Atlanta (1302)

Over time, chronic workplace stress can take a detrimental toll on the body — that’s something I learned the hard way. A year ago, at age 38, I underwent lifesaving, open-heart surgery to repair severe blockage in my four main arteries.

While I do have a family history of heart disease — mainly caused by a lack of exercise, poor diet or age — I’ve always been active and lived a healthy lifestyle. While waiting for my emergency surgery, every doctor, nurse and staff member joked that they had the wrong patient because of my general health and age. After taking a more in-depth look, doctors linked the problem, in part, to high workplace stress that I endured starting more than 12 years ago.

New studies are released regularly that draw attention to the growing levels of high stress in America, largely related to job security and financial issues. In fact, three out of every four Americans describe their workplace as stressful. This potential silent killer plays a key role in many common health problems.

As a result of my traumatic experience, I recently launched a campaign called “The Heart To Sole: Creating A Stress-Free America” through my current company, Flip Flop Shops. The campaign’s mission is to help reduce stress levels, improve heart health and support the American Heart Association’s “My Heart. My Life.” healthy-living initiative.

Darin Kraetsch, CEO and co-founder (Size 10) of Flip Flop Shops, says I really took a bullet for all our friends and family, proving that no one is safe from heart disease. That’s exactly why we want to share my story and help others prevent a similar ordeal.

By making cultural changes to help employees work smarter and with less unhealthy stress, companies in turn will increase their efficiency.

Workplaces across America will be much healthier environments if employers make the following changes:

Relax the dress code and start Flip Flop Fridays: Consider allowing employees to dress more casually and wear flip flops, at least on certain days of the week, like Flip Flop Fridays. A recent study by Alexander Babbage discovered that the more formal the dress code, the more stressful the work environment. Conversely, those who frequently wear flip flops are more likely to have lower or non-existent stress levels than those who wear more formal footwear.

Start employee health programs: Begin implementing heart health programs for employees, such as mandatory annual stress tests (like a treadmill test or exercise test) to detect potential heart health problems. In my case, the stress test was the only test that detected my heart disease — it saved my life.

Get involved in health foundations: Consider getting involved with the AHA or another health organization to educate yourself and employees. There are so many great tools and programs companies can easily implement to help reduce stress among its personnel to create a healthier work/life balance.

Allow employees to telecommute: At Flip Flop Shops, we have more than 90 locations throughout the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Guam, but have never and will never have corporate offices. I’ve tried the corporate office style, and while it might make sense for some companies, others — like mine — see more productivity and growth when employees are allowed to work wherever they want. ● 


Brian Curin is the president and co-founder (Size 10) of Flip Flop Shops, an Atlanta-based retail franchise exclusive to popular brands and latest styles of flip flops and sandals, as well as the president and co-founder of OfficeZilla, an Atlanta-based online office supply retailer. He can be reached at


Flip Flop Shops Social Media Links:




While other banks were chasing fast money mortgages during the residential real estate boom, Mark Tipton and Rodney Hall were patiently and deliberately soliciting deposits and conventional loans from small and mid-size companies.

The reckless era seemed like déjà vu for the co-founders of Georgia Commerce Bank, who discovered the benefits of building a diversified asset base as neophyte Texas bankers during the mid-1980s.

“We learned some valuable lessons about diversifying asset classes from watching the oil and gas industry crash and the big banks fail early on in our careers,” says Tipton, a San Antonio native who serves as chairman and CEO.

Although learning from others’ mistakes is one of the hallmarks of successful entrepreneurs, in today’s instant gratification world, executives need discipline and investor support to follow a conservative game plan when brazen competitors are growing at a frenetic pace.

“Every business has to take risks to grow; it’s how you go about it that matters,” says Hall, the bank’s president, who grew up in the Texas Panhandle. “It’s possible to have solid double-digit growth without taking excess risk if you put the right plan and infrastructure in place.”

Later, when the bubble burst and Georgia led the nation with 84 bank failures, this dynamic duo raised capital, made strategic acquisitions, and sauntered past struggling competitors in classic tortoise and hare fashion.

Here’s how Tipton and Hall grew Georgia Commerce Bank’s assets from $13 million in 2003 to more than $725 million in 2012 while averting one of the biggest meltdowns in the history of the financial services industry.


Build mindshare first

Given Tipton and Hall’s penchant for slow and steady growth, they had the foresight to look for like-minded, patient investors when assembling their team. The co-founders maintain that their compatible board and shared vision helped them stay the course as competitors were jettisoning traditional underwriting practices in the quest for subprime loans.

In fact, Hall credits Harald Hansen, one of the bank’s directors, with setting the tone early on.

“On the day we opened, he told me to build the bank like we were going to own it forever,” Hall says. “I’ve never felt like I had to take extraordinary risks to deliver quarter-over-quarter growth. We’ve had the luxury of focusing on our long-term goals from the outset.”

Whether you have the luxury of handpicking your board or you inherit them, it’s a CEO’s job to build mindshare for their ideas, Tipton says.

“If you bounce ideas off your board and use them for strategic planning purposes, they’re more likely to support you during tough times,” he says.

Private meetings with board members are a great way to foster support for your ideas, Hall says. Although they require time, patience and persuasiveness, the one-on-one sessions elicit concerns that might otherwise fester.

“It’s easy to act out of desperation when you’re not in sync with your board,” he says. “The problem is that hasty moves seldom end up being good moves.”

“Naturally, you want your board members to challenge you and speak up if they think you’re headed in the wrong direction,” Tipton says, “but you can’t move forward until you create mindshare for your plan. Otherwise, you may encounter resistance at the first sign of distress.”

Hall and Tipton concede that there were times when the board wondered why Georgia Commerce was not growing as quickly as other regional banks. But taking extreme risks to accelerate growth wasn’t a consideration.

“The idea of leading with price or flexing our underwriting criteria didn’t make sense to us,” Tipton says. “We’ve been able to maintain investor support because they see that our strategy works; we’ve been profitable since our second year.”


Put your eggs in several baskets

Concentrating on one industry or asset class can cause insurmountable problems for banks when the economy shifts and customers in highly affected sectors can’t service debt.

“The insolvent banks we acquired from the FDIC in 2011 had two common characteristics,” Tipton says. “They had a large book of real estate loans and most of them were stand-alone transactions. It’s easy to see why they ran into problems when the housing bubble burst.”

To bridge economic troughs, Tipton and Hall solicit relationships with privately held companies in diverse industries such as manufacturing, distribution and professional services.

“We spread our risk evenly,” Hall says. “We break down our lending goals into sub-targets and continually monitor our progress to make sure we’re not getting too heavy into one type of loan or industry.”

However, the pair’s risk management strategy extends beyond asset-level oversight. They manage risk down to the customer level by using several banks to fund very large loans. Since the lead bank typically solicits the participants and services the loan, using participation loans reduces risk but doesn’t interfere with the development of vital customer relationships.

Although many bankers believe that loans create deposits, Tipton and Hall take the opposite view. Hall believes that deposits serve as an entree to a lending relationship, plus they improve the bank’s balance sheet, increase its lending power and alleviate risk.

He cites the fact that Georgia Commerce Bank was the first institution in the state to pay back TARP (the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds as validation for his contrarian strategy.

“We see deposits as a way to build a relationship and our asset base,” Hall says. “Plus, you lessen the likelihood of default if you get to know a business and its owner before lending them money. That’s why so many banks got into trouble. Their strategy defied sound business logic.”


Avoid shortcuts

After searching for several years for an opportunity to jump-start growth, the stars finally aligned in 2011 when Tipton and Hall purchased two failing banks in highly desirable Forsyth and Cherokee counties from the FDIC. 

Although the acquisitions would give Georgia Commerce Bank an immediate presence in two affluent areas replete with private companies and professional service firms, the road to success was paved with obstacles and undesirable risks.

For starters, it was difficult to raise capital when banks were failing and outside investors were looking for a quick return. Instead of fighting an uphill battle, they decided to raise $21 million from a small group of current shareholders.

“Everyone else in the industry was hunkered down, but we were able to make a bold move because we were well-capitalized,” Hall says. “However, we still opted for measured, sustainable growth by keeping the transaction within the family.”

To make matters worse, the co-founders inherited a portfolio of delinquent loans that required swift resolution.

Though the acquisitions came with a built-in safety net, specifically the FDIC’s loss-share program, the small bank lacked the staff and customer relationships to rectify the issues within the specified five-year timeframe. So, Tipton and Hall vowed to retain the acquired employees, a move that runs counter to the standard operating procedures of many executives.

“Acquisitions often fail because executives don’t retain the current staff and lose their connections with customers,” Tipton says. “You reduce much of the risk if you keep them, assimilate them into your culture and educate them on your lending policies.”

Once the staff was secure, Tipton and Hall assembled a loss-share team and charged them with isolating risky loans, rewriting terms, resolving issues and looking toward the future by garnering relationships with quality customers.

“Our keys to success include developing markets in a thoughtful way and finding patient, like-minded investors,” Tipton says. “Banks that were in a hurry and took shortcuts didn’t survive.”

So far, their plan seems to be working. The bank has grown from 11 employees to 112 in the 10 years since it opened. And for year-end 2012, it reported slightly more than $7 million in profits.

Last December, the co-founders raised $25.5 million to fund additional acquisitions with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act on the horizon. Only this time, they turned to institutional investors, like-minded, of course.

“We wanted our investors to believe in us and our vision of reaching $1.5 billion in assets within three to five years by making quality whole bank acquisitions,” Hall says. “We assessed our chemistry with prospective shareholders by sharing our story and our plan. Since we were positioning for future growth, there was no need to rush.”

“My advice is to absolutely resist the temptation to take shortcuts when you’re building a business,” Tipton says. “Companies that try to outrun their headlights get out of sync with their board and their business plan. Look no further than the bank failures in this state to see why slow and steady wins the race.” ● 



  • Continually build mindshare for your plan.
  • Risk diversification is the key to survival.
  • Don’t take shortcuts when building
    your company.


The File

Name: Mark Tipton, Rodney Hall
Title: chairman and CEO, president
Company: Georgia Commerce Bank 


Tipton: Bachelor’s degree from Tulane University; master’s degree in business administration from Baylor University.

Hall: Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Angelo State University. 

What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

Hall: I learned the value of hard work and the importance of independence working on our family farm. My dad would give me a list of chores and expect me to do them. My experiences helped me become a leader because I had to figure out problems and get things done without someone looking over my shoulder.

Tipton: I learned a lot about people’s expectations and how to read them by waiting tables. For example, business people wanted quick service so they could get back to the office, while someone else wanted to enjoy a leisurely meal. The moral: You better know how to read people if you want a tip. 

What is the key to business success?

Hall: If you have the right plan and execute consistently, you’ll overcome obstacles and the things outside your control, and that’s one of the keys.

Tipton: No one succeeds alone. If you surrounded yourself with bright, self-motivated people who work well together and empower them, success is practically guaranteed. 


How to reach: Georgia Commerce Bank, (678) 631-1240 or



Monday, 30 September 2013 20:00

Ah!thentic Ambition

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Jack Butorac thought he had retired from the food industry in 2000, but a small Toledo, Ohio-based pizzeria was calling his name.

Monday, 30 September 2013 20:00

World Entrepreneur of the Year: Overcoming Challenges

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Monte Carlo has seen a lot of risk takers in its day, but not many have been like those who attended the recent EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year conference. These risk takers may use the term “gamble” every now and then, but they more often use their willingness to take a risk as a way to overcome the challenges of running a business.

The collection of the world’s most accomplished entrepreneurs at the conference were innovators, futurists, turnaround specialists and problem solvers.

From this highly qualified group of leaders comes some quality insights into rising above the challenges that could have blocked the success they envisioned for themselves and their companies. ●


“We have a phrase: ‘Market leaders need to meet market innovators.’ It’s a ‘two-fer’ because the innovators often need to have partnerships with the market leaders in order to really scale their companies. That could be as simple as a distribution agreement. It could be joint R&D. It could be capital. It could be a variety of things that form a partnership.

Likewise, if you think of firms like Procter & Gamble that have had edicts from the top that half of their innovation will come from outside the ivory tower, then those are the kinds of opportunities that we hope to be able to continue to bring.

Go and find those innovators … and likewise for the innovators, make sure your reach out and look for strategic partnerships that help your business grow.”

Bryan Pearce, Americas Director, Entrepreneur Of The Year and Venture Capital Advisory Group, EY


“Cost pressures are always high. What we need to make sure we do is continue to innovate our audit services and all our services to make sure we make maximum use of technology. We also need to make sure we take advantage of both time zone arbitrage and cost arbitrage where talent zones are present.”

Jim Turley, retired global chairman and CEO, EY


“The drive to always want to get better and do more is what keeps me going. It’s hard for me to turn it off and say, ‘That’s great.’ I’m always thinking about tomorrow. You can’t take things for granted in our business.”

Corey Shapoff, president and founder, SME Entertainment Group


“When you have a monopoly, it slows innovation. It reduces competition and is generally not good for the market. Once you have an open Internet with no government operating on top of it, then I’m very optimistic about humanity when it comes to producing things.”

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web


“As a startup you go to the specialty stores first. That’s how you start and you grow and once you reach a certain level, then you go to the big retailers.

I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to go to the big retailers and be in the regular dairy isle. That was a crazy idea and nobody thought that would go, but at least we tried. When we tried, we convinced one retailer in New York. The result from that was we were able to expand to a couple of other retailers. After the second or third customer that we had success with for our yogurt, I knew it wasn’t going to be about selling, it was about making enough.”

Hamdi Ulukaya, founder, president and CEO, Chobani Inc., Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 United States, 2013 World Entrepreneur Of The Year


“In our country, our main challenges are new regulations and new financial reforms that we have to comply with. We are getting together for meetings inside the bank in different areas to study each one of the reforms.

Also at the Association of Banking Industry in Mexico, we have an association of the 44 authorized banks where we get together in different commissions to make sure that we can modify some of the new policies that are going to come out later this year.”

Lorenzo Barrera Segovia, founder and CEO, Banco BASE, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Mexico


“One of the main challenges is how to train the talent we have in Latin America. Latin America has 600 million people and 1 million IT workers. The next step is to train more people and convince people to adopt technology as a career. If you provide the proper entrepreneurial environment to that, maybe the next Google or Facebook can come from Latin America.”

Martin Migoya, CEO, Globant, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Argentina


“One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is trying to figure out what the impact of the natural gas/shale gas revolution is going to have on us. Suddenly there is cheap natural gas, which is going to be more challenging for renewable projects to compete with. Rather than looking at it as an either-or world, you have to look at how the two technologies can work together.”

Jim Davis, president, Chevron Energy Solutions


“Zonamerica is a different kind of company, a business and technology park. But in general, we have a financial sector, we have 60 banks, a wealth of private funds, we have call centers, cell services and headquarters for companies that want to develop business in the region. The problem is all these companies require very qualified personnel. Our core purpose is to attract the best human resources to produce or offer the product. So we created a database and we have, at this moment, more than 24,000 people registered. Then these companies, according to the needs they have, can see and select the personnel they want. And then we also have schools to teach skills to prepare people for these kinds of employment.”

Orlando Dovat, founder and CEO, Zonamerica, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Uruguay


“Zonamerica is a different kind of company, a business and technology park. But in general, we have a financial sector, we have 60 banks, a wealth of private funds, we have call centers, cell services and headquarters for companies that want to develop business in the region. The problem is all these companies require very qualified personnel. Our core purpose is to attract the best human resources to produce or offer the product. So we created a database and we have, at this moment, more than 24,000 people registered. Then these companies, according to the needs they have, can see and select the personnel they want. And then we also have schools to teach skills to prepare people for these kinds of employment.”

Orlando Dovat, founder and CEO, Zonamerica, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Uruguay


“Probably the most difficult cost control challenge is managing staff salary software. There is a specific reason for that within our company — we are going through a system conversion, so when we acquire practices, they each have their different practice management software. Some are fully computerized; some are not computerized at all. We at one point had 18 different systems within our company. We have converted all of our 107 locations onto one platform this year, so with training and obviously the unknowns that occur with changing people's worlds by changing their operational platform, that's our biggest challenge this year. Having said that, that will allow us to create a line of central efficiencies in the coming years.”

Dr. Alan Ulsifer, CEO, president and chair, FYidoctors, Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Canada


Monday, 30 September 2013 08:00

Understanding your ‘natural instincts’

Written by

The animal kingdom has long been instrumental in teaching children about appropriate behavior.

A rabbit named Peter educated us on the importance of conflict resolution. For better or worse, Curious George was habitually inquisitive and, in separate incidents, three bears and three pigs taught us the importance of home security.

But despite a literary reputation as “big” and “bad,” according to Jack Hanna, “A wolf will feed the sick, the old and the young first.”

That’s a pretty impressive character trait for a creature so often maligned by the human race. Over the years, however, we’ve learned to expect Hanna to set the record straight on an important part of our world that most of us will never experience firsthand.


Following the footsteps of a legend

Inspired by wildlife pioneer Marlin Perkins, Hanna parlayed a fascination with animals and a position leading the Columbus Zoo into a television empire spanning 30 years. He’s had countless TV appearances on popular shows such as “Good Morning America” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.” In addition, he currently helms two television programs, “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown” and “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild.”

Not surprisingly, Hanna’s high regard for the animal population is also reflected in his view of the public’s acceptance of the animal kingdom: “Most people who say they don’t like animals don’t like people much either.”

Phil Beuth, former president of “Good Morning America,” observes, “With Jack, what you see is what you get — he’s a genuine gentleman.”

Hanna has set a simple benchmark for appropriate professional behavior, “I operate by The Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Of course, humans are animals too — complete with instincts, genetic predispositions, unique skill sets and laws to keep us from acting like predatory animals. Yet, prey we do — leveraged buyouts, hostile takeovers, foreclosures, etc.


Comparing workforces of nature

When asked about lessons human worker bees can glean from the animal kingdom, Hanna enthusiastically says, “Just look at ants and termites. They each have specific jobs to do.” By performing specific tasks every day, these creatures work solely to serve the greater good — ostensibly without complaining.

Animals = 1 Humans = 0

Hanna also points to an innate respect in the wild that does not always translate into the land of the bipeds: “The animal world does not waste food and animals do not abuse their own children. For example, gorillas may fight but they still work together.”

Working through issues to achieve top performance is apparently part of the natural order of things. It’s about survival. As the concept of business survival has never been more prominent, shouldn’t cooperation receive equal billing?

Animals = 2 Humans = 0

Though Hanna also marvels at the mysteries behind the instinctual and highly effective way animals communicate, many in the office marvel at some people’s overwhelming lack of communication skills.

Animals = 3 Humans = 0

Specifically, according to Hanna, “The elephant is one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet.”

So yes, it seems that without the benefit of an iPhone, Twitter or Outlook, an elephant truly never forgets.

Time to hire me an elephant. The Laws of Nature win every time. ●


Speaker, writer and professional storyteller Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Fla. For more information, visit

Twitter: @randallkjones



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A marketing epidemic, to put it mildly, has been impacting most businesses — and it’s time to think about keeping your message simple if you haven’t already done so.

The roots of this epidemic can be traced back to two events.

First, during the economic fall of 2008, as businesses looked for ways to preserve revenue streams, companies hunkered down and focused on sales to preserve existing customers. Many cutoff or significantly reduced marketing budgets, and others shifted to digital media as a “low-cost alternative.”

The second event was the rapid spread of social media and the skyrocketing use of smartphones and tablets, which provide instant access to relationships, information and communication.

The social media craze and businesses’ desire to market on the cheap led companies to flood the marketing channels with content. Sales sheets, photos, videos, web pages — companies were suddenly all things to all people because they could push content to digital channels for “free.”

The problem — our marketing channels are now very noisy. As consumers of information, we respond to this noise with limited attention spans. The result — companies have sent confusing messages to the marketplace and people aren’t listening.

This current epidemic of marketing noise distributed across all channels leads to a common marketing need for all businesses — simplification.


Keeping it simple

So how do you achieve message simplification? It all ties back to the business. Here are seven steps to help get you started:

1. Identify three to four key business objectives for the next two years. Do you want regional growth or growth in a new industry? Do you want to sell more to existing customers?

2. Prioritize your objectives by placing dollars or number of opportunities next to them. This will help you focus on the most important areas.

3. Brainstorm a list of marketing tactics that can help you achieve each objective. Can you generate more leads from trade shows, your website, your existing customer list? What tactics do you need to adopt?

4. Write a succinct summary, or “elevator pitch.” This should be one to three sentences on how you benefit the people you are targeting in your objectives.

5. Compare your elevator pitch to your marketing tactics and existing materials. Review your website, brochures, email newsletter, social media accounts, videos, trade show collateral, etc. Notice how many “extra” things you say in an effort to cover all your bases.

6. Rework your message. Focus on the audiences for your key objectives. Identify the benefits for these audiences. Your marketing message should speak directly to these audiences so they can understand your value and usefulness to them.

7. Prioritize your marketing tactics. It’s tempting to be trendy and market on social media or through video, just remember to consider which tactics will best reach your audiences. You don’t need to be in every marketing channel, just the ones where your customers and prospects will hear you.


Finally, once you’ve simplified your message, stick to it! It is important so that people understand the benefits and value that you deliver. While it might seem repetitive to you, your audience will appreciate the clarity and with time, will remember what your business does best. ●


Kristy Amy is director of marketing strategy for SBN Interactive. Reach her at or (440) 250-7011.

Life has a way of presenting us with difficult circumstances. Sometimes it’s in our personal lives, and sometimes it’s in our business.

If the circumstance is severe enough, it can create a crisis, which can often cause a feeling of hopelessness. When things outside your control come at you in droves, it becomes difficult to cope with them. Entire organizations can be overwhelmed and pulled down by external circumstances, which if not dealt with promptly and correctly, can destroy the company.

The CEO’s role is to right the ship and rally everyone around a solution — and it most likely won’t be easy. People are always looking for the easy way out, but that path is rarely an option. When facing a difficult situation, you have to play the ball where it lies, which means the resources you have in people, dollars or equipment are all you may have to work with.

But challenges also present opportunities. Faced with a crisis, you and your leadership team will be forced to look at your assets in new ways. You’ll be required to take a careful look at your customer base, your market and your processes. This kind of in-depth evaluation may uncover not only a possible solution to your problem, but it may open your eyes to markets or applications you never considered before.

Take Netflix for example. The company was the king of DVD-by-mail, and had already knocked off the once mighty Blockbuster. With the increase in streaming video content, however, customers began moving away from DVDs, threatening Netflix’s main revenue channel. It reacted by creating not only streaming content, but also by creating its own unique content. Customers can stream video from many outlets, but it’s tough to beat Netflix’s reputation and ease of use.

Often, the resources you need are already at hand; they just need to be used in new ways. Netflix already had the capabilities; it just needed to apply them differently.

You may find that after assessing what you have, you have started to create a new path that leads away from the crisis.

At the beginning of a difficult time, you may not be able to see a way out, which can lead to despair. By starting with an initial step and continuing, however, you’ll soon see the light. Start by calling your bank or suppliers to ask for better terms or whatever it is you need, and then build from there.

No matter what you do, though, don’t compromise your integrity. Always do the right thing in the wrong circumstances, because depending on how severe your crisis is, your reputation might be the only thing you have to negotiate with.

If you work hard, do the right thing and stay positive, a solution will likely present itself. It may not always be in a form that you anticipated — you may need to change your products or your market — but if you keep an open mind and work with what you have, everything will work itself out. ●

Most weeks I get on a plane and attempt to have an out-of-body experience to deal with all the hassles of flying as I travel from point A to point B. When flying, I have a few simple rules. One, I almost never eat the food. Two, I attempt to talk to no one other than obligatory hellos. Three, I never argue with or say a cross word to flight attendants.

One other very important practice I follow on land, sea and especially in the air is that I constantly scan my surroundings for potential troubles and new ideas.

On a recent flight, upon boarding, I quietly and obediently proceeded to my assigned seat.

As I began to sit down, a gentleman asked if I would mind trading seats with him so that he could sit next to his wife. Like most seasoned travelers I try to accommodate reasonable requests. In this case it seemed a no-brainer to agree to move.


Notice the details

As I started to settle in and fasten my seat belt I noted that my new seatmate was very hot. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. I mean she seemed to be flushed and radiating heat, ostensibly from a high fever. I’m thinking, this is not good, plus it proves the age-old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.

In the next minute I had an epiphany, which happens frequently as I believe that many problems come disguised as opportunities.

I rang the call button and, when approached, asked the cabin attendant to please bring me two cloth napkins. I stated that the purpose was to construct a makeshift face mask by tying the two pieces together to prevent possibly contracting some dreaded disease.

I feared that my intentions could be misinterpreted if I were to don a mask without an explanation; this could cause a well-meaning passenger to drag me to the floor thinking I had nefarious motives.

The stewardess smiled, nodding approvingly of my plan. She then summoned all her co-attendants to my seat and proceeded to whisper what I was attempting. Otherwise, she explained, they, too, could misunderstand my appearance and cause me bodily harm.

As founder and CEO of Max-Wellness, a health and wellness retail and marketing chain, I’m always looking for that next special something to share with my team. Therefore, while burying my now masked face in a newspaper so as not to frighten or offend the sick seatmate, I began dictating a memo to my merchandise product group proudly asserting that I just had another “aha!” moment, for which I am well-known, among my colleagues. For full disclosure, however, I am sometimes known for being a bit “out there” on occasion — but no one bats a thousand.


Turn an idea into a product

This particular predicament gave me the idea to develop a product kit that we could sell to weary travelers in our stores and in airports. I suggested a handful of complementary products, including a mask, a disinfectant spray and, if all else fails, relief remedies. I also noted that it probably would be prudent to include a cigarette pack-type “Black Box” warning stating that the mask is not what some suspicious flyers might think, but instead it’s for prevention of disease only. I even proposed we market these kits directly to the airlines to dispense as an emergency prophylactic for passengers exposed to airborne (pun intended) pathogens.


Fleeting thoughts have value

A key role for business leaders is teaching a management team to use fleeting thoughts as a springboard, to pair common problems with sometimes-simple solutions.

Just because it is a simple fix, though, doesn’t mean the idea couldn’t be a lucrative breakthrough.

When something sparks an idea it needs to be taken to the next level before being pooh-poohed. Most likely the vast majority of these inspirations won’t see the light of day, but that’s OK. Just think — what if one transient idea translates into the next Post-it Notes, Kleenex or bottled water?

The next time you sit by a masked man on a plane, it most likely won’t be the Lone Ranger. Instead, you might be witnessing the incubation of the next best thing since sliced bread. ●


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. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at

Many enthusiastic and ambitious employees have worked for years aiming for the prized corner office. Well, with the increasing popularity of the ultra-hip, open-office floor plan, the corner office is fading from existence.

Not only do open floor plans eliminate the corner office, in many cases they diminish productivity and engagement. The Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health found that companies with open-office setups reported 62 percent more employee sick days on average than closed-office layouts. But still, the craze continues.

When I embark on office planning with my clients, seven out of 10 originally envision an open floor plan with sleek modern cubicles. That’s consistent with the International Management Facility Association’s latest study that says 70 percent of American employees work in an open-office floor plan.

Why so popular? A few reasons: 

Hip Factor: Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that headquarters would be moving into the largest open-office floor plan in the world, complete with moveable furniture to enhance collaboration. When huge corporations make moves like this, it sends a message to other business owners and managers that it’s the best option.

Not having to plan for multiple office spaces means architects aren’t restricted and can more easily create a dramatic and hip space. As a result, open floor plans typically end up looking sleeker, which perpetuates their hipness. 

Collaboration: Some studies show the best ideas arise when employees are away from their desks. Other studies point to collaboration inspiring more creativity in the workplace. Office planners have heard the buzz and feel openness stimulates idea exchange and therefore better work. 

Cost: Many business owners are under the impression cubicles cost less than walls. 

When the economy tanked in 2008, the open floor plan’s popularity increase.

Although open floor plans can work well in some companies — it’s all on a case-by-case basis — I usually aim to redirect my clients when they want to jump on the open floor plan train. Here’s why: 

Expense: When negotiating office space, we aim to get our clients’ build-out included in the lease cost — meaning the landlord or seller will pay for office walls. This type of arrangement does not typically include furniture — cubicles/partitions are considered furniture. Yes, you’ll have to purchase desks, but they’re typically more affordable than cubicles and can be re-used if you relocate. 

Open plans aren’t as hip as they seem: The reality is, most employees who work in open floor plan offices are unhappy, that’s according to a Journal of Environment and Behavior study — there’s nothing hip about unhappy employees. Some experts say this could be caused because members without their own office spaces may feel transient, replaceable and undervalued — all contributors to poor company culture and lower retention rates. 

Productivity: Researchers at Hong Kong Polytechnic learned that noises like ringing phones, overheard conversations and machines were the biggest inhibitors of employee productivity. These sounds are all more rampant and amplified in an open-office floor plan.

Further, Andy Bailey, head entrepreneurial coach at Petra Coach, says it takes anywhere from eight to 20 minutes to regain focus after an interruption. Without walls and doors, interruptions from coworkers are commonplace. Bailey suggests enabling focus and productivity by giving team members the option to close their doors and hang up a do-not-disturb sign. 

If you’re relocating or redesigning your office space, think twice before you join Zuckerberg with his mega open-floor plan. What’s right for Zuckerberg may not be right for you. You definitely need a space like a conference room where team members can brainstorm and collaborate, but in most cases, to increase efficiency, productivity and employee morale, preserve the corner office and all the offices in between. 

Stephen F. Graw joined Sperry Van Ness/Nashville in 2012 as senior adviser. Prior to his present role, Graw gained six years of commercial real estate experience at Grubb & Ellis where he focused primarily on office and industrial tenant representation. For more information, visit

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 05:41

Move beyond “shiny and new”

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Say the word “innovation,” and immediately you think about business legends like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, as well as the companies they created – Apple and Amazon. Too often, however, we focus on the people who have been tabbed as innovators and the companies that develop those breakthrough products, services and solutions, such as Apple’s iPod and iTunes, or Amazon’s marketplace and unique ecosystem.

True innovation goes much deeper than a single leader’s vision. It is an all-encompassing philosophy that permeates an organization and defines its purpose for being. For me, at least, I prefer to think about innovation in its broadest terms, extending its definition to include corporate cultures and innovative management styles. Think about how Facebook and Microsoft are run, and how at both organizations employees are a key factor in the idea creation, or ideation, process.

Now, think about the breakthrough products that eventually went bust. Hopefully, you don’t have a basement full of Beanie Babies, boxes of Silly Bandz, or a home library filled with laser discs. It is more common to land on a singular breakthrough product that temporarily revolutionizes your industry rather than develop a product through a process that’s repeatable or scalable. And, just as true, no matter how innovative and creative your management team’s style may be, without the proper processes in place to push ideas through a system that takes them from mind to market, you’ll eventually have trouble keeping the lights on.

It all comes down to developing a culture imbued with innovation at its core. But this also requires having a servant culture in place where every person who works for the organization thinks about the customer first.

Consider San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels, where employees strive to create “Kimpton Moments” by going above and beyond with guests and delivering memorable experiences.

Kimpton overcomes the inherent limitations for creating new innovative products that being a boutique hotel chain includes by approaching innovation through its employee interaction – and then rewarding employees for their creativity. For example, when team members put in the extra hours to ensure world-class service delivery, the hotel chain has sent flowers and gift baskets to their loved ones. And when they create an innovative service experience, the company rewards staff members with such things as spa days, extra paid time off and other goodies.

And then there’s the Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting firm that’s known for developing innovative business processes and systems for its high-end clientele. Part of BCG’s internal process is a focus on team members maintaining a healthy work-life balance. When individuals are caught working too many long weeks, the company’s management team issues a “red zone report” to flag the overwork.

Talk about innovation! And no product, service or solution was developed, marketed or sold.

And finally, few organizations are more innovative than DreamWorks Animation. But beyond plugging out groundbreaking animated movies, the studio’s culture embraces empowerment and innovation. Employees are given stipends to personalize their workstations so that they create whatever inspirational atmosphere they need to succeed. And, as the story goes, after completing Madagascar 3, the crew presented a Banana Splats party, where artists showed the outtakes.

Not only are these three companies known for being innovative in their respective industry spaces, they also share the honor of being members of Fortune’s 2013 “Great Places to Work” list.

So how do you take the first steps toward transformation or put those initial building blocks in place to begin the journey? There’s no magic formula, but there are some common traits – and they revolve around empowerment and establishing a culture that cares. 

Innovation organizations

  • Are open-minded and ask “What if?”
  • Teach team members how to see what is not there and identify opportunities in the marketplace to take advantage of those gaps.
  • Develop cultures where innovation thrives through open and honest communication.
  • Flatten the organizational structure and recognize that innovation can come from anyone and anywhere.
  • Make innovation, itself, a cyclical and continuous process.

Stop and take an internal assessment of your organization, your team and of yourself. If you can’t check a box next to each of these five traits, stop and ask yourself why. Then begin your own journey to greatness.