“I’ve gone to pretty much every country in the world, every vertical segment, any type of industry and asked the question, ‘Whose information isn’t growing at triple digits?’” says Klayko, CEO of Brocade Communications Systems Inc. “I haven’t had anybody raise their hand and say, ‘Me.’ No matter where I go, it’s ubiquitous. It’s an issue around the world.

“Just around managing information in a company, there are 8,000 laws around the world on how do you manage, protect information, and now that varies between different industries. … When you look at it from that standpoint, I think opportunities become unlimited — you know, how do you solve very specific issues? Because the issues supply customers face, which is the [Forbes] Global 2,000 companies, are daunting. They are just absolutely daunting. You talk to some of the CIOs and some of the business owners, and they’re scratching their heads going, ‘How can I get ahead?’ They’re trying to just catch up.”

Having grown up in the networking space and data storage, Klayko saw when joining the company in 2003 that the $2.1 billion company was in the position to be the challenging brand — as long as it could adapt fast enough to changing technology and increasing consumer demand for the newest products.

“Fifteen years ago we were four guys, a dog, were a very prototypical Silicon Valley startup,” Klayko says. “And now, today, we’re roughly in every country — about 160 countries in the world, a little more than 5,000 people — and growing quite nicely, frankly because networking storage continues to grow.

“A lot of this has to do with the fact that there’s been one very large networking company, and they didn’t have to innovate. What they had to do was provide features and functionality, and it was good enough. Today, it’s not good enough.”

Klayko has kept Brocade on track for growth by ensuring innovation is paramount in the minds of employees. By nurturing a culture of innovation, Klayko has continued to strengthen Brocade’s foothold in the crowded IT and data storage marketplace.

Set metrics

His strategy for building this culture begins with setting performance-based innovation metrics that keep his employees thinking one step ahead. When you are a company with competitors ten and 20 times your size and revenue, you have to be able to offer customers the newest and latest products. To give Brocade the edge with customers, Klayko knows Brocade needs to make those products readily available on an ongoing basis.

“There’s only one weight class in networking — it’s heavyweight,” he says. “There are no different weight classes. There’s one weight class. So we have to compete like that. And one way we do this on innovation is we constantly like to stay anywhere from 12 to 18 months ahead of our competitors. We have to. That’s how we are actually not just surviving but growing.

“I think every company, when you go back the last couple years, is trying to figure out not how to grow, but how to survive and stay alive. We’re fortunate. … We happen to be in a segment where information, traffic and data traffic is growing triple digits.”

Klayko uses metrics to track the company’s quarterly percentage of innovation. The benefit is two-sided. For one, having innovation metrics gives your employees a benchmark to aim for in terms of continuous improvement, but also, your ability to meet these goals signals to customers you can consistently provide them with the newest products.

“No one wants to sit around and say, ‘Yeah, I don’t innovate, I just kind of collect money,’” Klayko says. “Everybody is innovative. But we do it a little bit differently in terms of we have the innovation metric. How do you measure it? Ours is we want 60 to 80 percent of all of our current revenue to come from products introduced in the previous six quarters. So if you think about that, I have to reinvent myself every two years.

“Now that sounds like a lot. The reason it’s not is that any one point in time about 2/3 of my customer base is going through an acquisition, a consolidation. They’re actually getting rid of a company or so forth. So their data centers and their information requirements are evolving and changing. Everybody wants the shiny new product, and so if you have the shiny new product at that point in time, you will be considered.”

Look for the disconnect

When you are in a rapidly advancing industry, keeping innovation steady at 60 to 80 percent can be a huge advantage in staying ahead of competition. But continually innovating doesn’t mean you are placing your bets on anything that’s new and different either. It’s important to take calculated risks so you don’t bet too big on an area that never takes off.

“Our biggest challenge sometimes is where do we go, how do we put scarce resources, because if you make a bet on a certain area or a certain vertical and another one grows faster, your competitor can actually grow faster than you, even though you are growing, because you made that wrong decision,” Klayko says.

But how do you find those areas for employees to innovate in ways that add new value for customers yet haven’t yet been exploited by your competition? Klayko does it by asking them to look for a disconnect or a contrasting position.

“By 2020, there’s going to be 35 billion devices connected to the Internet, I think, to 6 or 7 billion humans,” Klayko says. “So every time someone comes out with a smartphone or a new iPad or anything that creates digital data, it just more and more burden on that network that needs to get bigger pipes, faster, larger.

“You’ve got network traffic growing at 100 percent, data traffic growing at 100 percent. Budgets aren’t growing at 100 percent. So there is a huge disconnect going on. Whenever there’s that big of a disconnect, there’s an opportunity.”

By identifying contrasting market positions on common issues, beliefs, pieces of technology and so forth, your team can visualize new ways to solve emerging problems as an industry evolves and customer needs change.

“If you go back, how we originally started with this is the contrasting position that’s around simplicity,” Klayko says. “The last couple years, the recession really affected the data centers in terms of personnel. They were the first people to go in many companies, and so they would continue to buy the equipment but the human beings to run the equipment were released. So costs were really disconnected again. We just said, let’s focus on simplicity. What if we could actually have equipment go into a network and self-discover, self-manage, self-heal if it broke? What a contrasting position.

“We always look for an area where we can provide contrasting positions. Anybody that goes into a market says, ‘Oh, I’m a lower cost or I’m a little bit faster,’ — in my business, technology is always improving. You’re always getting better price performance. So you need a relatively different way to approach the market. We said from a contrasting position, ‘What are the real issues?’”

Lead the vision

Setting a culture of innovation involves a lot of decision-making on the part of a CEO. You have to get the right people on board and give them the resources they need to innovate. But once the culture is set up as an idea-making machine, it’s your job to grease the wheels. To get people thinking creatively about new opportunities, you first need to get them excited about what that innovation means and the effect it has on driving your company’s vision.

One way to do that is by engaging your key creative people in new projects or areas of potential growth. For example, when recently bringing a new category to market, Klayko made sure he assigned his long-term engineers to the project. The piece of technology, called Ethernet Fabrics, was 15 years in the making for Brocade.

“We actually made a big bet that this technology was going to be the future of the company and so we just redirected the people from some of our core businesses into this new technology,” Klayko says. “Then we backfilled our core business with new people who were brought into the company.

“That’s what gets engineers excited, working on the new project and so forth. So there was accommodation and new folks that we brought into the company, but primarily we repositioned a lot of folks that were in the company and gave them the opportunity to work on this project.”

Building an innovative culture starts with leadership. In the end, it’s largely your call on what risks the company takes and which it doesn’t. You also set the precedent for areas such as accountability, performance, entrepreneurial thinking and of course innovation, which is why Klayko doesn’t just have metrics for his team’s performance, he has them for himself.

“You have to lead from the front,” he says. “I do a thing in the company called a performance contract. I list top six areas that are going to be a focus to me. I put my metrics down, and every quarter, I do a broadcast to all 5,000 people and I give myself a report card. I give myself a public appraisal every quarter, but when I walk to see you, I expect you to do the same thing. It’s all about accountability and setting the culture.

“We have a lot of bright people, and there’s a myth that CEOs create strategies. What they do is they participate in the creation with very smart people. So my job is to ask a lot of Socratic questions and push and say, ‘Is this the right thing to do?’… I have to be the chief cheerleader when times are good and times are bad. When times are good, I have to tell people, ‘Don’t get complacent.’”

In the end, while successful innovation probably involves a little luck, good marketing, the right timing and other factors, it all starts with setting a culture where people are inspired to compete and improve their industry and company every day.

In fact, while achieving first quarter year-over-year revenue growth, this year Brocade was also named one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work for in 2011.

“I ask a question on our employee survey every year that tells the truth about the health of the company: ‘Would you ask your best friend to quit their perfectly good job and come work with you at Brocade?’” Klayko says. “When I first came in, that number was at 8 percent. In fact, I answered it no, which was a telltale sign. … That number is 91 percent right now. So we’ve obviously focused on the right things.”

How to reach: Brocade Communications Systems Inc., (408) 333-8000 or www.brocade.com

The Klayko File

Michael Klayko

CEO

Brocade Communications Systems Inc.

Born: Ohio

Education: Bachelor’s of Science in Electrical Engineering from the Ohio Institute of Technology

Affiliations: Klayko currently serves on the Boards of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and The Tech Museum of Innovation

On his decision to join Brocade: One of the inherent issues of storage area networking is you just built these flat networks and we saw an opportunity to route between different networks. There was no product in that space. We got a bunch of smart people together. We had about 100 people together when we ended up selling the company to Brocade. We built the routing technology that is now the industry standard. That was the impetus is we found that there was a huge opportunity with nobody looking at it, and we went, ‘Wow, why is nobody going after this? It’s possible.’ And so that’s what we focus on.

On transforming the networking space: We’re taking those principles, applying it into the IP site, which is the Ethernet, and your Internet connections and so forth. By applying that knowhow and that technology, we’re bringing a new category to market, which is going to challenge all of the incumbents.

We took 15 years of heritage and created a new product and a new category called Ethernet Fabrics, and where it’s going to apply in the data center. And by the way, what we’re addressing in this market is measured in the tens of billions of dollars. So there’s a big opportunity and frankly, there hasn’t been a large piece of innovation or significant piece of innovation in the networking space for a decade.

Published in Northern California
Sunday, 31 July 2011 20:49

Donna Rae Smith: Just for today

Sharon, the COO of a national consumer products company, has built a tremendously successful career by questioning the status quo and changing long-standing processes. Yet while she may seem a fearless maverick, the reality is much of Sharon’s success is the result of making safe decisions after exhaustive analysis.

Today, the quickened pace of business and changing industry dynamics are restricting the amount of time she can spend on new ideas, and Sharon’s CEO is increasingly pressuring her to make quick decisions, even at the risk of failure. Though she understands the need to take risks from a business perspective, Sharon is afraid of taking risks because she doesn’t want to fail. Therefore, she resists and avoids it.

Fear is a limiter. It cements us where we are and keeps us from trying. In fact, researchers studying fear and the impact of fearful stimuli on our bodies and minds have concluded that our stress systems are so powerful that when stimulated, they can override every other system in the brain. Furthermore, our fear receptors can be triggered by any kind of fear — rational or irrational.

Sharon tells me about a situation where fear is paralyzing her. She’s developed a new logistical process that could save her company and suppliers significant resources if implemented. However, she needs the approval of all suppliers to execute the change, and one supplier has already said no.

The supplier’s “no” triggered Sharon’s fear of failure response. She freely admits that she’s afraid of calling this supplier and having him say no again, even though she’s confident that if she explained the new process to him, there would be no reason for him to. Yet because Sharon continues to harbor an irrational fear that he will, the phone call is pushed from one week’s to-do list to the next.

When we objectively question our fear, we often find our perception of the risk is distorted. The fear has been amplified out of proportion to reality, or even possibility, so we believe the risk of failure is higher than it is. It’s this distorted perception that feeds our fear, further distorts our perception and keeps us from taking action. This cycle can only be broken by courageously putting our fear aside and taking action today.

So I ask Sharon if just for today she can put her fear aside and recognize that the risk of calling the supplier is low. He’s already said no, after all. If she doesn’t change his mind, she can at least feel confident in her attempt and start working on an alternative strategy.

A few days later, Sharon called to tell me she had put her fear aside and made the phone call to her supplier. Though he was rude and difficult, she was persistent. He eventually agreed that the new system made sense and gave her his approval to implement the change.

Sharon was able to approach her inner resistance and put her fear aside, just for today. Here’s how you can let go of the fears or barriers you are holding on to.

Confront your fear: Ask yourself what you’re really afraid of and write down every reason for your fear.

Capture the positive consequences: Write down the logical, rational reasons for taking action as well as the benefits of accomplishing the task, action or behavior.

Commit to time: Pledge to taking action, just for today.

Share with others: Tell someone what you plan to do and ask for support.

Then, do it.

It is empowering, less intimidating and less risky to make plans for only one day. You can always choose to shoulder the fear and resistance again tomorrow; but by choosing to do this just for today, we give ourselves permission to release the barriers of resistance.

Published in Akron/Canton
Sunday, 31 July 2011 20:54

Strategic gains

Whenever Bill Sadataki looks at a new real estate investment for his firm, SB Equities LLC, he considers numerous factors, including access to labor, transportation, infrastructure and market stability. All of these come into play when he and his partners evaluate investments in the Akron-Canton region, and a prime example is the company’s investment in the Akron-Canton Regional Airport (CAK) industrial business park in Green, Ohio.

“We believe that the CAK park is a logical choice, because it’s really got a prime location, provides economic incentives and foreign trade zone benefits,” says Sadataki, a founding and managing member of the SB Equities. “It’s got great highway access and it’s also adjacent to the Akron-Canton airport. All of those things make it attractive.”

Sadataki adds that one of the most important considerations in a new investment is: Is it going to appeal to the market and its users in future years?

“We’ll look at the market as whole and try to identify which areas have historically been the most viable and the most attractive to users,” Sadataki says. “Then we also look at going forward; is that likely to continue or has there been a shift in the market? So when we looked at the current and existing tenants in the park [and they] are all high-grade and mostly national companies like Goodyear, Diebold, InfoCision, ASC Industries — all of the buildings in the park are kind of an institutional quality. It seemed logical to us that as that park builds out and extends into future phases, we wanted to be involved with it, because it’s clearly an area that’s going to be a growth area.”

The benefits of investing in Akron-Canton’s pro-business environment have spurred Sadataki’s and his partners’ continued investment in the area and their strong advocacy of the region’s investment potential. In addition to purchasing the leasehold interest in the CAK park as well as two buildings within it, the firm also became the property manager and leasing representative for the balance of approximately 40 acres of vacant land. Having this vertical structure has positioned SB Equities to both attract and accommodate new users but also to participate with local and regional public entities such as the city of Green, Summit County Port Authority and the Akron-Canton Airport in the future.

“We try and be pretty vocal proponents of the Akron-Canton market whenever we get a chance,” Sadataki says. “We also, through brokerage activities, are in a constant state of promoting the region to client companies, trying to attract new business to the area. We’ve kind of put our money where our mouth is in terms of investing right in our core markets of Akron and Canton. I think that that, if nothing else, as you are talking to people, it shows confidence. And you’re not asking them to be pioneers. You’ve already done that. The pioneering work has been done by others. We’re just trying to keep it moving along.”

Ongoing and improved cooperation between the city, county and other entities continues to stimulate a more positive environment in the Akron-Canton region for existing businesses as well as start-ups and prospective investors or business entities looking at the area. For example, new businesses seeking to shorten project timelines are aided by the region’s focus on economic development, which makes it easier to accomplish tasks such as securing building permits or looking at economic incentive packages.

“In some areas of the state, it’s very difficult to get things moved from the conceptual phase through realization,” Sadataki says. “It’s been my observation that in the Akron-Canton area, people are really interested in getting things done, not just prolonging the process. So projects can either move forward or not move forward, but they can do it in a more expeditious manner. I think that’s pretty key to anyone who is looking to make an investment.”

How to reach: SB Equities LLC, (216) 831-3310 or www.sbequitiesinc.com

Investing in an evolving world

It’s a well known fact that the United States and most of Europe face significant headwinds. So what can an investor do to withstand them? Go global. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that the U.S. and developed Europe will struggle to eclipse 3 percent and 2 percent real GDP growth respectively. It also projects that new industrialized Asian economies and other advanced economies will grow by between 4 and 5 percent per year. What does this mean to you? It means you must embrace a global perspective when investing for growth.

Although the United States still has the largest and most dynamic economy in the world, the current political and fiscal challenges remain problematic. Today, new and changing economies in countries like Vietnam, South Korea and various South African countries are quietly experiencing rapid growth. China and India are often in the forefront of the news, but these peripheral countries stand to benefit as the global middle class expands as well as recovers.

Now more than ever, you need to focus your portfolio on the global economy and domestically look for corporations that derive the majority of their revenue from outside the United States. Although the U.S. economy is vast and growing ? albeit slowly ? we face an array of challenges in the immediate investment culture.

John Y. Kim, J.D., LL.M. is the principal of Symphony Financial Services Inc., located in Akron, OH. Symphony Financial Services, Inc. which was recently featured in the March, 2011, Forbes magazine. John was honored as one of the “40 Under 40” successful businessmen by Crain’s Cleveland Business News in December, 2003.

Published in Akron/Canton

The halls and rooms that comprise Turner Enterprises Inc. are more than simply office space for the entity that runs famed businessman Ted Turner’s operations. They’re partially a tribute to Turner, chairman of the organization, featuring photos and awards depicting his success, but they’re also part museum, with memorabilia and paintings decorating conference rooms and foyers that show his passions ranging from the Civil War to sailing.

Enter Turner’s assistant’s office and you’ll see more than 100 magazine covers featuring Turner from over the years adorning the walls. And from there, enter Turner’s own office — dim, as the lights are off to conserve energy — and you can’t help but notice the wall full of honorary degrees behind his desk and further evidence of his achievements and interests.

It’s all a legacy of a life of entrepreneurship and innovation by the man who pioneered 24-hour news by founding CNN and has been involved in many different business ventures over the years, including starting the Ted’s Montana Grill restaurant chain. Beyond his business achievements, he’s won 180 sailing trophies and is one the largest individual landowners in the United States with approximately 2 million acres of personal and ranch land. He’s also passionate about furthering clean-energy initiatives, and he gave a $1 billion gift to the United Nations through the United Nations Foundation, which he created to support goals and objectives of the U.N.

Turner’s accomplishments could take up pages, but constrained by word counts, simply put: Ted Turner is a legend most business owners would do just about anything to sit down and talk to, but when it comes down to it, he can summarize his success in just a few main keys.

“One common thread is hard work, and another is careful consideration and thinking through what it was that I wanted to do and going through the mental exercises of what could go wrong and being prepared for that as much as possible,” Turner says. “You can’t predict completely what’s going to happen, but you can have a plan and think it through as carefully as you can, and then once you make the decision, after very careful thought — or this is the way I did it — when I did decide to move forward, then move forward with great speed.”

Think through an idea

When Turner first thought about the concept of 24-hour news, like most great ideas, it was because he had a problem.

“I wouldn’t have done it if I wasn’t convinced I was right, and the reason was I never got to see television news because I got home after 7 o’clock when the news went off at 7,” Turner says.

He also went to bed before 11 o’clock when the news came back on, so he had to read the newspaper to keep up with current events. Twenty-four-hour radio was already successful, so he thought if 24-hour radio news could work, why couldn’t 24-hour television news?

“People came home, and it was 8 o’clock at night, and they already missed the early news, and it was three hours away from the late news, so why wouldn’t it be something some people would want to watch?” Turner says. “Maybe a lot of people would want to watch sit-coms and the talk shows, but there probably would be some people who would like to see the news and not waste their time with entertainment.”

But, like many often do, he didn’t initially do anything about it.

“The easiest thing is to do nothing, and then you’ll never get in trouble — and you’ll never get anywhere either, but doing nothing is an option, and that’s an option that most people avail themselves of in life,” Turner says. “They do as little as they can, and they don’t realize what they could have done because they didn’t do anything. That’s most people. It’s just too hard, and it is hard. It’s extremely hard, and you’ve got to be — there’s an old expression I heard somewhere — smarter than a tree full of owls to do anything like create a Microsoft or a Google or a CNN.”

He says you have to be like Yogi Bear — smarter than your average bear — and that’s exactly how Turner was as he thought through this seemingly crazy idea of 24-hour news.

“At the beginning, when I first thought that, I never thought that it would be me that did it, because I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, and I knew it was going to cost a fortune to do,” he says. “So for the first three years, I sat there and watched and nothing happened. I figured CBS or NBC or ABC would do it, or all three of them at the same time, but they didn’t. They made the choice to fight cable rather than embrace it and try to keep things the way they were with three channels.”

Create a distinctive plan

When Turner realized he would have to be the one to start 24-hour news, he made sure to think through what it would take and the possible problems.

“Let’s face it: 90 percent of all new businesses fail, so the odds are way against you to start, but that’s how you really break through,” Turner says. “You have to come through.

To really break through, you have to come up with some kind of plan that’s a little bit distinctive and hopefully a little bit different than what your competitors are doing — if there are competitors. Usually there are.”

He’s seen both — when he started Ted’s Montana Grill, there were tens of thousands of other restaurants he would be competing against but very little barriers to entry. On the other hand, with CNN, the barriers to entry for delivering 24-hour news were huge.

“They were costly, and there were limited satellite distribution capabilities at that time, and there was not very much distribution — certainly not enough,” Turner says. “There was no way CNN could be profitable with cable penetration at 14 percent, which is approximately what it was when we started.”

Instead, he recognized that it needed to be at 50 percent.

“In order to get my television channels in to people’s homes, we had to get the rest of the people in America to subscribe to cable, and cable wasn’t even in front of over half the homes,” he says.

Recognizing what he thought was the threshold for success was an important part of creating that plan.

“You make your own metrics for what success is,” Turner says. “You set up criteria and write down what you think would make you feel successful. Each person would do it differently. What success is for one person wouldn’t be success to another. If one guy said, ‘If I made $1 million, I’d be a success,’ but to another, ‘I wouldn’t be a success unless I made $1 billion.’ They’d be off by a factor of 1,000 to one.”

Sometimes you may start in with your idea and then realize you’re not going to make it unless you reach certain thresholds.

“To grow a business successfully, you have to have a successful business or have an idea of how to make the business successful if you grow it a little bit more,” Turner says. “Some businesses are a little too small and would have to reach a certain tipping point of size to where they tip in the right direction.”

When it comes down to it, you may simply not know what it will take to be successful.

“You just have to estimate it,” he says.

Turner says that comes down to judgment and using your mind.

“It’s pretty tricky, but some people know how to do it,” he says.

Turner says it’s important to stretch your mind and its capacity as much as possible.

“It helps to be born with it, I guess, because basic intelligence is inherited,” he says. “It’s an inherited trait as much as anything else, but you can develop it. Your mind is, to a large degree, a muscle like the other muscles in your body, and the more you use it, the sharper it gets, just like your body. You can take a skinny little kid and turn him into a marathon runner if they’ll train hard enough and are motivated to train hard enough, and basically my success in business and in life, it was due, to large part, I just wanted to do it and wasn’t afraid.”

Move fast

When he made the decision to go forward with 24-hour news, he didn’t lollygag.

“I moved as quickly as I could, for instance, to get CNN on the air because I wanted to pre-empt CBS, NBC and ABC because once we announced that we were going to do it, it was going to make them think about it and revisit it more, and all three of them had everything they needed to start.

“They already had bureaus. They had news organizations. They had news anchors that were underutilized — they were doing two hours of news a day, and they were spending $200 million a year to do two hours of news a day, and I was going to do 24 hours of news for about $30 million.”

He planned to get CNN on the air within 10 months because he anticipated it would actually take longer, and he wanted it on in 11. Along the planning road, most things went according to plan, but he did have his share of anxieties. While he thought through most of the worst-case scenarios, he was completely caught off guard, for instance, when their satellite disappeared and they lost their satellite signal less than four months before CNN was set to air.

“It never occurred to me because I wasn’t in the satellite business — what do you mean the satellite disappeared?” Turner says. “That was my reaction. Well, that’s what it did. They never found it. It just blew up, and it’s out there floating around in space. There was a TV series called ‘Lost in Space’ and our satellite was lost in space.”

Luckily, there was a clause in the contract that anticipated this possibility, so they were able to negotiate a deal to gain access to another satellite in time for the launch. CNN launched in 11 months — as Turner had anticipated with his one-month, built-in cushion.

While he moves full-speed ahead in business, he recognizes sometimes it doesn’t work.

“We went full blast with the AOL merger right into disaster, just like the Germans when they invaded Russia,” Turner says. “They were going fast, but they were headed straight for catastrophe — they were headed for Stalingrad. So going fast can be reckless and very foolish, but you’ve got to be sure you’re right, then go ahead. But that’s not easy to do always. It’s not always easy. Not everybody can see the future with accuracy, and there are the things that happen along the way that sometimes aren’t anticipated, no matter how good you’ve done, and then you’re in real trouble.”

He says there are all kinds of ways to get into trouble in both business and life, and sometimes you won’t know right away.

“A lot of times you have to wait and see, and only history will tell if you’re right or wrong,” he says.

While Turner may have made some mistakes along the way and had his share of challenges, he’s had more success than anything, and he says it comes back to those main keys.

He says, “Those are the main things that in starting a voyage or a venture, those three things would be very carefully think through what you’re going to do, then what could go wrong — take a look at what could go wrong and anticipate that in advance and be prepared — and the third thing is when you do decide to go forward, move rapidly.”

How to reach: Turner Enterprises Inc., www.tedturner.com

On a mission

If you look in the parking lot at Turner Enterprises Inc., you’ll see solar panels, which Ted Turner installed as an energy source.

“Anyone can do that, and the technology already exists, and it works,” Turner says. “This building is going to be powered by those solar panels.”

Turner is passionate about environmental causes and encourages other business leaders to follow suit.

“They can put solar panels on a fence post — electrify your fence and keep out people that you don’t want to come in. Keep your cattle in or your bison for that matter,” he says. “We use solar electric power fences on a ranch. If you have a house, you can have a solar hot water heater.”

If you’re not quite sure if solar power is the way to go for your business, Turner suggests at least seeking outside help to identify ways for your business to make a difference.

“Hire an environmental consultant to come up with recommendations specific to your company and business for how you can cut down your carbon footprint and use less energy,” Turner says.

Beyond the big things, he points out there’s also myriad small things you can do. For example, when you walk into Turner’s office, it’s dim. He keeps the lights off to save energy and only turns them on when he needs them. Additionally, he uses low wattage bulbs. He also suggests looking around you for the obvious.“As you walk down the street, if you see piece of trash, you can bend over, pick it up and carry it to the next closest wastebasket,” he says. “Making the world a better place is as easy as picking up a piece of paper.”

Published in Atlanta

What some business leaders might consider risks, Amanda Huntington sees as opportunities. She knows that to position her company for long-term growth and success, she’ll sometimes have to make decisions that, short term, seem rather daunting.

“Probably the biggest challenge that we’ve had is really being faced with decisions that weren’t always simple decisions. They would have put us in a position or they did put us in a position where we might have had to lose market share in the short term or spend money that we didn’t really want to spend at the time to make those decisions, but it was because we knew that in the long-haul they would be the right things for us,” says Huntington, co-founder and CFO of  IntegraClick LLC. “They would give us the longevity that we were looking for, and it was the right thing to do for our publishers or for our advertisers and for the people we serve and work with every single day.”

Business decisions are rarely black and white, but the key to setting your company up for growth and market competitiveness is knowing how and when to make the tough calls or take calculated risks that will better your business. It’s by making these decisions that Huntington and her business partner, John Lemp, have built IntegraClick and its operating cost-per-action (CPA) network, Clickbooth LLC, from a start-up in 2002 into a thriving online marketing solutions business, topping multiple lists as one of Tampa’s fastest growing companies and generating 2010 revenues of $120 million.

However, before you make any big decision affecting your business, you first need evidence to back it up.

Build a case

There’s a big difference between being a risk-taker with your business and just making risky decisions. To determine where there is potential to improve your business you have to keep a constant watch on changes, trends and issues affecting your industry.

“We spend a great deal of time trying to keep our finger on the pulse of the industry and looking at ‘What have we heard? What are publishers talking about? What’s the next thing coming down the pipeline?’” Huntington says. “But also, ‘What are our competitors doing that maybe we could do better? How can they challenge us?’… It gives us a great ability to better ourselves all the time, because the competition is pretty fierce.”

For example, several years ago Huntington and Lemp noticed a certain type of incentivized marketing being used was making some advertisers unhappy. After looking into the issue further, they realized it was also losing them some clients and volume by not converting well to customers.

“We would talk regularly and it keeps coming up,” Huntington says. “Every month from an accounting side, I can see that clients didn’t like having to pay for the traffic, weren’t happy with the quality etc. … It just became sort of an obvious thing.”

Often when she’s facing a major decision affecting the company, Huntington brings in her top people from key departments to think through the issue from all sides.

“We’re trying to really integrate all of the relevant parties into the bigger decisions, because they’ve been here a long time,” she says. “They’ve escalated to these positions that they are in. They know how things work. They know the industry better than most, so I want their opinion, and at the same time, I want them to know mine so we can come together on the best thing for the network as whole.

“If it’s a marketing-related issue, I’m going to bring in the heads of the marketing team and John and say, ‘OK, tell me what you know, because I want to get this from all angles. What are the possible rewards that this could bring us?’ I may be able to say, ‘Here are some of the concerns I have, but tell me more about what you think of this long term.’”

When considering how to move your company forward, it’s important to understand the risks and rewards of making a change, but also the consequences of doing nothing. Huntington says she always weighs the long-term benefit over the short-term setback when making a tough decision. In the case of incentivized marketing, the benefit of eliminating the marketing type at IntegraClick seemed to outweigh the setback of losing a few clients.

“We did some homework and we looked at how much it was going to affect us or what we thought it would affect,” Huntington says. “We felt like we could come through it, because it would probably be a fairly short-term issue.

Adapt proactively

Being among the first companies to make a change seems scary when you’re thinking about how it can impact your revenue, customers and growth. But you can’t simply wait for change to happen; you have to drive it yourself.

“The industry is constantly evolving,” Huntington says. “So what we might have been accepting of in 2004, we’ve realized that’s not a good long-term plan now.”

Though there’s nothing wrong with conservative thinking, simply going with the status quo can be the biggest risk of all, because if you wait too long to adapt your business as needed, especially in a competitive industry, you’ll be left behind.

“We try very hard to proactively look at what our customers need,” Huntington says. “Where are the holes that need to be filled? Of those holes, can we fill all of those? And if we can’t, what is the one thing that we can do most successfully, or the two things that we are going to be the best at?

“That’s the reason we’ve been successful, there’s always been that push. In order to survive in this industry, and what’s really kept us going, is the ability to adapt. I think that’s something any new business needs to recognize and not be afraid of. It’s recognizing that there can be room for improvement, learning from mistakes, adapting and not letting yourself get buried by the fact that maybe you can’t, or you don’t want to or that it’s a scary thing.”

Once you’ve discovered an area where your business can be better, whether it’s in customer service, employee relations, best practices or processes, you’ve got to be willing to take the steps necessary to act when action is needed, even if it means doing it alone. It’s by adapting proactively that companies set the pace for their competition and become industry leaders.

After Huntington and Lemp saw that customers were increasingly unhappy with the incentivized marketing, they didn’t wait for their peers to take action, they went ahead and eliminated it from IntegraClick’s network completely.

“We were the first network to go out and say, ‘We’re going to stop this,” Huntington says. “We don’t want to be involved with this type of marketing anymore. It’s just not a long-term success plan for any of our clients. They are not happy with it. Even though it lost us a significant chunk of our revenue at the time, all the other networks followed suit within a year. As a whole, it’s just not even on the map anymore as a marketing type. It’s really cleaned up and improved the industry.

“While it did hurt for a little while, it actually gave other advertisers and our current advertisers a little more faith in using our network versus another one that still allowed it, because they knew that the quality they would get from us was going to be significantly better. So in the long term, it brought us additional volume and made up for that short-term lag.”

However, change can’t just be a reaction to something that’s wrong. Even successful business models can become stagnant and obsolete if they aren’t set up for continuous improvement.

“Within the company we always train for that: ‘If this isn’t working, what else can we do?’” Huntington says. “Be creative. Find those alternatives so that you are never having to shut a door or close out a client. If we can make it work, we will.

Stick to your guns

Sometimes a good long-term business decision carries some short-term hardship, and as your company experiences a negative effect on profits, client retention and so on, you may start to question if you made the right choice. Yet by doubling back on a tough decision, you risk losing even more, such as the trust and confidence of your employees and customers as well as credibility. If you can’t trust in your own decision-making, how will others?

That’s why it’s extremely important to research and be clear about the consequences of a decision upfront, so once you’ve looked at the evidence and weighed the risk, you can commit to the decision either way, 100 percent.

“If we make a change, we just really stick by it,” Huntington says. “We go out there with a firm stance and do a press release. We push forward as a team and as a unit. Everyone is on board and anybody who wants to come back to us or wants to work with us will have to abide by the new policy.”

For instance, when Huntington and Lemp recognized the lack of compliance standards in CPA advertising, they ultimately decided to release their own compliance guidelines for IntegraClick clients. Though the partners knew none of their competitors had compliance guidelines, they confidently enforced the new guidelines strictly with every client, no exceptions. Those clients that didn’t or couldn’t comply were no longer in the network.

“When we changed over to the next compliance standards, everyone pretty much told us we were crazy,” Huntington says.

“We did lose clients, who just may have been in the pipeline already just getting something going, and they didn’t want to have to make the changes and someone else would pick them up without those changes.”

It’s not easy to take risks when you know full well it’s going to cost you a client or a chunk of revenue, but if you’ve done your research, you’ll take comfort in knowing that the decision is the best one for your business in the end.

“That’s one of those decisions where it’s not an easy decision, but you know you have to do it because at the end of the day, you want to be around,” Huntington says. “When some of those other competitors might take the traffic, you might lose the market share to them, but they may not be around.

“We released those compliance guidelines, and anybody that came into the network had to stick with them. That’s just an example of the difference between us and some of our competitors. We make those proactive changes and it’s to be able to better our network for our advertisers. We are known throughout the industry as the network with the best quality, because we have done those things proactively to try and reduce any fraud that might happen, keeping any sort of garbage out of the network.

“I absolutely feel that we’ve found our direction and we’ve been able to rise to the top of the network market because of the way we’ve handled so many of these situations. …We’re still changing. We’re still adapting. We’re always trying to better our network.”

HOW TO REACH: IntegraClick LLC, (941) 584-6543 or www.integraclick.com

The Huntington File

Amanda Huntington

Co-founder and CFO

IntegraClick LLC and Clickbooth LLC

Born: Glens Falls, N.Y.

Education: State University of New York at Geneseo

What do you like most about your job?

I love everything. It’s kind of hard to pinpoint because I’ve been here from the beginning. It’s amazing to actually see what this has become. Going from an apartment and working out of an apartment when we first got going to be able to look at all this. … I feel a lot of pride just because I’m proud of the people who have come on board and actually helped build this, all the people that have been with us for a long time, all of our executives that have risen to their positions. For me, it’s kind of watching this grow up. That’s really the most rewarding part of this job.

What is your definition of success?

Success is being true to yourself, and being happy with that at the end of the day. I also think the most successful people are probably very tired, because my most successful moments are usually the culmination of a great deal of hard work and many hours spent, whether I'm working to implement a new process at the office or putting together a family dinner, when it's all said and done well and as I planned, I sleep the most soundly. ... It’s never defined by money or a job title, but by whether you can look at yourself in the mirror when you are alone or in a quiet moment, and feel happy with who you are and the effort you give to whatever you do every day.

Published in Florida