It was late 2008 when Ross Bushman and his team had just finished a new strategy for the next five years of business at Cast-Fab Technologies Inc. Bushman, who is president and CEO, along with his team were excited about the new strategy that was put in place and what it could mean for the company.
However, just a few months later, 2009 began and the castings and fabrication industry was hit hard by the recession. Cast-Fab Technologies, a 280-employee, $50 million gray and ductile iron foundry that supplies castings, patterns, steel-welded fabrications and precision sheet metal components, lost nearly half its business virtually overnight.
“We went through some hellacious turmoil in our industry, to say the least, back in that 2009 time frame,” Bushman says. “It was a period of about five or six months where a lot of that drop occurred. It wasn’t that we just lost 30 or 40 percent of the business in one day. We didn’t lose any customers. What we lost was our customers weren’t buying anything and that was different.”
With its customers taking a break from business, Bushman and Cast-Fab had to look elsewhere to keep business going.
“We knew we had to stay strong, make some painful choices early on, and we didn’t procrastinate on them,” he says. “We knew there would be opportunities to pounce on.”
To take advantage of those potential opportunities, Bushman stuck to the company’s plan, reassured employees that things would be all right with hard work and new customers would be found through diversifying the business.
Here is how he carried Cast-Fab Technologies through the downturn.
Involve employees in your strategy
The recession caused panic in a number of businesses as individual industries began to see the effects of the economy. Bushman, however, wasn’t going to let panic set in at Cast-Fab — he communicated what the organization was going to do.
“Our people were going home every night and the news was not good,” Bushman says. “Everybody had a friend, a neighbor or a family member affected somehow by the economy.
“People need clarity and every day we were out there trying to talk about those things and we kept talking to them about reaffirming America’s manufacturing excellence. That was what we were after.”
To achieve manufacturing excellence Cast-Fab aimed to diversify the customer base, establish new customer relationships and continue to grow with current accounts. To put that plan in motion Bushman involved many people in the strategic planning process.
“You have to involve a lot of folks in the organization,” he says. “People are usually pretty surprised at how much different kind of numbers and things we are sharing even down to key shop-floor personnel. Team members need clarity. They need the ‘what’ and the ‘how.’”
Deciding who to include in the strategic planning process can be a difficult decision. A good strategy group involves people from different levels and experience.
“We certainly have the key managers involved, but we’re also looking out for those up-and-coming associates who are going to be the key folks five or 10 years from now and getting them to be part of the process,” Bushman says. “At the end of the day, these folks own the plan — the strategy map and the numbers on the scorecard and what specific metrics we are doing — they are intimately involved in developing those things with us.”
You want to pull in folks who are on a track to do some bigger and better things for your company down the road.
“That just helps with the breadth of opinion,” he says. “In the C-suite, we all can get blinders on at times and forget that information isn’t assimilated through the organization as much as it comes to you. That’s why your players need clarity — the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ — and you have to communicate those things.
“The toughest part that any organization has is getting an outside force’s perspective of what’s coming at you and trying to look at where things are going to be five or 10 years from now and what you need to be doing today to get there. That’s where some of those outside folks can help challenge you.”
People are usually surprised at how many folks Cast-Fab involves in its strategic planning process.
“We have around 280 folks today and we’ll take 25 or 30 people off-site to really be part of this process and really help map the future of the organization,” Bushman says. “They then own the plan and they believe in the words and the numbers that are on the page. It’s not just me or my brother sitting up there talking about those things and that’s really worked well.”
Having all of those people in the room to help form a plan is extremely beneficial when it comes to gaining buy-in for a new direction.
“I talk to our folks and tell them, ‘This is your chance to write the script for the next four or five years for the organization,’” Bushman says. “It’s not just me standing up there going over the same old charts and numbers. We’ve really created some good alignment within the organization as far as goals. We’re getting people pulling in the same direction.”
To get your company on the same page and moving together, it takes patience and persistence. Bushman has identified the five dysfunctions of team training to get his employees in line.
“You have to be willing to get better and not just go through the motions,” he says. “Sometimes to get better you’ve got to have some conflict and some change. So we’ve used the five dysfunctions of a team training, which talks about dealing with issues in a professional way. Sometimes it’s not fun, but we’ve spent a lot of time getting the right people that fit together.”
When you’re trying to get buy-in for a new strategy or direction for the company, it is rare that you will please everyone, but it is critical that you get a majority on board with you.
“You have to keep working your strategy so it becomes ingrained in what you do,” Bushman says. “My dad told me years ago that if you got even 70 percent of your workforce on board, buying in to what you were doing, that’s probably world class. You’re probably not going to have everybody, you just have to keep getting some converts each day, each week, each year to what you’re trying to do and you’ll slowly move the needle.
“An 80 percent solution executed on time is better than a 100 percent solution executed late. It may not be perfect, but start the plan and start it working and work on the implementation phase. It’s about getting a little bit better each day as opposed to giant leaps.”
To move forward with a plan each day and each week, you have to put emphasis on the implementation of your strategy.
“Too often people go through a huge strategic planning process, they come out with a great plan, but they spent months and months doing it, and at that point, people are exhausted,” he says. “When the work needs to begin on the implementation side, it fizzles out a little bit.
“We really shortened the time on the strategic planning side and we really focused on the implementation. On the implementation side is really where plans are won or lost and strategies are won or lost.”
Following Cast-Fab’s strategic planning process in 2008, the economy tanked and implementing a plan and sticking to it became more important than ever.
“One of the principles and beliefs that I use is that decisions in crisis demand calm leadership,” Bushman says. “We really knew that and really communicated as best we could with the organization.”
Bushman used that calm, yet determined demeanor to steer the company in a positive direction. With current customers putting business on hold, Cast-Fab looked to gain new business. It brought on new clients and diversified its offerings.
“We knew there would be some opportunities in the marketplace and there were,” he says. “We continued to use our strategy, and we continued to look at where we wanted to go and that’s how we made our decisions. We made some painful cuts at the time, there’s no doubt about it, but we were proactive with those. We didn’t wait too long.
“We really saw where things were heading pretty quickly and that allowed us to stay strong in many ways.”
The opportunities Bushman communicated to his employees came up in time. Cast-Fab made an acquisition and gained business from competitor demise.
“We had our most successful year that year of new customer generation,” he says. “We really needed to, because our current customers weren’t buying anything. I knew if we could get some more spokes into the fold once the current markets came back we’d be in pretty good shape.”
Throughout this period, Bushman made it a point to stay as positive as possible and celebrate any small wins the company made.
“You have to spend a lot of time talking about the positives, not just the negatives,” he says. “People think you have your plan and you come in and talk about the stuff that’s not going very well.
“We try to celebrate success, because how boring would that be to just come in and talk about the problems all the time. We try to spend three times the amount of time on the positives as we do on the opportunities for improvement.”
Some of those positives have come from the new product offerings that Cast-Fab has created over the years in order to diversify.
“Part of the strategy that has been working really well for us is we have developed a couple of product lines of our own to help us diversify,” Bushman says. “We have a line of bank equipment products that’s sold under the business and brand Security Systems Equipment. We do safes, vaults, safety deposit boxes, pneumatic tubing systems and anything that a credit union or financial institution may need that’s metal-based.
“We have another smaller division that does products for water and waste water treatment. That business is sold under the name Coldwall Wilcox Technologies. These are subsidiaries of Cast-Fab that are a smaller piece of what we do, but they do help us diversify.”
The key to diversifying to help grow your business is to not leave the core competency of your business behind.
“You can’t stray from your core competencies,” he says. “Ten years ago, we didn’t know anything about bank equipment, but we knew how to make fabricated product. An opportunity came up to make an acquisition there, and we did that.
“Eight years ago, we didn’t know much about the products in water and waste water treatment other than they used a lot of castings and fabrications, machining and assembly. We had to learn how to sell some of those products and establish ourselves in those markets, but at the end of the day, we know what we do here in this building pretty well, and we’ve never strayed far from that.”
By sticking to a strategy of following core values and diversifying the business, Bushman has led Cast-Fab into new realms of business. He plans to continue that growth.
“As a family business, we don’t want to be doing this just for one or two more years; we want to be doing this for 30 years and beyond and get it over at some point maybe to a third generation,” he says. “So we’re trying to do those things and make those decisions now for the long haul.” <<
How to reach: Cast-Fab Technologies Inc., (513) 758-1000 or www.cast-fab.com
Utilize employees from different levels in your strategic planning.
Continue to work your plan as you gain buy-in.
Diversify by using core competencies.
The Bushman File
President and CEO
Cast-Fab Technologies Inc.
Education: Attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and received a productions and operations management degree. He also received an MBA from the University of Cincinnati.
What was your first job and what did you learn from that experience?
My very first job was at Carlisle Construction. It was a heavy equipment construction company that rented cranes, dump trucks, etc. I was the guy who swept the gas pumps, worked in the truck wash and steam-cleaned the engines so the maintenance group could work on them. It was a pretty good experience for a 14-year-old learning different stuff. I learned how different people dealt with conflict.
What is some of the best advice you have received?
My dad taught me years ago that pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered. We use that a lot here when we’re talking about relationships with OEMs that we’re trying to establish for the long term. So when we’re in negotiations or doing pricing we’re talking about getting a fair return for what we’re doing to be able to sustain and grow the business, but at the same time we’re not looking for just one sale or a home run. We want to be able to do this for the long haul with them.
Whom do you admire most in business?
My dad taught me most of what I know. He’s been my hero in life. I was also part of a mentoring group here in town several years back with a fairly famous local business guy, Bob Kohlhepp. He is the chairman of the board over at Cintas and has been a great mentor to me and taught me a lot as well.
What are you most proud of at Cast-Fab?
I would have to say it was some of the work we did for the military. We did things on both sides of our business, ranging from ductile iron bomb bodies to some of the fabrications for the MRAP vehicles. A lot of our stuff isn’t necessarily seen when it is in use somewhere. It’s part of a machine or inside the guts of a machine, but when you can point to something that our folks are doing to help out our troops overseas, that’s pretty special to us.
When Joe Peilert came on board at Veka Inc. in 2010, the company was 2½ years into a more than five-year building recession. The company had gone through its first layoffs in its 30-year history, and it seemed there was no end in sight to the shrinking construction market.
Veka Inc. is a 500-employee, $110 million manufacturer of PVC and vinyl extrusions for residential and commercial windows, doors, fences and decks. As the number of homes being built in the United States continued to decline, Veka saw some of its customers shut their doors and its competition struggle to stay in business.
“By the time this was all said and done, 75 percent of the market was gone,” says Peilert, Veka president and CEO. “You’re looking at the peak of 2 million homes being built a year, down to 405,000 homes in 2011. It was a massive breakdown of opportunity.”
Peilert and his leadership team had to act to ensure Veka wouldn’t be the next company closing its doors.
“When you’re in a situation like that, morale is a challenge with employees and customers alike,” Peilert says. “That wasn’t something that was exclusive to Veka. It was a very tough emotional state for people because they were used to growth and success.”
As Veka’s new CEO, Peilert needed to do his due diligence within the organization, which gave him an opportunity to evaluate the business and gain a strong understanding of its operations. However, he had the added pressure of an industry that kept slipping more and more.
Here’s how Peilert identified key areas of strength for Veka and created opportunities within a shrinking market.
Evaluate the business
Peilert has spent a majority of his career in the building materials industry. He was attracted to Veka because it was a quality leader in the industry, and as a family-owned business, it provided a unique working environment.
“It’s a family-owned group with a global presence, which is a great mix because you get a long-term commitment to growing the business and what that provides to me is what I like to call the luxury to make the right decisions,” Peilert says.
“A lot of times you find companies with a three- to five-year horizon, and if you go through a recession, you can bet you start cutting maintenance, you start cutting people development, expenses and things like that.
“With the type of view we have for growing a business bigger and stronger for the next owner generations, you continue to do those things through difficult times and that is very attractive.”
Peilert took advantage of that luxury to make the right decisions. He addressed the people at Veka to share his plan for moving the company beyond the building recession.
“We gathered around 60 managers and supervisors here, which gave me the opportunity to introduce myself and talk about mainly what I considered to be key ingredients for a successful organization,” he says.
“What it boils down to are mainly two things — No. 1 is people who care. They care about the company, the customers and the co-workers. The second element is a well-defined strategy and an execution plan that’s linked to it. If we have those two things going in the right direction, it doesn’t matter what the industry and what the economy does; we’ll do well.”
Once he had met with key people he spent the rest of his first week listening.
“You have to spend time with the employees and with the customers and allow them to talk about their ideas, their concerns and their perspectives because you’re a sponge during that time,” he says.
A big part of what Peilert soaked up was the condition of the company’s customers and competition.
“With the customers, there was quite a bit of consolidation going on in the market,” he says. “As you can imagine, there were a number of people going out of business, so for us it was important to understand if we were aligned with the right people, both from a culture business philosophy point of view, as well as their approach to the market and product positioning.
“We wanted to make sure we provide them the right products. Our design capabilities that we have in-house allowed us to help our customers to transition from a new-construction-focused business into a renovation-focused business. That’s where we spend a lot of time proposing new concepts that help them get into those markets faster and more successfully.”
Peilert also had to fully understand the company’s three stakeholder groups — ownership, customers and employees — which he relates to a three-legged stool.
“There is an inherent balance to the system and the fact is you can’t neglect one group over an extended period of time because you introduce imbalance, and ultimately, that three-legged stool collapses or you fall off the stool,” Peilert says.
“You’ve got to understand the needs of those three groups and make sure that you address them in a balanced way. Understanding that inherent balance and managing that is the key.
“Once you’re there, you can never undercommunicate. You’ve got to constantly be visible, approachable and building trust all the time.”
Rally your team
Building that trust was crucial as Veka employees watched the building market continue to contract and began questioning whether the market would ever get better.
“Ultimately, communication is key in bad times more so than in good times,” Peilert says. “You need to be honest with people and you cannot overpromise. That is really dangerous.
“If you overpromise, then you lose your credibility and then you lose the buy-in and the business culture of the company is also being damaged.”
Peilert spread a message to the employees of Veka that he wanted to see them show an ownership and can-do attitude.
“You always find the people on any given day who will talk about the Steelers and find the negative things,” he says. “That’s really dangerous if that is prevailing in an organization. Fortunately, we have a lot of people, based on their seniority, that had seen the good times and they understand that this is a phase that, at some point, will come to an end.”
Not all of the employees were able to view the market situation with that mindset, so Peilert had to make sure he was allowing employees to voice their concerns.
“You can give company updates where you stand in front of 100 people, but the more effective way, while it takes a lot more time and effort, is to have those one-on-one interactions,” he says. “You get some good quality discussions and people talk about their concerns. They listen and they are not afraid to ask questions. That in my opinion is the best way to reach people. You’ve got to walk the plant.”
That kind of attention to individual employees greatly helped Peilert in the buy-in process. To get his management team on board, Peilert took them for an off-site strategy meeting at Fallingwater, a groundbreaking mansion that Frank Lloyd Wright built over a waterfall in the Allegheny Mountains.
“We took a tour of the building, and it became very obvious that the man had a phenomenal vision and an exceptional amount of focus on detail,” he says. “We said, ‘That’s how we want to approach our business and that’s how we want to develop strategy.’
“The second day we started mapping out our game plan going forward. People got a sense for how we wanted to tackle the business and certainly were inspired by the building and the thought behind it. If the management team has a can-do attitude and shows that ownership attitude, at some point, everyone else in the company will follow that lead.”
To truly rally your employees behind a new direction aside from company meetings, one-on-one discussions and strategy sessions, you have to celebrate your small wins.
“You show people you are hitting the milestones and when you hit those milestones, you’ve got to talk about them,” Peilert says. “You start building the confidence and building the momentum.”
To keep momentum going, Veka had to make several changes to account for what was happening in the industry. The company closed a location in Youngstown, Ohio, and converted its Canadian operation to a warehouse and logistics center to retain critical mass at key sites. It also made adjustments to personnel to help the company head in the right direction.
“Some of that was done, but there was quite a bit of work left to do in terms of looking at both cost and business development,” Peilert says. “At the end of the day, I made it clear to my management team that you can’t cut yourself to prosperity. With that being said, we said, ‘We can grow share and we can grow in bad times. We just have to have the right approach to the market and the right products.’”
Peilert started to break down the critical success factors in each area, one being cost management and the other being new business development.
“Once we had identified them in a fishbone diagram [which identifies many possible causes for an effect or problem], we started to break them down into further detail,” he says. “Once we had the detail, we started to put initiatives behind them. Once we had the initiatives, we attached them to a SMART execution plan.”
SMART is a big initiative for Peilert and the company. It’s an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, responsible and time-based.
“Once we started breaking this down into individual initiatives, people said, ‘That is achievable. That is realistic,’” he says. “Once we started to see traction on some of those projects and we had the additive nature of those initiatives, people started to gain confidence again.”
There wasn’t a magic trick or a rabbit that Peilert pulled out of his hat — it took rolling up his sleeves and clearly outlining performance expectations.
“I think that helped once people understood very specifically what they need to do to succeed in their job,” Peilert says. “In many cases, that’s not been properly defined. You typically see performance improving once you measure and once you set a target. So we spent quite a bit of time establishing metrics.”
The company focused on quality ratings, internal metrics and specific improvement targets aligned with the philosophy of SMART.
“We wanted to make sure that they were achievable, so we broke them down in quarters and showed a step-up improvement,” he says. “Those were key elements that people say, ‘I can do that over the next quarter. And if that’s possible, I can do it again the next quarter a little bit better.’”
Breaking objectives down into bite-size goals made a big difference. The key is being able to define your core business and put resources behind opportunities that will move the business forward.
“You start off by defining what your core is,” he says. “That’s always worthwhile revisiting and putting on a test vent. Once you’ve done that, you want to make sure you fund your biggest opportunities properly and put the right people behind it.
“It’s not always the biggest account that deserves the best person, but it will always be the biggest opportunity. Ultimately, you just have to spend time in the market and understand the leverage and the levers you have for success.”
Veka’s hard work paid off through a 56 percent reduction in quality claims, the signing of new business and a good growth return. So far, 2012 has been a good year.
“What we are seeing in 2012 is the beginning of a slow but steady recovery,” Peilert says. “People are starting to create households again and that’s how home construction benefits. It will not be a return to the 2 million unit residential homes, maybe we’ll never achieve that again, but it’s now a stabilized system that has experienced some slow and steady growth not based on government programs but based on recovering market strengths.
“For Veka, we are very excited about some of our partners that we have and our customers in the market that we’ve been able to work with on new designs for products that zero in on energy efficiency, sound insulation and impact resistance. Those are all big trends and big needs in applications that will help us grow faster than the market.” <<
How to reach: Veka Inc., (724) 452-1000 or www.vekainc.com
Evaluate and understand your business and stakeholders.
Develop a strategy and communicate expectations.
Implement your plan to head in the right direction.
The Peilert File
President and CEO
Born: Altena, Germany. I came to the U.S. in 1991.
Education: Has a Diplom Oekonom/MBA in business and economics from Ruhr-Universitat Bochum
What was your first job, and what did you take away from that experience?
I worked in my dad’s CPA office. I did classic, old-style accounting with a big journal where you had to write every entry in. That gave me a sense for the complexity of business, but also the need for accuracy and execution.
What advice would you give someone else stepping into a new CEO role?
For me personally, I’ve always strived for having the freedom to shape the direction of the business. There is a saying one of my mentors always said, which was, ‘It’s better to be the head of a mouse than the tail of a lion.’ It was always attractive to me to rather than work for a large organization to work in an organization where I can impact the structure and reach the people. I would recommend to a CEO to be the guardian of the company culture because that is a very precious asset.
Who is someone you admire in business or leadership?
I look up to George Washington. I have a painting of Washington crossing the Delaware in my office, and to me, that is the essence of leadership. If I look at my career, the founding CEO of Ardex, Herbert Goller, was a great mentor to me.
If you weren’t a president and CEO, what is something you have always wanted to do?
One day when I retire, I could see myself teaching.
Medical Mutual has announced that Ray Mueller has been named executive vice president and CFO. Mueller will be responsible for the company’s finance, treasury, facilities and administration and human resources departments.
Prior to this position, in January 2010, he was appointed the company’s vice president of finance and corporate controller. Mueller was promoted again in January 2012 to senior vice president of finance and corporate controller. Mueller originally joined Medical Mutual in 1986 as a senior financial analyst in the Western Division based in Toledo.
Medical Mutual has also announced that Carol Bushnell has been appointed to vice president, underwriting and chief underwriter. Bushnell will be responsible for core underwriting functions. She will also be in charge of product management.
She joined Medical Mutual in 1987, as supervisor of quality assurance in the internal performance department. After working in large group underwriting, she became manager of underwriting policy in 2003, a position she held for three years until becoming director of underwriting administration. Bushnell was promoted to senior director of large group underwriting, her most recent position, in 2010.
Bruner-Cox LLP recently announced the following promotions:
Jeffrey S. Buckshaw has been promoted to assurance services senior manager. Buckshaw joined Bruner-Cox LLP in 2001. He has more than 10 years of experience providing accounting, auditing and corporate and individual tax services to clients in the manufacturing, real estate and not-for-profit industries.
Matthew L. Douglas has been promoted to tax senior associate. Douglas joined Bruner-Cox LLP in 2011. He has experience in corporate and individual taxation. Douglas provides services to clients in the manufacturing, wholesale-distribution, construction and real estate industries.
Laura A. King has been promoted to tax senior manager. King joined Bruner-Cox LLP in 2003. She has more than 13 years of consulting and taxation experience. King handles personal and corporate taxation with an extensive expertise serving middle-market corporations in the manufacturing and wholesale-distribution industries. King also specializes in expatriate tax matters, assisting
international clients with tax planning and compliance.
Michele M. Monter has been promoted to assurance services director. Monter joined Bruner-Cox LLP in 1989. She has more than 20 years of public accounting experience, providing services for construction and manufacturing clients.
Alliance Solutions Group, a full-service staffing and recruitment agency, has recently expanded its Akron presence by opening a new staffing “hub” facility at 3250 West Market Street, Suite 103, in Akron. This office will offer the company’s full complement of staffing and recruitment services from all nine of its business units.
The Akron office is the third new or expanded office that Alliance Solutions Group has opened in the past year, with earlier expansions taking place in Elyria and Upper Sandusky. Alliance Solutions Group remains on a fast-growth track with 32 percent growth last year — a figure that is three times the national average for staffing companies.
Bober Markey Fedorovich, a regional audit, accounting and business advisory firm with offices in Akron and Cleveland, recently promoted six of its associates to new positions within the firm.
Chad Basquin has been promoted to manager, accounting and auditing department. Jeanine Black has been promoted to supervisor, marketing and public relations. Jessica Tepus has been promoted to supervisor, tax department. Shawn Carlson has been promoted to supervisor, accounting and auditing department. Mindy Marsden has been promoted to supervisor, valuation and transaction services. And Kristopher Brown has been promoted to senior accountant, accounting and auditing department.
Spectrum Surgical Instruments Corp. has announced the appointment of Jim Hoffman to vice president of endoscopy and field operations. Hoffman’s long history of 20 years in the industry
started with the implementation of on-location surgical instrument repair services. He managed sales efforts throughout the Western United States and was directly responsible for repair service quality standards. His experience with group purchasing organizations, educational programs and direct sales was instrumental in growing the business to a national level. <<
Please send your executive-level promotions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lee Thomas looks out his 13th floor window of the Huntington Building on Euclid Ave. and East Ninth St. and imagines the view he will have when Ernst & Young’s Cleveland office relocates to its new building along the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway.
Thomas, who is a native Clevelander and a 36-year Ernst & Young veteran, became the Cleveland office managing partner this past January. Ernst & Young, a global, 152,000-employee accounting firm, is the only company he has ever worked for and the legacy the firm has built here in Northeast Ohio is something significant.
As the new managing partner, Thomas plans to keep that legacy going, and the firm’s new office location, which will bear the Ernst & Young name, is a symbol of continuing that legacy here in Cleveland.
“We have a very strong legacy here in Northeast Ohio because back when there was the Big 8, Ernst was the only Big 8 firm headquartered in Cleveland,” Thomas says. “Protecting that legacy and making sure that we continue to provide the right kind of services to the franchise that we have and keeping the brand are the important things that we need to do.”
While Thomas and the firm are excited for a new building in downtown, it’s the firm’s 1,100 employees in Cleveland who will drive that legacy forward among its clients.
Attract and retain talent
In the services industry in which Ernst & Young operates, it’s all about people. The firm’s employees develop many sought-after skills, so Thomas remains focused on recruiting and keeping great talent.
“Attracting and retaining people and helping them get through a changing environment to develop a nice, strong career that they want to be at is the challenge,” he says. “We look for people who have very good social skills, can problem solve and work with teams. It’s a demanding profession so you have to understand how to balance your time, too.”
Thomas is always on the lookout for those talented individuals who could possibly have his job one day.
“No matter who the employer is, we are all looking for certain talents who are going to be part of the succession plan of that business,” he says. “Not everyone needs to be that, but they’re looking for that kind of talent because you don’t find it every day.
“When you do get it, it makes a huge impact on your organization. You grow those people and give them the opportunities and watch them develop because they have the attitude and the skill set to take it to the next level.”
Finding the most talented people for your business is a tough task, but once you have them and they keep getting better at what they do, retaining them in your company is even more difficult.
“Those skills translate very well outside the public accounting arena, and that’s part of the problem we have with retention,” Thomas says. “We lose people because they’re really good, and it’s a great training ground. We want this to be more than just a great training ground though. We want to keep them here, too.”
Ernst & Young prides itself on a good educational program, flexible work schedules and a positive work environment.
“We’re in a rapidly changing environment and making sure we have our people at the top of their game where their specialty is … [and] help continue to build that skill set is important,” he says. “The educational element is very positive in retention.
“We also offer things like flexible work arrangements. We have a lot of people who want to have families, and one of the biggest struggles that the profession has is that it’s very demanding and you never know when the next call is going to be from a client where you have to go do something that’s not in your schedule.”
The firm allows people to have flexible work arrangements where they can work a 70 percent schedule for a couple of years. With today’s technology, it has become much easier for people to also work remotely.
“Flexibility is pretty big today,” he says. “We’re everywhere, and we have to be mobile because our business is conducted where our clients are. So giving your people the flexibility to do what they can do effectively and serve their customer, whether it be internal or external, is really important.”
Another aspect Thomas focuses on to retain his employees is making sure they are challenged and receive new opportunities.
“When we lose people, sometimes it’s because they didn’t get the challenges they wanted,” he says. “That’s the big thing is giving people great challenges and letting them have their chance to succeed. That builds a lot of loyalty within the organization if it’s a challenge that they liked and they achieved and they were successful at.”
As important as your employees are to your business, without clients a company wouldn’t be able to support a workforce. Thomas makes sure the Cleveland office is always client-focused.
“The real key is having a good listening ear to what our clients’ needs are and what do we have that could help them achieve those needs,” he says. “You have to corral it around the things you can do.
“We can’t do everything, and we have to be one of the first ones to say, ‘We can’t help you there,’ but it would be nice if we could know somebody that can help them there. You have to satisfy your client and they have to know you care what their issues are and want to help them solve them.”
The way Ernst & Young does that is with good people. The firm works with its employees on listening, hearing and understanding what the clients’ issues are.
“If you don’t have those listening ears and don’t understand what you do as a business, that becomes another challenge,” Thomas says. “We do so many things; do our people totally understand all the different things we can do? That’s why we continue to educate our people on that and have our different service lines work with each other and meet with each other and understand them better.”
A critical part of understanding your clients is developing a close relationship so you each have knowledge of one another’s business.
“If you go to a client, you can’t just pop ideas onto them without first understanding what their issues or concerns are,” he says. “It doesn’t work. We have a bunch of products we can go and sell, but that’s not the way you develop a relationship and develop trust and confidence. You understand what their needs are and then you say, ‘How can we help them?’
“It’s making sure our people build relationships and build connections so that those people and our clients feel open with us to talk about what their problems and issues are.”
Thomas doesn’t expect his employees to have a solution for every problem or issue that arises, but he expects that they know how to go about finding the answer.
“They need to understand, ‘Ah, here’s the issue. Where can I go to in the firm with that issue and say how can we help?’” he says.
It has been this relationship mentality within the firm that has helped Ernst & Young grow in Northeast Ohio and become the dominant practice in the area.
“I know our people are proud of that,” Thomas says. “Every day, I get ready for the day at Ernst & Young and on my mind is making sure that our people are challenged and satisfied and that we have clients that are happy with what we do. It’s kind of a simple approach, but if we do that, we’re going to have a very successful firm.
“I always want to make sure that we’re maintaining the legacy that we have here. When I started in 1976 at the firm, I walked right into these offices, and it was Ernst & Ernst world headquarters, and I remember that and would hate to let that down.” <<
How to reach: Ernst & Young LLP, (216) 861-5000 or www.ey.com
Michael Siegal isn’t someone who is satisfied by achieving one goal — no matter how lofty. When Olympic Steel Inc. passed $1 billion in sales (it reached $1.26 billion in 2011), the chairman and CEO of the national metals service center set his sights on growing the company into one capable of reaching $4 billion in sales. To achieve that growth, Siegal has implemented strategies focusing on an environment that fosters sustainability and growth, as well as one that attracts and maintains the right kind of people.
“The challenge of Olympic Steel always is we’ve never been where we’ve been before,” Siegal says. “To a certain degree, everybody expects you to continue to drive forward, but every time we drive forward, it’s into an area where we’ve never been. “Therefore, strategy and buy-in is very important. It’s a lot easier to go from $20 million to $50 million in sales, although it’s a doubling of your business, than it is to go from $1 billion to $4 billion, because you’re dealing with different implications and risks.”
Those implications and risks are why Siegal places the spotlight on Olympic’s environment and its employees in order to succeed. “It’s all about people,” Siegal says. “There’s no other challenge. Have you hired the right people? Do you have an environment that can foster growth and motivate and retain existing employees? You have to balance the expectation between employees who want a great career and customers who continually want lower pricing.”
Here’s how Michael Siegal is doubling Olympic Steel through strategy and fostering an environment that supports employees and company growth.
Put people first
To achieve the strategies that will get Olympic Steel moving toward $4 billion in sales, Siegal put his focus on his 1,750 employees. The work environment has to be one in which employees enjoy what they do and where they work.
“We do what we have to do to try to foster the environment where an employee can succeed,” Siegal says. “You set a certain level of value structure and you adhere to it. You want to be consistent, reliable and living up to the value system that you have in your organization.”
The key to creating a positive work environment is having an established value structure and being accountable toward those values.
“If you’re accountable and you hold your managers at the highest level to the consistent level of performing at those values, then ultimately you create an environment where people can at least respect the environment that they work in,” he says. “If you have the commitment of the ongoing education of the employee, the betterment of the employee, the safety of the employee and you have growth, there’s no reason for them to go someplace else other than the money.”
Olympic Steel operates in a commodity industry that is very volatile and unregulated. The same value structure that the company applies to its employees is crucial for customers as well.
“We try to create a value structure for our customers that imbeds us with them regardless of the volatility of the marketplace,” he says. “By adding that value to the commodity we find ourselves to be better positioned to have a level of competitiveness, as well as sustainability with the customer in spite of the volatility of what goes on in steel pricing.”
To overcome volatility in the market you have to look at the customer you serve and the industry you’re in. You have to look at long-term sustainability and growth for your company.
“There’s never standing still in the marketplace — there’s going forward or falling back,” Siegal says. “You control your own destiny to a certain degree by the decisions that you make. You have to understand all business takes risk. You have to define the aptitude for your risk company by company and individual by individual. Are you always swimming upstream, or sometimes are you going downstream? You really have to look at the environment that you’re in and then say, ‘How do I differentiate myself from the pack?’”
When looking to grow your organization, there are financial metrics that are acceptable. It’s the CEO who ultimately decides what levels they are willing to go to in order to create leverage for growth.
“Some people are never comfortable with that,” Siegal says. “Some people are so risky that they ignore the financial metrics and go beyond what is safe just to roll the dice. Within a certain structure of what your outlook is for the future, people expect those in my position to be conservatively aggressive.”
Achieving growth within your business is what ultimately helps to create an environment where employees are excited to come to work.
“You have to create growth because employees want personal growth in their career,” he says. “If you as the company are not growing, it’s going to be difficult to promote your young talent into areas where they see a future for themselves as opposed to having to leave to get ahead. So you have to create the environment of growth. You have to create the environment of promoting from within, not to say that you can’t hire from the outside, but do you really have the environment where people are excited to come to work because they see the company doing well and the opportunity for them to be of significance?”
Create a growth environment
Establishing an atmosphere where your employees are happy and supportive of the company and its direction comes back to core values and not being hypocritical about them.
“If I said I am supportive of employee’s educational growth, I can’t turn them down when they come and say, ‘I’d like to take these courses that will better myself in the job,’” Siegal says. “Even though the financial environment may be difficult, you still have to be committed to the employee. You have to be consistent. You can do it within a certain degree of discretion, but for those who have been identified as high-performers within your own organization, are you really investing in their future as much as they are investing in their job?”
The consistency of being able to listen, create the environment in which education is valued and execute on those structural elements to the betterment of the individuals in your company is crucial.
“You have to do what you say you’re going to do,” he says. “If you say it and don’t do it, it’s hypocritical, and people will see that and they’ll lose hope and that’s when they’ll answer all the head-hunter calls.”
Olympic makes sure it has ways for employees to express themselves by bringing up issues or submitting ideas. The company has luncheons for new employees and regular gatherings where they’re allowed to share ideas. Olympic encourages ideas and rewards ideas through its FE Award of Excellence program. The company gives employees opportunities to come up with ideas that will help streamline the business, increase safety, work smarter, save money and be collaborative.
“We recognize it with a certain degree of reward, documentation and financial remuneration,” he says. “Within the whole organization someone can be nominated, including self-nomination, for going over and beyond their every day job by devising better ideas. We do that both on the corporate level and a local level as well. Some things are not great for all of Olympic Steel, but it may be great for your individual unit.”
These kinds of initiatives are important because they demonstrate respect for the employees.
“The hardest thing in America today, it seems, is, ‘How do I earn and get respect?’” he says. “So within the construct of what we try to do is not disrespect anyone. Most people just want to be heard. You don’t have to agree, but you have to give them the opportunity to be listened to. “We have a very personal connection with our employees. People here understand that if they have something to say most of my management will listen.”
Olympic employees take full advantage of opportunities to submit an idea or bring up an issue. From little things such as, “How do I burn the material a little bit better, faster or quicker?” to keeping processes in-house that will save money, employees are willing to be vocal to support the company.
“If you foster the environment where your ideas are listened to and respected, more ideas come from that,” Siegal says. “It is creating the environment where people are not threatened, disrespected or embarrassed by the fact that they may have an idea which won’t be accepted. You can’t say, ‘That’s a terrible idea’ or humiliate them by saying, ‘That’s stupid.’ You have to be sensitive to the fact that when people come forward that you give them the appropriate time to listen to their ideas even if the idea isn’t a good idea, because you don’t know if you don’t listen.”
Strategize for growth
Putting people first and creating a solid environment within Olympic Steel has helped the company and Siegal in the effort to become a $4 billion business. Having that reinforcement helps the buy-in stage when implementing new growth strategies.
“As we make decisions in management, we have to have more buy-in today from a bigger group of people to execute on those strategies than we did when we were smaller,” Siegal says. “The challenge is how do you communicate effectively to a broader group of people who may not have the full picture at hand and then expect them to execute well. Communication becomes more of a challenge as you get bigger.”
When communicating a new strategy, it is important to inform employees of how that new strategy will impact them.
“You’re always trying to look at the other side of the equation when you’re executing a strategy,” he says. “It’s the person on the other side of the table saying, ‘What does this mean to me? Does that mean I’ve got to work harder? Does that mean I’m going to be traveling more? Does that mean I’m going to get more money or more work for the same amount of money?’ ‘What does this mean to me’ is always an indication of fear and resistance. So what we try to do is understand that we’re not going to get 2,000 people to buy in. We need 20 people to buy in and that cascades down to the rest.”
It is nearly impossible to get a unanimous decision surrounding a new strategy, but leadership is about somebody ultimately having the final say and the responsibility.
“You want people to understand why we’re going this direction and answering the question of what this means to you,” he says. “I can answer what it means to the organization, but if that doesn’t somehow correlate to how I think it benefits me, maybe I’ll say yes, but I don’t mean yes. So we are always very sensitive to creating strategies on the expectation that this will be better for everyone if we do it. To make sure that everybody is on board to those philosophies takes a much longer time of communication and education to the change of strategy.”
Gaining buy-in for a new direction is crucial. While you don’t need everyone on board, you want to have a large majority behind your new direction.
“You have to keep everything pretty rational,” he says. “We’re going to go from here if we do these things and here’s where we’re going to get to. If we get there, this is what it means and this is why it’s better. Now you may not believe we can go from here to there, but if we go from here to there, isn’t this truly better? By and large, it’s about the destination.”
Siegal compares strategy buy-in to getting on a bus. When you get on a bus, you’ve got to know where the bus is going to take you. You choose to get on the bus to go to the destination because you’ve got to get off the bus at a certain point. If you just get on a bus and you don’t know where it’s going to go, then you’re just riding around all day hoping that something happens.
“We’ve got to be very concise in terms of where the destination is,” he says. “If you tell people, ‘Here’s the destination. Forget the journey. Here’s our starting point and here’s the destination.’ There may be different tangential ways in which we can get to the ultimate destination, but if we all agree that this destination is a better spot, I don’t find that people say, ‘No, that destination is going to be worse than where we’re at or it’s going to be too risky.’ If you tell them the destination, they’ll get on the bus with you.”
When planning a strategy Olympic typically looks out five years. Siegal says there isn’t necessarily a time frame that’s too forward-looking, but there are things that are too risky in strategizing and having a goal is vital.
“You have to have targets and goals in business,” Siegal says. “There has to be a way in which you’re trying to create the future. The goal is important to articulate. There can be lots of tactics to get you to the goal, and tactics may differ by location, process and customer. The tactics aren’t universal, but the goal has got to be. If you don’t have that same goal, you’ll be driving around in a circle.”
Siegal’s goal to grow Olympic to $4 billion is part of his strategy to double the business and then double it again.
“Outside of natural growth, there is always this construct in the back of your mind that says, ‘Double and then double again,’” Siegal says. “So if you’re at $50 million, you want to get to $200 million. If you’re a $1 billion company, you could say, ‘Let’s go buy a $3 billion company.’ But you don’t have the skill set to run it. The question is how do you get from $1 [billion] to $2 and from $2 [billion] to $4.”
Almost every CEO who doubles the sales would want to keep that growth going and see how far it can be taken. You have to ride that momentum in order to double business again.
“It will take you a lot shorter time frame to get to the second billion in sales than it took you for the first billion in sales,” he says. “Once you’re there, you understand how to maintain that level of business. It’s not hard to see the doubling. It’s hard to see the doubling again.”
Within the construct of the leadership, you have to keep everybody realistic. It’s not sensible to have an objective of going from $1 billion to $4 billion without getting to $2 billion first.
“If you have the strategies to get to ($2 billion) and you actually execute on those strategies, it’s going to propel you way past ($2 billion), because it doesn’t stop,” Siegal says. “Those things that you will do strategically to double your business will continue to foster additional growth beyond that. I find that to be a useful way to create a certain degree of momentum for growth.”
Over the last three years since the recession, Olympic has deployed a significant amount of capital into the marketplace for growth. Now the company has to focus on the execution of the growth initiatives that it’s begun.
“We’ve deployed the biggest capital that we ever have in the last three years over any 10-year period, and we have to make sure that we make that stuff work,” Siegal says. “To a certain degree, it’s about succession management. Are we populating the next level of management capable of running the organization? Do we have the good strategy initiatives and the balance sheet and capital structure to do that? You have a lot of headwinds in terms of your plans, and what you have to do is make sure that your foundation is secure based upon the things that you’ve done.”
Ultimately, it’s really about performance.
“As people look at Olympic Steel over the next couple of years, I think you’ll see a company that has positioned itself for growth, and now we’ll be executing on the growth initiatives,” he says.
How to Reach: Olympic Steel Inc., (216) 292-3800 or www.olysteel.com
Make employees your No. 1 priority.
Create an environment that fosters growth.
Implement strategies to drive your business forward.
James Wendle and EQM Technologies & Energy Inc. are largely reliant upon government spending to drive business. However, with the lack of funds and resources from the government recently, Wendle has had to resort to alternative ways to keep the company flush.
EQM is a $75 million, 240-employee sustainable solutions company that provides consulting and technology to business and government. Wendle became EQM’s president and COO in 2010 after the board brought him in to help grow the business.
“What I bring to the table is accountability and know-how in the construction and the engineering world and growing more on the engineering side and developing that part of the business to get us more diverse,” Wendle says.
That diversity is what Wendle expects will ease EQM’s reliance on government spending. His acquisition strategy is to find companies that will get EQM into different aspects of the environmental and engineering industries. Most recently, EQM, which at the time was Environmental Quality Management Inc., merged with Beacon Energy Holdings Inc. in 2011 to become EQM Technologies & Energy Inc.
“The Beacon merger was a reverse merger,” Wendle says. “Beacon Energy gives EQM an added benefit that wasn’t there before.”
EQM has five different divisions that give the company a wide range of capabilities. Now Wendle is searching for the next company that will bring added value to the business.
Here is how Wendle is diversifying EQM through mergers and acquisitions.
Look for opportunity
EQM was looking to broaden its business and get into an industry that it wasn’t in yet, but one that was similar to the work it did. The company came across Beacon Energy Corp., a biodiesel production business.
“The plant was sitting idle, and we had a strategy that we were going to restart the plant, which we did, and be in the biodiesel business, which we are, and the plant is running now,” Wendle says. “It helped diversify us.”
Wendle and EQM put together an acquisition strategy that focused on finding companies in the engineering business and environmental services business that would help the company grow.
“Growth is an expectation,” he says. “It’s not something that you just do by mistake. Growth of companies is what’s expected, and it’s expected by our board. Growing organically can be difficult, and I think a lot of companies are experiencing that.
“So with our equity partner, we have a company that is an expert at it. They’re on a constant search, and raising the capital to make the acquisitions is something that they do every day and they’re very good at.”
In today’s market, if you’re going to grow, you have to look at growing both through acquisition and organically. If you grow through acquisition, you have to understand the business you’re interested in.
“We set up a model of companies that are in a certain range of what their revenue is, what their margins are, how we can be more of a strategic acquisition and what synergies there are,” he says. “If we merged, how can both firms benefit from it? It is something that we need to know something about. We’re not going to buy a company we have very little knowledge about.”
The other part of acquiring a company is what leadership comes with it.
“That is just as important as the company itself, because we are constantly looking for leaders and leadership,” he says. “When you acquire a company, you also acquire the leadership and you have to look at how those leaders can help you grow in other areas.”
One of the most challenging aspects of the acquisition process is not losing sight of your current business.
“You have to align yourself with a private equity company that can assist you in your search, because it can be very distracting, not only for the buyer but for the seller,” Wendle says. “You have a business to run while you’re doing all this and you want to keep your eye on the ball.
“I’ve seen sellers particularly get so distracted through the process that they don’t watch their business. You have to stay focused and keep your eye on the ball. Don’t get all consumed in an acquisition potential.”
Wendle understands how difficult a merger process can be, so he makes sure he is as helpful to those involved as he can be.
“That’s the way I develop a relationship with the people, because it is a relationship,” he says. “If the process goes well, then the closure is going to go well. It can’t be adversarial. It needs to be very friendly and very professional. Instead of looking at it like you’re out there buying assets, you should look at it as you’re being an advocate of the seller’s and you’re helping them sell their business.”
Integrate the merger
Once a deal is made to move forward with the merger and you’ve gone through and agreed on terms and produced a letter of intent, then you need to go through due diligence.
“We’re really trying to understand more and more about the company and they’re trying to understand more and more about us,” Wendle says.
“The integration actually starts in the due diligence process. You want them to learn as much about you as you learn about them. You want them to learn about what your benefits program is. The key for owners selling is how are my employees that I hired going to be treated.”
EQM gets its HR department involved to look through the merging company’s benefits program and matches it up with theirs.
“Typically ours is going to be overall in a better position, so the new employees are going to benefit from it,” he says. “Then it’s integrating the financial packages or the business systems. How do we communicate financially? Rarely do the new companies coming in have the same types of systems that we have.
“From there, we really try not to make changes. Any changes we have to make we want them to go slowly. What’s working obviously has been working and the last thing you want to do is keep it from working. You want the leaders and the employees to keep on doing what they’re doing.”
In a merger process, there are two sides: a legal side and an emotional side. The due diligence process focuses primarily on the emotional side.
“The legal side is pretty cut and dry,” Wendle says. “The emotional side is more cultural. What kind of culture are they coming into and how comfortable do they feel with it? I start explaining that once I first meet a potential acquisition candidate.
“For someone who’s going to sell their business, it’s a very emotional process and they have to be very comfortable with it. You have to pay attention to how you get the cultures to integrate and whether they feel they still have autonomy.
“That’s the one thing about running your own business that’s good, but now they’re part of a much larger organization and they have more potential for growth.”
Making this transition successful relies on strong communication between the two companies, specifically among leadership.
“You cannot communicate enough,” he says. “We have town-hall meetings. We have staff meetings every week. Each business unit has staff meetings every week and you’re just trying to keep the lines of communication open. It really comes down to employee engagement and whether the employees feel that they have a say and whether they’re being listened to.”
While cultural alignment is a big part of making a merger successful, there still has to be a good fit in other aspects of the business.
“Cultural alignment isn’t necessarily more important, but it is as important,” he says. “There still has to be intrinsic value and what the company brings to the table as far as net income. There has to be value-added services that customers want to buy. What I find is if employees have the right attitude and they’re happy, then they have a pretty good customer base. They walk hand in hand.
“If the employees are not happy, customers are going to hear about it because there are close relationships between the employees and the clients. And vice versa, if our client’s employees aren’t happy, we hear about it.”
EQM’s strategy is to leave the incoming company alone to continue the work it was already doing. You have to make a judgment call whether or not to make any changes to a company you’ve acquired.
“There are two aspects of it,” Wendle says. “When we look at a company we look at the brand. Most the time the companies that we acquire have a good brand and we want them to keep that name and that brand and operate it as a subsidiary, unless it is parallel to one of our business units and our brand may be stronger than theirs.”
Develop a strategy
The key to being successful at acquisitions and mergers and with the growth of your business in general is to have a strategy with goals that you hope to achieve.
“I think the business changes so fast that you can have a five-year plan, but to really put tactics behind that strategy is very difficult to do because it changes so fast,” Wendle says. “It’s been my experience that if you look in two to three years, you’re going to have a better chance of meeting your goals and putting more realistic goals out there. We’re in a different climate now than we were in four or five years ago. We’ve all managed downturns and now we’re trying to grow.”
Wendle is looking to keep EQM doing more of the same it did with Beacon Energy Corp. He is focusing on the private side more so than the public side.
“My belief system is that private industry is not investing in itself right now so there is a pent-up demand for capital improvement and industries are hoarding cash,” he says. “And I don’t think it’s going to matter who the president is, companies will start spending money on capital and start investing in themselves again. The first companies that private owners spend money on are environmental and engineering companies. We are going to be positioned to be there when companies start spending on themselves again.”
One of the biggest aspects of laying out any kind of growth strategy is the need to constantly change to stay ahead of competition.
“Presidents and CEOs have to constantly be looking to reinvent themselves and reinvent their companies,” Wendle says. “I think that the business moves so fast in the world we are in that you cannot restrict yourself geographically and you really have to reinvent yourself every three years.”
Part of that reinvention is attracting entrepreneurial people to your business to keep ideas fresh.
“To really look at new services, one of the keys is hiring entrepreneurial leaders in your company and creating a culture and environment that allows people to think freely and say their mind and be able to put strategies together without being frowned upon,” he says. “You have to create that kind of culture of growth … and have the right kind of people to create that culture.” <<
How to Reach: EQM Technologies & Energy Inc.,
(800) 229-7495 or www.eqm.com
- Acquire companies that will allow you to grow.
- Integrate the acquisition by developing a relationship.
- Develop a growth strategy with two- and three-year goals.
The Wendle File
President and COO
EQM Technologies & Energy Inc.
Born: Alton, Ill.
Education: AAS degree in architectural engineering and a B.S. degree in construction management from Southern Illinois University.
What was your first job and what did you learn from that experience?
When I was 10, I swept hair in a barber shop and I also had a paper route. I was raised by parents who were born in the Depression. I was taught that if you worked hard everything would be fine. So I always had a job and I always had money. It’s about the work ethic. I knew I could get a job if I could prove I could work hard. People would want to hire me.
Who is somebody you look up to in leadership?
Abraham Lincoln. The man failed so many times. He had no way of becoming president of this country because of all his failures, but he did and he was the right president at the right time. Another man that had so much against him at the time was Winston Churchill.
What is the best advice that someone has given you?
I was taught by the CEO of the first professional job that I had to be friendly and be professional, but don’t be abused. Don’t let anyone treat you poorly. Stand up to it no matter what.
If you could do something dangerous one time without consequence, what would want to do?
I would ride my Harley through the Alps.
Turner Construction Co. has announced that Jason Jones has been named general manager for the company’s Cleveland office. He most recently served as manager of Turner’s Special Projects Division in Cleveland.
Jones now leads all operations and business strategy for Turner’s Cleveland office. He replaces Mark Dent, who has accepted a position leading Turner’s offices in the Carolinas.
A native of the Cleveland area, Jones attended Cleveland State University, where he received an MBA in Finance, and the University of Akron. He has been with Turner for 15 years, serving in positions of increasing responsibility and working in a number of departments, including special projects, preconstruction, estimating, and engineering.
Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs LLP has announced that John F. Hill will join the firm’s Akron office in October as a partner in the firm’s Litigation Practice Group. He joins Buckingham from Hill Hardman LLC, where he was one of the principals.
Hill brings a wide range of clients in complex commercial cases. His work has ranged from contract litigation to shareholder disputes, including national class action litigation. Hill has been consistently selected to The Best Lawyers in America, Ohio’s Super Lawyers and Ohio’s Super Lawyers “Top 100.” In addition, he was selected by his peers for inclusion in the 2008-11 editions of “Best Lawyers in America.” He was named the Best Lawyers “2010 Lawyer of the Year” in the area of “bet the company” litigation for the Akron area.
Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs LLP also announced that associates Justin S. Greenfelder, David J. Lindner, Michael J. Matasich and Dustin J. Vrabel have been promoted to partner. Greenfelder and Vrabel are based at the firm’s Canton office, while Lindner and Matasich are based in the Cleveland office.
“It is always a pleasure to be able to reward excellence, hard work and dedication,” says John Slagter, Buckingham’s managing partner. “Buckingham is committed to its region, and it is reassuring to note that Justin, David, Michael and Dustin are all Northeast Ohio natives who have chosen to continue to live and further their careers in our region. They are fully committed to Northeast Ohio and we are committed to them.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Ohio announced that it has hired Mark R. Ruth as its director of resource development. Ruth will oversee all fund raising and volunteer based events and activities to help support the organization’s growth objectives.
Ruth can personally speak to the positive value and impact that Big Brothers Big Sisters has on children and their families due to his direct experiences with their services, both as youth and as an adult. After graduating from John Carroll University in 1978, Ruth became an active Big Brother himself. He has served as a board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters and now joins their professional staff to serve in this new capacity.
NAI Daus has announced it hired commercial real estate veteran and financial strategist, Suzanne Hamilton, as vice president of finance. Hamilton has more than two decades of experience and results analyzing business opportunities and developing valuations on commercial projects.
Hamilton will oversee evaluating prospective and existing project opportunities for investors and clients, analyzing a property’s financial performance and value. Key responsibilities include maximizing investment portfolios, evaluating funding solutions, and helping position the firm for its next level of business growth by maximizing deal performances.<<
Please send your executive-level promotions to email@example.com.
Randy Dobbs advocates that CEOs become “change monsters,” a mythical, business beast capable of transforming even the direst business. To rejuvenate and transform a company, you can’t be intimidated by change or what may be necessary to right the ship.
As the former president and CEO of U.S. Investigations Services Inc., Philips Medical Systems North America and GE Capital, IT Solutions, Dobbs, who is now a business leadership consultant, knows what it takes to transform a company.
“My view is that transformational leadership is the key ingredient for organizational success,” Dobbs says. “Most of the businesses that I’ve run have had two very common ingredients — the first one is they are missing their financial portfolio significantly; the second one is they’ve had organizational chaos.”
As the author of “Transformational Leadership: A Blue Print for Real Organization Change,” Dobbs recently spoke at the ASLON Leadership Forum in Cleveland where he discussed advice from his book and his career for best ways CEOs can be transformational leaders.
Find your success factors
To understand how to change your business, you have to know where your success factors lie. The inverted triangle is a great tool for understanding the value of the customer and how your company serves them.
“When I go in to talk to CEOs of $100 million, $500 million or $25 million companies, the first thing I ask them is, ‘What are your success factors in your business? What are your business objectives?’” Dobbs says. “They say, ‘Well, I want to grow revenue 10 percent this year. I want EBIDTA to grow faster than my revenue. I want to get my growth’s margin up three points.’
“I look at them and say, ‘That’s not a business objective. That’s an outcome.’ Your success factors in your business are those things you want to do to drive that outcome. It could be that I want to get premium price for my product in the market. I want to grow my market share, and I want to take a share within my geography. I want to go into adjacent markets. I want to leverage my existing assets. Those are success factors.”
When you define what that success factor is, you then have to look at your strategy for accomplishing that goal.
“Even if businesses have a success factor, what I find is they don’t have strategy,” he says. “At GE, we used to have five-year plans for strategy. Jack [Welch] came in and blew that up. He said, ‘Don’t have a strategy more than 18 months.’ The world changes too much in 18 months. As every business designs and defines its success factors, it needs to have an 18- to 24-month strategy.”
If you identify your success factors and develop the right strategy, you should find gaps within your business.
“There should be a gap between where you were and the strategy it takes to get there,” he says. “If you don’t have a gap when you get through that process, then you don’t have a good plan. You’re doing something that you really haven’t defined well enough in your business solution.”
To close this gap you have to use the sides of the inverted triangle — people and processes. Dobbs uses Southwest Airlines as an example to prove his point.
“They were trying to be the low-cost provider in air transportation and they were trying to be the fastest and the simplest,” he says. “They built a strategy that said, ‘We’ll have a spoke and a hub, we’ll use the same airlines, we’ll be very quick with maintenance, we’ll have a quick turnaround time, and we won’t assign seats.’
“With the right processes and the right people and through all this financial turmoil, they’re the only airline to remain profitable. They had good business success factors, they had a great strategy and they continue to work on processes and executing.”
Think about this relative to your business. This is where you have to be a change monster in order to truly make transformation happen.
“To close the gap you have to be a change monster, and that’s really what transformation is all about,” he says. “A good transformational leader is somebody that has overcome one failure and learned, one failure and learned and kept moving through life.”
You have to get people to a comfort level where if you’re going to transform, they believe in the leader to do the right thing.
“What really drives transformational leadership is that ability to never give up and to see where you’re going,” Dobbs says.
“And be that leader and take the organization there when everybody is standing against you and saying that it can’t be done and you have the belief that it can and you keep driving to that point and keep having that vision and keep overcoming those failures.”
Create a transformational environment
Dobbs notes that five key things are important to create a transformational leadership environment.
“No. 1 is building a culture of change,” Dobbs says. “Businesses fail for two reasons: They fail early on because they run out of cash or they fail long-term because of their inability to change. No. 2, you’ve got to improve and grow the spirit of the team or the esprit de corps.
“No. 3, you have to have very strong communications. No one wants to hear about what happened yesterday. They want to hear about where we were and where we’re going.
“No. 4 is you have to change the financial results. You can be a great speaker, you can build a great team, you can have a wonderful environment of change, but at the end of the day, the scoreboard is going to tell the real story about you and that’s how you’re going to get evaluated.
“The last thing is you’ve got to build a cadre of transformational leaders who can run that business when you’re gone.”
Building a culture of change starts with recognizing your current culture and communicating how you plan to change its structure and character.
“One of the critical things is to create a shared need,” he says. “That’s why communication is so important. Most of the people in your organization, until you explain to them why you need to change, don’t get it. When they start to get it, they’re afraid of it.
“You have to continually develop that movie in your head where this business is going. Know where you’re going to be in 18 months and start selling it every day. You have to keep selling it and selling it and selling it until, all of a sudden, people just get it.”
Driving transformation starts with people and processes on top of a vision, mission and supporting strategies. Being a change monster will help you close the gap of where you want to go.
“As a transformational leader you wear a lot of hats,” Dobbs says. “At the end of the day, your primary job as a transformational leader is to be a change agent. You are that change monster and that’s how people see you if you really want to transform.
“For me, there is no better feeling in the world for a true leader than to really try to change and see a business transform and see the people in it be successful and then see the financial results be successful.”
How to reach: Randy Dobbs, www.dobbsleadership.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Northeast Ohio companies and employees were lacing up their cleats and getting in game shape this past summer for another year of the Cleveland Corporate Challenge coordinated by Hermes Sports & Events.
This year’s Cleveland Corporate Challenge set new participation records with 117 companies from Northeast Ohio competing in the summer’s 14 events that made up the challenge and 88 of those corporations competing in the Corporate Cup divisions, which included participation in all of the events.
Those weren’t the only records set in 2012. Additional record-setting performances included: a total of 1,462 teams, 56 corporations and 181 individuals volunteered to assist in the events, more than 50 industries were represented, an estimated 10,000 players and spectators enjoyed the challenge, 18 different venues hosted the events, and 19 different charities received donations from the challenge.
The Corporate Challenge events consisted of softball, skeeball, kickball, mini golf, dodgeball, flag football, cornhole, basketball, volleyball, bowling, tug-of-war, a 10K relay, an obstacle course and a 1-mile fun walk.
Corporate Challenge was broken up into six divisions based on participating company’s employee size. The winning companies in each division were: AXA Advisors in Division I, The Blind Pig in Division II, Majestic Steel in Division III, Titan Insurance in Division IV, Hyland Software in Division V and PNC in Division VI.
The Cleveland Corporate Challenge promotes employee wellness, teamwork and business networking among companies and their employees, while helping local charities in the community. Registration for the 2013 Cleveland Corporate Challenge will be available soon. <<
How to Reach: Hermes Sports & Events, (216) 623-9933 or www.hermescleveland.com/corp_challenge
As a 26-year-old with long hair and sideburns that merged into a mustache, Bob Weltman asked his father if he could be put in charge of the collection department of his law firm. His father trusted his son’s work ethic and belief that he could run the department much better than it had been, so he said, “Yes.”
From that day on, Weltman has been leading people by example at Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., a law firm with more than 1,200 employees and annual revenue of more than $100 million. He has always prided himself on working harder and longer than anyone else to stay on top.
“My leadership style is one by example,” Weltman says. “I never ask my employees to do anything that I could not do. I always got to work before my employees. I always worked as hard as my employees and I always worked longer than my employees. I was totally dedicated to my job.”
Ever since Weltman held a job bagging groceries as a youngster, he has maintained his work-hard-to-be-successful attitude throughout college and into his professional career.
“My background in working hard was something that I adopted a long time ago,” Weltman says. “If you’re going to accept the responsibility, do it with all your energy and give it all the time that’s necessary to succeed.”
Today, Weltman has lost the long hair and his sideburns, but the mustache and work ethic remain strong. Here is what Weltman has learned in his 50 years of business.
What have been some of your biggest challenges over your career?
The challenge of running a business — profitability. That is always a challenge. Even though we’re in the service business and we’re lawyers, making a profit at the end of the day is a challenge. When you attend any meeting in this law firm and you didn’t know what we were, you would think we manufactured widgets. The meetings we have are all business-driven with business ideas.
I don’t know how you can exist in today’s world in business without taking business courses. If you’re thinking of being a doctor or a lawyer, a businessman, an accountant or anything in the business world, you’ve got to take business classes.
No. 2 is the management of people. Everybody who works here has their own set of problems. You’re trying to merge together a whole bunch of different people with a whole bunch of different problems into one and to motivate them to give their job the best.
If you get too involved in an employee’s personal problems, it can drag you down and distract from what your primary focus is. So being able to merge together people from all different types of backgrounds into one is very, very important.
You have to try to create a team effort. A team is only as good as the weakest link. You’ve got to set the bar high. Saying it can’t be done is not acceptable. I’d rather you try something and fail than say it can’t be done. Don’t be afraid to fail. When you decide to make a decision, measure the chance of success versus the chance of failure.
Don’t do something that can be fatal to the organization. If there is a higher degree of success than there is failure, measure what happens if there is failure because if the failure is detrimental to the organization, then you don’t want to make the decision. You have to learn from those failures.
You take the failures that you have had and try to build them into something that is positive. You want to teach your employees to also take some degree of risk to what they’re doing.
Throughout 50 years, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in business?
I was a very, very rough employer. I demanded perfection. Even though I knew perfection could not be obtained, I demanded it. I was very rough on the people who worked with me. Some stuck around, and others went other ways.
I remember that I ran into a friend of mine who worked for me at one time and had left. We were reminiscing about the old days, and he told me a story about something I did to him that interfered with his personal life. I knew he was going out one night, and I gave him a stack of files to work and have ready to review the next day.
I don’t remember if I did it intentionally, but he said he had to skip his social event to work on them. I went back to the office and told my son the story. My son said, ‘You know what I would have done? I would have quit.’
There has been a shift from the job meaning everything to you to balance in life. We went from people who worked because they had to work to put food on the table to a period of time where people started making more money and a balance of life became almost as important to being dedicated to the job.
Another change in the industry has been what the clients focus on. Originally, clients came to you because you could give them the best results. Giving good service to the client along with good results used to be the motivating factor.
After 9/11, the client’s focus became security. Now we have security badges, security entrances. In some of our offices, we have security cameras. The clients became very security conscious.
More recently, since the 2008 recession, compliance is bigger. Now they want to know the procedures you’re following to keep us out of trouble. Now the focus isn’t so much on performance; it is how well you’re treating the customer. The emphasis has gone from performance to security to compliance, and those organizations that will be in compliance will get a higher rating than those organizations that have better performance quantitatively.
How important has relationship building been to you?
I feel that when a client comes to me with a problem, they’re coming to me for help. I feel honored to represent a client and help them, and I want to give them something back in return.
I treat clients like friends. I try to establish a personal relationship with them and make a connection with them and a bond so that they can come to me for help, and I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to help them. Once they come to me for help, I want to work my hardest to make sure I achieve a result.
You have to make the connection and gain the confidence of that person. You’ve got to get the client or the person to believe that what you’re doing is in their best interest. You’ve got to put their welfare ahead of any other selfish or personal motivation that you may have. You have to give the client the impression that you’re working for them to achieve the best result and that making money is secondary.
I’ve said many times to a client when they come to me with a challenging collection problem and they say, ‘How much are you going to charge me?’ I say to them, ‘I don’t want what I’m going to charge you to stand in the way of me getting you the best result. Pay me what you think I’m worth when it’s done.’
You have to let them know that money and the profit motive is not the main motivation of why you’re doing it.
When clients come and present me with their problem, I tell them, ‘You’ve now given me this problem. You have to walk out of this room and dismiss it from your mind, because if two of us worry about the problem, there’s too much energy being wasted at solving the problem. Once you come to me with a problem, I want you to divorce yourself from that problem and allow me to handle it and try to get you a solution.’
Where did your hard work ethic come from?
There was a book called ‘Bounce,’ and it was the question as to whether greatness is genetic or something you have to work hard to achieve. The theme of that book was that hard work is what makes you good at what you do. I worked very, very hard at what I do, and I still work very hard.
My day starts at night when I take home boxes of files, which I work on until 10 at night. I get to work at 6:30 in the morning, so my day is 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. In order to be good at what you do, you have to put a lot of hours in. It’s not something that just comes your way. It’s something that you got to devote a lot of hard work and a lot of time to.
With all your great athletes, people say they were born with greatness, but from LeBron James to Jimmy Brown, they worked very hard at what they did. Mark Spitz didn’t just jump in a pool and win gold medals. He worked endless hours to achieve greatness. You have to stay focused.
I’m always focused on the job. I have blinders as to anything else that’s going on around me. It’s like a sporting event — when you’re on the basketball court, you have to be able to separate yourself from the rest of the world. Or it’s like a relief pitcher in baseball — when you give up a hit or give up a home run, you’ve got to go out on the mound and separate yourself from what happened in the past because you can’t let it be the driver for what happens in the future.
What have you done to keep up with the industry as it has grown?
Reading, listening and attending lectures is very important. When I attend seminars, I don’t necessarily go there to learn what the message of the seminar is; I go there to learn what the problems are in the industry. I try to figure out solutions for those problems. As a result, that created different departments in our firm and different ways of handling things.
If you don’t do these things, you’re missing out. When I read a newspaper, I look at what’s in that article that can help further the organization. Is that a marketing opportunity? Is that an opportunity for business? I try to always transfer what I see and hear and read into how I can incorporate that at our firm to make the firm a better organization.
I’m big on sports, so I’ll look to sports to see how management decisions are made. I look at how players are treated and the education of players and how they learn what the game is all about. It’s all about the ‘Bounce’ theory — are you given the job at the time that’s necessary to be the best at what you can do?
What have been some keys to keeping the firm a leader in its industry?
I’ve been a visionary in running the firm. We were one of the first law firms in our field to have more than one office. We were the first law firm to have a probate collection department.
I like to be the first at what we’re doing, and the reason why is if you’re the first, there is no measure of competition. If everybody is talking about it, then it’s too late. That’s why, when you go to conferences, you listen to what the underlying message is and not what is being said.
I’m also the kind of person that when I come up with an idea, I want to implement it immediately and get started on it. All of us are very busy and none of us are sitting here waiting for the client to call us or walk in the door, but when you’re presented with something new, you have to be able to start working on that problem immediately without losing any concentration on what your daily task is. A lot of people are very slow at appropriating something new. When you think of something to do, you have to start it.
How to reach: Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co. LPA, (216) 685-1000 or www.weltman.com
- Give 100 percent to your current job.
- Build relationships with your clients.
- Be a leader and focus on solving problems.
The Weltman File
Weltman, Weinberg and Reis Co. LPA
Born: Cleveland, Ohio
Education: Received a BBA and a master’s in finance from the The Ohio State University and a JD from the Case Western Reserve University School of Law
What was your very first job and what did you take away from that experience?
I got a job working in a grocery store. I used to bag groceries and take them to people’s cars and then run back to beat the others in line. The average tip was a quarter. That was one of the first experiences where I realized how easy it was to be successful; you just had to work hard.
Who is someone you look up to?
My favorite baseball player is Lou Gehrig. He never missed a day of work.
What are a few of your favorite sports memories?
I went to Cal Ripken night when he set the record for most consecutive games. I was there for the Indians game when Kenny Lofton scored from second base on a passed ball. I attended the Ohio State championship game against Miami where it went into overtime at the Fiesta Bowl. I attended the World Series in 1995 and 1997 for the Indians.
What has been one of your proudest moments over your 50-year career?
It was going to my father and asking him if I could run the collection department and him having enough confidence in me to do it.
If you could invite three people to dinner, who would invite?
George Steinbrenner, Bill Gates and Thomas Edison. Innovative, creative people.