Whenever Randy Reichmann needs to illustrate to his managers that what works for one person may not work as well for others — and that there may be other options — he usually talks about sifting flour.
“A mother and a daughter were making cookies at home, and they were getting ready to sift flour,” he says. “The young girl pulled out a fine-mesh strainer … and I remember, this is how my mom did it. She just pushed the flour through it with a fork.
“But the mom said, ‘Oh no, honey. That’s not how you sift flour.’ She reached under the counter and brought out a sifter with a little hand crank. Then she poured the flour in and sifted the flour while she turned the crank. The little girl said, ‘No, Mom. That’s how you sift flour.’
“The question is, if you didn’t see either person sift flour, would the cookie taste any different? The answer is no. The point is there is more than one way to do things.”
The advice that Reichmann, president and CEO of the Indiana region of Old National Bank, gives to new managers follows that mold — that they have to figure out what motivates people to do the things that need to be done in a way that they are comfortable doing.
“That’s really the message,” he says. “Young managers should not just expect people to do the things the ways they did them — but they should help them find the ways that they can do them and still be successful. That takes time.”
There is one way to deal with problems, and that is directly, Reichmann says.
“You deal with them head on,” he says. “You have to be careful, too. I learned this lesson: It is one thing to have a positive attitude, but you can’t wear rose-colored glasses because there are real problems that come up, and you have to deal with those.”
Here’s how Reichmann learned how to look at problems through colorless lenses and teach his executives to do likewise as they confront challenges at Old National Bank, an institution with corporate assets of about $10 billion and 2,300 employees.
Make over your mindset
Surviving a traumatic event can help people develop resilience and the coping mechanisms to deal with the challenge — just as it was with Reichmann.
His experience with an economic crisis gave him the tools to help him and his staff survive future crises. Reichmann was managing about 125 people at an out-of-state bank group when the real estate market crashed as a result of out-of-control speculation, and he had to take action. He was trying to keep the organization afloat while at the same time trying to continue to conduct business as usual. But it was difficult, and he says he drove to work each morning wondering which deal was going to crash that day and what the resulting losses were going to be.
Banks and thrifts had to work hard to prevent panic among the public as well as among financial organizations’ employees. To combat the fear, Reichmann called a leadership meeting.
“It was an interesting meeting to me because it had nothing to do with banking and had everything to do with helping people deal with adversity,” he says.
The whole point of the meeting was that, with the right mindset, they had the ability to stand up to difficult times.
“There is a quotation from author Wayne Dyer, Ph.D., that says, ‘When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,’” Reichmann says. “We were trying to get people to focus not on the behind-the-scenes efforts to keep the bank afloat, because we already had people working on that. We were trying to get them refocused on what we could do with our existing customers and hopefully to acquire new customers to help grow the bank — to help grow revenue at a time when we were taking some pretty significant charge-offs.”
The results of the meeting were significant. But for Reichmann, it was a life-changing moment for his mindset.
“I grew up on a farm in central Illinois and learned that if you worked hard, everything will be OK,” he says. “I found out very quickly that sometimes there are things so much out of your control that there is no guarantee they were going to be OK, in terms of what your measuring stick is for a bank.”
His transformation took some time, however, because he had some “unlearning” to do. He says he needed to switch from a fear, or a scarcity, mentality to an abundance mentality.
“I just meant that we would get through this, we would do what we had to do,” he says. “I remember clearly thinking, ‘Once I get through this, I am going to catch the next train out of banking land because I don’t ever want to go through something like this again. It was horrible.’”
But with some patience, Reichmann found a silver lining.
“As things got better, and we improved dramatically, you get to the end of it, and all of a sudden, you realize that the situation is better; the bank was going to be OK,” he says. “In fact, we were making quite a bit of money. Also, we were the only bank in town that really made it there. Then you think, ‘Jeez, I just went through all that. Why do I want to leave now?’”
So he stayed, and his career continued to grow. But that period of time has stuck with him and has defined what he is capable of in terms of enduring hardship, in terms of leadership and in helping other people to see their way through a very difficult time.
“Ultimately, you come out on the other end in a way that you never could have imagined when you were going through it,” Reichmann says.
Pull back and regain focus
While there are many times when it is important for a business to keep looking at the big picture — an aerial view of your business, if you will — there are times when you should be flying at tree-top level instead. Reichmann says homing in to regain focus will help prevent getting engulfed in a situation, which often is unproductive.
Instead, you need to take your eye off of the big picture and just do the next thing because it is too easy to become overwhelmed with the magnitude of the problems you are facing.
“I couldn’t solve all the charge-offs and nonaccruals and try to get rid of the real-estate-owned properties that we had, but what I could do was I could go work on the next problem,” he says. “I could go on a call with one of our bankers. I could make a call myself to try to develop some new business.”
Once you shift the focus away from the big picture, employee anxieties often decline. Reichmann says that if everyone is doing the things that they are able to do instead of focusing on the things they can’t, the picture starts to become clearer. He says that an improved mindset and a focus on tying up loose ends can go a long way to restore stability to a business. And that’s what happened in his situation as he and his staff finally knew that they were going to make it and that they were positioned well in the marketplace.
“We were the only bank in town that cleaned up its balance sheet, and that effort was just fabulous,” he says. “I’ve never seen a bank generate more profit in that period of time. We were much more disciplined than we had been. We were requiring equity, getting appraisals and doing all the things that we are doing now and just made it a healthier environment for everyone. It was just an incredible period of time.”
You have to bring perspective to a problem, a belief that you are going to solve that problem no matter what it takes. Reichmann says it’s easy to take on a defeatist attitude and begin to believe that you aren’t going to make it. But if you reach that point, you are never going to win. Instead, you need to remain positive and maintain the belief that you are going to come out ahead. If you lose a sale or even a customer, it’s important to adopt the attitude that it is not necessarily a loss.
“That’s not the way to look at it,” he says. “You are certainly not happy that you’ve lost the business, but you need to learn what you did wrong and what you could do differently to do better the next time. There is more business out there. Are you going to sit around and feel sorry for yourself about what you lost or are you going to focus on getting out there and seeing what you can win?”
Making the effort takes time, however, and it can be difficult. People tend to get into habits, and it takes a conscious effort. You have to make the effort to change your thought patterns and think in terms of abundance. Reichmann says that changing his mindset made him more optimistic, removed some of the fear and made him a better leader. That allowed him to step up and lead his employees to the light at the end of the tunnel.
He says that as a leader in difficult times, you have to show employees that there is a way out of the current situation. Then, as positive things occur, share those wins with them. However, you also need to share the negative, along with information about how you are going to deal with it.
Blend and make magic happen
As a challenging situation begins to improve, the ultimate measure of success is not financial achievement but personal enhancement. When you can tie a company’s level of earnings with an employee’s goals for personal development, you have what software engineers call “a killer application.”
“When you have blended those two things, you have a magic potion,” Reichmann says. “You have self-motivated individuals who feel like they are making progress not only in their roles but also in their personal goals for their lives, and that’s a pretty positive experience.”
If you can do that, employees are no longer working for themselves in one sense and working for the bank in another sense. As a leader, it is your job to find out what makes your employees tick, as everyone has their own personal goals and what works for one may not work for another.
Reichmann says he often tells new managers that they are not one of the rank and file. Instead, they have to move up the chain into a new position, which includes figuring out how to motivate individual workers.
“Typically, if I have an up-and-comer who is eager and aggressive and clearly has a bright track record, he or she may say, ‘OK, I did A, B and C, and I got here. So therefore, I need to have my people do A, B and C, and then they will get here,’ he says. “The point that you have to get through to them is that A, B and C worked for you, but perhaps X, Y and Z will work for somebody else to get the same results. To me, what leadership and management are all about is trying to figure out how people grow personally, because when you do that, they perform better professionally.” <<
How to reach: Old National Bank, (800) 731-2265 or www.oldnational.com
The Reichmann File
President and CEO
Old National Bank
Born: Carlinville, Ill., a small agricultural town about 45 miles south of Springfield, Ill.
Education: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I majored in agricultural economics.
What was your first job?
I worked on a dairy, hog and grain farm as a youngster. Aside from that, when I went to college, the first job where I got a check from somebody other than my dad was working for the university. I would fuel up the pool cars on evenings and weekends. I learned, having always worked for my dad, that it was fun to work hard for other people and see them appreciate it — for somebody besides your family. That served me well in my career because, on a dairy farm, there is no vacation from milking cows. What I found out is that, when you get into the professional world and you just work hard, you can go pretty far.
Whom do you most admire in business?
I admire Jim Morris, president of the Indiana Pacers. Being president of the Pacers is a high-profile position, but Jim is all about helping other people. Whether it is Boy Scouts or whatever else makes Indianapolis a better place to live, Jim probably is involved in that somehow.
What is the best business advice you have ever received?
I wish I could remember who said it, but, ‘Put your head down and do the next thing. And stop worrying about things you can’t control.’
What is your definition of business success?
Business success is being successful financially, and I hesitate to use the term ‘more important’ but just as important is that you are seeing people grow — that you see those things that you’ve invested in in terms of teaching and guiding pay dividends. Success is when you see them able to handle a situation that, heretofore, maybe they couldn’t have.
Chris Sutton was willing to take a chance to revitalize Clover Global Solutions LP to be in an optimum position for a comeback of the oil and gas industry after the 2007-09 recession.
He and his wife, Carolyn, were partners in Clover, the 11th company they had owned throughout the years, so taking action to secure a company’s future wasn’t a new experience.
“Business had really flat-lined,” Sutton says. “There were no new job orders coming in and we didn’t want to lay anybody off. So we huddled down and had a survival meeting for a couple of days and turned inward. We made two commitments that year. One was that we were going to try to reinvent how sourcing up occurs. The second was that we were going to understand and exploit social media.”
For the first goal, Sutton had a good handle on the problem. He and his wife had owned Clover since 2000 after coming out of early retirement to help out at the company. He quickly discovered where the bottleneck was in hiring after reading thousands of resumes and trying various technologies to match them to opportunities in the industry. He knew he needed a tool that would optimize the process. Second, he wanted the company to get on board with social media — a vehicle he didn’t understand at the time but one that he could see had great potential.
Here’s how he put it all together and grew the company’s revenue from $1 million in 2000 to $60 million largely since 2009.
Invest in the heart
When business goes soft because of an economic downturn, it’s time to put on the thinking cap. Clover had established a niche as a staffing company for the oil and gas industry, so why not exploit that niche and find a better way to serve clients?
The heart of Clover was its process to match job seekers with job opportunities. If that process were faster, the company would have an advantage in the highly competitive staffing market.
“The first to market is oftentimes the first to win,” Sutton says. “Second place goes home. Either you hire them or you don’t. How fast can you do that and do it accurately is really the race to the client’s door with the right person.”
Sutton decided to divert the company’s entire $200,000 marketing budget, plus an additional $50,000, into developing a technology tool that would accurately match job seekers with the oil exploration and production companies that had openings.
The result was a program called Clover One World that houses data and searches for matches among thousands of alumni from a number of companies. A company with an employment opening can go in and find retired previous employees who may come back as a mentor or team leader.
A key feature of the technology is that it profiles alumni with a type of intelligence that involves several factors. Software developers in Mumbai, India, and in Texas created Clover One World after about 14 months of work.
“While most people search through resumes with a tool such as a Boolean search, much like you search the Internet with words, our program matches just the exact skills with what the job needs, one to one,” Sutton says. “Much like you search on the Internet for a plane ticket and you continue to refine it with selected questions like when you are going to depart and one-way or round-trip, our system is combing the candidates to profile exactly their skills, competencies and current experiences to what our industry looks for in that position.”
Any new venture requires significant research, Sutton learned new approaches by studying the experiences of similar fields.
“We studied the medical industry, the IT industry and people buying on the Internet,” he says. “We just put how people buy on the Internet, their user experience, and applied that to how our clients and candidates meet each other for job opportunities. We coined a vision of Matchmakers.com meets the website for Classmates.com. You have company alumni who have a unique competency and a common theme, and you need to put them together in a Web-enabled process.”
Having computers do the searching has added a whole new dimension to the task.
“It’s no longer reading prose and coming up with a bunch of matched words,” Sutton says. “It is what I would call ‘hiring science.’ We rarely look at the resume itself until it is ready to present to the client.”
Once you remove the chore of reading resumes to find a match and instead have a computer system do the work, the speed of the task increases phenomenally.
“We now are able to submit a candidate in about an hour instead of two days because we are not drowning in reading resumes all day long,” Sutton says.
Think thought leadership
With the search/match tool in place, Sutton next wanted to use social media to drive the brand. However, although he knew it was an important strategy, Sutton says he had no idea going in to this project how to exploit social media.
“We didn’t even know what that meant,” he says. “Really. We didn’t. LinkedIn was just starting out, and there was a trend warming up to Facebook.”
Once you have decided that you want to head into an unknown territory, you need to find a guide. To that end, Clover turned to a husband-and-wife start-up company in New York City for help with social media.
“We were maybe one of their first customers; they helped us brand through social media,” Sutton says. “We got a lot of attention from them. We still are very close. I give them a lot of credit for bringing us along in the hike. We didn’t know what we wanted. They were fairly new to the industry, but they had the expertise.”
Sutton had questions about what he was getting, but had no doubts it was the right move.
“How do you qualify somebody to do business with them when you don’t know exactly what you are buying? You shake hands and hope it works,” he says. “We had to learn what that meant. And we do every day, if you can recognize that it is such a dynamic thing that’s developing in the business landscape. You are trying to figure out how it works every day.”
While many may think of social media as tweeting on Twitter and posting on Facebook, it may offer greater opportunities to a business. Clover utilizes it in two key ways, the first of which is to find qualified people as candidates. Sutton says that today, more than 60 percent of those coming to the company to be considered for a job are coming from a form of social media.
Profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook are a gold mine for locating the right people.
“There is a tremendous reliance today on the seasoned, professional, technical person who has the knowledge and experience but who may have retired,” Sutton says.
Social media can also provide thought leadership. Clover offers several blogs on its website that pertain to the oil and gas industry. Contributors include those in the Clover database.
Sutton says that contributors blog in their areas of interest, researching and writing information and facilitating that information to groups of a similar kind. Bloggers present the information in a way that is as forward thinking and contemporary as possible, covering topics such as, “Where is oil today, and what does that mean to the people in North Dakota?
“You try to present the contemporary areas in the particular skill sets that we support,” he says. “So we support a lot of geologists. There is a lot of information about the new geology of drilling. We have 300 people in our company that, in one way or another, are a resource. Thought leadership comes from all parts of the company. We have subject matter experts in several of the areas of the oil and gas industry. Sharing their opinions and views on topics is good for the brand.”
Get the mindset
It takes some personal fortitude to plow a field that has never been touched before. Sutton says it also takes one other significant factor.
“It takes a lot of confidence,” he says. “Our team has passion, commitment, so really, I am not needed here. I like to think I am, but when you look at everything we do, I look at whether they are committed, and that they have the passion and the idea. If I check those two blocks off, what am I going to do? Applaud them on the sidelines?
“I just ask them if the revenue is predictable, and we talk about that. I think having the capability to respond to these opportunities and the quality of the people you have is a critical success factor.”
Maintaining enthusiasm and not getting overwhelmed by trying to stay with the latest and greatest presented by the competition requires a particular mindset.
“Some of it is, ‘Don’t strike the windmill,’” Sutton says. “You just can’t compete. Know that and acknowledge that and move on. The other part of it is to be as good as you can be in the space that you are in. The space is so big in the people business. Globally, if you carved out a particular niche, it would just be to be as good as you can be in the niche.” <<
How to reach: Clover Global Solutions LP, (281) 994-5900 or www.clovergs.com
The Sutton File
Clover Global Solutions LP
Born: Burbank, Calif. I took a lot of heat in college about that. … ‘Beautiful downtown Burbank,’ as TV’s ‘Laugh-In’ show commented.
Education: Arizona State University, with a major in political science and a minor in psychology
What was your first job?
I started working at 9 years old with a paper route in Burbank. It was The Los Angeles Times, a morning daily. That meant delivering the papers before school started. All my brothers had paper routes. I really enjoyed working and that was my first business.
Paperboys got what was left of the revenue — if everybody pays you.
My first job was as a buyer and project support person for a global engineering and construction company called Ralph Parsons. It was right out of school.
I had several jobs and businesses with my wife. I probably could retire but I don’t know what I would do with myself.
Whom do you admire in business and why?
Michael Dell. He’s a comeback kid. He started with very little and built up a huge organization, brought it back into its market share, and it’s poised for good comeback. And it’s Michael Dell, that’s why.
What is the best business advice you ever received?
Maybe the best way to answer that is we try to create success through integrity, philosophy and our agility in our performance. I heard that from somebody else when I first came to Texas. I wrote it down in and live by it, as well. It’s plastered all over the walls of our company.
What is your definition of business success?
To have a team that has a passionate commitment so I am not needed, to have revenue for the company that is predictable and that we can respond to opportunities with the money and the people that we have.
Doug Parris and A.J. Montero never get tired of change. They have to deal with it every day with their clients and employees.
It’s not the kind of change that involves turnover in either of those areas or new ownership or new policies. Rather, it’s eating, sleeping and breathing the company culture built around change.
As leaders and partners of the Columbus office of global architecture and design firm NBBJ, Parris and Montero, both partners in the firm, focus on transforming their clients’ enterprises through design. Spearheading that effort requires one of the standards of management: leading by example.
“If we, A.J. and myself, and our other 15 partners don’t live our culture every day, then we are not setting the example for the staff,” Parris says. “Part of living it is communicating it and always making sure it’s at the top of everyone’s thoughts as they work with our clients.”
“Everyone” includes the 135 employees of the $52 million Columbus branch of the worldwide company.
It’s a given that change comes with the territory of the architecture and design field. Not long ago, blueprints were drawn by hand. Today, 3-D drawings sketched by computer programs are the norm. With such advances that have been made in that step, it’s only natural that the best chance to boost a company’s success is to stress to clients that if they are interested in a new building or remodeling project, they should couple it with a new and different culture.
“Design often requires cultural change within an organization — how do we make it easy for the client’s staff and employees to transition from one environment to another and basically embrace the cultural changes that are required?” Parris says.
Here are some ways eating, sleeping and breathing change all fall into place at the Columbus office of the nation’s third-largest architecture firm so that it is not feared but desired and enables the company to reach new levels of success.
Find a shoe that fits
As simplistic as it sounds, the road to the highest potential often starts with a good fit between parties — be it designer and client, supplier and client, or consultant and client.
Obviously, you should avoid ones that don’t look like a good fit. You may save yourself from a possible problem client who will wear you out, avoid a reputation hit if you can’t deliver on your promises and be able to exploit your niche better by declining someone from outside your specialty.
A system to evaluate clients is often beneficial. You should check references and compare what types of work or what other companies with which your target has dealt.
“We have a system internal to NBBJ that we use to look at potential clients and see whether or not they align with our values,” Montero says. “Having that filter very early lets us see clients that are trying to transform themselves. We see clients that understand that they want to go somewhere. That is a big first step.”
Again, don’t hesitate to be a little choosy.
“It’s not just looking at everybody who needs something to be done no matter what they’re after or what their model is, you are not judging. You are just saying that, in many cases, those are not clients for you,” he says.
This is the time to analyze the leadership and employees.
“One of the most important things that you see in terms of getting started is that they have the right leadership in place,” Parris says. “Leading a project is not a skill set that everyone comes to the table with.”
If you can categorize the participants in three types, it will give some insights to your potential partner.
“What we typically see is you have three levels of participants,” he says. “You’ll have the very top leadership in an organization. They need to be on the same page so that they have a clear kind of vision of what they need.
“Second, you have kind of a working group, the people that are responsible for getting things done every day to keep things moving forward and pushing information up the ladder to the leadership of whatever organization it is, whether it’s a corporation, a university or a hospital.
“Then you have the people that do the work, and they end up being the most critical to getting things done because you have to meet with them and understand how they do what they do,” Parris says. “A lot of times, one of the key elements of working with any organization is that they only know what they have been exposed to.”
Opening all their eyes to the bigger world out there, be it new office design, a new product to consider or a new practice to undertake, is very important. Many people only know the places where they have worked and the procedures they have been following.
Do some role-playing
One of the more effective ways to get a grip on what may need to change in your company culture involves some mental exercises. When undertaken, they often lead to some startling conclusions.
“We call it suspension of disbelief,” Montero says. “You try to open people’s minds to say, ‘OK, for a minute, let’s just pretend that we were in a different circumstance.’ We have role-playing exercises that allow us to really understand that world.
“If you take them out of it for a second and see what the possibilities are, no pressure, just being able to look at those things in a fresh way, whether or not they choose to go down that road, ultimately, is going to be up to them. But what we found more often than not is that when they go through an exercise of discovery, they find out that it isn’t as scary as they thought, that the change is really not going to be that dramatic.
“There are people who work in the trenches every day, who are really seeking change, and it opens the door for that communication between top-level leadership and the users that maybe didn’t exist before in their eyes, so that kind of engagement is really something to achieve,” Montero says.
“A good example is that you might make the CEO of a hospital role-play as one of his own patients and walk through the system or have the president of a university be a student for a day and walk in the student’s shoes,” Parris says. “I use something called ‘walk a mile in their shoes.’”
“When you design hospitals, you work with a lot of high-powered administrators and surgeons, especially, who have very strong opinions about the way things should or shouldn’t be done,” Montero says. “So they’re very well-educated; they have to run very important enterprises. So when we get into these types of role-playing exercises, they are meant to show how the way that you do something isn’t necessarily the way that it has to be forever.”
While the role-playing may sound like children’s fare, it is indeed often extremely helpful to open the mind to different ways of thinking.
“Most of the time, when you introduce something like that, you can just imagine going to the Cleveland Clinic and sitting down with the top people in the world when it comes to heart surgery, and you’re trying to propose doing something that almost seems frivolous,” he says.
“There may be a lot of pushback, but once you go through the exercise, you will be surprised how much they get into it.”
The effort to gain new insights really takes on a life of its own, Montero says, and brings engagement that is a distinctive plus.
“You have doctors and surgeons saying, ‘Well, based on that scenario, maybe we can create this device that is actually implemented in the ambulance as opposed to waiting for the patient to get to the hospital,” he says. “It’s that type of thinking outside the box that these role-playing exercises allow you to engage in. It’s a disarming environment that allows people to think creatively as opposed to the day-to-day grind that they usually are in.”
“Role-playing actually gets us and our clients into kind of a different persona so that they can see the world around them from a different perspective. And it’s actually a lot of fun,” Parris says.
In this pseudo-environment, people feel they can say what they think and don’t have to worry about making errors.
“You create an environment where you allow for mistakes to happen,” Montero says. “You allow for people to think up stupid ideas that you can discuss that sometimes actually become really interesting ideas.”
“Let people take risks,” Parris says. “Let people take chances to innovate and create new things. You can give people all the authority and responsibility in the world, but if there’s no room for them to grow, no open space there, they’re never going to achieve what they can achieve if that space doesn’t exist.”
Instituting change doesn’t come without problems. There is a point where leaders need to show empathy for talented performers who contribute to the organization but only can be pushed so far.
“In all honesty, there are people within our firm that say, ‘This is what I enjoy doing, and this is all I want to do. I love my work, so I don’t have an aspiration to do other things,’” Parris says. “We have to respect that also. We really have to make sure that we don’t push people beyond where they’re comfortable being pushed.
“Everyone has a tolerance for that kind of thing. So that’s the kind of empathetic leadership that you have to develop all around, the kind of diversity that we build because everybody is not the same.”
There is a very fine line between the creative culture and one that expounds dogma.
“You don’t want to be dogmatic about the things that you do,” Montero says. “You have to be empathetic that everyone brings something. And there’s a gradient in there — some people are much more conservative than others.”
A culture can be considered well-assimilated when the people with the right mix of skill sets, temperaments and expertise blend to make the machine work very well.
“But you can’t have everybody think the same way, even if it’s thinking creatively, because then you become very one-sided,” Montero says.
“The thing you have to guard against is being homogeneous,” Parris says. “It’s not just the diversity of people and skill sets, but it’s also diversity of thought that lends itself to greatness.
“That should apply to all businesses. In the design profession, no matter what you do whether you are an architect, a graphic designer, an interior designer or product designer, innovation comes from the ability to think in different lights. Otherwise everything will look the same and like a formula.”
Lest you tear up your book of formulas, think about uniqueness instead.
“In a lot of businesses, there are formulas,” Parris says. “If you’re making toothpaste that people buy, you’re not going to want to change that formula. In design, it’s not that way. They don’t want what you gave to the last guy. They want something that is uniquely theirs. That is an important part of that diverse thinking and not being too homogeneous within the office and the firm worldwide.”
“I think many professions are moving toward that idea that creativity and idea sharing, innovation — is a big impetus for what they do. We are finding more of that in all the different project types and professions that we touch.” <<
How to reach: NBBJ, (614) 224-7145 or www.nbbj.com
Parris: Bremerton, Wash. I’m a Navy brat — born on a Navy base and moved around my whole life.
Montero: Havana, Cuba
Parris: I graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and have a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s degree in architecture.
Montero: I have a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Cornell University.
What was your first job?
Parris: Digging and planting trees for a landscape company inFairfax,Va.I learned it was really hard work. Now they do it with machines. I had to do it with a shovel.
Montero: I think you’re going to find a pattern here. I worked in construction all throughout high school in south Florida. It was very hot, and it was very hard work. What I learned from it was that I never, ever wanted to do it again, which was one of the big reasons that I made sure that I went to college to get an education.
What was the best business advice you received?
Parris: Your career will be defined by the success of those around you. That came from one of our former partners.
Montero: I got some really great advice from a close family member: If you’re a cheese maker, then make cheese. What that means is if you’re good at something and you are passionate about it, really dedicate yourself to doing that and supporting others in that enterprise.
Whom do you admire in business?
Parris: I’m conflicted about it. I guess if I had to say historically whom I admire, it’s Frank Lloyd Wright because his passion and rigor around architecture are something that I’ve always respected. In a more contemporary sense, probably Steve Jobs because he had a kind of a boundless creativity — the ability to imagine or at least create an organization that could imagine what’s next.
Montero: I have a lot of respect for Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. The reason is not because of Facebook but because whatever he has created has influenced society in a positive and negative way. I think that Zuckerberg has been able to touch on something that is very, very relevant, that we can even put our fingers on, and I think that is the kind of definition of somebody who is a visionary.
What is your definition of success?
Parris: Transforming our clients’ enterprise through design. If we work with the client and the outcome has taken them from where they were to where they can be, it is really the definition of business success for us.
Montero: I look at that but more internally. I think that success for us is really creating a great culture where people can fulfill their professional and sometimes personal aspirations and goals. We want people to come into this building every day and feeling that they can change the world, that they can accomplish everything they want to accomplish and really make a difference. If we can provide them with that kind of environment, I think we will be a successful business.
Fred McClaine wasn't sure he wanted to go work for a big company. He was an entrepreneur who owned his own insurance agency, and he was being courted by Brown & Brown Inc., one of the largest independent insurance intermediaries in the country.
As with most buying and selling experiences, the buyers and sellers spent time going over the offers and other considerations.
“When I met [executives] J. Hyatt and Powell Brown, they brought us down to their headquarters, and we stayed overnight at their house, which I thought was kind of unusual,” McClaine says.
Even though he had received better offers, he wanted to see this one through.
“But that's when I met them and really got to know them as people. We ended up signing with them because they were insurance people.”
McClaine knew the business, and he knew how to spot a buyer who was in it for the long haul and the love of serving people’s needs versus one who was out to make a quick buck.
“Because we are a different kind of business from a bank or financial institution, we have a lot of fluctuations over the years, and to have someone at the top who understands the business and who says it'll all work out – that’s important,” he says.
While McClaine was impressed with the leadership’s positive attitude, that wasn’t his only surprise.
At McClaine’s first annual sales meeting, in 2009, he got to experience a tradition that was an effort to get people to let their guard down – a toga party.
The tradition of a Brown & Brown costume party began in 1993 when a merger with Poe & Associates was completed and the integration had started. Some of the Poe top brass was let go since their leadership style wouldn’t be a good fit. About 20 other potential leaders were identified and kept on board.
“They were entrepreneurs at heart, and they were brought into a room of about 20 of our top people – 20 of their top people and their wives, in a hotel,” McClaine says.
“They were all ‘suits and ties’ and everybody was looking good. Hyatt said, ‘OK, guys, the men come with me and the women go with my wife; her name is CiCi,’ and they separated in different rooms. In those rooms were togas. Hyatt said, ‘Everybody strip down and get into your toga, and we’ll go back into the room and have a party.’ So they did.”
The custom of a costume party has lived on ever since.
“That’s typical of how the company culture was derived,” McClaine says. “He came into the room and said, ‘We were all dressed differently when we got here, we were all different people, and we are now all looking the same. And we're going to be that way.’”
McClaine says the event was it was not only symbolic of combining the two companies but costume parties such as this were more of a humility thing than anything else.
“We want to have humble people who understand how to work with staff members, because we have a real range of incomes in the business – that's just part of our business.
“I think the experience does keep us in place, to be able to work with others. Every day those people are out there making your life better.”
Here’s how McClaine, executive vice president of Brown & Brown of Indiana Inc., takes the principles of a “let your guard down” company culture to help drive the sales of the $1.2 billion, 6,300-employee company.
Try writing a culture statement
Most companies have a mission statement. It tells about the company’s ideals. But boiling those ideals down to two or three sentences about your standards, expectations and goals can end up with a statement of unproductive phrases.
With a culture statement, it can define who you are, and it can set the principles of a unified group.
If you are an existing company, start by listing observations of success that have worked in your company in the past. Brown & Brown has been doing that since it was founded in 1939, and its culture statement is now a booklet.
“The company culture is an intangible mosaic of history, ideals, goals, sayings, signs, quotes, fables, aspirations and event which considered together, present a body of thought that is central to understanding the essence of our company,” says McClaine, quoting from the culture statement.
A major advantage of a culture statement over a mission statement is that the mission likely will stay the same over the years, but the culture can breathe, evolve and adapt over time. Take for example when a new acquisition is made … some points of their culture may be worth assimilating into your statement.
“Probably half of our culture statement has been developed newly since I have been here,” McClaine says. “Those who were responsible for some of the things that have been added are the people who have joined us. We look at every acquisition that we make and what are their strengths and how we can bring that into the whole culture of Brown & Brown. The culture has been designed over the years by taking in the strengths from the ones we have acquired and casting out the weaknesses that we had or they had to make us all stronger.”
Your company leader needs to support the continuous improvement in the culture statement.
“Hyatt came up with a lot of the sayings and the culture,” McClaine says. “Over the course of time, it’s been pushed out to all of us. Most of us really enjoy it but 80 percent of the leaders of the 190 branches across the country were entrepreneurs to begin with.
So we brought those guys in, taught them, and gave them the culture that they can buy into which is independence, decentralization, and making your own decisions but still turning a profit for the company.”
While McClaine bought into the culture fairly quickly, he says most people will decide within two or three years if they are going to buy into it or not.
“In terms of acquisition, we don't acquire them if they aren't a good fit and if it is after the acquisition that we made a mistake, then they will either get a different role or no longer be with us,” he says.
“It's few and far between that those decisions are made but those do occur and sometimes after they are here three or four years; they figure it is not the right thing for them and they go their merry way.”
Know all about your acquisition
Integrating a merged or acquired company can be made a lot easier if a good fit is determined beforehand. And the real emphasis on whether it is the right fit is on the people. While there are other obvious concerns to be considered, such as financial and geographical benefits, it’s the people that deserve the most consideration.
“If your company has an entrepreneurial spirit, look for one that is in a similar entrepreneurial spirit to yours,” McClaine says. “You have to find somebody who hasn't been in a stodgy, power-down kind of situation but has been in one of entrepreneurship.”
Should your company be more vertical, with decisions being made at the upper level and followed all the way down, it is a different story.
“If they are into making all the decisions at the top, and you want a company that’s ‘Here's the manual, here's how you run the place,’ then you’ve got to look for people who are used to that, who would have been in that kind of structure before.”
Look for a fit in the same kind of style of business more than anything else.
“Ask, what's your style? Is it entrepreneur? Is it top down? Are you structured and rigid in your accounting principles and everything you do? McClaine says.
The chances that you will find a fit are often not good.
“Maybe three out of 10 will fit,” he says. “The year they acquired our agency we looked at 920 possible acquisitions across the country. We made 43. So, not everybody fits. You may have to walk away from some deals when you don't think it is going to work. I would say sometimes make a decision more with your gut than with your head.”
When assessing the nature of the possible acquisition, look at the character of the company.
“Review their reputation,” McClaine says. “If you know them, you should be able to get recommendations from fellow companies about their honesty, their integrity, basis of who their clients are, and that they are a good fit for those statements.”
“We are looking for people who look like us, I suppose. And not everybody does, but we try to find them.”
Teach the key principles
Many say the most important thing that all employees new to the fold need is some type of training. It can be as elaborate as Brown & Brown University that was created five years ago to teach the skills or in-house training programs.
Whatever it is, three areas need to be addressed, according to McClaine.
“The biggest thing that you need to teach to your young staff is to listen to people,” he says. “When you learn the most about your businesses is from people and listening to what they have done and how they've done it.
“When to listen is one of the things that separates the big boys from the small boys,” McClaine says. A sale can be lost by an associate who doesn’t let the customer talk.
Another important aspect of learning the culture is the teamwork part.
“You feel like you're part of a team. The team is part of the pack. The support people know that all they can do to help a producer to be successful is to go and help the pack. They have bought into the idea that we have to help a new client either save the money or find a better product. It brings the team together.
Celebrate the successes of the teams. This is a time to observe your good showings.
“When we announce a new sale or acquisition, we get cheers,” says McClaine, who is the de facto chief cultural officer in Indiana. “We do a cheetah growl across PA system. We sound the bell; maybe we have a party. So we do things that bring them all in. We understand that that's a big deal, and so they are happy when deals occur. The culture of doing that is bringing the pack together of those who really help you, reward them and bring sales in the door.
Another part of your culture is employee retention. While many advisers suggest that financial reward motivates employee service, there is an intangible that helps, too.
“One of the things that does help to keep people on the job and make more things stable is to say you are built forever,” McClain says.
It takes committed and disciplined people to focus on forever.
“We’re built to last; that's another saying that we have,” McClaine says. “We will continue to acquire and grow and grow. But others will be acquired by someone else.
And so as the people go, the culture goes, then that drives them to hang around because they don't feel like there is going to be a big change.”
How to reach: Brown & Brown of Indiana Inc., (317) 228-3773 or www.brownandbrownindiana.com
The McClaine File
Executive vice president
Brown & Brown Indiana Inc.
Born: Greencastle, Ind. In southwest Indiana, between Indianapolis and Terre Haute.
Education: Indiana State University in Terre Haute. I majored in in marketing with minors in economics and accounting.
What was your first job?
Selling “Grit” magazined. I sold it for 20 cents a copy and made seven cents. It was a great rural magazine. I met my future wife at 13 when I started working for her father as a hod carrier. I know I didn't want to do that the rest of my life.
What was the best advice you ever received?
Not everything is black-and-white. I got that from a guy who ran a large multinational company. I was in my 20s back then and when you're that age, you think everything is either black or white but there's a lot of gray out there so you have to learn about that.
Who do you admire in business?
J. Hyatt Brown is definitely the guy who I admire the most after seeing a lot of different people in business. He one smart guy and has the most energy at 73 that I know of anyone. What I love about jim is that when you talk to him, no matter if there are 100 people around you in the room, he listens to you. And he asks really great questions about you personally. That to me is symbolic of his humble nature, and who he is. He's chairman of the board.
What is your definition of business success?
Balance between life, family and God. I don't think you can be successful in your life if you don't have that balance. I think if people get too stressed or into their life, one or the other too much, you get too far one-sided or the other it's just not good for your business.
Ric Campo has been Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, Indiana Jones, ZZ Top and a number of others. He’s not an impersonator, nor an actor, but the CEO of an $8 billion company trying to get all his 1,864 employees on the same page.
His company, Camden Property Trust, owns 206 business and multifamily apartment properties around the nation. For years, the employees working at those properties pretty much had allegiance to their property and not to the company. That was a big issue.
A rebranding effort solved many of the concerns. Gone were inconsistencies in naming and policies. All properties now had Camden in their names.
But as part of team-building exercises such as departmental comedy skits, Campo’s impersonations set examples on how to let your hair down, break through the walls that separate different ranks of employees and drive engagement.
“There are enough barriers between employees and the C-level people,” Campo says. “You know how people just freak out, how people are awed by that. I think the skits are sort of a leveling; they make people more approachable and more real as opposed to, ‘I’m the CEO and you’re the employee and I tell you what to do — I can fire you or hire you.’ Those kinds of breakthroughs are important to get the best out of your employees.”
The scenes for those breakthroughs are the stages of companywide meetings and events. When the curtain rises, there is a lot of employee spirit going on. Campo sets up to tell the people who make up the brand they have to get engaged, get to know the company better and get to see that one of its core values is fun.
The idea behind the skits is people have to work together, come up with a script and produce it.
“You create a tremendous amount of shared experience because that is what you are trying to do — team building,” he says.
It all leads to a united company firing on all cylinders. Here are the steps Campo finds effective in getting everyone on the same page throughout a far-flung company with annual revenue of $676 million.
Seek and enhance relationships
While many businesses may feel their most important relationship is that between the company and its customers, equally important are employee/employee relationships. You have to have the second one before you can even think about developing the company/customer relationship.
Camaraderie is your lifeblood, and without it, work and even life in general may be rather dull.
“One of your core values should be to have fun,” Campo says. “If you can’t have fun, you can’t have fun with the people you work with, why bother? We try to make it feel like employees want to get up in the morning and come to work for Camden. And they want to have fun doing it.”
Creating a culture of fun starts with research and borrowing ideas from fellow companies’ successful efforts. Once you have some plans, roll out the initial ones. The first part of the year is a good time.
“One of our big ones is at the beginning of the year. Starting in February and running throughout March, we have what are called ACE awards, which is Achieving Camden Excellence. It’s basically an employee recognition event,” Campo says.
Employees vote for other employees on how they emulated Camden’s values in the last year, and winners get prizes.
“It’s a really big deal,” he says. “Some people get up and cry when they win. They also get money, too, like $2,500, a trophy and a watch.”
You can try different formats and vary the locations. Campo finds an all-day employee event effective for rehashing how everyone did last year and what is going to go on in the new year.
“But if you think about what you have — a lot of people, maintenance people and service people and so on — don’t communicate in corporate-speak,” he says. “Communicate in normal language. For example, when we talk about how we did over the last year, we don’t talk about balance sheets or income statements, earnings per share or multiples on stock or anything like that.”
Talk about normal things people understand. Incorporate some well-produced videos and other audiovisual means if you can.
“We use a lot of fun stuff so that creates a camaraderie with the employees; it gives them a sense of pride where they work,” Campo says. “Spend a fair amount of time talking about what you do.”
As the discussions are carried on, it’s important to follow through when suggestions or requests are made. Those can be turned over to a committee structure, which you would have in place by that time.
“The key thing is you have to listen to them, and you should make changes based on their input,” Campo says. “Have various constituent groups of employees. For example, we have the maintenance advisory committee, the MAC. It’s made up of maintenance people from around the country. They meet four times a year in Houston and basically deal with issues that they get from the field.
“They go through and decide which idea or request is going to be prioritized, and then which one is going to be presented,” he says. “The key to this is making sure that there is a forum for communication from the bottom up as opposed to from the top down.”
Start with a focus on trust
Developing the employer/employee relationship depends in a big way on creating a great workplace.
“That’s the key,” Campo says. “It all has to do with how people treat each other. It starts with trust. You build trust with your employees over a period of time.”
Building trust involves some of the key issues leadership must embrace.
“Some employees say they trust; well, a lot of them don’t trust,” Campo says. “Trust revolves around things like fairness, respect and credibility, and a lot of that has to do with communication and what things you do as a management team and how you do them.”
For example, on the fairness side, if you always hire management from outside the company and never from within, is that fair?
By establishing company practices, it will be a step toward greater trust.
“Have a policy on posting a new job,” Campo says. “We always post job openings in advance on our website for our employees to see. They get two weeks’ advance notice before we go out into the marketplace.”
You earn people’s respect when you do your job consistently well, set a good example, don’t bad-mouth others and respect other people, for example.
Credibility is being credible in good times and bad.
“During the good times, the key is, if you treat your employees well and you are fair and pay them well, you share the profits — there are not two or three people making all the money and no one else,” Campo says.
“You communicate effectively — What are the goals of the organization? Then you are patient. It takes time to develop those kinds of things. It takes about a nanosecond to blow them out.”
Don’t destroy that trust even in times of financial challenge, such as with the recent recession. Campo made some bold steps that helped ensure trust.
“We cut pay for the top people the most,” he says. “I took, like, a 75 percent pay cut, my next level took, like, a 40 percent cut, and then as we got down to our managers, they basically got a zero cut in pay but we froze their salaries. That is how you get into credibility, respect and fairness for people, and that’s how you build trust.”
It’s important to build pride, camaraderie and awareness that the job is not just a paycheck. Campo makes sure employees get a piece of the action and that communicates how he cares about their eventual retirement. But it also gives them a new perspective because they become part owners.
“When we hire a manager, for example, or a service maintenance person, we give them stock,” he says. “We have about 2,000 employees, and about 1,000 own stock in the company. A lot of them own stock because we gave it to them. Some own stock because we have a pretty robust employee stock purchase program.”
So when a manager or a service maintenance person has to make a decision, such as replacing the carpet or the roof, they are making decisions as an owner and not as an employee.
“They understand you need to take care of the customer first, but they are shareholders, and they understand that every dollar they spend is important,” Campo says. “If they can make spending decisions that are efficient and drive revenue and enhance expenses and what have you, then they get that and they’ll enhance shareholder value doing that.”
What it leads to is a productive workplace, Campo says, and Camden, for example, is No. 7 in the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work for 2012 and has been in the top 10 for the last three years.
Break the ice in a big way
If your company should acquire or merge with another business and you’ve done your homework and determined it’s a good company and its culture is OK, Campo says it’s still a time to pull out your bag of tricks and break the ice.
“The whole idea on trying to engage employees is to really understand that you need to bridge the gap between the C-levels, the management levels and the front-line employees because I think the biggest mistake that most people make is that they are not approachable or that they are just too stiff,” he says.
Campo suggests taking a page from the CBS TV show “Undercover Boss.” In that reality show, the company leader puts on a disguise, takes a job in a low level of his or her company and observes the operation from the bottom up.
Campo showed up at the first merger meeting in one case dressed up like a maintenance man.
“I wore a maintenance shirt that said ‘Camden’ and ‘Ric’ on it like I’m an air-conditioning repair guy. I wore jeans, and I didn’t sit at the executive table. I sat with maintenance people and talked to them.”
About 350 people were there, and most of them were property managers and similar management. A maintenance man came up to him and began a conversation.
“He said, ‘Wow, you’re a maintenance guy from Camden?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I am.’ ‘Are you going to talk to us today?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I am.’ ‘Well, that’s pretty incredible. They bring in a maintenance guy to talk.’
“The outgoing CEO of the company was on the podium, and he was wearing a suit and power tie. He said he was really excited to talk about the merger. ‘It’s a great thing for both companies.’ And then he said my name and CEO and introduced me as the head maintenance man. I walked through the crowd, telling people what the deal was and how it affected them. I didn’t talk about the accounting details of the sale.
“I just said, ‘Look, these two companies together are better. And you guys all have jobs, and it’s going to be better for all of us.’ I talked in broad strokes so people could understand instead of saying a billion this and billion that … and people just loved it.”
The tactic was a big hit and scored points in the communication arena.
“Communication is absolutely one of the most critical things that you can do and you have to do, and you constantly have to reinforce messaging on what you want people to think about and how you want them to move forward in the current environment,” Campo says.
“I think this is something that companies really fail to do. If you don’t communicate, people feel like they don’t know what’s going on or are not part of the group, and that leads to complacency and wondering why they are working here.” •
The Campo file
Name: Ric Campo
Title: Chairman and CEO
Company: Camden Property Trust
Born: Carmel, Calif.
Education: Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore. I was the first one in my family to go to college. I met my wife there, and my son just graduated from there. I majored in business accounting. I’m actually a CPA.
What was your very first job? I worked in a laundry in Lake Tahoe sorting sheets. It was a laundry for towels and sheets for hotels. It was a good job. I was 16.
Who do you admire in business? I would say somebody like Warren Buffett. I am impressed with his business basics. He buys and owns companies long term, low debt and has just kind of a country common sense as opposed to the rapid-fire style that we have today.
What’s the best business advice you have ever received? It is something that I remember a lot. When I measure success, success is not how much money you make but how many jobs you create. Whenever we were at various levels in our development of our company, we always had the ability to cash out and take our money and go home, but we always went to the next level, which meant we got bigger and created a broader platform for our people. It was good advice because each time, had we taken the money and gone home, we always thought about what that would mean for our team, our platform and our organization. So we always took the next level. We created a company that not only is big, and bigness was never the issue, but it’s sustainable. I think that’s pretty good advice.
What’s your definition of business success? It’s how many jobs you create and what kind of value you create for your customers. It’s definitely not your total rate of return on your stock, even though I think they are correlated.
Learn more about Camden Property Trust at:
How to reach: Camden Property Trust, (713) 354-2500 or www.camdenliving.com
Dwight Smith is not ashamed or embarrassed that his Christian views drive his behavior in his business, Sophisticated Systems Inc., a supplier of information and technology solutions.
“This business is part of my testimony,” the CEO says. “So the blessings that the Lord gives me, if I live according to His will, will come to me and through me to others. I really believe in it.
“I am a very committed person. What that means is I pray about the business plan. I pray over the business every day.”
When Smith puts his life and work in God’s hands, he knows God then uses him.
“I believe in servant leadership,” Smith says. “And I think that when things go poorly, the leader should be front and center. When things go really well, the leader should be invisible.”
A serious business situation taught him that lesson. Smith’s company was about 10 years old, doing well and business was good. Then the red ink appeared, and he had to do some soul searching to find a solution.
“We had a terrible year; we lost almost $700,000,” he says. “When you are losing money that fast, that means you are borrowing money to keep afloat. So just imagine after being in business 10 years, waking up and you are $2 million in debt. And you just had a $700,000 loss.
“I remember getting on my knees and praying, ‘Lord, I’ve messed up your business. I have messed up my business. Will you take it and fix it?’”
Then he waited. He didn’t tell the people in the company the business was losing money until later. Smith didn’t want to panic them and felt confident that with some divine help, he could get out of the situation. With patience and some careful management, things started to look brighter.
“A year or so went by, and we turned it around, and we were making money again,” Smith says.
At that point, he called for a company meeting and made a confession.
“I said to the people, ‘A year or so ago, we almost lost everything,’ and I was looking at the audience, and they were horrified,” Smith says. “So I said to them, ‘How many people in this room tonight would’ve wanted to know that your company was struggling, that we were in bad shape?’ Every single hand in the room went up — and I didn’t know what to say.”
Smith explained that his experience working for IBM had taught him to share information only on a need-to-know basis.
“I just didn’t think the people needed to know,” he says. “I said, ‘The other thing is, I consider this to be a family, a big old family. So I’m the parent and you’re the child, and I’m protecting the children from bad things. I apologize. If we ever go through this again, I will be more open.’”
The following year, the company paid off the $2.1 million in debt and had a $300,000 profit. It didn’t borrow again after that for seven years.
When he heard the support from the employees at the company meeting, it got the ball rolling for another positive change in Sophisticated Systems.
“I can’t believe how many people have believed in this business, who have supported me through thick and thin, who would’ve always been there,” he says. “It is said, ‘For whom much is given, much is required,’ and that is because so many people have given to me, and I’ve asked for absolutely nothing in return.”
Smith, grateful for the support (some employees even offered to take a pay cut to keep the doors open), decided the company should pursue an employee stock ownership plan.
“I think that was the best decision I ever made — sharing the ownership with people whom I care about and whom care about their business, our business,” he says. “Why would the people who work here, who create the wealth and the value — why shouldn’t they be owners? They behave like owners. We ought to do that.”
Employees now own 40 percent of the company, and Smith owns the rest.
Smith is committed to causes outside his company as well. He and his wife, Reneé, founded the Thanks Be to God Foundation to support entrepreneurship and children across the globe. Last year, Smith went to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds. He made it to the summit in 10 days.
“We were hoping to raise $15,000,” he says. “The community came forward, and we raised $60,000 for the climb. All the stuff that I do, I kind of feel like Forrest Gump, where Forrest just ends up in all places at all times. That just made life so enjoyable, so overwhelming. It was such a humbling experience.”
A few of the organizations that have received support through the foundation include Big Brothers/Big Sisters, The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Crusade for Christ, The TBTG Scholarship fund and others. ?
How to reach: Sophisticated Systems Inc., (614) 418-4600 or www.ssicom.com
Chuck Kegler knows the three requirements for success in a service business like the back of his hand.
“You can say it 100 different ways, but there are three things you have to do simultaneously,” says Kegler, director with Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter LPA and a member of the firm since 1968.
“One, you have to provide outstanding service to your customers and clients. That is measured by what they think. Usually it is that you either have a product or service that is helpful to them. You are helping them be successful. If you don’t have that product and the people to provide it, you are not going to be successful.”
The second thing is you want to be able to supply that service in a way that provides professional satisfaction for yourself — and sometimes even personal satisfaction to people with whom you work.
“The third thing is you have to do it in a financially successful way,” Kegler says. “You have to charge enough so you can have the absolute best people provide the best service.”
If those three requirements aren’t in place and operating simultaneously — or just one of them is missing — you have a problem.
“If any one of those doesn’t work, you can’t charge a fee,” he says. “Then you won’t be able to hire good people, you won’t be able to have a good staff, you won’t be successful. It doesn’t mean that you have to charge high fees at all, but in that respect, you have to have enough sense of the whole business side of it.”
While, it may sound like you are writing a mission statement to just hang on the wall, those requirements, when put into practice, will help ensure the success of a project or company as a whole.
“It may sound silly,” Kegler says, “but you should make business decisions based on questions like these: Will this help us provide outstanding service to clients? Can we do it in a way that we will be economically successful or have a chance at least? Will we give our people professional satisfaction? Do you think they will be satisfied doing it, or will they be compromising what they are doing?”
It’s important that each decision feels right to those involved. If it doesn’t, then that’s probably a sign you should reconsider.
“Someone will say, ‘I want to do this’ and it doesn’t feel good,” he says. “If you are representing a certain kind of client who wants to do something a certain way — if it doesn’t feel good, then don’t do that.”
For example, if a client called you and said, “I want you to draft these four things exactly this way,” you might do it and they might be unhappy with the results. The reason is it didn’t satisfy his or her goals. But if you had been able to ask a few questions, it might have become something totally different.
“A client called and asked us to prepare a whole set of documents to raise money according to different concepts he had outlined,” Kegler says. “After about 15 minutes, I said, ‘You know, you can go this way, and it will cost you about $20,000 to $25,000, or you can do it 90 percent by yourself if you do it this other way. You just need to change what you are doing slightly. I think it will be more effective than some big complicated process.’”
Looking back, Kegler recalled how the advice of a college professor led him to his career as a lawyer. The professor, a Jesuit priest at Xavier University who was the head of the pre-med department, suspected Kegler really wasn’t pursuing the right field — medicine.
“He said I had difficulty understanding three dimensions,” Kegler says, remembering how astonished he was at the time of the comment, and the priest added, ‘Your fine motor skills are not very good. Surgery is not something you should be doing.’”
Still probing, the professor asked Kegler what he liked about his family doctor that got him interested in medicine.
The discussion revealed that he liked the office atmosphere and the advisory aspects of the business, so the priest advised him to do something that would help others.
Kegler took a year off from school because his basketball scholarship ran out. His family then moved to Columbus, and he transferred to Ohio State University and changed his major.
“I went into business and then law school,” he says. “My path was pretty clear then. I could see right away I enjoyed law a lot more than medicine. Pre-med is something I felt like maybe I should do or could do. I had enough skills to do it, but it was not something I loved.”
What he does love is the practice of law.
“I really like it,” Kegler says. “I love it. We are blessed to have wonderful clients, we are blessed to be in a great city, Columbus, Ohio.” ?
How to reach: Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter LPA, (614) 462-5400 or www.keglerbrown.com
W hen Jim Budros speaks to young people about what it might be like going into business for themselves, he talks about the ability to take risks.
Budros, chairman of the board of Budros, Ruhlin & Roe Inc., founded the company in 1979. It is now the largest independent wealth management firm in Central Ohio.
After working in Boston, he came to Columbus, where there was an opportunity with The Huntington National Bank. Budros expected to stay in the city for about two years.
“It was not a prospect that I thought was going to be permanent,” he says. “But the most important part is what kept me here, and that was the opportunity to be in the trust business at the bank. That was the most important part of the formation of my interest in the work that we do today.”
Budros says determination and willingness to obtain different experiences are the keys to being a successful entrepreneur.
“I think, first, you need to have the idea that someday a business could be of your own making, and then secondly, I think when young people start in the business, they should start by developing a broad and diversified base of experience,” he says. “Your first job shouldn’t necessarily be what you believe is going to be your ultimate goal, but it should be part of developing a database of experience.”
But it takes a certain risk; you have to be willing to accept the results of failure.
“Most people don’t start out on a path with a 45-degree angle upward,” Budros says.
“They cycle up and down, they learn from their mistakes, and they press forward.”
So, for example, when a student graduates from college, he or she may find a resume doesn’t open many doors.
“If you graduate from a prestigious school, you probably have an opportunity to reach out right off the bat,” he says. “Some 95 percent of the people who graduate from college don’t graduate from a prestigious school with a job offer.”
It’s not time to stop job-hunting but rather to take a different approach.
“So you use what connections you have to get the first job,” he says. “Get on somebody’s payroll to begin to prove yourself to your employer and show that you are worthy of a weekly paycheck. Then develop the most important skills right off the bat of integrity, honesty and showing up on time and doing a full measure of your responsible job and maybe then some.”
You will gradually determine your tolerance for taking risks.
“Risk is an interesting concept,” Budros says. “Risk is the environment in which you are paid for taking a chance on something that is less certain than what is known. If you require certainty in your life, then you are probably not going to be a risk taker.
“If the most important thing in graduating from college is looking forward to getting a pension from the state of Ohio, you can probably deduce that you are not likely to be a risk taker in your life.
“I am not suggesting that risk takers are foolhardy. They have this notion in their mind that they can be paid handsomely for the willingness to be uncertain. It’s more of a psychological or behavioral concept than an analytical one.”
Budros says early in young people’s careers or even as they are growing up, they can be seen as ones who are willing to take risks or not.
“You might look at 10 first-graders who are longing to ride a bicycle, and you will see that three or four of them are willing to fall down. Five or six of them are not willing to fall down,” he says.
“I am not suggesting that risk-taking is necessarily good; it is often, however, an ingredient for being successful in business.”
But risk aside, one of the first challenges after starting a business might be communicating with prospective customers about what your new business does.
“When we first started this business, we were practically unable to describe what we did to the public, but we knew that we were totally competent,” Budros says. “We had absolute conviction in our competence that we were doing it the right way. So we were willing to take the risk in building the business on that basis.
“We provided really good financial planning and investment advice, and we had developed good name recognition with folks in Columbus. We had developed these relationships based on trustworthiness.”
“We became thought of and known by our clients as their trusted adviser,” he says. “It was that alone that catapulted us to the place we are today and that is to say a pretty good-sized firm in an industry with relatively small firms.” ?
How to reach: Budros, Ruhlin & Roe Inc., (614) 481-6900 or www.b-r-r.com
James Taylor and Arun Pasrija, Ph.D., remember well when the company they founded, CHR Solutions Inc., acquired another business a few years ago — and two of the acquired executives were a bit hostile with each other.
But Taylor and Pasrija were no novices at acquiring and merging other businesses with their telecommunication technology solutions company. Throughout an eight-year time span, they acquired or merged 12 companies. CHR Solutions now has 530 employees and annual revenue of $61 million for 2011.
This particular situation, however, demanded a resolution that was nearly a total makeover.
“Two senior executives at two major locations were at war with each other,” says Taylor, chairman and CEO of the company.
“They just refused to deal with each other. They refused to cooperate, didn’t want to talk to each other, and all they were doing was destroying value.”
Part of the reason that both executives voted in favor of the acquisition was to prevent the other from being in charge anymore. They reasoned that by becoming smaller fish in a bigger sea, so to speak, neither would be a leader.
“As part of the solution, we had to work with the senior executive who owned a big portion of that challenge,” Taylor says. “The other person had basically given up trying — but he owned much of the problem, too, for having given up.”
What Taylor and Pasrija did amounts to an attitude adjustment, mental makeover and reassignment.
“We revised the other executive’s role, took him out of his assignment where the conflict was, reshaped and remodeled him, and he then worked directly with us at a senior executive level on strategic items; we really reshaped his attitude and his involvement,” Taylor says.
After a length of time, the situation had not only been resolved but a new chapter was unfolding.
“It took about three years to rehabilitate the relationship and redevelop mutual respect and trust, and, frankly, I think we went even further — I think we helped them re-establish some of the friendship they had before,” Taylor says. “The guy who was causing problems is actually back today working for the guy who he swore he couldn’t work for and the other guy swore he couldn’t work with.”
“We just couldn’t walk in and leave it alone like that,” says Pasrija, president and COO of CHR Solutions. “So we addressed it, and I think it worked out pretty good because it gave both of them some space initially so they were not interacting with each other. Then it improved to the point where they appreciated what the other party brought to the table.”
Taylor notes separating the parties was the first step of the solution.
“We had to take the pressure off first,” he says. “We had to take them out from reporting to each other or one of them reporting to the other, and we had to start educating. I think there was some ego relative to that as well as I don’t think the hostile exec fully understood the situation. Part of that rehabilitation process was that as he participated more closely with the senior execs of the organization, he got a perspective about the decisions we were making and why we are making them, and he had a chance to catch his breath and feel like he was adding value.”
One of the major points that hit home was that the executive needed a behavior change in order to be a successful leader.
“It’s not about right or wrong; it’s about changing to be successful,” Taylor says. “We were firm with him: ‘If you can’t change, we can’t correct this and you can’t be here.’ That’s a pretty significant conversation about a guy’s career and his life and the 25 years he spent investing in the company and the industry that he is in.”
The moment of truth came, and he met the challenge head-on. It paid off.
“He actually told us at one point that he had never had the coaching that he was receiving from us,” Taylor says.
“Once an executive is reshaped, it creates alignment right at the people,” Pasrija says. “People see the issue, the senior guys realize that there was an issue at the senior level, and the improvement gets amplified all the way down.”
But it’s not unusual during the acquisition process when executives are being vetted that you find some leaders who haven’t received professional executive training. That’s where the acquiring company has to step in.
“Many times, these guys in smaller companies, they don’t have what I will call professional leadership. What they have is 25 years of first-year experience,” Taylor says. “I don’t mean that in a negative way. Technicians — borrowing the term from Michael Gerber’s ‘The E-Myth’ — may be very, very competent at the business and technical aspects of what they’re doing, but they’ve not done HR management or leadership development, they’ve not run bigger organizations, and they don’t know how to manage conflict.”
Taylor feels a weakness in leadership training may be the cause for some companies to hit a financial brick wall.
“There is a reason many small entrepreneurial companies get stuck at a $5 million, $10 million or $15 million size, and the reason for that is the depth of management,” Taylor says. “That’s only what management can handle. You’ve got to think differently — it’s a different capital structure. It’s a different leadership structure. It’s a different investment you make. It’s a different way you manage.
“We’ve got to help them with the additional skills they need to run the business in a different way and a different level.”
Here’s how Taylor and Pasrija focus on enhancing employees gained through an acquisition or merger — and existing staff — to tap new levels of success.
Look for more talent, not less
There are several criteria that have to be met when a company makes an acquisition or merger. Geography, adding to the product line and creating an attractive client list are examples. In addition, the leadership team should have some similar values.
“You can think of a business almost like a mosaic, made of all the small little stones that build a picture,” Taylor says. “Look for things that add value, that fill in parts of the mosaic, whether it be a product, people, geographic reach, whether they be of the size and scalability that they offer or whether they bring long-term clients.
“But look for things that you can integrate and that the leadership team buys in and understands your vision because you are not looking to write checks and send a bunch of people home. Look for more talent on the team. I believe you can never have too much talent. I never get up in the morning and say, ‘Oh gosh, I wish we didn’t have so much talent.’”
Pasrija says he believes the most important criterion is spending time during integration with the management team and making sure the new faces can be part of the broader team.
“From the personality perspective, that will make or break the deal,” he says. “All the other things are important but are actually kind of minimal. You want to make sure the product is a right fit, but beyond that, you have to focus on integration, which takes a lot of time, so you are just comfortable to have these teams that can integrate and be part of each other.”
It’s better to integrate rather than incinerate, Taylor says. But it may not be the case for all industries.
“As you integrate companies, a lot of people want to do burnouts,” he says. “We don’t like burnouts. Burnouts mean don’t integrate. So the idea of burnouts is to try to protect your purchase price versus some of the functions you have made.
“We think the trade-off on burnouts is worse than the downside created by not integrating, particularly in the services area. Now that could be different in the manufacturing business or something else, but particularly in the services business, that is just a very specific thing we go through.”
Getting employees to integrate in one culture for one company in one version is a key to success, Pasrija says.
“You need to present one company to a customer or client,” he says. “They don’t really care whether there were two, three or four companies in their history or there are offices in different states. It’s one company helping them solve their needs. And that model will help their clients succeed.”
Learn to rank the entrepreneurs
Before you attend to reshaping or re-educating executives acquired in an acquisition or merger, there needs to be an honest appraisal of their talents. You will save yourself some time and effort if you evaluate the entrepreneurs in three categories or stages. Meet with the person to try to establish what stage of an entrepreneur he or she is.
“Stage I is that he or she is Superman or Superwoman,” Taylor says. “They can leap buildings in a single bound. They have a great big S on their chest. That big old S stops bullets, and everything’s good, right?
“Well, the reality of those people is they kill companies. If you go back to the ’90s and look at all the sales, mergers, acquisitions and the dot-com roll-up, they were all supermen and superwomen. If they are Stage I, run away. Don’t walk.”
The second stage involves some qualities of the first but with more self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses.
“If they are Stage II entrepreneurs, they woke up and realized that it’s just a T-shirt and it doesn’t stop bullets,” Taylor says. “But they say, ‘You know what? I’m kind of achy. My stomach is upset. I have a fever. I have a headache.’ The diagnosis is that you have the flu, and they say, ‘No no, just give me some Tylenol and send me back in, coach.’
“The problem with that is Stage II entrepreneurs cost money. They take bigger zigs and longer zags than you need to have. The problem with a zig and a zag is that the more out of a straight line you are, the longer it takes and the more money it takes. Sometimes with the right Stage II person, you can bring him or her into Stage III. But go cautious on Stage II. Really understand where they are; understand the culture that they have created.”
As you may expect, the perfect candidates are the Stage III hopefuls. As troops parachute into a combat zone and hit the ground running, so do Stage III entrepreneurs.
“Because of their time frame, some people who have led the business before are immediate Stage III entrepreneurs,” Taylor says. “Some get there in a very short time, some are super bad for 25 years. The Stage III entrepreneur gets there and says, ‘OK, how do I do this run? What’s the right thing to do?’ They can check their ego aside, too.”
Invest in developing leaders
One of the things both Taylor and Pasrija benefited from in their careers was a leadership development training program. Taylor received training from Sears, and Pasrija from Lucent Technologies. It gave them the impetus to create a leadership development program for current and acquired employees at CHR Solutions. The program has graduated 60 future leaders since 2008 when it was founded.
“We believe we can actually create talent from inside,” Pasrija says. “Not that we couldn’t have gone out and hired executives. We wanted to invest to create a pool of potential leaders. It’s good for the morale of the employees; it’s good for us because we develop comfort and trust in them.”
The company selects 20 to 25 employees each year to be so-called “special leaders.”
“They’ve demonstrated leadership behaviors and quality,” Pasrija says. “We believe it is worth the investment, and some of them for sure will be able to take much, much bigger roles down the road.”
The program, which costs $60,000 to $70,000 a month to operate, is a two-step process.
“One is a formal kind of a mini-executive MBA if you will, where they go through classes for the course of a year,” Pasrija says. “It is held from 7 to 9 in the morning every other week — two hours of a lecture, classwork and homework assignments.”
Classes are held on sales and sales processes, marketing, product management, finance and accounting, understanding cash flow, balance sheets, income saving, why it is important to focus on net terms for a contract, working capital and other concepts.
“We have to manage change,” Pasrija says. “That’s a big feat. Crucial conversations: how to have a hard conversation with your peers, with your employees, your managers and, sometimes, the client.”
The “students” go through all the processes and then undertake a final assignment. They are put in charge of a fictitious company with a senior leader and their team, and they are given a scenario, much like a case study.
“Here’s what’s going on, here are the financials, here are the industry situations and you plan for business and the events that will happen,” Pasrija says. “Then you go back and figure out what would you do and what is the impact. Then they work on it for a couple of weeks and make a presentation to the entire management team.”
“After completion, they are sort of fast-tracked for opportunities and given much higher preference in promotions,” Taylor says. “This is very, very formal. We spend thousands and thousands of dollars doing this every year — we think it is that important.
“If you’re going to grow large business, you have to be able to create the appropriate discipline and infrastructure to exactly achieve the very way and be very profit-driven. That’s part of the culture of who you are and what you are doing.
“That’s hard to achieve if you think about it for a second. Think about that versus a freewheeling entrepreneur who started his own small business. A large part of that cultural change and educational process is to bring them into what it takes to be a much larger business.” <<
How to reach: CHR Solutions Inc., (713) 995-4778 or www.chrsolutions.com
James Taylor, chairman and CEO, CHR Solutions Inc.
Arun Pasrija, president and COO, CHR Solutions Inc.
Pasrija: Pune, India
Taylor: West Plains, Mo., so I’m a hillbilly. I’m from a foreign country as well!
What was your first job?
Pasrija: My first job was actually at a motorcycle factory. It was a summer job assembling 150cc bikes made by the Escorts Group.
Taylor: I’m trying to remember when I didn’t work. I used to cut firewood, pick rocks, bale hay and work in different stores. It’s a great thing for kids to learn how to work and do things.
Whom do you admire in business?
Taylor: I admire Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell and Steve Jobs — they created something from nothing. It’s about the entrepreneurial spirit. They got ‘out of the box.’
Pasrija: I admire Warren Buffett. I’ve read a lot of his books, and I always read his annual shareholder letter. His way of getting the big picture, keeping it simple, making sure the right people are doing the right things and honesty and integrity behind his business — I really have a lot of respect for what he has accomplished.
What was the best business advice you have given or received?
Pasrija: We’ve assembled a very strong team. Always keep telling your team, ‘We can do anything we want but we cannot do everything we want. We need to figure out what to focus on.’
Taylor: I was once told early in my career that too many people are afraid of hard work. People try to do the quick and easy. Many entrepreneurs give up and quit or only were business people because they are afraid of the hard work, and the reality of it is that some of the stuff, you just have to grind it out.
What is your definition of business success?
Pasrija: If you have a client who is happy with the product or services you are selling, the employees love to come to work every day and are excited, and their shareholders are happy to see the value of the enterprise going up every year. I think that’s success.
Taylor: We’ve had the luxury of focusing a little on the ball where it needs to go. I think that’s part of what has caused some loss in America for things such as research and development, the loss of some of these key long-term strategic things. That doesn’t mean that we’re not focused on profitability, but you’ve also got to balance that with longer-term success. That’s difficult as you are consuming cash at the rate that you grow, and you continue to make investments. We want employees to be happy and do things but it also means that we have to be competitive. It’s a sign of hard work, balance and vision.
When John Ness took over the family business in 2003 from his father, Robert Ness, he knew he was inheriting his father’s leadership team. What he didn’t know was it would be a couple of years before he finally had his own team together and he would have to shoulder the blame for that reluctance.
The company, ODW Logistics, was ripe for a makeover. The third-party logistics provider just needed someone to shake up its corporate culture a little and launch some expansion moves.
John Ness had put in his time in various ODW capacities such as operations, sales and marketing, finance and transportation. Among many other things, he learned about employee seniority and loyalty.
“I realize as I look back, the importance of forming my team and the things that I think I probably did wrong or could have done better — I took too long to put my own team together,” Ness says. “It was mostly because I valued loyalty and tenure much more than performance and results.”
Ness realized some of the old executives were loyal to his father. Some retired and others changed careers. A few made the transition to the new leadership. Others had to be let go. It took time for the new company president to accomplish the moves.
“I value loyalty and tenure a lot, so it’s not like you don’t value performance and results, but I think you can put too much emphasis on loyalty and tenure and not face some of the brutal facts of what your situation is and advance the ball forward by really saying, ‘This is where we need to go,’” Ness says.
Because the leadership team was not all on the same page, it slowed down expansion and growth plans.
If you keep your values and expectations in your head but don’t put them in writing, not only will others not get the whole picture but you also won’t be able to readily point to, follow and understand your standards.
“I also learned I wasted too much time with guesswork,” Ness says. “So the lesson there is to be clear ... get the big rocks in the jar first. You’ve got to put the important things down in writing and make sure you are clear on what you want your company to do and how to behave and what your expectations are.”
Fortunately, a foundation of caring about people and the knowledge that good, great people are the key to success was still alive and well at ODW.
“We have added to and made the foundation more current and more relevant because the business has grown,” he says. “You have to communicate that culture effectively to a broader number of people. We have created some phrases and new terms because that gives us a way to identify and brand that culture in a positive way.”
Here’s how trust, team and balance, the five E’s and SCOPE play a large part in the success of ODW Logistics as it doubled its 2006 revenue to $100 million in 2011 and continues to grow.
Keep your promises
In the service business, as well as many other businesses, culture is one way that companies can differentiate themselves from one another. When you don’t produce products, it boils down to how your people can make a difference.
“Service is about promises,” Ness says. “People make and candidly break promises, so you ask your people to promise their best and deliver their promise.”
Because customers will measure a business on the commitments and promises you make to them, your people will rely on the habits, collective behavior and values of your organization — in short, your company culture.
“You need to have a strong cultural environment to support their promises to customers,” he says. “If you have a really strong cultural environment, then that culture cascades to your customers because your people are infected by this great culture. It’s just evident in how you interact with them, their attitude and their ability to navigate a difficult day or a new challenge.”
Once Ness began to formulate improvements to the company culture, he decided the values of “trust, team and balance” would be part of the new touchstone. He realized every shipment that went out was another opportunity for both successes and failures and every one of those was another opportunity to do right or wrong by the recipient.
“You’ve got to believe in who you are doing business with. And so you make promises to your customers all the time, and you’ve got to be able to execute those promises,” Ness says. “It’s not your executive team that makes your company go. It’s your whole team, and they’ve got to trust that you are doing things that are in their best interest so they’re willing to come in and do the job every day.
“Seek to build trust with your customers, associates and partners based on the foundation of a great team that maintains a healthy balance of work and life.”
Those three values — trust, team and balance — blended together make an unbeatable combination.
“Talk about spirit; talk about hard work, being competitive and getting results,” he says. “In the culture, for a happiness element, talk about balance. Your employees spend a lot of time at work, but you should care if your people would acknowledge that work is maybe No. 3 or lower on their priority list behind their faith and family. Community is awfully important as well. Be open to that and expect your people to have a good balance between work and life.”
Another important facet of your culture should be its purpose — why are you all here?
“It’s lead, serve and love,” Ness says, citing another trio of words. “You want to lead your industry, lead your markets. You want to serve your customers, serve your community, and you want to love what you do and love like a family.
“It hopefully speaks to something that is greater than profits. Financial success is important as well, but if that’s all it is, then I think you lose sight of a higher purpose.”
Use E’s for excellence
If your organizational culture promotes certain values, obviously, you need current employees to buy in — and you have to add new blood who get your message.
“You can’t assume everybody picks it up,” Ness says. “I’ve heard that you have to say something at least seven times for it to sink in, for people to really understand. So you get tired of yourself repeating the same old, same old. But your focus is to really share that message with your leadership team and make sure the executive leadership team is sharing that with their team and so on.”
But as you grow, you will need to find new people — the right people that fit into your culture along with their skills and talents.
Ness and his executive team developed an easy way to remember the qualities they would look for when interviewing job candidates.
“We look for the five E’s: experience, energy, enthusiasm, effort and edge,” he says.
Experience is an attribute of whether you have it or not. It’s that simple; either you have worked in the field or not.
The next three — energy, enthusiasm and effort — are also qualities you either have or you don’t have but can be cultivated. And if they have been cultivated, it’s all the better if they were nurtured at an organization that promoted those values as part of its culture.
“If I come into a culture that promotes those things, I’m going to live by them if I have them or not,” Ness says. “If I come into a culture where they are not promoted, and I have them, I may be less likely to demonstrate or display them. So there is infectiousness, if you will, about a cultural wave in an organization that’s important.”
Edge is an interesting concept and has a motivational quotient about it.
“Edge is defined in basically a competitive way — I want to throw myself into a spot where I can make a difference,” he says.
“Our VP of operations describes it like the wave at a football game where everybody stands and does the wave cheer,” Ness says. “The first time around not many people are standing up, the second time maybe more, and you’re kind of goofy if you’re standing up. But by the third time or fourth time around, the goofy ones are the ones that are sitting down.”
When it comes to reinforcing trust, team and balance, Ness finds celebrations help underpin those values.
“Our tagline is, ‘We’ve got range,’” he says. “So we have Ranger Awards for most improved operation, best customer experience and others. We have the trust award, the team award and the balance award, the operation of the year award — there are 11 of them in all. Those are honors for our people to win, and it helps reinforce the values.”
Determine the SCOPE of things
An operating philosophy, once written down, helps employees figure out how to apply the values of the organization. If you can devise a mnemonic device, your chances to have more employees remember the philosophy will improve.
To establish an operating philosophy for ODW, Ness and his team decided SCOPE told it all: safety, customers, operations, people and execution. They even award a trophy similar to the Stanley Cup to recognize one of their departments or operations each month with reinforcement of the behavior they hope to see.
Ness says safety is a nonnegotiable standard that all employees should live by. Customers should receive attention promptly and with delight. The people, productivity and their commitment to come in and do a great job every day are the core of the operations. Spirit, hard work, competitiveness and results define the people who are components of the team. And finally, execute — and execute profitably.
“Any circumstance that comes up in day-to-day activity is going to come back to those foundational issues,” he says. “You still need the expertise to figure out the technical process, apply the principles and be consistent, but if you continue to remind yourself that’s your base, then those decisions become a little easier.”
Decision-making for the leader is built on the same principles. It’s not much different than for other employees.
“The leader has to be emotionally strong enough and mature enough to cycle through and be able to provide action going forward,” Ness says. “If you get paralyzed by those concerns and those worries, then all the symptoms come out. You don’t sleep at night. You get into irrational thoughts. You lash out at people. None of that is productive.”
If you can stay healthy emotionally, then you are well-equipped to get people around the table and begin to talk about specific things that need to change or that need to be done in order to get the company back on the right course.
“Whether it’s a major course correction in the event of a big crisis or a minor course correction when the fears aren’t as strong, that same process applies for both,” he says.
“Hire the best leaders. Ask your leaders to behave like owners so everyone has an entrepreneurial mindset. You want your leaders to own the business they run so their customer satisfaction is their responsibility, their profitability is their responsibility and their cost management is their responsibility. We believe if we can hire well and put those leaders in a position where they have a lot of autonomy to make decisions to run their business, then they can provide better value to customers.” <<
HOW TO REACH: ODW Logistics Inc., (800) 743-7062 or
The Ness File
ODW Logistics Inc.
Born: Columbus, Ohio
Education: I have a bachelor of arts from Wittenberg University in business management. I played football at Wittenberg. In my junior year, we beat the College of Wooster 66-0. It was unbelievable.
What was your first job?
It was at ODW Logistics. I got a job right after high school working as a banding machine operator, so I banded packages together that we were shipping out on UPS trucks. I lifted hundreds and hundreds of boxes off pallets every day, banded them and shoved them down the conveyor line. I did that all summer long. Then I went to college and said, “I’m going to stay in college.” Banding was an important job but one that I didn’t want to do the rest of my life.
What was the best business advice you ever received?
I’ve received lots of advice. A good friend of mine, Jeff Sopp, used to devise sayings. We called them Sopp-isms. He used to say you can be wrong on people but you can’t be wrong long on people. So you could make a hiring mistake, we all do, but you can’t go on and on without dealing with it. I don’t know if it’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever received, but I also like Coach John Wooden’s quote, “Success is never final and failure’s never fatal.” I think that that kind of keeps you on track.
Whom do you admire in business?
I think locally there are some great leaders: Jeff Sopp, Dave Blom, Tanny Crane, Les Wexner. Personally, I admire my father, Robert E. Ness. He built this company with his own two hands. He was a self-made man. He borrowed $5,000 from the bank in 1971 and thought that he could start a company on his own with the intention of taking care of the people who worked for him and knowing they would take care of his customers. He was certainly very successful and instilled in me just a tremendous number of values in terms of how to take care of people and how to lead.
What’s your definition of business success?
I really stay with lead, serve, love. Lead our industry, lead our markets, serve our customers, serve our community, love what you do and love like a family. If we do all that well, I know the financial success and the financial results will come and our customers will be happy. I know our problems won’t all go away, but we will certainly feel like we have accomplished something we can look back at that had great purpose and value.
Ness on the rule of threes: We follow the rule of threes in the interviewing process that has worked well: pick three candidates for each position, interview every candidate three times and have three people interview them to select the best.