Businesses cannot overestimate the importance of a well-planned transportation infrastructure. Easy commutes for employees build morale and productivity. Faster response times for mobile service crews produce loyal customers. And gas prices of more than $3 per gallon impact the bottom line.
For Shermco Industries — a thriving company specializing in electrical power system and wind generator repair — proximity to airports, highways, customers, and comfortable and diverse neighborhoods for employees to live in were all keys to its corporate relocation success story.
“Relocating to Irving – Las Colinas provided us with an extensive network of highway systems and transportation options that help us meet and exceed our customers’ expectations for timely arrival, and allow us to attract and keep top talent,” says Lonnie Mullen, vice president of operations for Shermco Industries.
Smart Business spoke with Mullen about how the thoughtfully planned infrastructure of the Greater Irving – Las Colinas area enticed his growing company to relocate its operations from Dallas.
What factors make Irving – Las Colinas a great place to do business?
The cost of doing business in Irving has a respectable value compared to the surrounding cities, and Texas real estate in general has maintained its value despite the recent downturn. Irving is an established, business friendly city, centrally located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. More than 10,000 businesses call Irving home, including Fortune 500 companies ExxonMobil, Fluor, Kimberly-Clark, Celanese and Commercial Metals Co.
Irving is regarded highly as one of the top cities for business in the nation and recently was ranked one of the nation’s Top 50 Best Places to Live. Not only is Irving a great place to work and build our company, it’s also one of the best places for our employees to reside and raise their families. Irving had exactly what we were looking for.
We were established in Dallas, a short drive from Irving. In 2000, our success demanded that we move to a bigger facility, and Irving offered the business solution we were looking for with a selection of cost-effective and functional real estate opportunities. We settled on a great building in an ideal location within an industrial complex next door to Frito Lay — one of our customers.
How has the move impacted Shermco’s bottom line growth?
When our customers need us to work on their equipment, they need help right away. Having easy access to Irving’s transportation infrastructure, including several highways, two major airports, commuter rail and the planned light rail service, is a great value to us as well as our customers.
The transportation infrastructure in and around Irving is a very important function for our company. We are an international provider of testing, repair, professional training, maintenance and analysis of rotating apparatus as well as electrical power distribution systems and related equipment for the light, medium and heavy industrial base. A lot of our business is service-oriented, so time truly is money.
Since relocating to the city of Irving, our business has continued to flourish. When we moved to Irving we had 100 employees. Today we have 425 employees, including 280 at our Irving location. We are very proud to be consistently ranked among Dallas’ finest companies by the Dallas Business Journal, which recognized us as a mid-sized company finalist for the publication’s 2010 Best Places to Work. More than 400 companies entered into the survey process, but only 23 mid-sized companies were chosen as finalists.
Another factor driving our growth is Irving’s Economic Development Partnership group. The group is engaged in both the business and governmental sides of our city. It’s extremely helpful in a sense that I’m able to ask the same group of people questions that involve either subject, essentially speeding up the process for our business to make a solid decision. And it gives you a sense of pride to know you have a partner that’s invested and supports your success.
How does the city’s transportation infrastructure help attract top talent?
To be the best you have to attract the best talent. In Irving, we have access to a work force of more than 3.1 million people within a 30-minute commute. Being established in a city like Irving that offers an excellent quality of life, an affordable cost of living and reasonable commutes has allowed us to attract and maintain our valuable employees.
Our employees and their families have access to many culturally diverse activities in and around Irving, including the Irving Arts Center, the Dallas Arts District, Six Flags amusement park, several water parks, and professional sporting venues including the Dallas Cowboys, Mavericks basketball, Stars hockey and Rangers baseball.
What are some of the best-kept secrets of doing business in Irving?
There are none. The city and the Greater Irving – Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce work very hard to make sure there are no secrets. They are truly invested in business and they want all the businesses in Irving to succeed. Come to Irving and you’ll quickly find out the city is very pro-business.
The Greater Irving – Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce comprehensively helps businesses large and small with plans to relocate their headquarters or expand operations to Irving. The Chamber is prepared to guide companies through a comprehensive process including business development strategy, strategic site selection, community demographics, expansion management, location selection, site consulting, corporate real estate management, corporate office relocation, location analysis, corporate site selection, corporate real estate strategy, corporate headquarters relocation, business relocation and corporate relocation management.
Lonnie Mullen is vice president of operations for Shermco Industries. Reach him at (972) 793-5523 or email@example.com.Visit Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce at www.irvingchamber.com.
Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Greater Irving - Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce
Human beings find comfort in routine. As children, we gain a sense of security from knowing what will happen, when it will happen, for how long and how we are expected to react to each situation. As we mature, knowing that home and family will be where we left them allows us to go out and explore the world as young adults, secure in the knowledge that we can always come home if we need. However, as we age, this penchant for sticking to the routine can work to our detriment.
We begin to settle in at home more and more, often opting to camp in front of the television rather than venture into a new neighborhood or to try a new vocation. Our sedentary ways can have damaging health consequences, most significantly for that muscle that drives the body: the heart. To stay strong, the heart needs daily movement that includes periodic challenges (to force it to pump more oxygen than normal), foods that declog blood vessels and keep them flexible, limited preservatives and refined foods, and regular activities that relieve stress. But, once sedentary, inertia can make it seem as if changing our habits is an insurmountable task.
However, with concerted effort in three areas, what I call affect, behavior: and cognition – the ABCs of Change - we can break the cycle and embrace good cardiovascular practices.
First, start by tracking your moods, your activities and your thoughts in relation to heart-healthy activities such as walking, jogging or any other activity that works up a sweat. Jot down on paper how you are feeling and what you are thinking at the moment when you decide to engage in any act that undermines your heart.
Next, write down how you will change your behavior each time you feel yourself slipping into the unhealthy mindsets that precede unhealthy behaviors. Now, write down what things inspire you to get up and move or to make heart-healthy decisions.
Then, commit to doing at least one heart healthy activity each day and to modifying your environment as needed each time you feel yourself sliding into unhealthy practices.
Last, give yourself time. Generally, it takes 21 days of repeat activity to develop a new habit; however, you may slip up. They key is to review your strategy and recommit each time you fall. Ultimately, your heart will be the better for it.
Patricia Adams is the CEO of Zeitgeist Expressions and the author of “ABCs of Change: Three Building Blocks to Happy Relationships.” In 2011, she was named one of Ernst & Young LLP’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year Award and the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year for Region VI. Her company, Zeitgeist Wellness Group, offers a full-service Employee Assistance Program to businesses in the San Antonio region. For more information, visit www.zwgroup.net.
In business, confidence is key. I would say that it is foundational. All other factors, such as motivation, training, drive and leadership, depend upon a core of inner confidence.
Whether you work for someone else or run your own business, tapping into your inner confidence is vital in order to succeed. A few people do this with the greatest of ease, but for most of us it is a daily challenge that takes hard work and determination.
Here are four “tools” that will help you to find and tap into your inner confidence in order to propel your business forward:
First: Refuse to give consent.
I pull this idea from a saying of Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Refusing to give consent to feeling inferior is the jumping off point for the daily challenge of using confidence in business. Here is what I mean:
Your first step into tapping your inner confidence is to refuse to see yourself as less, no matter what anyone else might say. This refusal forces you to take a stand and begin to think differently about yourself.
Dr. Wayne Dyer says reminds us here that: “Self-worth comes from one thing – thinking you are worthy.”
When you take this first step, it awakens your inner confidence. It stirs it up and gets the ball rolling. It becomes active in the process of your success.
Quite simply - it empowers you.
In business, being empowered leads to the desire to grow, the ability to step outside your comfort zone and the determination to act. I have discovered through coaching others that empowered, powerful people do powerful things.
Tapping into your inner confidence requires you to step up refuse to see yourself as inferior, less or wanting.
Second: Be willing to change.
Unwillingness towards change holds you and your business captive. It takes the wheels right out from under you and stifles vision and action. It halts growth.
I believe that fear of change is a problem of confidence. Most business people who struggle with change are, at the root, struggling with confidence. For some, it is easier to stay stuck and inactive.
They do not realize that being willing to change frees up your inner confidence. The willingness becomes the catalyst to move past the fear. It frees you up and drives you forward.
What kind of change must you be willing to consider? You must be willing to change your thinking.
Having the same thought patterns over and over again is not beneficial to your success. The problem is that the same old thoughts lead to the same old behaviors and, in the end, the same old results.
Albert Einstein said it this way: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
In order to propel your business forward, tap into your inner confidence by being willing to change your thinking.
Third: Envision the end result.
This tool is about making choices.
In his book, “Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others,” George Kohlrieser talked about these choices when describing successful athletes:
“The power of imagination is incredible. Often we see athletes achieving unbelievable results and wonder how they did it. One of the tools they use is visualization or mental imagery….they made the choice to create their destinies and visualized their achievements before they ultimately succeeded.”
Story after story has been told about athletes, race car drivers and men and women in business who have taken the challenge of looking into their mind’s eye and envisioning the end result they desire. They “made a choice to create their destinies.”
In my opinion, visualization is the tool that sets your inner confidence in stone. Tapping into this well is a sign for all to see that you have the confidence needed to achieve your desired result, whatever it might be.
Fourth: Practice positive self –talk.
Over the years, I have encountered two very distinct groups of people when it comes to self-talk. The first is the over-the-top, fake, often arrogant folks who can’t stop talking about themselves – always with a positive “I’ve done that and better than you” attitude.
The second is the self-humiliating, always down on their luck, also fake folks who can’t find one good thing about themselves.
Both groups are uncomfortable to be around. Neither group will work well in business.
The ability to speak to yourself in kind and affirming ways builds up the well of inner confidence and keeps it alive and well. This ability is necessary to energize yourself as you encounter the ups and downs of life and business.
Positive self-talk is the maintenance tool. It keeps everything running smoothly.
There you have it – four distinct and powerful tools. Refusing to give consent, together with a willingness to change, the ability to envision the end result and positive self-talk, will allow you to tap into your inner self confidence and propel your business forward.
I wish you all the best on your journey.
DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.
She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.
You might think I’m a warm, fuzzy and “Kumbaya” kind of Guy. Most of the time I am, but I have strong feelings about e-mail etiquette and what it takes to get your e-mail read — and answered.
As someone who gets dozens of e-mails every day and sends a handful of e-mails every day to get strangers to do things (“digital evangelism”), I offer these insights to help you become a more effective e-mailer.
Craft your subject line. Your subject line is a window into your soul, so make it a good one.
First, it has to get your message past the spam filters, so take out anything about sex and money-saving special offers.
Then, it must communicate that your message is highly personalized. For example, “Love your blog,” “Love your book,” and “You skate well for an old man,” always work on me. While you’re at it, craft your “From:” line, too, because when people see the “From:” is from a company, they usually assume the message is spam.
Limit your recipients. As a rule of thumb, the more people you send an e-mail to, the less likely any single person will respond to it, much less perform any action that you requested.
This is similar to the Genovese Syndrome (or the “bystander effect”): In 1964, the press reported that 38 people “stood by” while Kitty Genovese was murdered in New York.
If you are going to ask a large group of people to do something, then at least use blind carbon copies; not only will the few recipients think they are important, you won’t burden the whole list with everyone’s e-mail address. Nor will you inadvertently reveal everyone’s e-mail address.
Don’t write in ALL CAPS. Everyone probably knows this by now, but just in case: Text in all caps is interpreted as YELLING in e-mail. Even if you’re not yelling, it’s more difficult to read text that’s in all caps, so do your recipients a favor and use standard capitalization practices.
Keep it short. The ideal length for an e-mail is five sentences. If you’re asking something reasonable of a reasonable recipient, simply explain who you are in one or two sentences and get to the ask. If it’s not reasonable, don’t ask at all.
My theory is that people who tell their life story suspect that their request is on shaky ground, so they try to build up a case to soften up the recipient.
Another very good reason to keep it short is that you never know where your e-mail will end up – all the way from your minister to the attorney general of New York. There is one exception to this brevity rule: When you really don’t want anything from the recipient and you simply want to heap praise and kindness upon him or her. Then you can go on as long as you like!
Quote back. Even if e-mails are flying back and forth within hours, be sure to quote back the text that you’re answering. Assume that the person you’re corresponding with has 50 e-mail conversations going at once. If you answer with a simple, “Yes, I agree,” most of the time, you will force the recipient to dig through his deleted mail folder to figure out what you’re agreeing to.
However, don’t “fisk” either (courtesy of Brad Hutchings). Fisking is when you quote back the entire message and respond line by line, often in an argumentative way. This is anal if not downright childish, so don’t feel like you have to respond to every issue.
Use plain text. I hate HTML e-mail. I tried it for a while, but HTML is not worth the trouble of sending or receiving it. All those pretty colors and fancy typefaces and styles make me want to puke. If you can’t say it in plain text, you don’t have anything worth saying.
Control your URLs. I don’t know what’s gotten into some companies, but the URLs that they generate have dozens of letters and numbers.
It seems to me that these 32-character URLs have almost as many possible combinations as the number of atoms in the universe — I don’t know how many URLs a company intends to create, but it’s probably a smaller number than this. If you’re forwarding a URL and it wraps to the next line, it’s very likely that clicking on it won’t work.
Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the Web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of 10 books including “Enchantment,” “Reality Check” and “The Art of the Start.” He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through www.guykawasaki.com or at email@example.com.
Most of us sincerely want to be a better person, manager, spouse, significant other, parent, child or Indian chief. Certainly, good intentions and desire are the first steps in self-improvement. The second step is an introspective discovery process combined with a bit of discipline in order to make meaningful progress.
To get started, ask yourself several pointed questions. Has anyone ever made suggestions to you about your management or communication style? Maybe it was a boss or mentor, a good friend or an associate earnestly trying to give you a few constructive tips on how to improve. Best yet, it might have been self-discovery after you did something that did not quite measure up to your own expectations.
Reality is, for most of us, our strengths can also be our biggest weaknesses. As an example, if you're a type A, anal-retentive person who is detail-oriented to a fault and always crosses every T and dots every I, possibly this strength has morphed you into becoming a micromanager of others. Or, maybe you consider yourself a disciple of the great communicator, the late President Ronald Reagan, because you are a terrific speaker who can captivate the other person in one-on-one conversation or every individual in a large audience. The downside of this is maybe you're not a great listener because you fall in love with the sound of your voice and your words. This could translate into you talking too much and unintentionally giving the wrong impression of not being receptive to another person's point of view.
The list can go on and on. The trick, however, is to recognize what you are and what you're not, and then tweak your style for the greater good, helping not only yourself but also those with whom you interface by making yourself more effective and perhaps even a little easier to take.
Try this. Create two columns on a legal pad or spreadsheet and list all of the attributes you think you possess in terms of your management capabilities/style. Keep the list short and focus on what's important, as this is not an inventory of everything you've done or learned since the third grade. Once you've captured two, three or four key characteristics, in the next column record a corresponding set of those things you know don't help your cause.
Next, re-read this personal inventory of pros and cons and look for patterns. If you note, as an example, that you are incredibly disciplined and seldom give yourself any slack, see if you also jotted down on the detractor side of the ledger that people tend to think you push subordinates too hard without differentiating between what is mission-critical versus basic tasks. If you spot this corresponding weakness, it doesn't necessarily mean that you suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, but you might just need to recalibrate your standards when dealing with others, recognizing that your subordinates don't have to become your clone to be successful.
Once you've drilled down on the most important characteristics that you want to change, it's time to develop a game plan. For illustrative purposes, let's again assume you're that great communicator, but you sometimes go over the top and incessantly interrupt others, which leads to missing out on their ideas, not to mention becoming a bore. If this is your Achilles' heel, you must focus on the triggers that cause you to behave in this manner in order to strive for improvement.
Maybe you're really not self-consumed, but instead, your mind races ahead to follow-up thoughts that you want to make without allowing enough time for others to absorb and comment on your initial words of wisdom. This suggests you need to put a mental circuit breaker on your lips after you make your first major point, allowing for a long pregnant pause to let others amplify on your point or introduce an opposing or complementary thought. By doing this, you'll help make the conversation or presentation more interactive, which may lead to better resolutions or open the door to new unexplored concepts or opportunities.
Armed with this newly created self-assessment, you'll become a more productive and better leader who has learned to make your strengths stronger and reduce the negative effects of your weaknesses.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Also available wherever books and eBooks are sold, and from Smart Business Magazine and www.SBNOnline.com. Contact Dustin S. Klein of Smart Business at (800) 988-4726 for bulk order special pricing.
There are plenty of warnings about wanting too much in this world, whether it is in your personal life or as the CEO of a company.
Remember the dot-com bust? Prior to the technology market bubble bursting, tech companies could do no wrong. Investors were ignoring basic fundamentals because “this was a new era” and the old rules didn’t apply. Well, it turns out the rules did apply. As did one very old rule about “what goes up, must come down.”
Tech company valuations were slashed by billions, thousands were laid off and the ripple effect was felt throughout the economy.
More recently, we experienced the real estate bust. It was pretty much the same story — people ignored basic investing and common-sense rules and the prices for real estate went sky-high, and then the bubble burst. The results were also the same: billions in value lost, thousands of jobs affected and the ripple effect was felt throughout the economy.
There is plenty of blame to go around for these events, both by investors who got caught up on the hype and CEOs who were trying to get rich, or at least richer than they already were. It was a quest to have the biggest paycheck, the biggest yacht, the biggest plane and the biggest house. The reckless CEOs were trying to use get-rich-quick methods that are dangerous to everyone.
There are four common ways to grow a company:
- Going public through an IPO
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Debt financing
- Self-funded organic growth
IPOs cost a lot of money to launch and even more money to maintain. The second and third methods are all about leverage. Overvalued stocks and overleveraged companies were major contributors to the tech and real estate busts. Too many CEOs were borrowing more and more money to fund the next great merger or open more locations. When tough times hit and the money dried up, they had lived well beyond their means and a harsh reality set in.
Despite these recent economic failures, many companies are still playing with borrowed money, overleveraging themselves and putting their entire company at risk. You have to understand the leverage game and the risks that come with it. The best way to grow a company is to create an environment that fosters growth and to focus on building long-term relationships.
This isn’t to say that you won’t make a strategic acquisition here and there or occasionally borrow money to fund needed expansions. The key is to do it in moderation and understand how too much debt can hurt your ability to grow. Making a mistake with debt can spell doom for your company and everyone in it.
Your responsibility as CEO goes far beyond yourself. Investors obviously are counting on you, but so is everyone that works in your organization. For some of your vendors, you might be their largest account. If you suddenly went out of business, how would it affect them? Would you create your own mini “bust” that rippled through the local economy, even on a micro scale?
In today’s world, you need to take a hard look at how you are leading your company. One wrong move could cut you off from the credit you need to fund your leveraged growth. With no money, the organization often collapses under the weight of its own debt.
It’s OK to be satisfied with what you have and not play the high-risk game of leveraged growth. Growth is good but not when it requires an “all-in” risk that can ruin your organization and the lives of the people who work there. Remember, more often than not, slow and steady wins the race.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
If everyone in your organization was as invested in and knowledgeable about your company’s strategies as you are, your team would be unstoppable, right?
But how do you get everyone from the vice president of sales to the front-line worker to embrace that concept? I would argue that a targeted communication strategy can help get you there.
Tailor your message
Know your audience. Be concise and talk about issues that matter most to that particular group.
For example, in the Moe’s business, our general managers don’t care how many franchise deals we’ve sold, although it’s important to us. And our investors don’t care about our quarterly promotions, although those are important to us also.
Why does your audience care about what you have to say, and what is the one thing you hope they walk away remembering?
Consider the mode
Some people like to learn by doing. Others like to learn by listening. When communicating, know what your audience prefers, and present accordingly.
For example, general managers work in a fast-paced environment and are on their feet all day. It’s difficult for them to sit still and watch a PowerPoint for hours, whereas the VP of sales is used to that style.
At Moe’s, we do annual regional meetings were we pay for our general managers to attend. We try to make this meeting interactive with roundtables, panels and frequent breaks to keep our audience’s attention.
The timeliness of the message and the workflow of the audience can help you determine the appropriate vehicle. We know our managers and crew members are working in the restaurant all day, so if we send an e-mail at noon, they most likely will not read it until late that night. So if it’s something that can’t wait, perhaps a phone call or text message would make more sense.
Determine the frequency
In order to cover all of our bases, we communicate with franchise partners and general managers weekly via e-mail, quarterly via a newsletter, annually via regional meetings and biannually via a worldwide conference. Clearly, we know it’s important for this group to be hearing from us constantly and in various formats.
I meet with my management team monthly because it’s important that group understand what is going on with all departments so they can report back to their teams. Our stakeholders hear from us quarterly because they are most interested in financial data and trends.
It’s important to develop a communication strategy in advance to ensure wide attendance and rich content. Let people mark their calendars a year in advance if possible to reiterate the importance of the meeting.
Remember when communicating to articulate your message in a way that is most appropriate for your audience. Just because you prefer a certain form of communication does not mean your audience feels the same.
Lastly, always measure your success. Our conferences and regional meetings are always followed by a survey soliciting feedback so we can learn how to be better. We also do an annual associate and franchise partner satisfaction survey to find areas of opportunity. <<
Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 430 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the food service industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at pdamico@moes.
Richard Carrano knows all about stages — not the prosceniums on which actors ply their trade, but the phases through which companies evolve as they grow.
He also knows how hard it can be for a business to advance from one stage in its development to the next. The transitions seldom come easy.
Carrano has worked for Purchasing Power LLC, an Atlanta-based e-commerce company, since its inception in 2001, initially as chief financial officer and more recently as president and CEO. Purchasing Power, which offers a program that enables its clients’ employees to purchase expensive items like computers and home appliances via a payroll deduction plan, has grown swiftly through three developmental stages over the last decade.
Carrano says the key leadership challenge he has faced is helping Purchasing Power maneuver through the transitions from one stage to the next.
“That has been the toughest thing, managing the evolving leadership needs of a high-growth company as it transitions through different life-cycle stages,” Carrano says. “And those stages come much more rapidly with a company in our space and our size.”
Carrano identifies Purchasing Power’s first stage of development as the period from its inception until it reached about $50 million in annual revenue.
“That first stage took us from ’01 to ’06,” he says. “The leadership needs in a company in that stage focus on what we identify as heroes.”
Heroes, as Carrano describes them, are employees who are versatile and cool-headed in the heat of battle. However, some of the less exciting but still crucial developmental tasks like establishing routines, procedures and best practices are not among the heroes’ strengths.
“Heroes are generalists who are very comfortable wearing many hats,” Carrano says. “They’re great at putting out fires. But subconsciously, they’re not wired to put in process. So what happens is, because of that lack of process, they get to continue to play the hero role. They continuously ride in on the white horse and save the day.
“In an early-stage business environment, when you’re still not exactly sure if the model is going to pan out, and with the limited amount of investment that you’re able to make in head count, you need that generalist, someone that can do many different things.”
The second stage of Purchasing Power’s growth path took the company from $50 million in annual revenue to $100 million.
“Stage 2 for us was from ’07 to ’09,” Carrano says. “At that point, we started transitioning away from the heroes and started looking for what we identify as bricklayers.”
Bricklayers are people whose forte is establishing the framework for a company’s future — the processes, the routines, the procedures that govern how employees do their daily jobs.
“The bricklayers are individuals who have a focus on process and on building the foundation of stability,” Carrano says. “And in situations like this, the CEO is sometimes put in a position where they’ve got this liability of loyalty to all those heroes that have helped them get to that point in time. But unfortunately some of the heroes aren’t maturing their skill sets as quickly as the business’s needs are changing.
“That’s a slippery slope for the leadership of the organization,” he says. “You’ve got these heroes that their co-workers identify as very important, value-added people. And then the next thing you know, they’re starting to transition out, or maybe into different roles, at the same time that the bricklayers start coming in to build the process, the foundation, the infrastructure, so that the scale can be digested.”
The third stage of development, which Purchasing Power is currently undergoing, started when the company reached $100 million in annual revenue and will end at the $200 million level, in Carrano’s estimation.
“We’ve recently entered what we identify as Stage 3,” he says. “This third stage, for us, has been from 2010 through the present. This is where we’re starting to supplement our leadership with specialists.”
Specialists are people who have developed deep expertise in an area in which the company has a need to help it continue to develop and grow.
“The processes have been defined; we’ve got a good understanding of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” Carrano says. “So now we’re looking to bring in some specialists to focus and introduce best practices. These are individuals that have had successful careers in other environments that translate well into our environment. And these are the individuals who really help you begin to maximize productivity, production consistency, and predictability.
“In this stage, the way we identify it from an economic resource allocation point of view, you’ve gone from where you might have had one person straddling two different roles and maybe doing each of them at a mediocre level, and now you’re at a place where you’ve broken that down into two specific roles,” he says. “You’re hiring one person to perform each of them, and you’re expecting excellence in both.
“Being able to identify and recognize what stage you’re in as a business is critical at the leadership level, to make sure that you’ve got the right people leading the organization.”
Manage the transition
The most complicated part of leading a company through its growth stages, Carrano says, is recognizing when it’s time to start making a transition — and more to the point, recognizing when it’s time to start making the changes that will enable the company to successfully navigate the next stage.
“There are a couple different concepts I rely on to do this,” Carrano says. “One of them is something I categorize as awareness and emotional intelligence. This is something that we look for in every senior-level leader.
“When deadlines are slipping, the quality of the work might not be what it used to be, and you have that conversation with the individual, and they look at you like you’re crazy, like you have no idea what you’re talking about and everything is fine, that immediately suggests something isn’t right here,” he says. “The needs of the business have obviously outgrown the capabilities of the individual.”
Another signifier that Carrano says he looks for is a two-parter: effort and execution.
“Those are two factors that we look at in gauging the performance of people, especially those in leadership roles,” he says. “Obviously, effort is always first and foremost. If the effort is where it should be, then you can work on the execution. And the execution might be improved by way of additional coaching, training, systems, things like that. But if you don’t have the effort, then you can’t even get to the execution. It’s irrelevant at that point.
“When we’re looking at the organization and the need to make a transition, we’re looking at the people that we have in leadership roles,” Carrano says. “If the effort’s there, we’ll work with them. If the effort isn’t there, we can pretty much recognize that we’re never going to get there, so we know we need to start making changes.”
Loyalty and accountability
Managing a company’s transition from one developmental stage to the next requires a keen understanding of loyalty — and of which constituencies the CEO needs to be most loyal to.
“Again, it’s that liability-of-loyalty concept,” Carrano says. “We’ve all heard the phrase,‘What got you here isn’t going to get you there.’ I think for the senior-level leader to recognize that they’ve got a fiduciary responsibility to not only their investors, but equally to the current employee base, they really need to be responsible for making sure that the building blocks for the future are the right ones. Just because you’ve relied on certain skill sets to get you to a certain point, that doesn’t mean those skill sets are the ones that are going to get you to the next level.”
Times of transition are always stressful, and the CEO often needs to make difficult decisions, and to do so quickly.
“I always put it in the context of: I don’t want to get to a certain level and look back and feel like I short-sold the opportunity by not making the decision that was the right one,” Carrano says. “While those may be tough decisions, that’s the CEO’s job. They have to make the tough decisions. They need to recognize when those changes need to be made, and ultimately they need to be accountable for making them.”
Conversely, when it comes to timing, a transition from one phase to the next shouldn’t be shoved along too quickly. The CEO has to allow for some overlap of the people being brought in versus those being moved out, as well as the incumbents being converted to new roles.
“There are a couple of pitfalls you have to watch out for,” Carrano says. “The first is not having a contingency plan, or not having some redundancy built into your overall plan. Even though you’ve brought in your bricklayer or your specialist, if they’re not up to speed, or if your processes aren’t up to speed, and your firefighter is gone, then you might find yourself in a situation where you’re in a tight spot and you don’t have anyone there to step in and save the day — and you might still need that.
“So the urge to rush through these transitions is something you have to avoid,” he says. “To just knee-jerk and start making changes without laying out a prudent timeline could put you in a position where you’re left without the process that you need in place, and you’re without the individual that can help you get through it in the interim.”
Another key pitfall to avoid is not adequately explaining to employees the context and the need for the changes being made.
“You really need to communicate well with the folks that will be left after such a transition,” Carrano says. “You have to be able to reach out to them and articulate the vision and help them see the future. If you don’t, the grapevine might take over and paint a picture of what’s going on that isn’t reality. It’s critical to control the message so you can bring those individuals to the point of clearly understanding what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”
Lastly, Carrano says it’s crucial to understand that some people have key assets that need to be retained, and some will surprise you with their capacity to handle change and convert their skills to a new role.
“If you’ve got a good understanding of what’s going on in the business and the people who are involved in it, there might be circumstances that you can tailor one way or the other,” Carrano says. “That hero might be able to transition into a different role that is equally beneficial. And a lot of those heroes have incredible amounts of historical knowledge, and you always need that.
“So when you’re having the conversation with the individual, those are the situations where you perhaps need to act differently,” he says. “If they understand the future vision of the company and the need for change, and they recognize that they might not be the right person for a given role, then the ability to continue to get value out of them in other roles and retain that historical knowledge is something that you should absolutely be willing and able to find a way to do.” <<
HOW TO REACH: Purchasing Power LLC, (888) 923-6236, www.purchasingpower.com
THE CARRANO FILE
Name: Richard Carrano
Title: President and CEO
Company: Purchasing Power LLC
Born: Wilmington, Del.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting, University of Richmond; MBA, Emory University
What was your first job, and what business lesson did you learn from it that you carry with you today?
I worked as a stock clerk in a convenience store, and it was really about hard work — breaking down boxes, stacking stuff in a freezer that was 35 degrees. It wasn’t fun; it wasn’t glorious. But that’s what work is about sometimes: grinding it out and getting the job done.
Do you have an overriding business philosophy that you use to guide you?
On the theme we’ve been talking about — hiring senior-level leaders — the goal should always be to get one step closer to engineering yourself out of a job by only hiring great people that are capable and motivated to take your job. If you’re doing that, then you’re only building strength in the organization, which will clearly leave the organization in a better place.
What trait do you think is most important for a CEO to have in order to be a successful leader?
Obviously they need to have the passion and the intimate knowledge of the business. And they need to be a person that’s willing to make everyone else uncomfortable by asking the questions that nobody wants to answer.
How do you define success in business?
The way we communicate it here with our employees is what we call, simply, happiness. When you do something and you know it was the right thing to do and it makes you feel good, in most cases, that’s going to lead you down a path to success.
What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
My first job after college was in accounting with Deloitte & Touche. When I was working there, my uncle, who was in sales, said to me, “Whatever you do, don’t cook the books.” When you think about it, you can apply that to almost anything.
Criminal background checks conducted during the hiring process can both save employers money and protect their business.
“If your employees come in direct contact with your customers and cause them harm, your business can be liable if that employee has a criminal record,” says Jessica Ford, CSP, vice president of operations for Ashton Staffing, Inc. “A background check can also provide insight into an individual’s behavior, character and integrity.”
Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its policy on the use of criminal background checks during the hiring process to discourage discrimination based on race or national origin.
Smart Business spoke with Ford about the importance of criminal background checks and how recent changes are impacting the process.
Why should an employer conduct a criminal background check during the hiring process?
Employers check potential and current workers for several reasons. The things an employer wants to know about a candidate can vary by industry and job function. The most common reasons for conducting a criminal background check are to alleviate negligent hiring; identification verification; checks for a history of child, handicap and elderly abuse; corporate scandals; and most of all to make sure the applicant is telling the truth. It’s estimated that more than 40 percent of resumes contain false or misleading information. Employers want to insure that what they are getting in an employee is what they were promised. The employer might perform a background check to find out whether a candidate actually graduated from the college they said they did or to confirm the candidate worked at their previous employers during the time stated on their resume or job application.
When conducting a criminal background check, what should employers look for and why?
Employers should evaluate each background on an individual basis based on the position the applicant is applying for. Anyone working with children in the state of Georgia must be fingerprinted and processed through the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. This comes as a result of events occurring during the past 10 years. Adult supervisors such as Little League coaches, teachers, day care workers and even the people serving children lunch at school fall under this guideline. Felony convictions of any kind or misdemeanors involving violence, drugs or abuse would result in the applicant not being hired.
When screening potential executives, directors and managers, employers should look for any discrepancies in their job history, verify their education, check their financial history and look for any “white collar” crimes like embezzlement.
There are unique issues surrounding the production and manufacturing industry when it comes to hiring. Many of these positions offer low wages and attract those with few skills or time invested in education. For these positions, you should evaluate what is vital to your organization. Candidates who have a history of violent crimes or felony drug convictions, such as distribution in the past seven years, are probably not a good idea. If the candidate has a record of theft, consider what that could mean for your business and the types of products you produce or sell. Also take into consideration how long ago the candidate was convicted and if it was a single incident.
What has changed because of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s updated policy on criminal background checks?
In April of this year, the EEOC issued new guidance on the consideration of arrest and conviction records in employment decisions. It determined that the use of an individual’s criminal history during the interview and hiring process could constitute discrimination and makes an attempt to discourage using the information differently based on an applicant’s race or national origin.
As a best practice, you should only consider convictions when reviewing criminal background checks, not arrests. Arrest records are not proof of criminal conduct, as they might not report the actual outcome of the situation so they should not be used as grounds for exclusion. Conviction records, on the other hand, typically serve as sufficient evidence that a person engaged in a particular conduct. These records are more reliable and the use of them by an employer is more defensible.
The EEOC does not have the authority to prohibit employers from obtaining or using conviction records. It simply seeks to ensure that such information is not used in a discriminatory way, which is why they are suggesting companies stop using a blanket policy, such as no felony convictions in the last seven years. Instead, review each criminal background result on a case-by-case basis and make sure your requirements make sense for that position. Review the credit and financial history of anyone who will be working in accounting, for instance.
How will these changes affect the way an employer uses criminal background checks for employment screening?
Lawsuits are on the rise. If an employee’s actions hurt someone, the employer could be liable. The threat of liability gives employers reason to be cautious when checking an applicant’s past. A bad decision can wreak havoc on a company’s budget and reputation as well as ruin the career of the hiring official. Employers no longer feel secure in relying on their instincts as a basis to hire. On the other hand, though, if you are too stringent and have unrealistic expectations for position then you are setting yourself up for an EEOC charge. Anyone who has ever been involved in an EEOC investigation can tell you it is not something you want to do.
If an employer is unsure of his or her rights regarding criminal background checks, call your corporate attorney or even the EEOC. The commission is very helpful and can give you very unbiased advice.
Jessica Ford, CSP, is vice president of operations for Ashton Staffing, Inc. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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There is a reason the saying “Location, Location, Location” has persisted in the real estate business.
Take, for example, CIO Thom Davis, of Omega Environmental Technologies, and his wife Grace, founder and CEO. In 2009, they moved their Dallas-based company 10 miles down the road to where they were living in Irving, Texas. They found that relocating to the new ZIP code brought a number of advantages.
“When you have your business in one city and live in another, it’s hard to be as involved as you’d like and still have your full work day,” says Davis. In addition to improving the personal amenities surrounding them, the couple also tapped in to a host of business perks with the help of the Greater Irving – Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce.
Smart Business spoke with Davis about what Irving has to offer, why they made the change and how other businesses may benefit from making the move, as well.
What led to the decision to move, and why Irving?
The business needed to double its space, as we’ve been pretty fortunate in our growth over the years. When we looked at where we should move, Irving was our first choice.
There were a number of reasons we picked Irving and one was to get closer to an airport. We manufacture and distribute mobile air conditioning parts for a range of vehicles to 87 countries, so we’re doing a lot of international business, shipping some 25 percent of our products through airlines.
We wanted to improve access in and out of the facility and be easily reached by customers and suppliers. The company is now about six minutes from the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
It also was a good fit culturally. My wife and I had been living in Irving for 12 years and wanted to be more involved in the city’s civic life. Irving is a very diverse city — some 53 languages from 96 countries are taught in the school system — which fits in well with Omega because our 66 employees represent 13 nationalities.
Irving has two paid symphonies, one volunteer symphony, an award-winning musical theatre and many activities that are convenient and inexpensive. And that’s not even looking at the cultural benefits of both nearby Dallas and Fort Worth. Since relocating, 15 of Omega’s 66 employees and their families have moved into Irving.
What aspects of the city have helped your business?
Transportation and location are definitely big assets. There are major north/south highways and east/west thoroughfares that either run right through Irving or are on the edges of the city. One new addition is the light rail, which will be very convenient for foreign guests who are used to train travel, allowing them to visit companies in the area. The leg from downtown Dallas to Irving opens in July; the section that runs from Irving to the airport is under construction and scheduled to open in 2014.
There are plenty of comfortable hotels scattered throughout the city and there’s no price point visitors can’t find. Our customers typically stay for a week and many bring their families because when you’re leaving Brazil or Italy to come to the U.S., you’re not coming for an overnight stay. With Irving’s central location, visitors’ families are easily entertained in downtown Dallas, which is only 15 minutes away, and downtown Fort Worth, which is only 20 minutes away.
Are there any other factors about Irving that makes it a good fit for businesses?
There’s a willingness to help on behalf of the city, aided by the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, because there’s an understanding of how important business is to Irving. Dallas didn’t offer any incentives when we looked at space still within the city but closer to the airport. With a smaller city — Irving consists of more than 216,000 people — there’s more support from city leaders and staff and it involves people who are higher on the administrative chain.
Irving has more than 8,500 companies, including the headquarters of five on the Fortune 500 list and a presence of almost 50 more on the Fortune list. It also has more U.S. Chamber Small Business Blue Ribbon Award Winners than any other city in the U.S. It’s a city that spends a lot of time and energy trying to recruit and help the small and large businesses already there.
How has the city helped your business since the move?
There were some incentives that came from the chamber of commerce and the city itself. Since most of our goods are shipped offshore and purchased in the U.S., the city granted us a tax abatement. Irving also designated us as a free trade zone, which means as long as we move products in and out of the city in 90 days we don’t have to pay personal property tax on those products.
What is your advice to other companies that are considering relocating?
The first thing you need to do is contact the chamber of commerce. Many chambers, such as the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, are the economic development arms for cities. These chambers have put together programs to help make it a one-stop shop for new businesses coming in.
So instead of having of run all over trying to find this person and that person, the chamber will give you the guidance and help you address any issues, such as obtaining permits.
Thom Davis is chief information officer at Omega Environmental Technologies. Reach him at (972) 812-7099 or email@example.com. Visit Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce at www.irvingchamber.com.
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