Effective organizations have a leader at the helm who guides the business to strong performance. To reach that level, a leader has to combine his or her skills and mental toughness with lessons learned through experience — and lessons learned from other leaders and respected sources.
Nearly every successful executive can cite some advice that is an inspiration or good practice. Being in charge is sometimes exhilarating, and sometimes terrifying, and by having a touchstone of advice from many sources, you can find an even keel to guide your vessel.
Here are tips from some Greater Cincinnati executives on what their experience has been as a leader of a 21st century organization.
Q: What is a recent (or game-changing) business challenge your organization has faced, and how did you overcome it?
RYAN RYBOLT, PRESIDENT, INFINTECH LLC
Our organization has experienced continual growth over the past decade, and that is a feat that has made Infintech proud. But with growth comes the responsibility of guiding an ever-expanding entity in a meaningful and profitable direction — and that is not an easy task. Looking introspectively is always a tough process and many times it falls to the bottom of the list in priority. In spite of that, our executive team knew that success in the future was going to be built on the foundation of today. Infintech has spent this last year focusing on growth and deciding what we want to be as a corporation, what infrastructure is needed to get there and how to align ourselves with B2B emerging markets. Now we have the road map for building our infrastructure and our portfolio that will provide sustainability for the next 10 years.
ALLISON STEVENS, CEO, POWERNET
Hiring is a big challenge for many businesses today, including ours. This past November, Powernet announced two changes that would directly benefit all employees: a new position dedicated to monitoring and improving the employee experience and improved benefits including five weeks of personal time off. The position of manager, employee engagement and community affairs, was created as part of the company’s push to improve workplace experience and employee engagement. The focus for increased employee engagement and a better workplace experience has already yielded positive returns among new hires and veterans alike.
This is one of the reasons I believe that Powernet was named one of the 100 Top Workplaces in Cincinnati by the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2015.
BOB KISSEL, CEO, KDM P.O.P. SOLUTIONS GROUP
In the past year, we have lost some highly experienced and highly talented individuals who have retired, including a VP of sales. This has led to aggressive recruiting efforts to find candidates that will continue to bring passion, excitement and dedication to the company. This has been accomplished by adding roles, promoting from within and adding additional personnel. The sales department specifically is making progress in terms of accountability, structure and providing goals and expectations that the team continues to meet. Strong leadership within key positions in the company has been an integral part of meeting the strategic goals of this department.
BENNIE HOPPIUS, CEO, COVE FEDERAL CREDIT UNION
We hired an agency and with its help with marketing have made quite a positive impact in our community.
Q: In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?
RYBOLT: One certainty in the payment solution arena is that innovation and technology rule. Infintech has to be at the forefront in order to keep its business flourishing. The ever-growing acceptance of electronic payments means that new technologies pop up frequently in order to accommodate industry trends (i.e., mobile space and/ or government regulations) and the quick turnaround expected from consumers and businesses alike when it concerns a transaction.
As a leader and a member of the Infintech executive team, it is part of my role and my responsibility to stay on top of the major trends that affect the payment processing environment. Working with major card brands, underwriters and industry boards allows our company to be a part of the conversation when vital decision-making and information sharing takes place. By leveraging this information, Infintech is one of the few processors that succeeds at becoming more than just another payment processor.
STEVENS: As a technology company, we have to be innovative not only in how we run the business, but also with our product solutions. I lead the charge by making sure we challenge the status quo and always think about how we can further improve our approach to business and put the right systems in place.
From a product perspective, in order to continually innovate, we get to know our clients and their goals, then anticipate their future needs to create the most fitting, dynamic solution.
KISSEL: I encourage our team at KDM to think outside of the box, to devise solutions and to create better ways of doing things. The freedom given to management to have the creativity to provide ideas, suggestions and solutions creates a collaborative effort that causes us all to become more effective.
In addition, I believe it is important to show employees that they are an integral part of the company. Through initiatives such as our Dream Makers program, importance is placed on assisting employees with their personal goals and dreams. With recognition programs, employees can earn incentives and be recognized among their peers. Through employee appreciation events, employees can understand how important their role is to the company as a whole.
KDM invests time, money and training into new equipment on a regular basis. This year, the company has purchased new digital presses, a new die cutter, a box-on-demand system and numerous other pieces of equipment to enhance the quality and speed of products produced, in addition to increasing our product offerings. These investments have benefitted both employees and customers alike.
HOPPIUS: I didn’t start my career until later than most so I’ve never lost my focus on how important family life is. I try to bring that to my staff. I want them to love their job and have fun at it, but never let it become the whole focus of their lives. I strive to help them strike a balance with work and home and as a result, I have a highly productive and happy staff.
I love being innovative at work and strive to be on the cutting edge of what we offer here at the credit union, which flies in the face of most people’s expectation of a credit union.
We are a small credit union, very small in comparison to the big banks in the area, and yet we offered mobile banking before several of them did. We know our members have better things to do than stand in line at an office for their financial needs so we try to be available through the use of technology 24/7 while keeping our personal caring touch for those who would rather bank in person.
Q: What is the greatest lesson (business or personal) you’ve learned, and how have you applied it?
RYBOLT: A key piece of advice I learned from my own business partner is to simply treat your employees and customers in the same manner you would like to be treated. While it sounds simple and seems like a cliché, there is merit in simply doing the right thing, even when it’s not advantageous to your company in the short term.
This is core to Infintech’s success as a company. Treating others like you want to be treated is the foundation of moral ethics, and we preach and practice this value on a daily basis. Treating our employees with respect builds loyalty. Doing the right thing for the customer is paramount to maintaining them.
STEVENS: The lesson I learned is to have a greater purpose in whatever you do. We want to be more than just a place to work; we want to invest in our employees and our community.
Our employees and clients say they feel like part of our family. When new employees start at Powernet, they are welcomed with a dessert that invites other employees to stop by and introduce themselves. Other employees already know more than the new person’s name because they genuinely care about the addition to our company. It’s also important to me to make sure we’re always giving back to the community. Powernet has made it easier for employees to volunteer with numerous opportunities planned throughout the year. This year, events were organized through community outreach programs for the Ronald McDonald House and Habitat for Humanity.
Other events focus on health and wellness such as the Mercy Health Heart Mini Marathon to benefit the American Heart Association.
We give employees a health and wellness credit to use toward different wellness programs such as walks and tennis shoes. If there is a charity that is special to an employee, we provide a charitable PTO day to allow them to give time to that charity of their choice.
KISSEL: The greatest lesson I’ve learned is the importance of being persistent. In business, there is a need to be decisive, aggressive, willing to take risks and persistent. With acquisitions and company growth, these characteristics are vital.
I also consistently strive to lead by example, and demonstrate 100 percent commitment to the company on a daily basis, working hard to meet the strategic goals that we have set to achieve as a company. When employees see this persistence and dedication, it challenges and inspires them to do the same. They continuously work hard and are dedicated to their work.
HOPPIUS: I don’t find you do things too differently between business and personal life. You treat others how you want to be treated, you make more than you spend and you keep your word and you do what’s right whether you’re being watched or not.
This works in your personal life as well as in business.
Q: How do you identify and cultivate talent within your organization to build a capable management team, effective workforce and strong bench?
RYBOLT: Infintech attributes much of its success to a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit, strong values and a strong employee team. Identifying top talent is a major component to ensuring Infintech’s ongoing success and sustainability. This initiative has become essential for our business as we continue to experience growth and expansion.
Enlisting the talents of an HR leader has been essential to this effort. Our focus is primarily on recruiting, rewarding and retaining ethical sales representatives and employees who are committed to providing outstanding service and solutions to our customers.
STEVENS: We look for those employees who can see the bigger picture and are always looking to improve the way we support clients and create products. We contribute to their professional development through a supportive, innovative culture and provide the necessary training resources needed to reach beyond the average. Many of our employees have started at entry levels and worked their way up to management and even leadership team positions.
It’s important to me as well as the rest of the leadership team that we work together to develop our Powernet employees to create the best working environment possible.
KISSEL: Through training with mid-management, recognition programs and succession planning, we have successfully promoted numerous employees throughout the organization into upper management positions. When employees show dedication and passion for the work they do, it is important to provide career opportunities for them to grow, an area for which KDM has placed a great deal of emphasis.
Setting clear goals and objectives for the management teams, providing incentives, awarding those who go above and beyond and a commitment to continuous training has enabled KDM to build a successful workforce with a strong bench.
HOPPIUS: If my organization relied on me alone, we would not be as successful as we are. I know my weaknesses and have always tried to surround myself with team members who excel in the areas I do not. I have been able to build a team of highly motivated, highly intelligent and well-rounded people who love to laugh and have fun and yet work hard at the same time. To do this, I treat them with the respect they deserve and strive to serve them rather than expect them to serve me.
I’ll be retiring in a few years and I want this credit union to keep succeeding beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. I feel we have a team that can not only take over for me seamlessly but far exceed what I’ve done.
How to reach:
Infintech LLC, (800) 621-8931 or www.infintechllc.com
Powernet, (513) 942-7900 or www.powernetco.com
KDM P.O.P. Solutions Group, (855) 232-7799 or www.KDMPOP.com
Cove Federal Credit Union, (859) 292-9000 or www.covefcu.com