Weakness in the job market may well be followed by an increase in the number of cases of resume fraud. Unemployed people are feeling the pressure, and while they likely won’t be fined or jailed for lying on their resumes, that’s no reason to avoid telling the truth. MJ Helms, director of operations for The Ashton Group, says that in most cases, human resource departments should be doing background checks and comparing people’s social media accounts to their resumes.
“Apart from being morally and ethically wrong, lying on a resume can lead to problems for the company that hires this person, and everyone loses,” Helms says.
Smart Business spoke with Helms about how to make sure you don’t recruit someone with fake credentials.
How can employers be sure resumes are accurate?
The information that job candidates most often falsify on their resumes are employment history, skills, education records and salary details. To check the validity of their claims, conduct an initial phone screening with candidates that you as a hiring manager or human resources representative are interested in pursuing. This will save the time you would otherwise spend bringing in people who have not been properly qualified for face-to-face interviews.
What should employers look for if they suspect a resume is falsified?
Recruiters receive many unqualified candidates who apply for positions through Internet job postings. When submitting an application through these avenues, candidates generally omit or falsify information they believe will turn off potential employers, such as positions they held for a very short period of time and being fired. Recruiters and hiring managers should watch for:
? Unexplained gaps in employment
? A reluctance to explain the reason for leaving a job
? Unusual periods of self-employment
Always corroborate the above information by calling references, including clients they had during self-employment periods. Be aware that candidates falsifying this information might provide fraudulent references. Always check the websites of previous employers and use the phone numbers found online for employment verification.
How can you screen candidates’ job experience?
A person submitting a false resume knows that companies and recruiter agencies search for candidates through online job boards using keywords. They also know that to end up in the top two to three pages, they need to match as many keywords as possible, so they add skills to their resumes that are commonly searched for by companies, whether they possess the skill or not. Ask candidates to send updated resume with details for their listed skills, specifying whether they’ve applied the skill on the job or just had a training course. If they have undergone training, find out where that was undertaken and for how long.
If they have hands-on experience, find out when it was obtained and when it was that they last applied it in a work environment. Asking these questions forces them to cut down their list to only those skills with which they are most comfortable. Now they know you’re serious about qualifying them. If you are recruiting for a technical position and they’ve listed skills or experience you’re unclear about, have someone within your company who has these skills conduct the initial technical phone screening.
How can you verify a candidate’s education?
Some candidates might exaggerate their educational history. To screen them, contact the college or university on the resume to verify a degree was granted. Applicants might list a completed degree when they did not finish all courses and graduation requirements. If a college name is unfamiliar, check the website of the school, verify its accreditation and evaluate the nature of the school.
Diploma mills — institutions of higher education operating without the guidance or supervision of a state agency and/or professional association that grant fraudulent diplomas — abound online. There are more than 400 diploma mills in operation, with another 300 websites offering counterfeit diplomas.
What types of candidates are most likely to exaggerate on their resumes?
Faking and embellishment are both commonly found on resumes, especially on those of salespeople. Candidates in this field tend to add their fixed salaries, their sales-based incentives including potential incentives that would have been theoretically paid to them if they had met some highly improbable sales goals and wrap these up into their ‘current salary. Some companies ask to see the last pay stub or W2 form om sales candidates to verify their claims. However, it may be illegal to ask, so check with your state labor department. Make sure you ask someone if his or her annual salary includes a bonus. If it does, look for the amount or percentage of salary and find out whether it is based on individual or company goals.
How can employers be sure candidates worked where they say they had?
Watch for companies with buzzwords such as Tech, Info and Infocom in their names, as these can be fictitious. If you have never heard of the company, check the Registrar of Companies online to see if it is actually registered. At the interview, ask specific questions about which office they worked in, the address, how many people work in that company and the name and phone number of the immediate manager. If a company employs more than 100 people and they give the name of the CEO for everything, look into it further.
Remember that mistakes and misunderstandings do happen. If you find a discrepancy, give the candidate an opportunity to explain. Use common sense and trust your intuition and experience. If something doesn’t seem right, follow up on it.
MJ Helms is director of operations for The Ashton Group. Reach her at email@example.com.
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Learn how SBA Financing can help your business grow & succeed
Thursday, May 31, 2012
10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. EST (US & Canada)
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Brief description of the topic:
In trying to grow their businesses, owners often find themselves seeking credit to finance those expansions.
Join Kreischer Miller, Fox Rothschild LLP and PNC Bank for this free webinar that will be hosted by PNC Bank and Smart Business to learn how U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan programs may help.
The SBA offers a variety of loan programs that provide basic to complex financing solutions that business owners might not be able to attain conventionally. Hear from our well-versed panel — a CPA, an attorney and a senior SBA business development officer — who will go through case studies that show the unique ways SBA loans can be structured to help businesses successfully grow and expand.
In this session you will learn:
- How the SBA transformed since the Small Business Jobs Act was passed in 2010
- Benefits of SBA financing vs. conventional financing
- Overview of the SBA 7(a), 504 and Express Loan Programs
- Case studies showing creative ways SBA loans can be structured
Steven E. Staugaitis, a CPA and leader of Kreischer Miller’s Entrepreneurial Services specialty services group. Steve focuses on serving privately held companies with their accounting, tax and business advisory needs.
Thomas J. Kent, Jr., is a partner and Attorney for Fox Rothschild and co-chairs the firm’s Franchising, Licensing & Distribution Practice. He focuses on franchise law as well as mergers and acquisitions.
Lisa Kennedy, Vice President, Senior Business Development Officer at PNC Bank is one of the top SBA lenders in the nation. With over 22 years of SBA financing experience, she has helped fund over $150 million in SBA loans.
The Webinar and/or materials were prepared for general information purposes only and are not intended as legal, tax, accounting or financial advice, or recommendations to buy or sell securities or currencies or to engage in any specific transactions, and do not purport to be comprehensive. Under no circumstances should any information contained in the seminar, and/or materials be used or considered as an offer or a solicitation of an offer to participate in any particular transaction or strategy. Any reliance upon any such information is solely and exclusively at your own risk. Please consult your own counsel, accountant or other advisor regarding your specific situation. Any views expressed in the seminar and/or materials are subject to change without notice due to market conditions and other factors.
PNC is a registered mark of The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (“PNC”). Banking and lending products and services and bank deposit products and investment and wealth management and fiduciary services are provided by PNC Bank, National Association, Member FDIC.
©2012 The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
Executives are some of the busiest people I know. They are often some of the unhealthiest, as well.
The trend in today’s workplace is towards doing more and more with less and less. This adds strain to the already overworked executive. That strain affects the health of the executive and hinders his or her ability to do their job effectively.
This trend cannot continue. It is destroying the lives of too many top-notch professionals.
Here are 27 tips for staying healthy as a busy executive:
1. Remember to smell the flowers. Take time out to enjoy the little things in life. Being just as impressed by small events as large ones helps to cultivate wisdom and clarity.
2. Stop living a “hit-and-miss life.” Living aimlessly is like shooting multiple arrows that miss their targets. This is a waste of time and not a trait of an effective leader.
3. Anxiety is anticipation run riot. Anticipating the worst keeps us from enjoying the present. Realize that anxiety does not facilitate self-control.
4. Remember to take breaks. Taking breaks during work helps you accomplish more during the time that you are working.
5. Avoid procrastination. Remove temptations around you such as an instant messenger program or magazines, which might tempt you from being efficient at work.
6. Keep things simple. Eliminate the things that cause clutter in your life, such as unnecessary magazine subscriptions, paper and too many unused gadgets.
7. Take care of yourself. Executives who look haggard or tired tend to have more responsibilities heaped on them, because your physical condition and dress sends the message that you permit that.
8. Commit yourself to exercise at least three times a week. Keeping yourself in shape will help you perform efficiently in all areas of your life.
9. Always eat breakfast. Low blood sugar as a result of not eating properly can cause unproductive afternoons.
10. Take your vitamins. If you eat constantly on the run to save time, take vitamins to avoid potential slumps in energy.
11. Bag your lunch. Not only is this cheaper, but it is more nutritious because you have control over what you eat. This can spare you from eating empty calories that exhaust you.
12. Sit down with your family for dinner. This is the one thing that you can do each day to bond with family members. It also saves money and allows you to control your diet.
13. Make dates with your mate. Planning romantic outings keeps your relationship erotic and alive.
14. Get professional help. If you can’t cope due to bad time management skills or emotional problems, get the help that you need.
15. Ask for help if you need it. Pride prevents most executives from asking for assistance from higher ups or colleagues. Being trained wastes less time than trying to figure out something yourself.
16. Make sure you have quiet time. Set personal time aside for yourself each week doing something that you enjoy doing alone. This gives you clarity and is a form of meditation.
17. Get enough sleep. People who are sleep deprived make more time consuming mistakes and are too irritable to lead a quality life style.
18. Never get too hungry. People who are hungry are irritable and make mistakes so that things need to be done over again.
19. Avoid people who suck your time. Needy or emotionally disturbed individuals can seriously throw your plans for the day astray. Avoid them the best you can.
20. Deal with your anger. Angry individuals are hasty, reckless and make careless errors that cause time consuming mistakes.
21. If you are tired, rest. It is better to rest and do a task twice as fast afterwards, rather than do it slowly because you are exhausted.
22. Take life one day at a time. Live in the present, not in the future, and you will accomplish more.
23. Give back to the community. Engage in one meaningful activity where money is “not the goal”. This empowers you spiritually and prevents you from getting too stuck in your own problems.
24. Make yourself inaccessible at certain times. Let others know when you are working and cannot be disturbed.
25. Reward yourself for a job well done. Whenever you complete a big task, make sure to keep motivated by giving yourself a reward.
26. Seek out the good in every situation. Disappointments and delays are a part of life. Learn how to make it up to your family if you are late and can’t be there for them.
27. Realize that you always have choices. Make choices about how you spend your time, and do not be at the mercy of obligations that you cannot fulfill.
As a busy executive, staying healthy has to be at the top of your priority list. It is essential to your job as a leader. Use these tips to guide you into the healthy lifestyle you deserve.
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.
In a growing business, the myriad daily tasks of getting whatever a company produces “out the door” can be all-consuming. Lots of energy is typically focused on cash flow management, finding and training new employees, meetings, sourcing supplies, deadlines, etc. In the hustle and bustle, your staff can forget the most important factor of any business: the customers. However, without what our firm refers to as “Level 5 Customer Service,” growth can stall or collapse completely.
In studies, 70 percent of why most clients leave is due to poor customer service. As managers, we need to constantly be reassessing why customers prefer our products or services over the competitions’, whether we are exceeding customers’ expectations, and how we show gratitude to our customers.
Ignoring your customers can be like sitting on a landmine. For instance, prior to social networking online, the typical dissatisfied customer would verbally tell eight to 10 people about a problem with a vendor or service provider. In the post-Facebook-YouTube-Twitter-Interest world, that dissatisfaction is posted online in ways that can travel globally within hours. A single service disappointment can turn into the bomb that crashes sales.
However, Level 5 Customer Service can halt that exponential explosion in most cases. That’s because studies show seven of 10 complaining customers will do business with you again if you solve the problem in their favor.
Service expectations vary by culture. However in Western-educated societies, there are five key customer service practices that should be taught and re-taught regularly in any workplace:
- Greet the customer verbally and with a smile;
- Listen to understand the customer’s need;
- Explain features and benefits of products or services so customers have sufficient information to make decisions;
- Suggest additional items that may address their explicit needs, as well as possible ancillary needs they may not be aware of or may not have considered; and
- Thank the customer. Thank them even when no sale occurs. Thanks – like praise – go a long way toward generating goodwill.
Last, when presented with a customer’s concern or complaint, listen attentively, do not interrupt, be polite, apologize for the inconvenience and any error, and make a decision that resolves the issue in way that leaves the customer as warm and fuzzy as possible. When you provide a customer with more than he or she expects, you create a Level 5 experience. That experience reinforces customer loyalty.
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 2011 Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of Enterprising W omen magazine’s 2011 Enterprising Women of the Year Award and the SBA’s 2011 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.zwgoup.net.
Noah Goldstein, Steve Martin and Robert Cialdini are the authors of The New York Times bestselling “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.” Last summer, I met Martin on a trip to London, where he runs Influence at Work, and he shared these top five ways to increase your influence and persuasion.
1. Be the first to give. Studies show that we are persuaded more by people who have done something for us first. We give bigger tips to servers who give us a mint with the check. We’re more likely to help work colleagues with their projects if they have helped us with ours. Requests that are personalized are most persuasive of all. When researchers randomly sent out surveys, they were able to double responses if they personalized the request by placing a handwritten note on the survey.
2. Don’t offer too many choices. Whether it’s the number of products you offer or the number of retirement plans you allow your employees to choose from, too many choices often frustrate people. Companies offering a small number of retirement plans have far greater enrollment than companies that offer a large number of plans.
3. Argue against self-interest. Trust is a critical component to persuasion. The surest way to be perceived as honest is to admit to a small weakness in your argument, product or business immediately prior to communicating the strongest positive argument about your product or service.
4. Losses are more persuasive than gains. Instead of telling your audience what they stand to gain from taking your advice or buying your product, research shows that people are often more persuaded if you tell them what they stand to lose out on if they don’t take your advice or buy your product.
In 2003, the Oldsmobile far exceeded its sales projections despite the company reducing its advertising and product development budgets. Why? General Motors decided to discontinue the car because of slow sales. As a result, the car became something people would be losing out on, even though before the news, few people wanted one.
5. Make people feel as if they’ve already made progress toward a goal. A car wash offering a loyalty card nearly doubled customer retention by changing its offer from “Buy eight washes, get one free” to “Buy 10 washes, get one free — and we’ll start you off crediting you for two washes.”
Some people have the ability to capture an audience’s attention, convince the undecided and convert noncustomers into customers. Some do not, but there’s good news from social science. Persuasion is not just a skill gifted to a chosen few. It’s a science, and researchers who study it have formulated a series of rules for moving people in your direction.
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.
Unfortunately, when everything hits the fan, it won’t be at a time and place of your choosing, and most likely, it won’t be just one issue.
When you least expect it and when everything seems to be going OK for the first time in awhile, a severe lightning strike may occur, seemingly out of nowhere, even when the sun is shining brightly. Worse yet is that first bolt may be followed by multiple booms, bangs and claps in rapid succession.
It may start with a phone call informing you that the unspeakable has occurred. One of your top people encountered a personal problem that will shed a bad light on your company, or you get a FedEx letter from one of your biggest customers stating: “It’s been fun while it lasted; have a nice life. Sayonara.” As a wave of nausea sweeps over you, your chief accounting lieutenant barges into your office, holding your auditors’ notice and stammering, “earnings restatement.”
Trouble comes in many sizes and shapes, and as the boss, you must always be prepared to provide direction. While any one problem could be monumental, two or more are almost debilitating. What can you do; what must you do?
First, figuratively and literally take three deep breaths and count to 10. Pick up a legal pad and write out the key issues, crystallizing options and setting priorities of who on your team does what. Also write out some ideas of how to get started. Step two, clear your calendar and focus.
The trick in attacking multiple major problems simultaneously is to compartmentalize each of them, quickly determining the downside risks and coming up with temporary fixes to stop any bleeding, followed by long-term solutions. Let’s say another crisis hits when you receive a notice that your largest plant has become the target of a unionization drive. You quickly recognize that if this effort is successful, then your other facilities run the risk of a similar fate. The economic consequences could be enormous, and as equally disturbing is the fact that fighting this will be incredibly time-consuming, costly and will surely divert the attention of management away from sales and earnings goals.
Rather than bemoan your current state of affairs, gather your team together, contact your attorneys and find out what precipitated this situation. Was there an underlying morale problem in the plant, or did the union simply choose your company because it was an attractive target? Don’t always expect the worse, but plan for it. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find out that it was a simple misstep by a lower-level supervisor that antagonized a very small group of otherwise well-meaning employees, which can be more easily fixed.
If the earnings restatement is the biggest threat, then most likely you will take charge of the accounting issues and have your vice president of human resources tackle the union problem. Time can be your biggest enemy or your greatest ally. If you procrastinate and don’t swing into action, the situations will simply proliferate. If, however, you jump in with both feet immediately, you may be able to stem the tide in your favor much more quickly. One thing is for sure: The good fairy won’t solve these problems and your only choice is to take charge.
Of course, you’ll have more than a few restless nights; your calendar will become an instant nightmare as you deal with these problems du jour. Nevertheless, at least, you’ll have started the compartmentalizing issue process.
A few words of caution: Certainly delegate aspects of the problems to your best and brightest but also make sure you’re constantly kept in the loop. An effective leader is much akin to being a juggler and having the skills to keep all of the balls in the air simultaneously.
One consolation is that if being the boss was so easy, then everyone would do it. In fact, being a good leader takes a keen mind, often an incredible sense of urgency and a strong stomach.
Troubles come with the territory. However, there is one major consolation: When you’re at the top, the height can be a bit frightening at times, but the view is certainly spectacular.
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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Beating the competition is never easy. That’s why it requires a benevolent dictator.
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If you had the choice of growing at a 5.8 percent compound annual growth rate in a five-year period or declining 9.2 percent, which would you choose?
While the answer is obvious, the real question is, what does it take to end up on the positive side of the equation instead of the negative? Simple: some trusted friends.
The numbers above illustrate the difference in compound annual growth rates for members of Vistage, an organization for CEOs, and the average U.S. company. On average, just by belonging to Vistage, you are going to see much better growth. Why? Because you get insights about your business from CEOs who aren’t lost in the day-to-day issues.
Vistage, and other organizations like it (Young Presidents’ Organization, Entrpreneurs’ Organization — there are others as well) help you run your business better by putting you in contact with other CEOs.
Let’s face it; being in charge can be a lonely experience. At the end of the day, a lot of responsibility falls onto your lap, and if you fail, a lot of lives are affected. Some of us are blessed to have an inner circle of people we trust to bounce ideas off of and know that if an idea is bad, someone will speak up. But there are others out there that for whatever reason don’t have that trusted inner circle.
To be successful, you need to be willing to open up about problems before it’s too late to do anything about it. Telling someone you need help isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s the opposite. The increased success rates of companies that participate in peer groups bear that out.
You don’t have to have a giant network of other CEOs to be successful. Having two people that you trust and value their opinions is probably all you need. Two trusted friends can help you navigate through tough decisions and act as a sounding board for your ideas.
Working with your peers to review your ideas and goals is a great way to eliminate stress. They can provide the confirmation and validation you are looking for as you move your organization forward and can point out potential pitfalls you may have overlooked.
Sometimes, just having someone else say, “Yes, I think that will work,” can go a long way toward putting you at ease.
So what do you do if you don’t have a couple of people whom you trust? That’s where the professional organizations like Vistage come in. They can provide the same sort of feedback in a group setting and also offer a great way to network with other CEOs. As you build your network, you will most likely find a few people you are comfortable with and can build a closer relationship with them.
The most important aspect is to not try to go it alone. Whether you have a trusted inner circle of a few people or prefer a larger group setting, it’s important to have some sort of sounding board for your ideas. It’s also important to have people who understand what you are going through. Other CEOs can relate to the challenges of leadership and talk about what keeps them up at night. What you’re likely to find is that many of the same issues that bother you are also bothering others. Work together to find solutions or at least talk it through. You might discover a new approach to an old problem.
After all, two heads are better than one.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
Sports is often about individual accomplishments, from the marathon runner who crosses the finish line to the 2010 Wimbledon player who “stood” triumphant after surviving an 11-hour tennis match that spanned three days.
Yet, many people, me included, often look to team sports as a metaphor for the components that make a successful business. From solid communication skills to chemistry, teamwork is central to business success, whether one is starting a two-person technology company in a Silicon Valley garage or building a North American start-up from a major South Korean conglomerate.
In my experience, especially as a senior leader at CorFire, I’d argue that teamwork is even more essential in the second scenario. In growing our established South Korean brand into a well-known global player in the mobile commerce arena, CorFire’s senior leadership quickly understood that we wanted and needed the entire team to create a cohesive unit in which individuality is accepted but self-interest is not. Moreover, each team member would have a starting spot in making the company a winner in its space.
Mobile-ize your team
While the U.S. and European markets are generating buzz about the massive move to mobile commerce, South Koreans have been living the mobile lifestyle for years. Interestingly, a teamwork approach, where there are closer relationships between the cell phone companies and the government, has created an environment where the South Korean players in the ecosystem work together to deliver the solutions that make mobile commerce adoption a reality.
With the South Korean mobile commerce business model as an example, CorFire recognized the important role that solid internal teamwork would play in guiding our success. To build a global team at CorFire, we looked internationally at the various companies, from Sears to Samsung to General Electric to Google, that had successfully expanded their reach and built their brands on a national scale.
Build a solid structure
Certainly, these successful global companies, especially in the technology arena, can attribute much of their success to innovation, research and development. Yet, many of the leaders from within these organizations would also point to their organizational structure — i.e., their team — as playing an important role in their growth.
From these examples, we crystallized the broader ideas into strategies and tactics that made sense for our organization and our aspirational goal of bringing the mobile lifestyle to North America.
Keep doors open
We started with an open-door/open-communication approach that encouraged employees at all levels to speak freely to senior leadership. While some fear that open-door policies provide an easy venue through which to complain, we see our employees as our creativity channel, and we want to make sure they have the access to share their ideas for making our company, products and brand better.
Additionally, CorFire looked for individuals who could leverage their expertise across the organization. Our goal was to build a fluid, flexible team where individuals would be knowledgeable about the entire company, from sales to product development. This cross-functional structure allows for interaction between everyone within the organization and connects the team at a deeper level.
Stimulate and galvanize
Finally, we also expect and encourage employees throughout CorFire to look for ways to energize and inspire the broader team. This is done through a variety of informal processes and settings such as open discussion in company meetings and formal processes such as employee peer review.
South Korea is well known for its work ethic. In fact, a 2008 story in a well-known U.S. daily newspaper quoted figures by the 30-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that showed that South Korean workers averaged 2,357 hours on the job in 2006, compared to American workers who averaged around 1,800 hours that year. While those numbers are several years old, I’d surmise that they are holding true to form.
However, despite the rigorous work schedule, the South Korean workplace centers on teamwork, relationships and trust.
My idea for building a global workplace at CorFire did not include replacing a typical North American business culture (to the extent there is one) with a more traditional South Korean one. The beauty and excitement in building a global company is that we, as a team, have a blank canvas. We have the ability to take the best of both worlds to build a culture that is excited and energized about achieving our mission and being the bellwether for the new global brand.
Sang Yook is chief strategy officer of CorFire, the mobile commerce business unit of SK C&C USA. You can reach him at (770) 670-4700.
Cynthia Kaye’s company, Logical Choice Technologies Inc., has been on a fast-growth track for many years, and since its business is education-based — the company provides schools with educational technology such as interactive whiteboards, teaching software and the like — its revenue stream is highly seasonal. Those factors have created a sometimes bumpy ride for the Lawrenceville, Ga.-based company, particularly with regard to its banking relationships.
Logical Choice went through one especially rough stretch four years ago during which it bounced its accounts from one bank to another to a third bank within about a year’s time. The problems were rooted in changes in the management and business philosophies of those banks. As a result, Kaye’s company got stuck in a precarious spot and had to lay off more than a dozen employees just as its annual busy season was bearing down on it.
“That was an extremely tough challenge for us,” Kaye says. “We had been with the same bank — we’ll call it Bank A — for about seven years, and they had a change in management and decided they didn’t want a lot of fast-growth companies in their portfolio anymore. It had been a good partnership, but then they had a shift. I’ve seen this happen before. I’ve run this business for 18 years, and there’s a pattern — when there’s management change at a bank, there’s a new philosophy that comes in. And every bank has its own risk tolerance for different types of businesses.
“So they said, ‘Cynthia, we’re in no rush, but our new management doesn’t want too many fast-growth companies right now, so you might want to keep an eye out for new banks.’ It was nothing serious; we hadn’t missed any loan covenants. So we said, ‘All right, we’ll keep that in mind.’”
The negative news from her company’s longtime banking partner surprised Kaye.
“It was a little weird,” she says.
Other banks started calling on Logical Choice, and after a few months, the company moved its business to another bank that had been courting it — Bank B, as Kaye refers to it. That relationship went swimmingly for about nine months. But in the first quarter of the following year, as Logical Choice moved into its annual slow season, the relationship began to sour. Kaye says she thought Logical Choice had been very clear with Bank B about what to expect in terms of the seasonality of its business.
“Our company sells to education clients only, pre-K through college, so by nature we’re a very cyclical business,” she says. “Bank A had been used to this and had no issue with it. And we explained it to Bank B: ‘Here are our financials. Here’s how it works. This is very normal.’ They seemed to understand it.
“Then nine months into our relationship, we hit our slow season, and the numbers started going down. January was bad. February was bad. That month we got a call from the bank. They had changed analysts, and as I’ve learned, different analysts have different levels of risk tolerance. And they said, ‘We’re moving you into our workout group.’ They put restrictions on us and said you’ve got to make X profit with the next 30 or 60 days or we’re pulling your line of credit. Now, our line of credit is in the millions. If they pull your line of credit, you’re done. This stunned us. We had been very upfront with them.”
Logical Choice was less than two months from the start of its annual busy season, and in order to meet Bank B’s stipulated profit target, the company had to lay off 14 employees — out of a total of about 200 that the firm employs.
“The majority of them were key to our continued growth,” Kaye says. “We had to lay them off immediately to meet our profit numbers, so the bank wouldn’t do anything drastic.”
About a month later, Logical Choice’s customer service representative at Bank B, who was extremely unhappy with the way his employer had treated Kaye’s company, left that bank and took a similar position at another bank — Bank C.
“He felt so bad about how it had been handled that he resigned,” Kaye says. “He went over to Bank C and convinced them to come in and take us over. So Bank C came in and said, ‘We believe in you. We’ve seen your history, and we’re going to take you on.’ So they did.
“Then we went forward and had a record sales summer,” she says. “It was nuts.”
Guiding her company through the bank revolving door and layoff ordeal was one of the toughest challenges Kaye has faced in the 18 years that she has led the company.
“It was traumatic,” she says. “I really had to overcommunicate with my people about what was going on — being honest but not fearful. You know, ‘If we pull together, we’ll get through this. It might be painful, but we’ll get through it together. And here’s what’s happening. Here’s the plan.’ They really need to hear the plan.
“I had to keep the communication updates going, and everybody really rallied. It was terrible to lose those people. Eventually we were able to bring some of them back. But there were some we couldn’t bring back because they’d already gotten another job. Having to let go of good people when you know it’s not necessary because you’re just going through a regular seasonal downturn — that was painful.”
On top of that, there were uncertainties about the transition, about having a new bank and doing business with new people and new personalities.
“It was tough because it distracts you,” Kaye says. “Instead of focusing on your customers and your sales, you’re distracted working behind the scenes, having to let people go, meeting regularly with the bank, putting together documents. And you’re having to do these things weekly. So it’s a distraction from just focusing on your regular day-to-day business with your customers — and then having to constantly communicate with my staff: ‘Here’s what’s going on. Thank you for all you’re doing. Let’s rally together.’ It puts an extra burden on you. But you do what you’ve got to do. And in the end, we wound up with a much better bank. We’ve been extremely pleased with them.”
An important learning point that Kaye and her leadership team have taken from the ordeal is the importance of cultivating a strong relationship with your banker. And it’s best to try to nurture those connections as far up within the bank’s chain of command as possible.
“One of the biggest things we’ve learned from this is that you need to try to get the relationships as high up as you can go in the bank — not just your local rep,” she says. “You need to know all your analysts, your senior analyst, your senior analyst’s boss. If you can get to know the president, even better. That way, once you know them well, you can help your local rep fight with you, if it comes to that.
“Now that we have a new bank, we make it a point to know everybody, all the way up to the president,” Kaye says. “They’re great people.”
Cultivating relationships with other banks in addition to your regular bank is equally important.
“It’s always good to have relationships with two or three other banks while things are going well,” she says. “We learned that the hard way, too. Keep those relationships up, because when something happens — and eventually something will — you’ve got some other friends that you’ve developed relationships with. Different banks have different appetites at different times. So don’t lose hope if something like this happens. Start talking to your other banks, let them know what’s going on, and be upfront with them. Eventually you’ll find another bank that will work with you.”
Another point Kaye says she has learned is that it’s important to instill discipline in your company’s business dealings and to avoid becoming complacent when things are going well.
“You have to structure your company to run lean in the good times as well as the off times,” she says. “Sometimes when things go well for a long time, you can get lax in your discipline. You might have a few more employees than you really need. And then when times get tough, you have to scale back. Now, sometimes that will happen anyway. But if you can try to stay disciplined during the good times, it will definitely help you in the bad times, because it’s just a matter of time when those are going to hit. It’s not if; it’s when.”
Work toward balance
A related challenge Logical Choice has faced is one that all companies whose revenue is seasonal must grapple with: how to generate more balanced revenue throughout the year. Years ago, Logical Choice served corporate and government customers as well as schools, and that helped to minimize some of the feast-and-famine revenue extremes. But the company later decided it made more sense to concentrate its efforts solely on the school business.
“Because we’ve decided to focus on our education customers, our business remains very seasonal, so we have to contend with that annually,” Kaye says. “We think about it all the time. The problem is that I want to lead something that I’m passionate about. At one point, we had a corporate division and a government division in addition to our education division. That was fine and good, but my heart was always in education. It distracts you — you have to help your corporate customers and your government customers, and I felt we were not giving 100 percent to our education customers. So we decided we really just want to be an education company who’s making a difference in the lives of teachers and kids throughout the country.”
A new group of products that Logical Choice is developing could help level out the company’s revenue because the products have consumer appeal, Kaye says.
“Something’s happened recently that over time might help fix [the seasonality issue],” she says. “We’ve invented and developed our own software package called Letters Alive. It’s really cool.”
Letters Alive is a supplemental reading program that teaches literacy skills with alphabet cards on which animals spring to life via a 3-D animation technology called Augmented Reality.
“I took a portion of our profits and we brought in programmers and a leader, and I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, but I think if we can make a cool product with a one-year curriculum, we can really help kids learn to read.’ And that’s how Letters Alive was developed.”
Logical Choice is also developing a related product line.
“It teaches reading, and it’s got interaction and games to reinforce skills,” Kaye says. “These products have potential consumer market attraction beyond just their educational appeal, so we think this will help smooth out our cyclical business — over time, of course. It won’t happen overnight.”
HOW TO REACH: Logical Choice Technologies Inc., (770) 564-1044 or www.logicalchoice.com
THE KAYE FILE
NAME: Cynthia Kaye
TITLE: Founder and CEO
COMPANY: Logical Choice Technologies Inc.
Born: Smithtown, N.Y.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Florida State University, 1987
What’s the most important thing you learned during your years in school?
Before I graduated, I did an internship teaching a fourth grade class for three months. The classroom had an Apple II-E computer, but they didn’t know how to use it because the Apple II-E was brand new. I had learned how to use it during my last year in school. So I got the kids excited about technology, and it increased their writing scores and their reading scores — everything went up because I used the computer all the time. And that’s when I decided that’s the type of work I wanted to do.
Tell us about an early job you had and an important lesson you learned from it.
I took a temp job in Manhattan one summer during college. It was phone and reception work, and I hated it. It was not my calling. I realized then that I have to do something that I’m passionate about, that’s going to make a difference, so that I’m excited to get up every morning. That was a wakeup call for me.
Do you have an overriding business philosophy that you use to guide you?
Be kind, and be gracious and forgiving. Not that I’m good at doing these every day, but it’s something I aspire to. People matter, and I’ve pulled that into our culture in this company. Our core values are teamwork, respect and support each other, have honesty and integrity, be the best at what we do, work hard but have fun, and have happy customers.
What traits do you think are most important for a CEO or business executive to have in order to be a successful leader?
Being persistent and having vision. And your vision has to be bigger than yourself. It has to be something that people will want to rally around.
There has never been a more important time to take a long, hard look at your employee benefits package and how it should be structured moving forward. With Obamacare breathing down our necks and new regulations and taxes at every turn, now is the time to sit down with a trusted broker and formulate a strategy that best meets the needs of your company, says Kenan Knight, account manager at Ashton Staffing Inc.
“Gone are the days of cookie cutter options and spreadsheet quotes for your renewal meetings,” says Knight. “If you are not planning on how to deal with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the changing landscape of employee benefits, then you are planning to fail.
Smart Business spoke with Knight about how to prepare for the upcoming changes and the options available to businesses when it comes to health insurance programs.
What options do employers have when it comes to shaping their benefits offerings?
There are still many options available for business owners when it comes to shaping their benefit offerings. These depend on how many employees you have, how your company is structured and how large a role your health insurance package plays in hiring and retaining great personnel in your industry. As of now, employers can still decide on what coverages they wish to offer, how much they wish to contribute to the cost, whether a wellness plan is feasible and/or beneficial and if you would like to self-insure or be fully insure.
As we move toward 2014 and the full implementation of PPACA, we will see fewer and fewer options available as there are more government mandates and fewer players in the health insurance market.
What should a company look at to make these decisions?
Company structure is one place where business owners should look in dealing with the rising cost and compliance of health insurance packages. Within your company structure, there are several questions you should ask when it comes to dealing with benefits packages.
Can you 1099 some or all of your employees so you don’t have to offer benefits at all? This is certainly an option, but don’t overlook how this will affect morale and your ability to hire and retain good employees. Would using a temp agency be beneficial so that the temp agency is providing the benefit package and not you company? Is your company set up so that you can offer a ‘management carve-out’ to have different levels of benefits for different levels within your company?
What do you consider a full-time employee and what does your insurance contract consider a full-time employee? Some carriers allow you go down to 30 hours a week and still consider an employee full time, which may allow you to move more people onto your plan. Or, you can set full time as 40 hours, which may allow you the flexibility to move some people off of your plan. Again, carefully consider how all of this will affect morale and also be aware of what your competitors are doing.
What kind of guidance can employers expect from a broker/consultant?
The level of service you receive from your broker is more important now than ever. If your broker is still just coming in with a spreadsheet of your current plan and similar plans with other carriers, it is time to start looking for a new broker. Gone are the days of simply jumping from carrier to carrier or just changing a deductible or co-pay. Regardless of whether the Supreme Court strikes down PPACA as unconstitutional, the health insurance landscape has and will continue to change.
States and insurance carriers have already taken so many steps to deal with the impending complications of PPACA that things will never go back to how they were. Your broker should already be talking to you about how PPACA will affect your company and what you can do to stay ahead of the curve. A once-a-year renewal meeting is no longer enough.
Your broker should have tools in place to help you facilitate insurance information to your employees; many online tools have been available for years and you should have one if you have 10 or more employees. The broker should also be talking to you about your company structure and how you might rearrange it to deal with the new landscape. Another tool your broker should be sharing with you is a benchmark report showing what companies similar to yours are doing for benefits.
Finally, your broker should be talking to you about wellness, especially if you have 50 or more employees. Wellness is an area in which you can hope to control at least some your own insurance cost by helping your employees get and stay healthy.
What common mistakes do employers make during this process, and how can they avoid them?
The main mistake employers make is starting the renewal process too late. Business owners and HR managers have a lot of moving parts to deal with on a daily basis and many times will only deal with things as they come up. When that happens with benefits, you are in a rush to simply find a comparable plan that doesn’t raise costs or lower benefits too drastically. This is a pitfall you can no longer afford.
As a rule of thumb, you should start the renewal process at least three months before your renewal date. Have a mid-year meeting with your broker and discuss your concerns and needs so that, together, you can start to formulate a plan of action. If your broker is stuck doing the same old thing, it is time to start interviewing new brokers. Every company and every situation is different, so having a trusted broker is key to answering your benefits questions.
Kenan Knight is an account manager at Ashton Staffing Inc. Reach him at (770) 419-1776 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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