How Carol Wior works hard to stay positive even during the toughest of times

Carol Wior, Founder and CEO, Carol Wior Inc.

Carol Wior has a lot of experience at overcoming challenges. She started her business in a garage with three sewing machines and $77, built it into a $75 million clothing design company and then watched as it fell apart and she had to start all over again.

Add to that a couple of tough recessions and you realize Wior has spent much of the past 20 years in recovery mode at Carol Wior Inc. Fortunately for her, she can still laugh about all the ups and downs.

“You can survive anything if you want to,” says Wior, the 200-employee company’s founder and CEO. “Believe me, there are times when I’d like to bury my head in the sand. Every person goes through that, especially when you start a business on a shoestring like I did. But here’s what you can do about it. There’s a solution to every problem.”

The most recent recession hasn’t completely squelched that optimism, but Wior is still very concerned about the future of her industry.

“A lot of people are using up their reserves and their savings to get them through this rough time hoping that eventually, things are going to turn around,” Wior says.

One of the most common challenges during a recession is that with everyone struggling, you begin to have customers who have trouble paying their bills. You’ve got to find a way to connect with them and work with them to find a solution.

“I have people that owe me money that won’t take my phone call,” Wior says. “That is the most infuriating thing. So I leave messages like, ‘Listen, if you don’t have the money to pay me, I totally understand. If you can give me something, give me 10 percent of what you owe me. Just a little something. I’m not going to pressure you right now. I understand it’s tough. But I need a call back. I need you to talk to me.’

“When people are silent, you don’t know what’s going on and that’s your unknown and that’s when you start to get very worried and upset. Unfortunately, people tend to do that.”

Wior feels strongly that collaboration is vital when it comes to surviving economic slowdowns. That goes both for collecting money from customers and vendors and seeking money from lenders and creditors.

“Sit down with people who won’t give you credit and say, ‘Look, you’re not giving me credit, but I want to show you why you should. Here’s what I can do,” Wior says. “Explain what you have and why you think it’s great.”

Of course, you need to do more than just tell people that what you’re doing is awesome. You need data that backs it up and shows you’ve built something worth investing in.

“If you don’t know what your figures are, your financial statements or your working capital, that will completely turn them off,” Wior says. “You need to know your financial statement upside down and sideways. You have to know the answers to all the questions they are going to ask you.”

Don’t be afraid to bring your accountant along to help with those details and also back up your proposals.

“It’s much easier for your accountant to sell you than for you to sell yourself,” Wior says. “The accountant knows the answers. They speak the same language. As a businessperson, I get very excited. I see the marketing potential and I see the design ideas. I’m all excited about that. The bottom line, the accountants can address that. If you’re going to answer financing questions, bring your accountant with you.”

The key whether you’re trying to collect on bills or add investors is to keep the lines of communication open.

“Face it straight on and attack the problem,” Wior says.

How to reach: Carol Wior Inc., (562) 927-0052 or www.carolwior.com

Have a solution in mind

You may think you’re doing your employees a favor when you offer an overly rosy view of your company’s current financial state. But Carol Wior says you’re just asking for trouble down the road.

“If people understand situations, they can handle them,” says Wior, the 100-employee clothing design company’s founder and CEO. “It’s the unknown that freaks people out.”

When your employees hear a lot of bad news outside the company, and then hear you talk about positives without anything to back it up, you’re going to leave them very confused. And that’s not good.

So don’t be afraid to talk about problems, but do so with a real solution in mind for how to solve it.

“I usually have solutions before I present my problem,” Wior says. “Have some solutions before you express the problem. Here it is. We have a big cancellation and that’s going to mess up shipping for the month. Or so and so isn’t paying us, and they filed for bankruptcy, and that’s really going to hurt our cash flow next month. But here’s what we can do about it. You get the solutions together and then your team sees you working with solutions. They don’t just see you as, ‘Oh my God, we’ve got this problem.’”

How Ira Kerker eliminated micromanaging to help Vitacost grow

Ira Kerker felt one of the biggest impediments to the growth of Vitacost.com Inc. was the tight control exerted by the former CEO, Wayne Gorsek, the company’s co-founder.

“He controlled the whole business, as you would expect an entrepreneur to do, from a top-down standpoint,” Kerker says of the man he replaced as CEO in January 2007.

“The company was very successful at being able to respond very quickly to changes in the environment, changes in technology and changes in the business. The problem was as the company got bigger and bigger, the weekly meetings started becoming two and three times a week because the founder of the company needed to be involved in each and every decision.”

Kerker, who also serves as director, had been with the 307-employee company since early 2005 serving on the executive management team as its general counsel. He felt the micromanagement approach was not conducive to growing revenue at Vitacost (NASDAQ: VITC).

“I just felt a flatter organization would not only allow the organization to grow and be a more efficient use of my time, but it would also allow the managers and VPs to grow personally and professionally,” Kerker says. “That is something everybody wants to do and something I wanted to do when I was one of those VPs.”

He knew the change in leadership style would take time. The company was used to how things had been done and Kerker would need to do some work to convince them that he really wanted them to take on these additional responsibilities.

“You don’t throw the light switch over night,” Kerker says. “What has to happen is you have to empower the person to be able to run their department.”

He wanted to create a culture where his leaders played an integral part in setting the direction of the company and developing new products using their own skills and talents.

By doing so, Kerker was able to position the company for growth and ultimately for public ownership.

Driven to succeed

When Craig Zinn walks into his business,
he’ll shake everybody’s hand and ask how
everyone is doing. Lately, the answers from
employees haven’t been positive.

With gas prices skyrocketing, the sale of
any vehicle with a V-8 engine has proven
quite a challenge. So what does Zinn, president and CEO of Craig Zinn Automotive
Group, do when his employees feel like
they couldn’t sell a truck or SUV to save
their life?

He goes out and buys breakfast for the
whole team. And with scrambled eggs,
bacon and french toast in hand, he gathers
the troops and begins to look for solutions.

“Things are a little tough today? Let’s sit
down. I want to talk,” Zinn says. “We’re
breaking down the negatives, and we’re
going to enhance the positives through
open communication. Let people know
you don’t want to just have your ass kissed.
You want to know what’s really going on.”

Make it clear to your employees that
you’re not going to bite their head off and
you really want to know what’s bothering
them. If you do, the chances improve dramatically that they will be candid with you.

“You always have to say, ‘What can I do to
help you be more productive?’” Zinn says.
“If they say, ‘That manager over there, he
won’t get off his butt to talk to my customers,’ the first thing you want to do is go
to the manager and say, ‘Is what they are
saying true?’ You get the negative attitude,
and you realize you have a problem with
the manager. If you create a closed system
where people cannot give you positive or
negative feedback, you’re dead. You
become the ostrich, and you believe what
you want to believe instead of believing
what you’re seeing.”

You have to pay attention to your people
and teach them to be open about the challenges they might be facing on the job. If
you don’t, you won’t have a clue what’s
happening in your business. When you pay
attention, it can produce a big payoff.

“You will find that management now
becomes another tool in the toolbox to
help your people be more successful
instead of being an obstacle to their success,” Zinn says.

Put it in writing

Randy Carr attempts to
stay ahead of his employees and their questions at World Emblem International
Inc. through writing — and a
lot of it.

He faithfully keeps a personal
journal, and he requires that
minutes be recorded at every
company meeting.

“My journal is glued to my
hand,” says Carr, the company’s
president and CEO. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, you’ll
see me walking around with it.”

The result is that every one
of his 650 employees — and
Carr himself — has a written
record of events to help deal
with just about any situation.
This documentation reduces
the odds of misinterpretation
that often result from vocal
communication.

Following this philosophy
helped the company rise from
2004 revenue of $13.1 million to
2007 revenue of $20.1 million.

Smart Business spoke with
Carr about how to stay in tune
with your company so you have
the answers when you need
them.

Q. How do you stay tuned in
to your company?

Write everything down. Once
a week, I go back and refresh
my list. Things that will take
over 10 minutes, I put into the
computer to make sure they
don’t get lost.

I maintain a strict calendar
with actual things I need to get
done. I keep at least 30 percent
of my week open to do whatever comes across my desk. I
don’t schedule myself up to the
minute. Things tend to come up
all day, every day that need my
immediate attention.

If I’m scheduled up to the till,
I’ll never get anything done. I
keep open gaps in my schedule
specifically so I can work on the
things that need my immediate
attention or work on projects.

It’s important that people
know what they can expect
from me, so I’m consistently giving them the same responses
and same reactions. It’s a question of taking each piece of the
organization and making sure it
fits with the rest of the organization on a regularly scheduled
basis.

Q. How does keeping
a journal help you do
that?

It helps make sure that
the things that need to get
done are actually getting
done as opposed to the
stuff that you like to do
but isn’t as important.

Keeping a journal
allows me to go back and
make sure that what I
needed to get done got
done, and some of the
stuff that wasn’t as important didn’t get forgotten.
Those things just got put
onto a different list or delegated to someone else.

It still got done, but it
never got lost. I go back
through the journal at least once
a week. I can reflect on what it
is I did for a day, a week or a
month, or whatever period I’m
looking back on.

My journal makes sure my
staff is held accountable. It
makes sure I don’t forget about
anything. It keeps the important
stuff in the front and allows the
less important stuff to get
pushed back.

Inside out

Jim O’Connor has seen it happen again
and again. Competitors in the solid waste
industry make acquisitions that they
thought would help their business but
instead it created major problems.

“A number of my competitors have over-paid and destroyed value with some of the
acquisitions they have done,” O’Connor
says. “We try to scope these process
reviews, goals and objectives very specifically. When we set the criteria, we live by
it.”

O’Connor, chairman and CEO of
Republic Services Inc., and his leadership
team have carefully managed the company’s growth. By focusing on the 13,000-employee company’s internal growth
needs, Republic has grown to $3.2 billion in
2007 revenue, up from $2.5 billion in 2003.

The growth has been possible because of
an unwavering focus on the company’s
internal makeup.

“The business is constantly evolving,”
O’Connor says. “You need to stay ahead of
the evolutionary process. If you don’t stay
ahead, the evolution will become a revolution and you’ll find yourself not able to easily catch up.”

While always looking for opportunities to
grow the business, O’Connor commits most
of his own time to working within
Republic’s core competency of the collection, disposal and recycling of solid waste.

In order to stay focused on your company’s sweet spot, you need to have clear goals
that everyone in your company aspires to
achieve. Employees also need to know what
their role is in achieving these goals.

“It’s consistency in the messages that are
delivered to the three constituencies we are
most concerned about,” O’Connor says.
“Those would be our employees, our customers and our shareholders. They have a
clear vision of what our expectations are for
the business and a clear understanding of
our focus on goals and objectives in the
short term and intermediate term.

“Once you get off the 50,000-foot look, it’s
a collaborative effort of the senior management team with some sprinkling of field personnel to help us get focused on what are
the issues to achieve a world-class service
organization and to maintain the entrepreneurial spirit and ultimately deliver value.”

This focus on internal growth and development put Republic in a position to either
merge with larger rival Allied Waste
Industries Inc. or become part of industry
leader Waste Management Inc. The Allied
deal, if it goes through, would create a company that would have 35,000 employees and
13 million customers in 40 states. As of press
time, Waste Management was trying to preempt the Allied deal by offering to buy
Republic outright. Regardless of which deal
goes through, Republic has set itself up to
be a major player in its industry.

Here is how O’Connor prepared for
Republic’s external growth by engaging
employees in the company’s internal growth
and development.

True colors

Employees at Bluegreen Corp. can be forgiven for experiencing déjÀ vu when they listen to John Maloney Jr. speak.

Maloney does it by design.
“Stay on message,” Maloney says, referring to one of the cornerstones of his leadership style.

“Whatever I think it is that is important about what’s going on
with the company in relationship to our customers and employees in the external environment, I almost to a point of redundancy stay on the same theme and make sure I drive that home.
I’m not afraid to talk about the same thing to two dozen audiences over the course of a year.”

Maloney recognizes the microscope under which he operates
as president and CEO. People put a lot of stock in what he says
and take note of it to make comparisons later.

“Whether you like it or not, you’re an example,” Maloney says.
“Your associates see everything you do — a lot more than you’d
like, probably. Not just how many hours you work but how hard
you work and the time you spend in the community and how you
are regarded in the industry and within the company. Just generally how you conduct your life. That is all part of the leadership quotient.”

Maloney has taken a very hands-on role since taking the reins at
Bluegreen 18 months ago. The company, which develops and markets time-share resorts and planned communities, grew from $673
million in 2006 revenue to $691.5 million in 2007, his first full year
on the job. Bluegreen had been seeking to position itself to make
some strategic moves, and in late July, Diamond Resorts
International, one of the largest vacation ownership companies in
the world, offered to buy the company. Diamond has exclusive
negotiating rights through Sept. 15.

Without a consistent message, it’s difficult to set up strategic moves
like the Diamond deal. Consistency is crucial both in the message
Maloney delivers and the way in which he delivers it to his 6,200
employees.

“I like to have contact with the senior folks and understand not
only what they are working on but how they are feeling about it
and how they are communicating with teammates about certain
things,” Maloney says. “You only get there effectively if you’re willing to spend the time to get face to face as much as possible.”

So that’s what Maloney does. He seeks to maintain a regular dialogue with everyone from employees to customers to the attorneys, accountants and other external professionals to help him
drive growth.

Franchise player

Ray Titus was 23 when he started his company, and he was committed to outwork and outhustle anyone that stood in his way.

Life balance was the last thing on his mind as he looked to do
whatever it took to get his business off the ground.

“When you’re young and inexperienced, you don’t have a
choice,” Titus says. “You need to outwork everybody else. Once
you start to get some experience and start developing your style
and who you are, you can balance things a little bit better.”

Titus co-founded SIGNARAMA in 1986. The company is now
part of United Franchise Group, the franchising company Titus
also founded and now leads as CEO. With revenue at UFG growing from $336 million in 2005 to $465 million in 2007, Titus has
gradually learned how to find that balance in his duties.

He learned that he can’t have a hand in every action that is taken
and every decision that is made in the growing company of 180
corporate employees. You simply have to let go of some things and
allow your people to do the jobs that you hired them to do.

“If I’m making every decision, then I’m always going to be making every decision,” Titus says. “I think most individuals have seeds
within themselves that can be pulled out if you’re willing to put the
time and effort into them or wait long enough for it to happen.
Most people are just too impatient. They either want them to be a
star, or they are fired. Life doesn’t work that way. We all need to
grow.”

You need to have faith that you made a good hire and be willing
to invest the time to develop the talent that led you to bring this
person on board your organization in the first place.

“Good people like challenges, and they want to be challenged,”
Titus says. “They enjoy the challenge as long as it’s done the right
way. If they accomplish great things, even beyond what they
thought they could accomplish, then they really respect you a lot
more for helping them achieve those challenges.”

Titus’s challenge is to develop the same values and principles
throughout his expansive organization. It’s not always easy to do,
but having a positive attitude about the task is a good place to
start.

“Be the company’s No. 1 cheerleader,” Titus says. “You have to be
able to pump your team up from your sales staff to your vendors
right on down the line. With us, it’s franchisees. They are all independent individuals, but you have to get them pumped up, too.”

Here’s how Titus blends a can-do spirit with a sense of accountability to keep United Franchise Group and his employees moving
forward.

Labor of love

Dan Catalfumo never got to live in the house he built for himself
back in 1978.

The attention to detail and the craftsmanship that Catalfumo
poured into the project was so captivating that a passerby offered
to buy it, so he sold the house to this new fan of his work.

The experience convinced Catalfumo that building houses was
what he wanted to do for a living. Like all leaders who want to turn
their passion into a career, his challenge would be to find others
who could see his vision in the same way that he did.

“When I started my company, I was building houses on the weekend and working for my father in the shoe repair store,” Catalfumo
says of his humble beginnings. “It was difficult because I was the
carpenter, the foreman and the superintendent.”

With so many roles on his own shoulders, Catalfumo grew his
business slowly. He added people in a deliberate manner, selecting
individuals who he believed would be able to work with him to keep
the company moving forward.

“It was bringing people on board and working side by side with
them,” Catalfumo says. “As soon as they learned your style and what
you were trying to accomplish, you would add two or three people
and work with them, and the group got larger and larger.”

The business gradually evolved from a focus on residential
properties to a more commercial-oriented development company. Today, Catalfumo Construction and Development Inc. has 310
employees with 2007 revenue of $300 million and the construction firm has developed more than 40 million square feet of real
estate in the South Florida region.

Having literally built the business from the ground up, the company’s founder, president and CEO says he can use that experience as
a foundation to bolster the message he delivers to his employees.

“I used to sweep the floors and dig the ditches along with my
guys,” Catalfumo says. “When I walk onto a job site or into a development meeting, it’s not that I’m telling them to do something that I
think is unrealistic. I’ve already done it so I know it can be done.
They feel that sense of pride that it’s not an impossible task. It’s truly
a task that the owner has already done once.”

Here’s how Catalfumo has conveyed his passion to his employees
to help his company achieve record growth.

Lift off

Laurans Mendelson knew HEICO Corp. was capable of producing more than one type of engine product for the commercial aviation industry, and he had a plan to make it happen. He just needed to convince his employees that his growth idea had wings.

“If you tell somebody we’ve got a bad product and it’s a dead
end and we’re selling wagon wheels instead of high-tech parts,
they are not going to get very excited,” says Mendelson, the company’s chairman, president and CEO. “But if you’re telling them
the result of this development program will be to grow the company and to make it more profitable and you and your team will
share in that growth and be part of building something, people
get turned on by that. They want to be part of it.”

Mendelson believed there was growth potential in developing
aircraft parts even as the industry was sliding downward following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He wanted HEICO to be ready
when the industry began to recover.

In order to do that, he needed to get his employees energized
about his plan. They needed to believe that the things they were
being asked to do were both important and crucial to helping the
company meet its objectives.

“You have to get them excited and enthusiastic about what the
program is, what the vision is, and how they are going to get on
board and implement that,” Mendelson says.

“Once they adopt the ideas as their own and feel excited about
where the company is going, what the program is going to be and
how we are going to grow, then it’s almost on automatic pilot.
Those people are so enthusiastic that they sell the program to
their reports and the people who work directly with them. It
becomes infectious. Everybody wants to be on board with that
program, and they get excited about it.”

Mendelson took the helm of the company in 1990, and his ability
to get employees to buy in to his plan of engagement has propelled
the now 2,000-employee company to steady growth ever since.

“If you give smart, honest and hardworking people an opportunity
to prove themselves and to grow and develop and be creative, they
are going to take the baton and run with it,” Mendelson says. “As
opposed to saying, ‘Listen, if you don’t do a good job, I’m going to fire
you.’ You don’t have to say that to motivate people. They’re not thinking about the fear of getting fired. They’re thinking about the excitement of accomplishment.”

A blueprint for excellence

Michael Neal says that closing out a project at Coscan
Construction LLC had become quite a challenge. It was kind of
like watching the little progress bar that you might see on the
screen when you’re downloading a computer file.

It reaches 96 percent, 97 percent and 98 percent, and then, … it
just … stops … moving.

“Closing these jobs is just worse than going to the dentist,” says
Neal, president and co-owner of the construction firm. “We could
finish the physical work, but then we can’t get the financial close-outs with our subs. We can’t get everybody paid and collect all
the post-construction documentation we need.”

To the casual observer, these might be viewed as fairly minor
problems because projects were still being lined up and revenue had grown from $29.7 million in 2003 to $73.9 million in
2005.

If you want to keep growing though, you have to keep your
eyes open at all times and attack problems as soon as you identify them.

“I don’t care if you have all A players or all B players, there is
always somebody who gets lazy or complacent,” Neal says.
“You have to continue to police the work to make sure everything is getting done. This is a very low-margin, high-risk business. If people are not following the safety processes or they
are not following the quality processes and you replicate a mistake on a 50-story building 50 different times, that’s a very
expensive lesson.”

Neal knew things needed to change. He felt the headaches
that developed each and every time the 200-employee company
tried to close out a project. He needed a consistent system of
processes that every one of his employees would be trained to
follow.

“I’ve had this ingrained in me, and I’ve seen and been part of
corporations that are very strong in their processes, and I’ve
seen them have better earnings and have more predictable
results,” Neal says. “If you have a group of very good processes and have them formalized in a manual form or online form
where everybody knows how we perform our jobs, everything
can be broken down into ABC.”

The need for such detail is obvious when constructing a 50-story skyscraper, but the logic can be applied to any business.

“It’s consistency,” Neal says. “If you look at any service business, whether it’s a cleaning business or McDonald’s or
Starbucks coffee, the thing you can always count on when you
go to one of these places is a consistent high level of service or
a consistent product. If I have a client and we’re doing three
projects for him, it would be a nightmare for me if he said, ‘I
like the way you’re doing it on one project, but you’re doing it
completely different on the other two.’ … I think the great companies have figured out how to replicate excellence on a consistent basis and that is the cornerstone of consistent earnings,
consistent customer satisfaction and consistent employee
morale. It creates a winning formula.”

Here’s how Neal led an effort to create and enforce best practices at Coscan Construction that took the organization to new
levels of success.