JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 2549

Saturday, 30 June 2012 20:00

Honoring the best of the best

For more than 25 years, Ernst & Young has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women who make our economy vibrant.

Ernst & Young founded the Entrepreneur Of The Year® Program to recognize those with a passion for “thinking big” and to bring together visionaries and leaders to inspire each other and our communities. We have gathered here and in 25 cities across the United States to honor all of our regional finalists and welcome a new class of entrepreneurs into our Hall of Fame, recognizing their resilience, ingenuity and innovation.

We applaud them for overcoming challenges, inspiring others, opening new markets and, ultimately, fueling economic growth in the Northeast Ohio region. Let’s celebrate their achievements, perseverance and tireless pursuit of business excellence.

Congratulations to all 2012 Northeast Entrepreneur Of The Year® finalists.

Whitt Butler is the program director and an advisory partner at Ernst & Young.

2012 Finalists and Honorees


Dr. Robert Kent, Summa Western Reserve Hospital








Published in Akron/Canton
Saturday, 30 June 2012 20:25

Honoring the best of the best

For more than 25 years, Ernst & Young has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women pursuing innovation and entrepreneurial excellence in their businesses, their teams and their communities.

The hours, sweat and passion they’ve poured into their businesses and the triumphs they’ve achieved stand as a testament to the role they play as visionaries, leaders and innovators. Ernst & Young founded the Entrepreneur Of The Year Program to recognize this passion for excellence and to build an in?uential and innovative community of peers.

We have gathered here and in 25 other cities in the U.S. to welcome the men and women who are regional award recipients into our entrepreneurial Hall of Fame and to toast all of the ?nalists and their commitment to succeed. We applaud them for launching start-up companies, opening new markets and fueling job growth.

So let’s celebrate their achievements, their perseverance and their tireless pursuit of business excellence.

OSCAR SUAREZ is the Florida market leader for Ernst & Young LLP. Reach him at (305) 415-1305 or oscar.suarez@ey.com.


Lifetime Achievement

William D. Morean, Timothy L. Main, Jabil (Winner)

Corporate Innovator

Jordan Zimmerman, Zimmerman Advertising (Winner)

Hannes Hunschofsky, HOERBIGER Corp. of America Inc. (Finalist)

Distribution and Manufacturing

Janna Ronert, Dr. Marc Ronert, Image Skincare (Winner)

R. Charles Murray, PPi Technologies Group (Finalist)

Amin Rahman Ramjee, BEL USA LLC, dba DiscountMugs.com (Finalist)


Jorge A. Plasencia, Republica (Winner)

Bobby Harris, BlueGrace Logistics (Finalist)

Jose Prendes, PureFormulas.com (Finalist)

Financial Services

Eric R. Castro, Robert T. Castro, Albert C. Crawford, Bankers Healthcare Group Inc. (Winner)

T. John Jerger Jr., American Traditions Insurance Co. and Modern USA Insurance (Finalist)

David Miller, Michael Miller, Brightway Insurance (Finalist)

Health Care

Michael M. Early, Metropolitan Health Networks Inc. (Winner)

Richard L. Sanchez, Advantica (Finalist)

Shari Dingle Sandifer, Avant Healthcare Professionals (Finalist)

Real Estate and Construction

Charles Puccini, Bauer Foundation Corp. (Winner)

Michael I. Kaufman, Kaufman Lynn Construction (Finalist)

Craig Perry, Centerline Homes (Finalist)

Retail and Consumer Products

Rhonda Shear, Shear Enterprises LLC (Winner)

Oscar Horton, Sun State International Trucks LLC (Finalist)

Jesse Stein, SportsMemorabilia.com (Finalist)


Harvey Massey, Massey Services Inc. (Winner)

David Clarke, BGT Partners (Finalist)

Steven A. MacDonald, myMatrixx (Finalist)


John Duffy, 3Cinteractive (Winner)

Carol Craig, Craig Technologies (Finalist)

Will Fleming, MotionPoint Corp. (Finalist)

Published in Florida
Saturday, 30 June 2012 20:00

Honoring the best of the best

For more than 25 years, Ernst & Young has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women who make our economy vibrant.

Ernst & Young founded the Entrepreneur Of The Year® Program to recognize those with a passion for “thinking big” and to bring together visionaries and leaders to inspire each other and our communities. We have gathered here, and in 25 cities across the United States, to honor all of our regional finalists and welcome a new class of entrepreneurs into our Hall of Fame, recognizing their resilience, ingenuity and innovation.

We applaud them for overcoming challenges, inspiring others, opening new markets and, ultimately, fueling economic growth in the Central Midwest. Let’s celebrate their achievements, perseverance and tireless pursuit of business excellence.

Congratulations to all of the 2012 Central Midwest finalists.

Randolph Buseman is a partner in the Kansas City office of Ernst & Young.

Michael Hickenbotham is a partner in the St. Louis office of Ernst & Young.

Finalists and Honorees

Industrial Manufacturing and Mining

• Steve Carter, Knight Hawk Coal LLC (Winner)


• David Karandish, Answers (Winner)

Financial Services

• Brant Bukowsky, Brock Bukowsky, Veterans United Home Loans (Winner)


• Len Rodman, Black & Veatch (Winner)


• Robert Low, Prime Inc. (Winner)


• Harry Herrington, NIC Inc. (Winner)

Master Entrepreneur

• Larry Potterfield, MidwayUSA

Energy and Chemicals

• Jerff Stroburg, Daniel Oh, Renewable Energy Group Inc. (Winner)

Retail and Consumer Products

• Kyle Krause, Kum & Go L.C. (Winner)

Bio Science

• Dr. David Faber, Trans Ova Genetics (Winner)


• Dr. Steve Lasky, Advanced Analytical Technologies Inc.

• John Eulich, ASPEQ Holdings Inc.

• Cory Wiedel, Ryan Zink, Complete Nutrition

• Benny Lee, DuraComm Corp.

• Patrick Perry, Genesys

• Dawn Ainger, Genova Technologies

• Greg Gragg, Gragg Advertising

• Mark Rutter, GROUP360 Worldwide

• Joseph Melookaran, Mithra Amaran, David Brown, Raqibul Huq, Maria Will, JMA Information Technology

• Greg Brown, Learfield Communications Inc.

• Matt Miller, MobileDemand

• Mary Quass, NRG Media LLC

• Dr. Reggie Chandra, Rhythm Engineering

• Tom Kalishman, Jerry Shaw, SAK Construction LLC

• Willard “Lee” Frickey, Sizewise

• Michael Vasquez, St. Gregory Centers Inc.

• Kevin Quigley, John Nickel, Mike O’Neill, Switch. Liberate Your Brand

• Dan Reed, UnitedLex Corp.

• Doug Schukar, USA Mortgage

• Jon Cook, VML

• Seth Burgett, Yurbuds Sport Earphones

Published in St. Louis
Saturday, 30 June 2012 20:00

Honoring the best of the best

For more than 25 years, Ernst & Young has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women pursuing innovation and entrepreneurial excellence in their businesses, teams and communities.

The blood, sweat and passion they’ve poured into their businesses and the triumphs they’ve achieved stand as a testament to the role they play as visionaries, leaders and innovators.

Ernst & Young founded the Entrepreneur Of The Year Program to recognize this passion for excellence and to build an influential and innovative community of peers.

We have gathered here and in 25 other cities in the U.S. to welcome the men and women who are regional finalists into our entrepreneurial Hall of Fame and to toast their commitment to succeed. We applaud them for launching their companies, opening new markets and fueling job growth.

So let’s celebrate their achievements, their perseverance and their tireless pursuit of business excellence.

Brian Ring is a partner and program director for Entrepreneur Of The Year, Greater Los Angeles.

April Spencer is a partner and program director for Entrepreneur Of The Year, Greater Los Angeles.

Pat Niemann is the office managing partner for Ernst & Young, Los Angeles.

Finalists & Honorees

Master Entrepreneur

Rick J. Caruso, Caruso Affiliated (Winner)

Distribution & Manufacturing

Jeffrey R. Clark, Anthony (Winner)

Michael Sheldon, Network Hardware Resale LLC (Finalist)

Nathaniel Victor, Sonic Electronix Inc. (Finalist)

Financial Services

Sunnie S. Kim, Hana Financial Inc. (Winner)

Jeff Stibel, Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. (Finalist)

Alan Zafran, Luminous Capital (Finalist)

Food Services

David Overton, The Cheesecake Factory Inc., (Winner)

Lee Maen, Philip Cummins, Innovative Dining Group (Finalist)

Emelio Castaneda, Field Fresh Foods Inc. (Finalist)

Interactive Media/Internet

Bob Brisco, Internet Brands (Winner)

Josef Gorowitz, Prodege LLC (Finalist)

Allen DeBevoise, Machinima Inc. (Finalist)


Simon Bax, Bill Tillson, Encompass Digital Media Inc. (Winner)

Vince Pace, James Cameron, Cameron Pace Group (Finalist)

Brian Fitzgerald, Aaron Broder, Evolve Media Corp. (Finalist)


Peter Dameris, On Assignment Inc. (Winner)

Linda Stone, APR Consulting (Finalist)

Cesar Garcia, Iris International Inc. (Finalist)


Jon E. Kirchner, DTS Inc. (Winner)

David Hagan, Boingo Wireless Inc. (Finalist)

Alex Kazerani, James Segil, EdgeCast Networks (Finalist)

Published in Los Angeles
Saturday, 30 June 2012 20:00

Honoring the best of the best

Each year in June, Ernst & Young celebrates entrepreneurial leaders across the country as part of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards. This year marks the 26th year in which Ernst & Young has recognized those leaders.

Over the years, we’ve learned that entrepreneurial leaders are a little different from the rest of us. They can take ideas and put them into action where others cannot, and along the way, they lead others into a better future. We call this “turning vision into reality” as that is exactly what entrepreneurs do.

In recent years, we have had a slower economy and we have seen the start of a recovery. However, during challenging economic times, entrepreneurial leaders step up to the challenge, as you will see with this year’s finalists. The companies represented at this year’s Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of The Year Gulf Coast Area Awards grew the number of people employed in excess of 30 percent and grew revenues in excess of 40 percent during the last two years combined. There can be no doubt that these entrepreneurial leaders, through their vision, will bring our country back to prosperity.

Ernst & Young has been recognizing these risk-taking visionaries for 26 years, and over that time, it has recognized more than 8,000 entrepreneurial men and women. The Entrepreneur Of The Year Award has grown to be recognized as the leading business award. While Ernst & Young is proud of this accomplishment, the credit goes to the thousands of entrepreneurial leaders who have been recognized over the years. The fact that the program has endured and grown for more than 26 years is a true testament to the entrepreneurial leaders themselves.

The program now celebrates entrepreneurial leaders in 26 U.S. regions each year. The regional award recipients then participate in the National Entrepreneur Of The Year awards in November in Palm Springs, Calif.

At that ceremony, 10 award recipients are selected and one is selected as the National

Entrepreneur Of The Year overall award recipient. The National Entrepreneur Of The Year overall award recipient will then participate in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year in Monte Carlo, along with award recipients from 50 other countries. This truly is the world’s business award.

The National Entrepreneur Of The Year Program is the culminating event for a five-day Strategic Growth Forum that had more than 1,500 participants last year. This is the only event of its kind that is focused on the CEOs of companies. The panelists and speakers are unparalleled and have included special guests such as George W. Bush, former president of the United States, and Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Air. This year will feature Frederick Smith, chairman, president and CEO of FedEx Corp., and Irene Rosenfeld, chairman and CEO of Kraft Foods. The content of the program is focused on strategic growth strategies, from initial public offerings to expansion in high-growth markets.

We are honored to present the 26th Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards and to recognize the entrepreneurial leaders of the past, present and future that make this the greatest country in the world to do business. Turning vision into reality, which benefits all of us.

Todd Zuspan is a partner with Ernst & Young LLP ?and is the director of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Gulf Coast Area program.

Finalists & Award Recipient

Business Services

Joe Fowler, Stress Engineering Services Inc. (Award Recipient)

Antonio R. Grijalva, John W. Allen, G&A Partners (Finalist)

Richard Eichler, Hart Energy Publishing (Finalist)

Curtis Brown, Rimkus Consulting Group Inc. (Finalist)

Charles Schugart, U.S. Legal Support (Finalist)

Consumer Products & Services

Earl Hesterberg, Group 1 Automotive Inc. (Award Recipient)

Melvin Payne, Carriage Services Inc. (Finalist)

Donald Klein, Chesmar Homes Ltd. (Finalist)

Drake Mills, Community Trust Bank (Finalist)

Jerry Lasco, Lasco Enterprises LLC (Finalist)

Distribution & Manufacturing – Energy

Terry Looper, Texon LP (Award Recipient)

Thomas Amonett, Champion Technologies Inc. (Finalist)

Ray Rice Jr., RB Products Inc. (Finalist)

C. Jim Stewart IV, Surfire Industries USA LLC (Finalist)

Ron Farmer, US LED (Finalist)

Exploration & Production

Scott Smith, Vanguard Natural Resources (Award Recipient)

Matt McCarroll, Dynamic Offshore Resources (Finalist)

John D. Schiller Jr., Energy XXI Ltd. (Finalist)

Alan Smith, QR Energy LP (Finalist)

Health Care & Health Care Services

Richard Zuschlag, Acadian Ambulance Service (Award Recipient)

Dana Sellers, Encore Health Resources (Finalist)

TJ Farnsworth, SightLine Health LLC (Finalist)

Taseer Badar, ZT Wealth Inc./Altus Healthcare Management Services (Finalist)

Logistics & Industrial Services

June Ressler, Cenergy International Services LLC (Award Recipient)

John Magee, Crane Worldwide Logistics (Finalist)

Carolyn Doerle, Doerle Food Services LLC (Finalist)

Brian Fielkow, Jetco Delivery (Finalist)

Sandy Scott, Sprint Industrial Holdings LLC (Finalist)

Oil Field Services

Cindy Taylor, Oil States International Inc. (Award Recipient)

Darron Anderson, Express Energy Services LP (Finalist)

Chris Beckett, Pacific Drilling (Finalist)

Christopher DeClaire, Vantage Drilling Co. (Finalist)

Oil Field Technology

Richard Degner, Global Geophysical Services (Award Recipient)

Robert Stewart Sr., Lime Instruments (Finalist)

Peter Duncan, MicroSeismic Inc. (Finalist)

Allen Howard, NuTech Energy Alliance Ltd. (Finalist)

Transformational CEO

Bob Beauchamp, BMC Software Inc. (Award Recipient)


A. Jay Harrison, Mav6 LLC (Award Recipient)

James Taylor, Arun Pasrija, CHR Solutions Inc. (Finalist)

Rick Pleczko, Idera (Finalist)

Andres Reinder, PROS Holdings Inc. (Finalist)

Published in Houston

When Eric Affeldt came in to run ClubCorp USA Inc., it was a 50-year-old company that had been operated by one family, and he recognized that change wasn’t going to be easy for the organization.

But change was necessary for the business, which owns and operates private clubs. With an aging population, many of the clubs’ members would soon not need a club or be physically unable to use one, so making them more appealing to younger people needed to happen.

“My biggest challenge is an ongoing challenge, and that’s how do you get people to look at the business differently every day,” he says. “Certainly markets change, consumer spending patterns change, consumer desires change, and you could continue to deliver the same product a consumer liked 20 years ago, but you may find yourself a dinosaur.”

He wanted to send a message that change was going to be a new part of the organization, so on his business card he printed his title as “catalyst and CEO.”

“(That) addresses the biggest challenge, and that is that many people are reluctant to change,” he says. “We’re all creatures of habit, and we all get in ruts, some are good, some are bad.”

Then he dug in. Here’s how he changed ClubCorp from a parochial organization to one that’s keeping with the times.

Paint a vision

To start the change process, Affeldt recognized that change must be intentional and that it started at the top with him, thus the title on his business card.

“It obviously indicates something is going to change,” he says.

Even though you know something is going to change, you have to have a specific idea in mind.

“No. 1, [great leaders] set direction, so they have a dream, they have a vision, and they have some place in their mind they can see going and get other people to go with them,” he says.

He wanted to focus on underserved markets and target more women and younger people to encourage them to become members of the clubs.

But he couldn’t just have an idea in his head of where the company was going to go and not let other people in on the secret — nobody would follow because they wouldn’t understand. So he set out across the country to talk to employees. In his first year in the company, he visited about 130 of 154 locations.

“It was face to face, answering questions, trying to convey a different sense of energy and focus, and frankly, curiosity, and just getting people comfortable that if I’m going to suggest that it’s OK to challenge the way things have been, it probably is OK,” he says.

For the most part, he received positive feedback from employees about the new direction, but he also encountered some resistance.

“There are clearly some that said, ‘This is not what I signed up for, and, frankly, who are you to tell us what to do?’” he says. “We’re the oldest company of our type in the industry. There were a few folks who thought we were too cool for school. … It’s always a challenge because it’s not unlike a new exercise program — it hurts for a little while to do some different things. You might know it’s beneficial, but it hurts for a while until your muscles get used to the new routine.”

He was also met with some opposition from club members. On one business trip, he was dining alone and an older member of the club approached him and asked why he was going to focus on bringing in younger people to the club — the older folks were the ones that paid his dues.

“I said, ‘Thanks, I appreciate your input, but the reality is with an aging demographic and people dropping out of clubs due to people not being able to play golf anymore, or they’ve retired and have no need for a business club anymore, it’s important to bring the next generation of consumers into the club. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about you, and we do want to have programs to serve you, but we need to keep new consumers coming in because the reality is, most people, myself included, won’t belong to a club because they either won’t have the interest nor the time or physical ability to do so,’” he says.

Affeldt says the man intellectually understood, but he really didn’t want to hear it, and that’s the common response most people took. He says the key is to continue to reinforce the plan and why it’s important and let them come around.

“Part of it is just stick-to-itiveness — here’s what we’re going to do, and we appreciate if this is new or different, but we are going to do it, and we are going to help you do it, and we’re going to tell you why we think it’s important,” he says.

Allocate resources

Once he had a vision in place and had communicated it to people, he had to provide the means to do so and give people a reason to care.

“No. 2, [great leaders] allocate resources,” he says. “That’s both people, getting the right people in place as well as capital dollars to grow the business.”

For the first part of that, he created an 11-member executive committee, and he said about seven of those members turned over in the first year, so having the right top people was critical. He and his colleagues pulled out their rolodexes and recruited sharp people they had previously worked with who would complement his team.

“It’s important to have people who have different skill sets than you do,” Affeldt says. “I use this analogy all the time that if you grab two batteries and put the pointy ends together in a flashlight, the flashlight is not going to work. It has to be a plus and a minus. You have to have people around you that have different skill sets that complement yours. At the same time, you have to have people around you who like to be challenged.”

When he was bringing those people in, it was important that they know the change the company was going through.

“Another critical word in my vocabulary is communication,” Affeldt says. “Very clearly articulating both to the people who stayed and the new people that our intent was not to milk this company, so to speak, but to transform it into ways that were more appealing to existing members and future members — making sure they were signed up for running faster, jumping higher and pushing the envelope.”

By communicating this goal upfront, he was hoping to get people who embraced change.

“There’s a quote I’ve used from Gen. Casey, who said getting people to embrace change is the toughest job of any leader,” he says. “The key word there is embrace — not tolerate or stand for it, but embrace it. It’s important to find people who have that same sort of passion for change and improvement, however improvement is defined.”

Aside from hiring the right people, Affeldt also allocated resources toward his employees in a way not many companies do — he created a 501(c)(3) for them. As the company celebrated its 50th anniversary, he decided to have a one-day fundraiser at his clubs to raise money for a multitude of charities, including a new one just for his team members. It was designed that when hardships hit his employees, they could receive free help, which they never had to pay back. Since starting it, he’s given away about $1.5 million to people who have lost their homes to flooding or fire, had their cars break down, or reached insurance limits and weren’t able to pay for medical expenses.

“By establishing that foundation, a lot of line-level employees said, ‘Wow, apart from actually paying me, these people are providing a safety net for me if something nasty happens to me,” he says.

Aside from the nontraditional resource allocation in the charity program, he also increased financial incentives for people to outperform their financial targets and invested about $250 million in capital back into the business.

“Our employees see we’re not just talking about improvements and then taking all the money to the bank and running away,” he says. “We’re actually reinvesting in them and their clubs.”

And when you put resources toward your employees to help them, it also creates the buy-in you need from them to do a great job and embrace the change. If you’re unsure of putting more money into your people, let data guide your decision.

He says, “For the skeptical, you can always tiptoe into the pool and try programs to see what kind of reaction you get with your employee partners, but there’s enough data that exists from a lot of organizations that shows what the power of incentives provides for growing companies in a variety of different industries.”

Ensure execution

He had to make sure that people were actually working on changing and that it just wasn’t a pretty plan sitting on a shelf.

“No. 3, and most importantly, [great leaders] ensure execution,” Affeldt says. “It’s not enough to have a great idea and to have other smart people working around you. You can’t just put your feet up on the desk at that point and say, ‘I hope it works.’ You’ve got to ensure that it works.”

The financial incentives he created certainly helped ensure that, but he doesn’t go off of his hunches to gauge whether execution is happening.

“We’re a relatively good size company – almost $700 million in revenue,” he says. “Clearly, the change is reflected in our financial performance as well as in some of the metrics we measure our business.”

He uses member numbers, the number of rounds of golf played, the number of meals served and other similar metrics to track ClubCorp’s progress.

“There are all kinds of analytics you can look at to say, ‘Something is happening here and hopefully something good,’” he says. “Then you say, ‘Why did that happen? Hopefully you can trace that back to, ‘Here’s the plan we had, here’s the people we allocated against it, and the performance is better.’”

As he looks around the organization today, the numbers are proving that ClubCorp. is growing and improving and changing each day, and he anticipates that continuing as he looks toward the future. But even more important, his people are now fully bought into the change.

“What they’ve told me is it’s a more egalitarian, collegial atmosphere, and the constant questions that I pose about, ‘What next, what next, what next,’ have sunk in,” Affeldt says. “People are now very comfortable with trying to come up with something that’s radical.”

How to reach: ClubCorp USA Inc., (972) 243-6191 or www.clubcorp.com

The Affeldt File

NAME: Eric Affeldt

TITLE: President and CEO

COMPANY: ClubCorp USA Inc.

Born: Los Angeles, and I grew up in Orange County, Calif.

Education: B.A. in political science and religion from Claremont McKenna College

What was your first job ever as a child, and what did you learn that still applies?

Pulling weeds and clearing out lots for a developer in our little community where I grew up — my first paid job, let me put it that way. I think I was 10.

I vividly remember I was working at a neighbor’s house over the weekend clearing a lot, and the nice neighbor lady wanted to pay me on Saturday night, and the job wasn’t finished yet. I said, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ My dad had taught me that when the job is finished, then you get paid. That was one of the first things I remembered from working.

And frankly, several of the jobs I had, there’s a lot to do with attitude. You go and do a job, trying to do as well as you can and hopefully enjoying it as opposed to saying, ‘Oh, I have to go pull weeds.’ Your attitude is extremely important.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I have to answer, because my faith is an important part of me, what Jesus said when asked, ‘What do I need to do to be saved?’  — love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s really good advice for everybody.

I don’t know if this was specifically said to me or came to me through parents, but the importance of being kind to other people is important and recognizing that everybody has their own stuff. It’s important to be kind as you go through your life, and people will respond to that.

What’s your favorite board game and why?

I like backgammon, frankly. It’s strategic, it’s fast, it’s quantitative to a degree, and there’s a cautious way to play, and there’s an aggressive way to play, and depending upon who you’re playing and the roll of the dice, you have to make decisions in real time as to how fast and how slow you want to play.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A kid, I wanted to play professional baseball. A younger man, I wanted to go into the ministry or play professional baseball or go into politics.

So how’d you get where you are now?

Oh gosh, that’s a really long story. A lot of serendipity, meeting people, friends would call it God-winks — things that just happen and you say, ‘How did that happen?’ — meeting people who encouraged me to go into finance and then to take a risk and to start my own company, then being invited to join another company with a friend. And through all of that, raising my hand too many times and volunteering for new things and just giving things a try.

Published in Dallas

In April, J&J Snack Foods Corp. announced that it had a deal in place to acquire several frozen-food product lines from ConAgra Foods. The acquisition added up to $50 million in annual sales for Gerald Shreiber’s company, but it also added new production facilities in North Carolina and Oregon, new people to integrate and new inventory to manage.

But as the economy slowly crawls out of the pits of the worst economic nosedive in almost 80 years, the acquisition is a reflection of Shreiber’s philosophy on running a business: Don’t be afraid to take a calculated risk in the name of growth.

“We have expanded our business almost every year,” says president and CEO Shreiber, who bought the company that would become J&J Snack Foods at a bankruptcy court in 1971, and grew it to $696 million in net sales last year. “Sure, we’ve been through three — or four or five — economic downturns, and we know it’s occasionally going to be bumpy out there. But we’re not going to manage our business out of fear, we’re not going to crawl into a hole and wait until it’s over. We’re going to expand our niches and expand our portfolio of products.”

Lean economic times may prevent you from spearheading across-the-board growth. You might find that certain areas of your business are treading water better than others. But you should, if at all possible, look for the select few growth opportunities that still make sense for your business, and capitalize on them.

At J&J Snack Foods, finding those growth opportunities means listening to customers, allowing team members to innovate, and maintaining a business structure that is always ready for growth and expansion.

“It is tough to grow a business and maintain levels of profitability when you’re faced with cyclical adjustments with respect to the economy and sales,” Shreiber says. “The fact that we’ve been able to meet those challenges speaks volumes for our people, our customers, our partners and our suppliers.”

Serve your customers

With a portfolio of products that includes cookies, soft pretzels and frozen beverages, Shreiber’s company has felt the pinch of consumers reining in their spending on trips to the supermarket. As more consumers stripped their shopping trips down to the basics of meat, vegetables, bread and milk, snack foods became expendable items on many families’ shopping lists.

“We realize that our products are not mainstay items,” Shreiber says. “They’re not meat and potatoes. They’re impulse items; they’re treat items. All of our items are not part of the everyday shopping experience.”

As shrinking budgets altered the way consumers spent, Shreiber and his leadership team have had to find new consumer touch points. They’ve had to look past the traditional concept of selling snacks in packages in a store aisle.

Customer feedback pointed Shreiber toward spaces where consumers were more likely to buy snack foods — such as sporting events, theme parks and schools.

“Now, we’ve developed a big presence in sports venues, from high school all the way to the professional ranks,” he says. “We have a big presence in sports, leisure and entertainment. With schools, we’ve had to reformulate several of our product lines that were being sold to school and education systems. We’ve had to eliminate most of the sugars, reduce some of the fats and reform some of our standards. But we’ve done it, all the while maintaining our sharpness and edge.”

The traditional method of soliciting customer feedback has been to collect it in the field, utilizing a salesperson at the customer interface point, talking to consumers and store operators about what they want and need. However, like the heads of many large companies, Shreiber has formalized the system beyond that.

“It’s a matter of getting good feedback, good marketing, good interactivity and good integration between our marketing people and our salespeople in the field,” he says. “Today, our research and development department likes to measure the opportunity that is being requested. We operate 12 plants throughout the country, so in that situation, you have to know where the request came from and start to get a reading on how you can best implement the thought and idea. That process has allowed us to invent new products, expand our product lines and development. I believe a good company has to take the box, shake it up and down, and reinvent itself from time to time. That’s where customer feedback comes in. They’re the people who are buying our products every day, somewhere, in some venue.”

Invest in growth

Even as the economy has faltered and Shreiber’s team has had to get more creative about finding new sales avenues, Schreiber has still maintained a willingness to invest in his company’s future. It is a major reason why J&J Snack Foods has remained in growth mode each year, regardless of the economic climate.

You might not always be able to invest large sums of money in large-scale growth initiatives, but if you are able to save what you can and carefully select the time to strike, you can still make a move with a lasting positive impact for your business.

“You do have to budget,” Shreiber says. “I like to say we’re flexible, but we’ve also been very conservative over the years. We don’t spend more than we earn, we’ve eschewed debt and stayed solvent. If you don’t shoulder a lot of debt, you give yourself more flexibility. We’ve had the availability of both cash and credit to look at expansion.”

Growth opportunities can help you expand on an existing area of strength, or can help you broaden your product offering. In Shreiber’s case, he’s looking for product lines that can supplement his company’s existing portfolio.

“If you look at a good football team with good management, they’ll find the missing pieces,” Shreiber says. “The good teams will do it constantly all the time. It’s a matter of making your resources fit properly. Occasionally, we’ll look at a dozen to 15 things before we think we’ll have found something that fits us — the right company, the right location or the right portfolio of products.”

Investing in new growth also means investing in the people involved. Shreiber refers to it as “installing new batteries” in the people, particularly if growth means acquiring a new business unit.

“We want to kind of give them a new energy,” he says. “That’s the whole point of installing new batteries. In the case of the recent ConAgra acquisition, we brought our key plant people to visit us here at our headquarters just before we closed on the business. We had two or three days of sales and strategy meetings, and had some of their other people visit our facilities.”

Shreiber’s staff and the incoming unit leaders collaborated on a series of lists, between 10 and 12 items in length, each with a 100-day goal in mind. At the end of the fiscal year, Shreiber and his team reviewed the progress against the stated goals.

“Above all, you’re looking at how this product line fits in with what we’re doing, how you’re getting the message out to existing customers in areas that you weren’t operating in before, and how we’re getting it out to new customers,” Shreiber says. “I’m cautiously optimistic about our situation with this acquisition, that we’ll get this to work and be on to the next challenge in a relatively short period of time.”

Investing in growth also means investing in the support structure to accommodate growth. Though a self-admitted computer novice, Shreiber has invested heavily in IT support over the past decade — an effort to make his company more efficient, more scalable and a better conduit for information.

“If nothing else, that technology gives the CEO good, concise, clear information all the time,” he says. “So you can’t be afraid to grow and invest in your company, and that is something I encourage other CEOs to do. Even though we area a public company and answer to shareholders, I’m still the controlling shareholder and as long as I’m around, my mantra will never change.”

Plan for growth

Even if growth isn’t an option right now, if you want to grow again at some point, you should continue to operate with growth at the center of your long-term plans. That means fashioning a strategic plan with aggressive yet realistic goals and ensuring that you don’t backslide on the principles that made your business a success to begin with.

“Sometimes it’s a little more difficult if gas reaches $4 a gallon,” Shreiber says. “People drive less. If they drive less, they go less often to the places where we sell most of our products. So we are often challenged that way. That’s when you’re looking to ensure that your merchandising remains a priority, that you’re taking a good look at the locations where your products are delivered and that you’re delivering good value to the customer and, ultimately, the consumer. It’s almost like a running train. All of the cars are connected in there, and if something comes loose, there is going to be an issue. As the leader, you have to be the supreme conductor to make sure nothing comes loose. If it does, you make sure that someone reconnects it right away.”

Shreiber tries to plan for the short-to-medium term, but refrains from looking five-to-seven years down the road. Too much can change in the economy and in the industry in half a decade to accurately assess the plan of action.

“If you plan for five or seven years from now and you get everybody following that plan like a book, there are things that can happen in the short term that can affect that,” Shreiber says. “You want to be able to respond and react to opportunities, so our long-term planning stays within three years.”

Every business is different. Each business has its own market to serve, its own processes, its own structure and different methods of management. But the same principles of facilitating growth apply no matter what product you make or what service you provide. You have to know what your customers want, know what your business is set up to provide, and you have to continually invest in initiatives that will help spur growth.

“Every business is different,” Shreiber says. “We turn over our inventory 12 to 15 times a year. If you’re in the auto industry or heavy construction, maybe it’s a little different. But we’re buying our raw materials, packaging and ingredients on a regular basis. You have to invest in the business and invest in the opportunities you find, as opposed to throwing a cover over yourself because of the recession. Good companies are impacted by the recession, but you get through it by doing more things more often, and doing them in a better way.”

How to reach: J&J Snack Foods Corp., (856) 665-9533 or www.jjsnack.com

Giving back

In addition to his business career as founder, president and CEO of J&J Snack Foods Corp., Gerald Shreiber is also an animal enthusiast and lifelong supporter of animal rights organizations in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey. Supporting animal rights causes has become one of Shreiber’s passions, and Smart Business recently spoke with him about it.

As a child, I always had an affinity and love of animals, particularly dogs, but certainly all animals including horses, cats and rabbits. I would find homeless dogs, bring them home and fib to my mother that they just followed me.

At 11 or 12 years old, I would clean horse stalls to ride for free. I always believed there was some magic in communicating with dogs and that I had some of that magic. Later when my career flourished, I felt a responsibility to give back and do what I could to help animals.

The Shreiber Animal Foundation Enterprise is a corporation organized and operated exclusively for charitable and educational purposes and for the prevention of cruelty to animals. I also support organizations such as the American Anti-Vivisection Society, the National Humane Education Society, the North American Wildlife Park Foundation, PETA and the Pennsylvania SPCA.

I believe animals should be treated with respect and dignity at all times and I support those causes that share my beliefs.

Published in Philadelphia

When A.G. Lafley became Procter & Gamble’s president and CEO in 2000, the company had 10 billion-dollar brands. When he retired from his position as chairman, president and CEO in 2009, the company had 23 billion-dollar brands. Viewed as one of the best chairmen and CEOs in P&G history, Lafley accomplished what he did through a focus on innovation and the consumer.

Four billion times a day, P&G brands like Gillette, Old Spice, Tide, Charmin, Pampers, and Duracell touch the lives

of people around the world. Lafley and Chris Thoen, former director of innovation and knowledge management at Procter & Gamble, spoke last November at the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum in Palm Springs, Fla., to share their insights into how innovation and consumer focus has been the key to P&G’s success.

“The biggest decision we made was to move to an open innovation platform,” Lafley says. “The problem at P&G in 2000 was not that we weren’t inventive. The problem with us was that we weren’t turning that invention into innovation that created customers, that benefitted customers, that created value for customers or a better experience for customers, and that’s all I wanted to do.”

The drive and focus on innovation Lafley instilled in the company during his time there is now one of the most important aspects of the organization’s business.

“Our belief is that innovation is the way for a sustainable competitive advantage and business growth,” Thoen says. “Everyone in the organization breathes it in and out every day. At Procter & Gamble, we see it as the cornerstone to develop the best possible products for consumers everywhere in the world. Innovation has been a great game changer at P&G, especially over the past 10 years.”

P&G had net sales of $78.9 billion in fiscal 2010. Here is what Lafley and Thoen had to say about how the company’s biggest advantage is its ability to innovate.

Innovate for the consumer

P&G innovations have become so successful and a part of people’s daily lives because the company innovates its brands with the customer in mind 100 percent of the time.

“I’m a big believer in pushing the idea, the innovation and the technology in front of the prospective customer very early in the process,” Lafley says. “I learned this working with a lot of very good design shops. We used to spend way too much time and way too much money designing and engineering pretty ornate prototypes. I pushed us to prototype very quickly and prototype very crudely. Consumers are smart. … You just want them to get the idea.”

Not only does P&G innovate with the customer in mind, but it strives to understand its customer base for new products.

“For us, the consumer is the boss,” Thoen says. “It’s the consumer that hands over the money to the cashier and makes a choice to buy a product of P&G or a competitor’s products. So for us, it’s really important to understand what the consumer wants and to be able to deliver that experience. That means understanding the consumer fully. To go forward with that, it’s finding the best possible innovations to put those into the products.”

Once consumers grasp a concept for a product, you have to test it to see if the product holds true to its purpose in a real situation.

“I also believe in getting into some kind of transaction test,” Lafley says. “You don’t know if you have something until somebody will part with some money. You can run all kinds of research and people will say that they are going to do something, but you can’t believe any of it until you actually have to reach into their pocket and pull out hard-earned money, hand it to somebody else who is going to take it away from them and then get that product to try it.”

Innovating products that customers can’t live without doesn’t come without trial and error. You have to be willing to fail and work until you get a product that consumers want.

“The failure rate is high; that’s part of the game,” Lafley says. “Many fail multiple times. We just introduced a new chemistry foam-based feminine hygiene product that we worked on for 13 years. We failed so many times with that technology I can’t even tell you. But we stuck with it because we knew if we delivered it, it was going to deliver protection and security that no other existing technology could come close to. You’re going to fail and you’re going to fail multiple times. I always encouraged fast failure and I preferred cheap failure. I didn’t want to drop $50 million or $60 million. That’s a high price to fail even for a company with deep pockets.”

You can’t underestimate the importance of being able to innovate. You have to identify innovations that will help your business keep growing well into the future.

“As I’ve looked at a number of other industries, virtually all the value gets created by innovation,” Lafley says. “At our company, all of our revenue growth was either organic innovation — serving new brands or new products or better products and improvements in existing brands — or it was acquiring. In our view, an acquisition was a platform for future innovation. We didn’t buy Gillette because we wanted their male shaving business. We bought Gillette because we thought Gillette would be a fabulous platform for male personal care innovation for the next 50 or 100 years. Innovation drove everything.”

Hunt for innovation

Innovation isn’t always easy to come by. You have to be willing to ask for help and let partners in business know that you are innovating.

“For us, it’s tapping into a network of partners, ecosystems, and they range from the individual, the innovator, inventor, to small and medium enterprises, to big enterprises,” Thoen says. “Where the innovation comes from is not important. It’s finding it, doing the right thing with it in our context, putting it in the right products, and then delivering that innovation to the consumer.”

Even if your business is a known leader in innovation, you have to let it be known that you are looking for assistance with new innovations.

“I think we are still trying to get the word out,” Lafley says. “We did all kinds of things. We got a lot closer to our customers and I mean our retail customers, our distributors. We reached out to universities and research laboratories and we tried to get the word out to individual entrepreneurs. One of the things we did was we ran these big innovation fairs. We would run it for two or three days and it was sort of, you had to give if you wanted to receive. So we would show off some of our technologies that we were looking for partners on. Then we would invite people in to show off theirs. It starts out with making a couple of connections, ‘Gee, maybe I have an idea you might be interested in’ and you talk to a third party.”

P&G has a huge network of past and present employees, and it puts that network to good use.

“An amazing source for us was the thousands of people who had worked for P&G that had moved on and I reconnected with them,” Lafley says. “Believe it or not, former P&Ger’s around the world get together and they have these big events. They created a community where they connect on business ideas, they connect on entrepreneurial ideas and they connect on innovation and we started getting a lot of leads from former P&Ger’s, colleagues of former P&Ger’s, and friends of former P&Ger’s.”

The company also utilizes its websites to gain ideas. You have to use all your resources if you want to find the best innovations and ideas.

“We pose those same needs on our PGConnectDevelop.com website,” Thoen says. “A lot of people can go and visit that web site and say, ‘I think I have a solution for you.’ They then submit their idea onto the website. Within P&G, we have a back store process to go in and evaluate those ideas and see if they fit with our strategy and what we want to do. Once those ideas come in, we also have a commitment to those partners that have submitted those ideas to come back to them within a very reasonable time frame, four to six weeks, on whether or not this is an idea that has traction within the company and we want to move forward with it.”

To find or develop products or services that will become true game-changers, you have to be able to get different view points on that innovation.

“All innovation comes from people and you have to open them up and you have to open up to the world around you,” Lafley says. “All innovation comes from either a person or a small group of people making unlikely associations or connections that others don’t make. Everybody’s going to be looking at it, but you have to see it in a way that’s slightly different.”

Find what consumers want

To build upon your innovation, you have to know what consumers are looking for and what you can do to give them what they want. You have to know what products are and aren’t the right fit for your business.

“It’s clearly important to define what are the areas where we want to play and the areas where we don’t want to play,” Thoen says. “For many years, this was all about physical products, consumables. Those will continue to be important, and we have significant business units where we have developed a strong portfolio of products and will continue to strengthen the performance of those products and make sure they have the right value. But what we’ve found is that the consumer is not only looking for products, they’re looking for services. So as we set ourselves up for success in the future, we need to make sure that we follow that trend into the market and make sure that we don’t only have consumables but also have the right services.”

As you try to develop future endeavors you have to devote the time to those projects to make sure they fit.

“One thing you have to keep in mind is how do you balance the return from the present with the investment of the future?” Lafley says. “The other is what business are you in and what businesses do you want to be in and what businesses should you not be in and they are kind of related. I spent a lot of time with what businesses do we want to be in. And I spent a lot of time on making sure that we were putting enough resources, not just financial resources but human resources, in partner investment and acquisition investment for creating the future. I probably spent a third of my time on people development and talent allocation. I easily spent a third to a half of my time on innovation for the future and creating a strategy and a platform for the future.”

A big part of what an innovator does is create something that builds a relationship, creates a better experience, delivers some value and creates trust over time.

“We have a very simple business model in most of our businesses,” Lafley says. “We try to create a brand that makes a promise that you’re interested in and a promise that will make your life a little bit better. We try to deliver a product that delivers better value and a better experience in performance value. Then we try to generate some trial. We try to get some people who we think are most interested or most in need of the brand or product to try it. Then we hope that you like it enough and you come back and try again and will use it on a regular basis. That frankly, is our game and that’s the secret of success to our brands. They have higher trial rates and they have higher usage and loyalty rates and that’s what makes it go.

“At least with consumers, a successful brand is a promise that’s kept. A successful product is a promise that’s kept. If you can take it one more step and add some delight, I not only kept the promise, but I delighted you in some unexpected way then you’re off to the races. That’s what you’re trying to create.”

HOW TO REACH: Procter & Gamble, (513) 983-1100 or www.pg.com

The Lafley File

A.G. Lafley

Former chairman, president and CEO, Procter & Gamble

Born: New Hampshire

Education: Bachelors degree from Hamilton College; MBA from Harvard University

Experience: He joined Procter & Gamble in 1977. He was named a group vice president in 1992, an executive vice president in 1995 and president of global beauty care and North America in 1999. He served as president and CEO from 2000 to 2009 and was elected chairman of the board in 2002.

Accolades: During his leadership, sales doubled, profits quadrupled, and P&G’s market value increased by more than $100 billion dollars.

He was named “CEO of the Year 2006” by Chief Executive Magazine. He received the 2010 Edison Achievement Award, an annual award recognizing leaders that have made significant and lasting contributions to innovation, marketing and human-centered design throughout their careers.

The Thoen File

Chris Thoen

Former director of innovation and knowledge management, Procter & Gamble

Education: Masters degree in science and chemistry and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Universiteit Antwerpen

Experience: He joined P&G in 1988 as an R&D scientist for Fabric and Home Care. In 1993, he became section head of R&D for Fabric and Home Care. In 1997, he was named associate director of R&D for Fabric and Home Care. In 2003, he was promoted to R&D director of technology for Fabric and Home Care. In 2007, he was named Personal Health R&D director. In 2009, he became the director of innovation and knowledge management.

Published in Cincinnati

Kaiser Permanente is proud to partner with Smart Business to present the 2011 Innovation in Business awards. We’re honored to help recognize the region’s most forward-thinking organizations and the visionary people who lead Northeast Ohio forward.

Kaiser Permanente has a strong history of innovation. The health plan evolved from the industrial health care programs for the workers of Henry Kaiser’s companies during the 1930s and 1940s and was opened to public enrollment in 1945. The innovations Kaiser Permanente brought to U.S. health care include:

  • Physician group practices
  • A focus on prevention
  • An integrated care delivery system

As this year’s honorees know, innovative organizations don’t sit still. Kaiser Permanente’s founding physician, Dr. Sidney Garfield, recognized the potential of health information technology in the early 1960s, but very limited options existed at the time.

Over the last several years, Kaiser Permanente implemented its comprehensive health information system, Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect. KP HealthConnect is now being used nationwide in Kaiser Permanente’s 454 medical offices and 36 hospitals.

KP HealthConnect is the largest civilian electronic health record system in the world. It gives our organization advantages no one else can duplicate.

  • Physicians, specialists, nurses, pharmacists, lab techs, radiology techs and more are all connected to each other and to the 8.8 million members they care for in real time. In 2010, Kaiser Permanente members sent nearly 11 million e-mails to their physicians and viewed nearly 26 million test results online.
  • The number and diversity of health records in KP HealthConnect enable unprecedented research opportunities that were never possible before.
  • Built-in treatment guidelines help improve the management of chronic conditions and reduce health care disparities. According to the Institute of Medicine, it takes an average of 17 years before a new best care practice becomes the standard for even 50 percent of specialists in a given area. In Kaiser Permanente’s integrated delivery system, we can go from cutting-edge knowledge to implementation in just one year, as noted in “Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century,” a Kaiser Permanente Care Management Institute presentation delivered at the Institute for Healthcare conference in 2005.

Organizations that don’t stay true to their reasons for existence — their customers and their core business model — disappear. Those that don’t innovate also disappear. The key is to be true to who you are as an organization and simultaneously innovate. We salute this year’s honorees and congratulate them on their ability to balance both aspirations so beautifully.

Joe LaGuardia is vice president of marketing, sales and business development at Kaiser Permanente. Reach him at (216) 479-5547 or joseph.m.laguardia@kp.org.

Published in Akron/Canton

Susan C. Kelley doesn’t want her employees to provide great customer service because she told them to do it. She wants them to do it because they feel and believe that it’s the right thing to do.

“In my view, it’s creating a culture where employees want to treat the customer that way,” says Kelley, president of Shell Vacations Hospitality and Shell Vacations Club. Both are part of Shell Vacations LLC, which has more than 1,700 employees.

“The only way you’re going to create that culture is face time with your employees and creating an environment where your company is human,” Kelley says. “There’s no one single thing that a company or a CEO does to create that culture. It happens over time. It happens because management spends time with the employee.”

And it happens when you stand by your word and become someone who your employees can trust.

“If you say you’re going to give a performance review every year, then you have to do it,” Kelley says. “If you say you’re going to create incentive programs for you, you have to do it.”

And if you say you’re going to survey your employees on a regular basis and gather their feedback on how the business is being run, you have to do that too.

“If a hot button issue for an employee, which it always is, is to feel empowered and appreciated, we can create training programs and incentives that are going to help that employee feel empowered and appreciated,” Kelley says. “I’m a huge believer, and it’s been proven in our organization, that that employee turns right around and that’s exactly how they treat the customer.”

Here’s how Kelley uses surveying to stay tuned in with her employees and to help them provide better service to customers.

Set the stage

Shell Vacations was a much different company when Kelley arrived in 1994. For one thing, there wasn’t really a system in place as to how customers were to be treated. It varied depending on which employee was providing the service or at which resort it was being provided.

Kelley wanted to change that. So she launched an effort to gather feedback from both employees and customers as to what they expected from the company.

“If you can gather the priorities of your employees and your customers, then it becomes a function of culling through that information and saying, ‘OK, what kind of training do we need to provide to our employees to reinforce what’s important to that employee, but mesh it with what the hot button is for the customer?’”

Surveys obviously can be an effective way to gather this kind of information. But before you take that step, you need to go talk to your people face to face.

“It doesn’t help any company or any CEO to just send out the survey and say, ‘Here, take the survey.’ Then it has zero credibility,” Kelley says. “Particularly if you’re trying to create a culture where this becomes a way of life on a long-term basis and not just the one time. In order to do that, you have to go out and talk to your employees and tell them what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”

In some cases, the face-to-face conversations may be enough to gather the feedback that you need.

“If I was a CEO of a company that had 100 or fewer employees, frankly, I too perhaps would question how critical [a survey] was, knowing I could spend time with 100 people in my organization in any given month, quarter or half year,” Kelley says. “But when you have hundreds of employees or over 1,000 in our case, the ability to find out what they are thinking and feeling is absolutely essential to the success of your organization.”

In Kelley’s case, a survey was needed as she was trying to build something that would have a lasting impact on the company. So she explained to people exactly how the survey process would work before it was to be carried out.

“We tell employees, ‘OK, you’re going to take the survey on Oct. 2’ or whatever the date may be,” Kelley says. “We will have the results by Nov. 5 and by no later than Nov. 10, we’ll be scheduling departmental meetings to go through the results of the survey.”

You also need to work with your direct reports to make sure they are clear about the schedule and to make sure that they understand how critical it is that everything happen according to the plan.

“My direct reports provide me with a very detailed timeline of exactly the schedule for the survey,” Kelley says. “When is it being rolled out? When are we expecting the results? Here’s what we’re going to do when we get the results. Here’s the action plan of how we’re going to follow up on those results. So we actually train management on what the proper process is for following up on the action plan.”

It’s these details and your commitment to them that can make a difference in how seriously your employees take your survey process.

“One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is making promises and then either not following through or being very late in following through on those promises,” Kelley says. “I always tell the management team that reports directly to me, it’s like spanking a puppy for having an accident on the carpet. If you don’t catch it right away, it no longer has any meaning.”

Trust the experts

Your best bet for conducting an effective survey of either your employees or your customers is to find a third-party company that does it for a living.

“We look for a company that has done surveys in our industry,” Kelley says. “We look for a company who is willing to sit down with us and understand our company’s culture, our company’s mission and service statement and our service goals. A company that every time we do a survey, and we’ve been doing our surveys now for almost 12 years, it’s willing to go through the results of those surveys with us before they get rolled out to the employees.”

The best thing is to find a company that you can stick with on a long-term basis as it’ll be able to track changes and trends that you are going to want to know about as more surveys are conducted.

“They can look at trends and compare information from the prior survey and provide us with analytics from having so much experience,” Kelley says. “They may say to us, ‘Sue, all of a sudden your results in ‘I feel appreciated’ have jumped 10 points across your company. Have you done something different in your organization in the last six months that would have caused the results of that question to jump by 10 points? It’s hugely beneficial for us because we can take a look at how what we’ve done has had a positive or negative impact on the survey. They are our partners.”

So with that long-term view in mind, provide a sense of what you’re looking to accomplish with your surveying. A good survey company will work with you, although they may not always agree with you.

That’s when you need to keep in mind, this is what they do for a living.

“They initially provide us with stock questions,” Kelley says. “We sat with them and said, ‘Fifty percent of these questions work for us, and 50 percent we’d like to tweak.’ They said, ‘Your tweaks don’t work.’ There are scientific reasons why and that’s why they write surveys and we don’t. But they said, ‘We understand where you’re trying to go with your tweaks, so let’s alter the question and see if it works for you.’ So they provide us with the stock questions, but for that 50 percent we wanted to tweak, they helped us customize them for our particular organization.”

If a company is not willing to work with you, it’s probably not going to provide the benefit you’re looking for. So you want to find someone you feel comfortable with and someone who you feel is after the same goal that you are.

“They are our partners,” Kelley says.

Make it matter

Surveys of customers are very similar to employee surveys in that you’re typically after the same goal: to get good feedback that you can use to make your organization better. The difference is that customers come and go all the time and it can take some effort to reach them depending on what your business does.

Shell Vacations uses electronic surveys with customers that include drop-down menus that ask for more feedback if someone had a negative experience in a particular area. But perhaps more importantly, the cover letter on the survey is signed by Kelley.

Customers are also reminded when they check in and when they check out that the surveys are of great value to the company.

The idea of surveying is one that should be valuable to any business, whether that company in the hospitality business, the manufacturing sector or any other type of industry.

“Every business in this day and age is competitive if for no other reason than with the Internet,” Kelley says. “You can buy anything and everything by going to Google and typing one word and finding 1,000 different organizations that provide the same product. In our world, as fast as it’s moving, understanding your customers’ needs and your employees is translatable to any type of business or organization.”

You need to show yourself to be someone who is tuned in to what’s happening in your business and responsive to the needs of both your employees and your customers. You need to show people that you care.

“In the bigger picture, this is not just relating to surveying,” Kelley says. “It’s very important for management, if there is a glitch, if there is a concern, if a particular division of the company or particular area of the company begins to slip or has a trend that’s going in the wrong direction, you can’t get mad about it. You have to look at it objectively and create an action plan to try to fix it. You have to be patient. Take a deep breath and count to 10. Don’t immediately assume that somebody is doing something wrong.”

How to reach: Shell Vacations LLC, (847) 564-4600 or www.shellvacationsclub.com

The Kelley File

Born: Chicago

Kelley on her big career break: “In between graduating from high school and going to college, I needed to have a job. I had a scholarship to go to college but there were ancillary expenses. So I needed to have a job. I went to downtown Chicago looking for a job and walked into the Congress Hotel on Michigan Avenue having absolutely no clue what people did that worked in hotels.

“I was very fortunate that I was hired for the summer. I worked there the entire summer between high school and college and I absolutely loved it.”

But the college thing didn’t really work out.

“I went to college in the fall and absolutely hated it. There was not a moment in time that I was in college the first semester that I didn’t wish I was back at the hotel working.”

So after being offered a full-time job with the hotel, back she went.

“For me, it was like somebody handed me a check for a million dollars. … I never went back to college, and I have worked in the hospitality industry ever since.”

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?

This was from Jerry Sikes, front office manager at the Congress Hotel. He had tremendous patience in this young girl who had stars in her eyes, but also willingly, openly and without a moment of hesitation taught me everything that he knew. He said, ‘Just try to figure it out and if you make a mistake, pick yourself back up and figure out another way to get it done until you get it right.’

Published in Chicago
Page 2 of 4