No fear

Steve Klingel had no idea just how much buzz he could create
in his company simply by wearing a pair of jeans to the office.
While casual Friday had been around for nearly two years,
Klingel, the president and CEO, had never actually joined in the
ritual carried out by many of his employees at NCCI Holdings
Inc.

“I got to work and 20 minutes later, my New York office head
calls me and says, ‘Hey, I heard,’ and I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘It’s
all abuzz up here. You’re wearing jeans today.’ It’s amazing how
the behavior and the way a CEO presents himself gets around,
for good or bad.”

Fortunately for Klingel, his influence on the operations at NCCI
and the 1,000 employees he leads stretches beyond fashion.

As the nation’s oldest and largest provider of statistics and employee injury data for workers’ compensation insurance, NCCI handles
about 4.2 million unit statistical reports and 2.6 million policies each
year.

The sheer volume of data that is processed could easily lead to a
fear of mistakes. So Klingel decided the best way to ease such
fears was to purposely put himself front and center, this time as an
employee who has been far from perfect in his professional career.

It was at a meeting with about 175 company managers held at a
local hotel.

“I dragged a stool up on stage, and I sat down, and I started talking about my views on leadership, and I also talked about my own
personal evolution in management,” Klingel says. “I made a point
of listing three to five significant errors I made as a manager and
what I learned from that. My point was No. 1, CEOs make mistakes, too, and No. 2, you can learn from them. We’re not running
an organization where it’s an absolute failure to make a mistake.”

Just as he inadvertently got people talking by wearing jeans,
Klingel made a clear impression by admitting that he has made
mistakes in his career.

“Good judgment comes from experience, but experience comes
from poor judgment,” Klingel says. “You have to have room to make
mistakes if you’re ever going to learn how to do things best. That was
my point to the employees: Hey, I’ve made my share of blunders, some
of them big and some of them small, but I learned from them. We have
to have an organization where we allow people to try things and to
stretch themselves and to make an error and learn from it.”

Klingel says a big reason why the $140 million company has succeeded is its ability to maintain a culture in which employees feel
that their work truly matters and that their voices will be heard by
the company’s leadership.

Here’s how he did it.

Give them the chance

Delegation is critical to getting employees both engaged in your
plan and active in its execution.

“If I can truly give people the responsibility and authority — whatever that particular assignment is — to truly own it, they will buy in
to the culture and the mission and the direction of the company,”
Klingel says.

“It’s the difference of giving someone an assignment and saying,
‘I want you to do this, and here are the 37 steps you need to go
through exactly to do it right,’ or giving them the assignment and
saying, ‘Here it is. Figure out what you think is the best way to get
this done and feel free to come to me anytime if you’re wrestling with it or struggling with it.’ Giving them the chance to figure it out
is as much a key to getting them to buy in to the vision of the company as anything I can think of.”

If you expect your employees to feel empowered and driven to
succeed, you must support their development by being open to
fielding their questions rather than only issuing directives or being
secretive.

“I have always been direct in answering a question,” Klingel says.
“Sometimes, it’s a great question, but it’s not appropriate for me to give
you an answer on who I’m thinking about for the next senior staff promotion. I tell them I can’t tell them and I tell them why.

“It’s going back to that cultural aspect of how I behave. Do I discuss
things openly with employees? Do they ever have a reason to feel that
something is going on and I am not conveying to them what’s going
on or that I’m hiding something? That’s dangerous.”

You must also be willing to accept, within certain boundaries, the
way the person you delegate chooses to complete the task if they
are to truly grow in your organization.

“Most of us became managers the first time because we tended
to be great individual contributors,” Klingel says. “We got our work
done so well, and we’re known as being really good at it, and suddenly, we’re a manager. Now, the job isn’t about getting my own
work done anymore or doing it myself. Now, it’s all about motivating others to get the work done. That is the essence of delegation.

“I know this particular task, and if I did it myself, I could do it
faster and better. But the job of a manager is to coach others to
build those skills and to accept their work as long as it is adequately done. The job isn’t to make sure all the output from your
department is as good as it possibly could be if you did it all yourself. True delegation is being willing to appropriately accept the
performance of others instead of thinking, ‘How does it match up
to myself?’”

Klingel put his delegating skills to the test in his second year at
NCCI when he appointed Chief Communications Officer Cheryl
Budd to head up a major annual event held each year in Orlando,
Fla.

“When I got here, having never been through it before, I had my
fingers all over it trying to understand how to make decisions,
what do we do and how does it work,” Klingel says. “After being
through it once, it was very clear to me that I was in much better
hands if I just backed out of it and let Cheryl, who had plenty of
experience and had delivered, put the thing together and operate
it.”

The event ran without a hitch.
“It’s assessing each situation and determining what is the issue at
hand, what are the person’s capabilities, what are the risks for the
company and then making the delegation,” Klingel says. “They
tend to relish it and run with it.”

Focus on teams

Klingel believes in a culture where employees are empowered to
play a key role in the growth of the company. But he says the control he has over his company’s culture is limited.

“I would not use the word manage or control,” Klingel says. “I
would use the word influence because I think that’s the most that
a CEO can do is influence the culture. The culture happens by
watching behaviors among the management team and consequences of how the corporation deals with things.”

Teams are a big part of NCCI’s culture and go a long way toward
keeping the culture healthy.

“My senior staff team, as I get them convinced and involved at
the same passionate level, then they carry it down through the
organization,” Klingel says. “Bill George, who was the former
chairman of Medtronic, wrote a book called, ‘Authentic
Leadership.’ He said, ‘Get the right people onto your direct team,
and then inspire them and build a level of trust with them that
everybody is viewing the world the same and speaking in the same
way about the direction of the company.’”

One of the mistakes leaders often make in building a team is trying to assemble people who think just like they do.

“You want people that are going to look at things differently,”
Klingel says. “That’s where you get the best quality of decision-making in that senior leadership team. It’s not right for me to think
I have all of the answers and that if I have people understand what
I’m saying and march to my orders, it’s all going to be great. I know
that there is so much going on that I don’t fully contemplate and
consider. I need that team to be out there constantly evaluating
with me our environment, our strategies, our tactics and what we
need to do next.”

Don’t get lazy

As a company experiences success, it is important to take steps
to ensure that complacency does not set in.

Klingel says he likes to focus on consistent gradual improvement
as opposed to radical change.

“I find employees can grab that and understand it and handle it
as opposed to revolutionary change to light things up,” Klingel
says. “I’m in an insurance industry. They are not known for rapid
change and creative innovation. … It’s both having a vision of where
you are trying to go and constantly testing that vision and constantly communicating back and forth with the organization what it is
you are doing and what are the goals and how you are doing with
the goals.”

Klingel says when revolutionary change becomes a characteristic, it does attract people who love constant change and constant
exposure to new things. But in a culture that values integrity and
excellence and quality, Klingel says it doesn’t fit.

“We’re not trying to drive ever-increasing profits in our organization,” Klingel says. “That’s not what we’re all about. We’re trying to
make sure that we’re doing our job as accurately and deliberately as
we possibly can. … Sometimes, a significant revolutionary change is
healthy for an organization, and it gets people energized. But change
for change sake is not a big play in my book.”

By maintaining open lines of communication and staying in
touch with your employees, you increase your chances of avoiding
complacency.

“You have to always have your antennae up,” Klingel says. “You
always have to be asking, ‘What’s after us? What’s out there to bite
me?’ I don’t express that as a paranoia type of thing. But you have
to be conscious and never take anything for granted. What are we
going to do next year?”

The key to leadership is seeing the big picture and getting people
to follow along.

“You can only be a leader if people are willing to follow your lead,”
Klingel says. “A leader is an architect who sees their operation in multiple dimensions and looks at the financial situation, the strategic situation, where your employees are at, where technology fits in and
where the community is at. It’s an environment of constant adjusting.
For me, a true leader is somebody that is a visionary, a communicator
and an adapter.” <<

HOW TO REACH: NCCI Holdings Inc., (561) 893-1000 or www.ncciholdings.com

All in

Angel Alvarez had cashed out his 401(k) and maxed out his
credit cards. At the same time, his wife was pregnant with the
couple’s third child. It was late 1989 and the company then
known as ABB, which Alvarez had just founded, was having a
hard time getting started.

“Many a time, I walked into the office and people were saying,
‘We’re short. We can’t make payroll. We can’t do this. We can’t do
that,’” Alvarez says. “It was a test of leadership.”

Alvarez, the founder and CEO of the company now known as
ABB/CON-CISE North America, saw an opportunity to be a
strong regional player in the distribution of optical products.

But as the business struggled early on to generate enough revenue to stay afloat, Alvarez needed to convince his employees
that the blood, sweat and tears they were all shedding would
eventually pay off.

“They have to believe in you, otherwise they will frag you,”
Alvarez says. “If you don’t have the backing of the rest of the army,
your troops will shoot you in the back by putting you in harm’s
way.”

In hopes of avoiding this fate, Alvarez focused on building each
part of his company in a very deliberate manner. As new leaders
were brought aboard, Alvarez continually reassessed what needs
had to be addressed with the next piece of the puzzle.

“A big mistake people make is hiring people like themselves,”
Alvarez says. “Then you have all this core competency in an organization with a lot of weakness because the hiring process was hiring very similar people.

“Be honest with yourself and understand what your strengths are
and hire to your weaknesses. When we’re together, we redefine
what the weaknesses are and where we need to better define.
When we bring individuals in, we do personality profiling to make
sure their natural adaptive behaviors are in line with what our
needs are to balance our scorecard a bit.”

This philosophy of thoughtfully approaching each step in the
growth process is embedded in every part of the organization and
has helped Alvarez successfully grow the company.

Here is how he did it.

Get who and what you need

Alvarez came from a sales background, and he knew that he had
what it took to turn his company into a big player in the wholesale
market for optical products. However, he needed a solid plan and
good people.

As a leader, you can’t be afraid to look at examples outside of
your industry of how businesses have succeeded.

“Business is a science,” Alvarez says. “There’s a lot of really good
research already done and models that you can follow. It’s not
much different from building a building. The engineering to build
a skyscraper is a science. That core fundamental basic value that
you can study and lift from another industry and put into our
industry is really how we’ve forged our vision and our plan.”

Alvarez uses a similar philosophy when it comes to hiring people:
Determine your strengths and hire for your weaknesses. Then hire
people that have been through some of the challenges you anticipate
facing.

“You don’t have to sell those people on it — they’ve done it,”
Alvarez says. “Our COO came from a business, which was his family business. He lived through that evolution. He said, ‘Wow, this is
the same thing that I was going through eight years ago or 10 years
ago.’ That experience gives him confidence and allows for a very
clear understanding, and he can build all those bridges that we
need to do.”

Finding these people requires that you engage in communication
and develop relationships. When you do find someone that fits your
company, don’t be afraid to spend what it takes, within reason, to get
him or her.

“They say there is a lack of good people out there,” Alvarez says.
“There are plenty of good people out there. What I see is a lot of
people not wanting to pay the dollars necessary to bring in the
right people. The right person in the right environment, if you’re
set up to grow and you’re clear in your mind that you have opportunities to grow, will pay for themselves in a hurry.”

Talk to your employees

As steps are taken at the upper levels to move your company forward, you must share that information with your employees. While
it is a cliché, it is very often true that actions do, in fact, speak louder than words

“The majority of people have to see it happening,” Alvarez says.
“It’s not my job to convince all of them. My job is to make the
organization stretch, and they’ll start believing as it happens.”

Alvarez recalled the company’s recent move into a larger
warehouse.

“You can see the capacity, and you can feel the capacity,” Alvarez
says. “They can see it and touch it and smell it. They live through
all these things that we’re trying to do, and they understand that
we’re improving all the time and making changes all the time.
What they need to be convinced of is why we’re doing all this.

“We define leadership as being able to put that vision out there
and stay true to it over a long period of time and be successful. …
You just get traction and attention, and the naysayers become
believers. People say, ‘Wow, you’re doing what you said you were
going to do.’”

Alvarez holds regular town-hall meetings every six months to
update employees on the company’s progress and its setbacks.

“Obviously, there are mistakes,” Alvarez says. “We’re not going to
be held back by any of those errors or mistakes that we’ve made.
It might have delayed us 30 days or 90 days, but we’re pushing forward on the plan.”

And while action is the bottom line, constant communication can
only help keep employees in the loop with new developments or
changes in company operations.

“It’s like Ronald Reagan used to say,” Alvarez says. “Tell them
what you’re going to do, tell them again how you’re going to do it,
and then tell them again. It’s just a constant rehash.”

You also need to take time to celebrate when goals are accomplished or when an employee steps out and does something that
really benefits the company.

“There are a lot of things that go on in business that companies
accomplish, and they just don’t ever reflect on what that meant to
somebody,” Alvarez says. “They take the profit because they did
something. They don’t give credence to all these and the fact that
it took a lot of people’s time and hard work to get it there.”

Focus on the big picture

It may sound like a strange position to take, but Alvarez says he
takes great care in ensuring that both he and his managers focus
at least as much of their daily effort on the business as they do in
the business.

“If you’re not a good enough manager that allows for delegation
and training and getting your leads and getting your supervisors up
to speed in order for you to spend at least half of your time improving the operation, you get exposed pretty quickly,” Alvarez says.

A big part of working on the business is making sure employees
feel good about their job and where the company is going.

“It’s as simple as making sure they are heard, making sure that
the reviews are done on time, making sure that individuals that are
helping are getting larger raises and that employees that are not
pulling their weight do not stay,” Alvarez says.

As the CEO, Alvarez says you have your own responsibility
for where to direct your attention and what to leave to your
managers.

“We have this philosophy to tell me about the 20 percent of the
things that are real bad and tell me about the 20 percent of the things
that are real good so we can celebrate and understand the risks,”
Alvarez says. “But the 60 percent in the middle, which is basically
working on the business, their job is to manage that. I don’t need to
know that.

“Another fatal flaw with a lot of leaders is being too involved in
decision-making. Your people don’t grow. If they don’t grow, you’re
too involved. If you’re too involved, you can’t be on the strategic
side and working the vision. It’s that simple.”

By focusing on the strategic side and working to grow the business, Alvarez has been able to expand his company through acquisitions. After achieving 2006 revenue of $178 million, ABB Optical
merged in April 2007 with Con-Cise Contact Lens to form
ABB/CON-CISE North America, which now has just over 500
employees.

The key to the company’s success has been its ability to view setbacks as opportunities rather than failure.

“We have made a tremendous amount of mistakes that we were
able to overcome due to the fact we were always driven to increasing sales significantly,” Alvarez says. “I’m the guy with the sunglasses upside down with all the chips on the table. I’ve done that
several times. I never saw it as risk. I remember reading a book,
‘The Roaring 2000s.’ [Harry S. Dent Jr.’s] analysis was some people
see it as risk and some don’t, and I just didn’t see it as risk.”

As the leader, you can’t be afraid of mistakes.
“Live with the individuals that you’re allowing to make mistakes,
and bite your tongue and let them find their own way,” Alvarez
says. “One of my favorite things my father taught me a long time
ago was anytime we would go by a cemetery, he would always
look and say, ‘Those guys thought they were indispensable also.’
It’s about letting your team find their own way and letting them
grow, and hopefully, they prove you wrong most of the time.”

HOW TO REACH: ABB/CON-CISE, (800) 852-8089 or www.abboptical.com

Selling the plan

Calvin J. Miller could hardly believe what he was hearing. It
was 1993, and he had just taken over as president and CEO at
Associated Grocers of Florida Inc. The company would collect
$200 million in revenue for the year but owed a lot of money to
creditors and had a significant problem with employee theft.

When Miller found out the retail grocery supplier had also been
working without a formal budget, he realized he was joining a
company in serious need of some guidance and direction.

“I said, ‘We’re putting in a budget together, and we will follow it.
This is what I expect out of each person in the company and
these are the margins I expect, and if we don’t hit them, we’ve
got to find a solution to hit them,’” Miller says.

Decisive statements are critical for a leader who is trying to get
employees to buy in to a recovery plan. But in order to make it
actually happen, those employees need you to come to the table
with more than just a clever 30-second sound bite.

“Trust is not given, it’s earned,” Miller says. “You can’t do it in six
months or a year. It takes time for them to know that you are there
to help them and you’re not there to hurt anyone.”

Miller knew he needed to implement a budget model, and he
was also keenly aware of the problems in personnel that the
180-employee company faced. But just as important, he knew
he needed to demonstrate leadership to show employees that
he was taking control of the situation.

Names are a good place to start when looking to get employees to buy in to your leadership style and your vision for the
company.

“If you walked around with me, you understand that I know 99
percent of everybody’s name in this company, which is very important to a person,” Miller says. “You have to treat people like human
beings. You have to let them know that you care about them. I’ve
seen so many people try to fake it. You have to be real about it.”

By projecting an air of both optimism and confidence while also
demonstrating the value he placed on his employees, Miller was
confident that he could get his plan implemented and get his
employees to come along for the ride.

Get out the map

Miller began with the budget and analyzed costs in every department to figure out where money was being made and where it was
being lost. It’s difficult to formulate a budget if you don’t have a
good sense of the financials.

With thousands of items ranging from frozen foods to dairy
products to meat and deli selections being shipped to locations
across the southeastern United States, and more recently,
around the world, a plan was sorely needed to keep everything
straight.

But sorting through the numbers and determining what items
were being shipped where and for how much was only part of the task that he faced in getting a budget in place.

Miller needed to go all the way back to square one to convince both his management team and employees that the company needed a detailed budget if it wanted to succeed against
its competitors.

“This is our road map, and we have to hit this to get income
into the company,” Miller says of his pitch to the company.
“That was a hard sell. It’s just stay focused on it and say, ‘We’re
going to do it.’ It’s the only way that we can run a company. It’s
like taking a trip. Before you take it, you want to know where
you are going. You follow the road map and you get there. It
took about three months for people to understand.”

Whether you are enacting a brand-new budget or making
major changes to an existing model, communication is the key
to getting everyone on board with the plan and making it work.
Whether it’s through e-mail, phone conversations or face-to-face meetings, you need to keep the lines of communication
open.

“The biggest part about putting a budget together is getting
the input of the people that are going to be responsible to make
that budget,” Miller says. “Don’t you just sit there and do it
yourself and say, ‘This is what it has to be.’ Get the input of
people within the company. Explain, ‘This is what I’m looking
for. Can you help me with it?’”

Getting others engaged was a key step in Miller’s ability to
convince everyone that enacting a budget was crucial to the
organization’s future. It’s not enough to be available for a few
questions at the end of a meeting. You need to make yourself
available to your people as often as possible if you want them
to buy in to your plan. And be prepared to both ask and answer
questions.

“Everybody knows they can come in here any time, day or
night, and I will sit down and talk to them,” Miller says. “They
know that I’m not going to get upset. They know I’m very
happy to listen to them. If they have an idea to better the company, I am so willing to listen to it. If I don’t happen to agree
with them, I will tell them why I don’t agree with them.”

Managers are obviously a key part of the process and need to
be involved in the large decisions when hashing out the budget. But every employee in your company should be aware of its
basic structure. By making the budget a priority with every
employee, you give each person a reason to look at how his or
her own work at the company affects the company’s bottom
line.

“I don’t care if the individual happens to be sweeping the
floor, there is something that extends to sweeping the floor,”
Miller says. “Everybody in this company knows about our
budget.”

Do what you have to do

Sharing company business with employees is vital to gaining
their acceptance. But you also need to show yourself to be a
real person who does not just view your employees as a means
to financial gain.

“I try to every day cover the whole company and walk
through and say hello to everyone, no matter whom it may be,”
Miller says. “Let them read you every day. The most important
thing is to stay consistent with who you are. If you happen to
be under a lot of pressure, I try never to show that to the people. It gets people nervous.”

As you are walking and shaking hands, you should also be
observing what is happening in your organization. A lot can be
learned by simply opening your eyes.

“I look as I walk,” Miller says. “I don’t just walk to shake
hands and smile. I’m always paying attention as I walk through.
Sometimes you see something going on and you focus on it.
Get with management, say, ‘There is a problem and let’s try to
get it solved.’”

During one of his walks last year, Miller came across a vehicle in the company parking lot that had a tire that was nearly
flat.

“I looked at all the tires and I said, ‘My God, they’re bald,’”
Miller says.

It turned out the car belonged to an employee who was having a tough time at home with her family and couldn’t afford
new tires.

“I just said, ‘You can’t drive a car like that. I want you to go
get four new tires and you don’t have to pay me back. I just
want you to be safe,’” Miller says. “I didn’t want her to say anything, but, of course, she told a few people and it spreads
throughout the company. You can’t always do it for financial
gain. You have to do it because they are people and they
depend on you.”

It is those kinds of acts as a leader that will encourage your
employees to buy in to your plan and bring their support to
your leadership.

“If you’re not sincere in what you’re doing, people read that,”
Miller says. “You might get away with it for six months, but
you’ve got to be real about everything you do. Let people know
that you are real and that you really care about the company,
them and their families. Treat people like you want to be treated. If they don’t accept it, maybe it’s not the company they
should be with.”

Stay on top of problems

As you establish trust with the employees you count on to
help you grow the company, you also learn who it is that does-n’t fit in to your plan.

Miller knew the company had a problem with theft and decided to tackle it head on.

“I laid on the roof many nights,” Miller says. “If I suspected somebody, I would just climb up on the roof and see what they were carrying out.”

The action convinced employees that Miller wanted to
improve the work environment for employees who
approached their jobs with honesty.

“Most people within the company knew about it, they were
just afraid to say anything,” Miller says. “The good people saw
what was happening. I had a few phone calls and letters from
husbands and wives thanking me for doing things with the
company to make it a safe place.”

When dealing with issues that are not always openly discussed, it is crucial that you do not let rumors fester.

“I don’t spend time with rumors in a company,” Miller says. “If
you want to make a recommendation or you think something
is wrong, tell me what’s wrong and tell me how I can correct it.
They are the stars, the ones who see a problem and have a
solution for you, too.”

When you learn of a rumor at your company that could create problems, it’s best to be upfront with it.

“I tell them, ‘I’m hearing something. Now, let me set the
record straight,’” Miller says. “I tell them if there is an element
of truth. Just be honest about it because if you don’t and three
months down the road, it pops out and three months prior, you
told them there was no truth to it, they look at you like you lied
to them. Don’t ever put yourself in that trap. Tell the truth and
then you don’t have to worry. If you want to keep it strictly to
yourself, don’t tell anybody.”

While some problems require a bit of secrecy, for the most
part, the ability to deal with and discuss issues in the open is
one of the most important attributes of a successful leader.

Miller’s strategies to put Associated Grocers back on the path
to success have paid off. The company posted $600 million in
revenue for fiscal 2007 and now has 350 employees. Miller also
expects revenue to double over the next several years. He
credits his style of engaging others in the running of his company with its success.

“People come up with some amazing things,” Miller says.
“Maybe that’s what has helped me the most. I’m not afraid to
listen or say, ‘I don’t know.’ If I don’t think I know the right
answer, I’ll go out and get it.” <<

HOW TO REACH: Associated Grocers of Florida Inc., (954) 876-3000 or www.agfla.com

Medicine man

Alan Levine says you must consistently demonstrate that you
value what your employees do for you each day if you expect them
to buy in to your vision for the company.

Levine has taken this leadership principle to heart as president
and CEO of Broward Health, one of the largest not-for-profit public health care systems in the United States with slightly more than
$1 billion in fiscal 2007 revenue.

During a particularly emotional and difficult week last summer
at Broward General Medical Center, the largest of the health system’s five hospitals, Levine met with a nurse named Sandra.

Sandra works in the pediatric intensive care unit and had
watched a series of horrific accidents bring several children to
the hospital. Not all of the youngsters could be saved, and
Levine was curious how his staff was dealing with the emotional situation.

“I looked at her and I said, ‘Sandra, how do you do this? How
do you deal with these kids that come in here and some of
them don’t make it?’” Levine says. “She said, ‘Alan, I guess the
bottom line is you do the best you can do.’”

Levine took the story that he heard from Sandra and used it
to compose an e-mail that he then delivered to each of his
8,000 employees.

“Sandra had something to teach me that I thought others
could learn from,” Levine says. “That brings people together.
Those are the small things that people look at and say, ‘Wow,
our CEO is human. He listens, he wants to share, and he wants
other people to learn. He’s not a nameless, faceless person that
just sits behind a desk and makes decisions. He’s somebody
that actually gets out and talks to employees and wants to hear
their input.’”

When Levine arrived at Broward Health in July 2006, he found
a company that was lacking direction and lagging in confidence
from the community. The key to turning it around would be his
ability to reach employees on a personal level and convince them
that they all play a part in the organization’s success or failure.

“When you move into an organization, the first few times you
do something, people are going to watch you very closely to
see if you are fair and if you are honest,” Levine says. “If you
handle it that way, people then develop a sense of comfort that
you are going to come at them with the real story and not play
games with them.”

By opening up to his employees right from the start, Levine
was able to get them to believe both in him and his vision for
the company.

Here’s how Levine has conquered some of his biggest challenges as he’s guided Broward Health to new levels of success.

Talk to your people

One of the best ways that Levine knows to help him get closer
to his employees is to make fun of them. More specifically, this
includes those who did not go to the University of Florida,
Levine’s alma mater.

“I make fun of everybody here that is not a Florida Gator because all of their teams are terrible and ours are good,”
Levine says with a chuckle. “I throw stuff like that into e-mails
all the time. It generates a sense of camaraderie.”

By revealing a little of your nonbusiness personality in the
workplace, you make it easier for employees to approach you
about more important concerns.

“I want people to see me as somebody that communicates,”
Levine says. “They will e-mail me their concerns and I always
try to respond to them. They may not like the answer, but I
think it’s important for everybody to feel like we are all on the
same team.”

When he’s not bragging about the Gators, Levine says he is
open to talking about issues that face Broward Health and may
affect his employees’ jobs.

“I shared with them some of the financial challenges we’ve got
going forward with the state budget,” Levine says. “These challenges are going to affect them. I’d rather employees know
about it and not feel like we’re springing some surprise on them.
We’re trying to communicate with them so they can participate
in the discussion about how we’re going to deal with these challenges. Frankly, you get a lot of great ideas from them.

“Employees are not looking for a leader who has all the
answers. They look for someone who is willing to find the right
answers.”

Seeking out employees to find those answers helps them feel
valued and gives them the sense that their role at the company
is an important one. For example, Levine relied heavily on
employees when he hired a new CEO last summer at Imperial
Point Medical Center.

He and his CFO, Frank Nask, whittled the list of candidates
down to three or four finalists and then passed those candidates on for interviews with the medical executive committee
and a group of Imperial Point employees.

“We hired their No. 1 pick,” Levine says. “The employees and
doctors feel a sense of ownership in terms of that decision, and
they’re invested in the success of their new CEO. They are
invested in that new manager’s success. All of those other people at that level feel like, ‘OK, we’ve bought in to this person. If
this person isn’t going where we need them to go, we’re going
to get them there.’

“If I pretend I have all the answers, what ends up happening
is people become afraid to make decisions for themselves. ‘I
can’t do this until I go talk to Alan.’ You want to empower people to make decisions and feel comfortable making decisions.”

Lead with honesty

Soon after Levine arrived at Broward Health, there was a situation at one of the hospitals in which a patient died after
being given too much of a certain drug. Levine knows that
many hospitals tend to clam up when bad things happen in
hopes of avoiding bad publicity.

But being open with problems instead of trying to hide them
pays off.

“We actually called the press and met with the reporters and
told them what happened and laid out why it happened,”
Levine says. “We said we had done an investigation, and here’s
what we’re going to do to try to prevent it from happening
again, recognizing that people are human and mistakes will
happen. You would have expected a negative story. ‘The hospital killed somebody.’ The opposite happened. The press was
very positive that we stepped forward and were candid about
what happened.”

Telling the truth makes a lot of things easier for a CEO,
whether you are communicating with the outside world or
with your employees.

“When you tell the truth and you’re honest with people, you
don’t have to cover yourself up a lot,” Levine says.

You make a mistake when you try to hide your motive for
making certain decisions from your employees. Transparency,
especially with the tough decisions, helps grease the path to
employee buy-in.

“If you explain to them and you’re transparent with them
about what you’re trying to get accomplished, they want to be
helpful and they want to be part of it,” Levine says.

That doesn’t mean that being honest is always easy. Levine
says he encourages very frank discussions when he meets with
his management team, and there are times when the talks can
get heated.

“We sit in a room and we talk about stuff, and everybody
says whatever they want to say,” Levine says. “There is no
sensitivity about hurting each other’s feelings or the games-manship or the posturing. Everybody on my team knows they
are important to me and that I trust them. I want them to not
agree with me. I want them to express whether they think we
are heading on the right path or not.”

The worst thing that can happen is when someone holds back
from making a comment that could have prevented a mistake
from occurring.

“That tells me, ‘Wow, you’re willing to sit back and watch us
implode,’” Levine says.

The more you communicate that you want your people to
speak up, the less likely this is to occur.

When a foundation of trust has been built through personal
relationships, any bitter feelings generated by the heated discussions are more likely to be left in the boardroom. People feel
comfortable offering their opinion without fear of reprisal.

“I want you to say what’s on your mind, and I want you to feel
like you can,” Levine says. “When we’re all done, we may have
a heated discussion about it. I enjoy that. I think it’s very
healthy for an organization. At the end of the day, everybody
knows we’ve discussed it, we put the issues on the table, and
we thought about the consequences of what we’re doing.

“Whether everybody100 percent agrees with the conclusion
or not at that point isn’t important. The fact is they had a
chance to have input, and we’ve made a decision.”

Help your employees grow

When major decisions lead to good fortune for a company, it
is essential that you show your appreciation to your employees.

At the end of last year, patient satisfaction was on the
upswing. At Broward General, the satisfaction rate went from
66 percent to 93 percent, Levine says. This makes patients
happy and helps build needed community trust.

So Levine issued a one-week bonus to all nonmanagement
employees.

“This all happened because of you,” Levine says, reciting part
of the letter he sent to employees with the bonus checks.
“We’re going to share in the success of the organization with
you.”

When employees help make your company successful and
choose to leave your organization for new opportunities, it
should not be viewed as a bad thing.

“I take joy when my employees come to me and say, ‘You
know, Alan, I’ve learned a lot here, but I have this great opportunity to go somewhere else and make more money and have
more responsibility,’” Levine says. “I’m always happy when one
of my employees comes to me and says that. It tells me I’ve
done all I can to position them to be more successful in their
career.

“If you want to build a sense of camaraderie, if you want to
build a sense of we’re all on the same team, you have to have
people believe that you’re invested in their success. If you have
a good employee and they are committed to your goals and
they work hard and they help get the organization to where
you’re trying to get it, you do all you can to help them succeed
in their career and you don’t do anything to hold them back.”

“When you show them appreciation and you show them that
you understand how hard they are working, it doesn’t take
much for that to translate into serious loyalty. If your employees feel like you know what they are going through and you
recognize the challenges they have and you do more than just
pay lip service to it, but you show them that you really do
understand it and you want them to share in the success of
your organization, man, those employees will be with you forever.”

HOW TO REACH: Broward Health, (954) 759-7400 or www.browardhealth.org

Showtime


Michael F. Whalen Jr. has seen “The Godfather” at least 20 times,
but he still learns something new every time he watches it.

 

“Each scene has a life lesson,” Whalen says. “There are little
things I pick up, mannerisms, that I still find fascinating to watch.

Whalen obviously does not share the leadership style of Vito
Corleone or his son, Michael, in the way he runs Muvico
Entertainment LLC, but a parallel can be drawn between how he
watches the legendary film and the way he runs his company in
that each day provides a new lesson to be learned.

Whalen, the company’s president and CEO, seeks out employees
and members of his management team on a regular basis in search
of practices that will help Muvico run more efficiently and pleasantly. The regular communication enables him to get to know his
employees and allows Whalen to put the feedback he receives into
context.

“You need to step into the shoes of the employees that work for you
and try to understand, ‘If I was in that position, what would motivate
me to be more productive and be pleasant at work?’” Whalen says.

“What are the things that would motivate me if I was there doing
that job that would make my work day enriching or a better experience? While people think salaries are important, and they are, it’s
really just the foundation.”

Muvico has expanded beyond its Florida roots to 259 screens at 14
locations in Florida, Maryland, Illinois and Tennessee. As the 1,400-employee company continues to grow, Whalen places a high priority
on getting off to a good start in each new market.

“We wanted to make sure that when that first customer walked
through the door, not only would they see the splendor of the amenities in the building, but the thing that would be the lasting impression
was the person who took their ticket or the person behind the concession stand who was really nice,” Whalen says.

“The best marketing in this business is word-of-mouth. That one
person who had a great experience in Chicago is literally going to go
home and over dinner with his family or with friends or in the work-place at the watercooler is going to say, ‘Wow, I went to this great theater or whatever, and you’ve gotta go.’”

More than 11 million people went to a Muvico theater in 2006, leading to revenue of $125 million. By directly engaging his employees in
the company’s future and regularly asking for their input, Whalen
says Muvico will be positioned for even more growth in the years
ahead.

Make a connection

It’s really a pretty simple formula. If you give employees a sense that
they are valued by the company, the chances are exponentially better that they will work hard to please the customer.

When Muvico opens a new theater, either Whalen or Director of
Human Resources James Herd typically makes an appearance at
the site to offer a personal welcome to the new employees. Whalen
talks about where the company is headed and offers any updates
he might have from the corporate office.

More importantly, however, Whalen is looking to make a personal
connection with the new members of his company.

“I would always say to people when I see them coming in, ‘Isn’t this
the most beautiful theater you’ve ever seen?’” Whalen says. “And
everyone will say, ‘Oh yeah, this is unbelievable. The seats are great.’

And I’ll say, ‘Do you know what the most important thing about this
theater is in making it a success?’”

The most typical answers Whalen gets are to keep the theater clean
and make sure enough popcorn is sold.

“I’ll say, ‘All very important, but the most important thing about this
theater is you,’” Whalen says. “You individually will make or break
the success of this theater. You will be the people interacting with the
customers. That’s very motivating to people because you’ve just
taken someone and put the burden or onus or responsibility on to
them, and they feel part of something.

“It’s taking people on a journey. ‘We’re here today and we want to
get there tomorrow, and you are the most important people in making that happen.’”

Whalen says you need to communicate that no matter what it is the
company does, customers choose to return to a business because of
its employees. This needs to be communicated on a constant basis
by a variety of means.

“People need to buy in to a broader set of vision than just the daily
tasking of their job,” Whalen says. “People who are at the field level,
they understand the marketplace better and in a more detailed way
than I ever will understand it. I know from a macro standpoint how
the theater is doing and how it’s doing versus the competition. But the
day-to-day interaction with people and what guests want and what
they like and what they would like changed comes from the employee.”

Keep the channels open

Whalen encourages open communication both up and down the
corporate ladder to make everyone feel like he or she is a vital cog
in the machine that is the company. He reinforces the idea that any
employee in the company can bring a problem or an idea to a
supervisor and expect that it will be addressed.

“There are many companies out there that truly don’t understand
their own customers,” Whalen says. “They don’t understand employee issues because you have people like myself pontificating down
and saying, ‘This is what we want to do.’ But you don’t know if it’s
really working. … You need to be in the shoes of that person and
understand what motivates that person to excel.”

Being a theater company, Muvico employs a lot of teenagers to sell
tickets, pop popcorn and clean up after each show. Whalen says he
will occasionally drop by one of his theaters, buy a hot dog, pretzel
and soda, and see how his employees work together.

“To talk to a managing director in a theater and say, ‘How’s your
concessions working?’ he’s going to tell me, ‘It’s working good,’”
Whalen says. “You have to experience the process as you would
from a customer’s perspective because, at the end of the day, it’s all
about customer service.

“As a leader in this company in some division, you need to be
judged, not only by the people you report to but also by the people
that work for you.”

Whalen encourages a culture in which leaders at all levels of the
company maintain regular communication with their employees to
assess their needs.

“You need to have a dialogue with all your employees,” Whalen
says. “You have to go to those people and get an understanding for
how they feel.”

When ideas are raised by employees that prove helpful to the
organization, the leader must find a way to recognize their ingenuity.

“When that idea comes up, there has to be communication back
down that says, ‘Hey, thank you for the idea,’” Whalen says. “It’s simple positive reinforcement. Once people get rewarded for that and
other people see that he is getting rewarded, those barriers start to
break down.”

Besides a simple thank you, programs such as recognizing an
employee of the month or congratulating an employee or team at a
meeting are effective ways of encouraging employees to be active in
the company.

The conversations with employees don’t always have to be directly about work in order to benefit the company. Whalen recalls a
cruise that the company funded for its managing directors last year.

“Not everything has to be in your face, here is the agenda, and we’re
going to do five business meetings on customer service,” Whalen says.
“A lot of it is to get into a relaxed environment and have people talk in
a socialized way and understand each other.

“More things come out of that sometimes than in structural settings. We’re all sitting in a room and we have X, Y and Z problems.
How are we going to solve them? Some people don’t want to step
up and talk. … It’s a more relaxed environment to have stimulated
discussions.”

Show you care

If a leader is going to ask his or her employees to value their job,
service the customers and offer useful feedback about how the
company could improve, it’s not too much to expect the company
to offer something in return.

“If people don’t see a path, you will never motivate them or stimulate them besides monetarily through a salary to get the vision of
what you want,” Whalen says. “People need to see that people who
start hourly somehow can get to an executive level. … They can see
those things and they get motivated to do those sorts of things. If
they can’t see their way through a glass wall or a place where that
is, then it all falls down.”

As in most aspects of running a business, providing a path that
employees want to take requires communication. It also requires a
leader to use that communication to determine what it is that motivates his or her employees.

“If I’m a teen and I’m working at Muvico and I’m getting $8 an hour,
that teen is not going to be motivated by saying, ‘If you do a great job
this summer, you’re going to aspire to be a managing director at
Muvico,’” Whalen says. “But if you said to them, ‘Hey, if you work
really hard, there’s a $50 Best Buy credit card or $50 of downloads to
iTunes,’ that’s motivating. You have to relate to the audience you’re
leading.”

Getting employees to share their thoughts about their future aspirations is best accomplished when a leader is open and honest with
employees and presents himself or herself as a real person.

“There is a set of values that was instilled in me by my parents,”
Whalen says. “Treat people like you want to be treated. Just be honest
with people, tell them what your thoughts are, and treat people with
respect. People should be treated with respect to get respect back.”

Employees are much more likely to care about the company’s
future if they believe their boss cares about their own future.

“We’re all rowing a ship together,” Whalen says. “You need to know
the guy down there, the oarsman, who stopped rowing for some reason. The boat is waggling a little bit. You can’t go on and say, ‘We can
still make it there,’ and then another oarsman stops. And you’re slowing down, and you’re like, ‘OK, OK, we can still make it.’ Then before
you know it, the boat stops. You don’t even realize what happened
because you didn’t address the one oarsman’s need, and it spread like
a virus throughout the rest of the boat.”

By keeping an eye on all of his oarsmen and women, Whalen is confident the growth at Muvico is only beginning. Plans are in place to
launch in New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia over the next two
years.

Success in those markets, just as at the locations where Muvico
already has a presence, will come down to the employees and the
service they provide to the customers.

“It’s the one-on-one contact with the customer and the people that
are trained,” Whalen says. “It’s the little things that matter.”

HOW TO REACH: Muvico Entertainment LLC, (800) 294-6585 or www.muvico.com

Balancing act

There is nothing wrong with a CEO allowing a gut feeling to play
a part in how quickly they grow their company.

“If you have tried it before and it has worked, you will be more
confident to try it the next time,” says Olga Ramudo.

But the president and CEO of Express Travel believes economics must be the leading factor when deciding whether to hire more
people, buy more space or purchase new equipment.

“It’s a balance,” Ramudo says. “It has to be an economics issue.
At the same time, it has to be a service issue. When do you cross
that line? When does the additional economic expense make sense
so you don’t lose your service level? We try to go with the numbers.”

By balancing dollars with service needs, Ramudo has led the
travel management company from $6 million in 2004 revenue to
about $18 million in 2006 revenue, with 31 employees.

Smart Business spoke with Ramudo about why every em-ploy-ee’s opinion counts and why you must make your expectations
clear.

Q: What are the keys to being a successful CEO?

It’s important to hear and listen to your staff and your customers. You won’t be able to do that unless you’re involved in
the day to day. You need to be involved so you’re able to make
decisions right there and then.

We are very involved in different associations, where it gives
us a chance to be face to face with our top customers. You create an ambiance of open dialogue. If there is anything going
well or bad, it’s a great opportunity to listen to them.

Everyone in this company has an opinion, and we like it that
way. There is something to be learned from everyone. We want
feedback. We want to hear from everyone.

We share results with them about our performance. We try to
make them feel proud of who and what the company is.

That’s a special skill. It needs to be worked at. I don’t think
you are born being a good listener. You need to train yourself
for that and consider that there might be a value to what the
other person has to say.

Q: How do you find the right employees?

Disposition and aggressiveness and wanting to do the job are
more important than the skills. If you want to be the best at what
you do, you will be the best. If you don’t care what the outcome
will be, you will stay stagnant.

You also want somebody that likes and is in love with what they
do. If you like what you do, you will give it all you have. If you
don’t, you will do the job, you will get in at 9 and leave at 5, but you
won’t give it your all.

Q: How can a company develop and maintain a good reputation?

Our face and name is always out there.

Get involved in everything in your community. Get involved
in your industry. You want to make a name for yourself and
make your company known that way. A good reputation and a
good name say a lot for you.

We are all humans. As such, we have the right to make mistakes. We respond to it the same way that we accept it — that
is with honesty and acknowledging that although we strive for
perfection, in reality, perfection does not exist, either in work
or in real life.

We learn from it, we move forward, we put it behind us and
we go to the next page of the book. Hopefully at the end, there
will be more successes than failures.

Q: What other skills can help a CEO be a better leader?

You cannot lose track of the internal administration, the
internal management and what comes in the day-to-day operations. But at the same time, the customer is who is bringing the
business in.

Without the customer, you cannot have the internal. Without
the internal, you cannot have the customer.

That’s why it’s so important to have the right staff backing
you up. Sometimes what happens is you want things done, but
you don’t explain to that person what is expected of them. You
need to be clear about what’s expected in that particular
instance.

What is that person supposed to do? Is that person supposed
to call the customer to resolve the issue? How do you want
that person to handle that? That needs to be communicated
when that assistant or that backup is hired.

You need to set clear objectives of what their job expectations are. You need to have confidence that, that person will
perform. If not, you’re going to be afraid to delegate.

HOW TO REACH: Express Travel, (305) 341-1200 or www.expresstravelmiami.com

A common cause

When Bermello Ajamil & Partners Inc. began to expand beyond
Miami and into New York and Dubai, Luis Ajamil says it was critical that each employee felt that he or she was part of the same
company.

Ajamil used senior employees to lead the new offices and ensure
that the culture in the new locations matched that of the culture
back in Miami.

“Everybody understands what we do and how we do it,” Ajamil
says. “They are transmitting that on a day-to-day basis with every
person we have in the company.”

This approach has helped the design and architectural firm grow
from $31.1 million in 2005 revenue to $41 million in 2006 with 280
employees.

Smart Business spoke with the president and CEO about the
importance of setting a common goal for your company and driving everyone toward it.

Q: What is the key to creating a vision?

Lead by creating a vision of where the company is going.
Delegate authority and let people do what they are supposed to
do. Those are the people that you have worked with over the
years and have accepted the challenge.

Blend the day-to-day nuts and bolts of what makes your business
go with a totally almost disconnected vision of where the business
could be 20 years from now. Create a path between the two, which
allows you then to begin to set both a vision and specific goals on
a time scale that will get you there.

Never totally disenfranchise yourself from where you are at and
how the business is doing, how it’s making money and how it’s succeeding.

Establish a track for that. Look at best management practices.
Look at what other people are doing and then look at how the
world is transforming around it. Put it all together into some formula that will give you a direction.

Q: How do you share your vision with employees?

I go around to the offices and I meet with everybody. I set up
small workshops with 10 people or 12 people, and we’ll spend a
couple hours discussing it. One of the top targets is linking the
vision and the communication strategy together. We have one person who is assigned to do this.

This person is mainly responsible for creating all the communication tools with our employees. It’s an internal reshaping of the
assets that we have, taking advantage of everybody’s strengths. It’s
not somebody that we went out and sought and said, ‘We need a
good PR person.’ More than PR, it really is somebody that knows
people and knows the company and knows the people in the company.

Set specific goals on a year-in and year-out basis. See whether
you’re doing it right or not. We have a pretty clear vision of where
we are going. It’s just the pace at which the marketplace will allow
us to get there.

You adjust to the marketplace as long as you keep implementing
your objectives on your schedule.

Q: How do you find the right people to execute the plan?

I spend a lot of my time interviewing people. See how they made
decisions in the past and why, and listen carefully to what their
answers are. That’s what begins to set people apart.

Give them an opportunity to talk, ask a few hard questions and
see how they answer.

Typically they range from, ‘Why are you looking for a job?’ and,
‘Why did you leave your last job?’ Those are pretty telling questions. After you interview a lot, you’ve heard all the answers and
you know what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense.

They want to make a good impression. They are putting their
best foot forward at that time. If they haven’t made a good first
impression, from then on, they are digging themselves out of a
hole. That’s not to say there are not people that surprise you.

My style of interviewing is not to ask a lot of questions upfront
but actually talk a lot to put the person at ease in terms of who we
are and what we are looking for.

That does allow the person to mimic what you are saying. Then
it’s very easy to tell that the person is trying to appease you more
than they are trying to tell you about themselves.

Q: What attributes do you look for in the hiring process?

Look at the core skills. If you have the right attitude and ability,
energy is a byproduct. If you’re enjoying what you’re doing and
you really like it, you’re going to put all your effort into it. It’s our
job in management to put that combination in play.

You can’t have just all Type A personalities. It would be incredibly exciting, but my job would probably switch to being a referee
more than the leader.

HOW TO REACH: Bermello Ajamil & Partners Inc., (305) 859-2050 or www.bamiami.com

Commitment to excellence

Larry Blum loves sports, both as a fan of
the world champion Miami Heat and
as an athlete who plays competitive basketball, tennis and golf.

That drive to win pushes Blum to succeed at Rachlin Cohen & Holtz LLP, and he
looks for that competitive spirit in his
employees, as well. The challenge for Blum
as managing partner is to maintain a culture of teamwork and camaraderie as the
accounting and advisory services firm rapidly grows.

“If you have a team of five people, it’s easy
to create a culture and a game plan,” Blum
says. “If you have a team of 210 people, it’s a
challenge.”

Blum has met the challenge by making
attitude a priority over skill when hiring
new employees at Rachlin Cohen & Holtz,
which had 2006 revenue of $36 million.
Smart Business spoke with Blum about
how listening contributes to a healthy culture.

Q: What are the keys to being a strong
leader?

You need a strong personality. Be open
and receptive to new ideas. Give freely to
others. Make yourself available when people need advice and mentoring. Embrace
change. The world today has become so
complicated and is moving at such a rapid
pace that if you stand still, you lose ground.

Listen to people with an open mind. A lot
of people, when they talk to people, they
are not listening. They are waiting for the
person to stop talking so that they can put
their viewpoint forward.

God gave you two ears and one mouth, so
you’re supposed to listen twice as much as
you talk. Everybody has the ability to teach
everybody else something, if you’re really
willing to listen and learn.

Q: How do you empower employees?

Delegate tasks to people and give them
the opportunity to succeed. If they don’t
succeed, you have to give them the opportunity to learn for future successes.

You have to have an immense respect
for everybody in whatever they do in their
walk of life. Whatever level they are in,
you have to show respect. If you do that, I
think you end up getting more from people.

When I walk in, in the morning, I try to
say hello to everybody. I know everybody
by their first name. I try to even know
what people’s personal interests are. If
somebody is not well, I try to check up on
them.

You have to genuinely care about the
people that work with you. I love nothing
more than to help somebody succeed, to
give to people without any expectation of
getting anything back.

I’m not afraid to give credit to people.
I’m not afraid to admit mistakes. If you
show people that you genuinely care
about their success and you are there to
help them and you empower them, I think
they work harder to help the team succeed. A team is only as good as everybody
working together, or its weakest link.

Q: How do you respond to failure?

We’re all going to make a lot of mistakes.
There was the great quote about Thomas
Edison … in 10,000 tries, he was unable to
create a light bulb.

You have Michael Jordan, who got cut from
his high school basketball team and became
one of the greatest basketball players of all
time. He basically said he is never afraid of
failure. What he will not tolerate is not trying.

A good leader is very proactive and not
reactive. He can’t be afraid to make the
change and he can’t be afraid to make a mistake and he can’t be afraid to admit if he
makes a mistake.

You can’t have your people afraid to
make suggestions for change. You can’t be
afraid to react on those. Give credit to people and praise people for taking the effort
to try and make recommendations.

Q: What makes attitude so important?

Attitude is something we control ourselves. You get up in the morning and
determine what your attitude is going to be
for the day.

I tell everybody that every day you should
learn something new, you should be better
today than you were yesterday, and not as
good as you will be tomorrow.

Q: How do you communicate that culture
to employees?

We have orientation programs as new
employees come in. We have outside facilitating trainers and team-building people
work with our organization on a regular
basis so that everybody understands the
team spirit.

We are constantly communicating our core
values and our vision. In our organization,
we try to have a learning environment.

The concept is with everybody having the
right attitude, the right values and the right
understanding of the nature of the team
and the vision, there is nothing we can’t
accomplish.

HOW TO REACH: Rachlin Cohen & Holtz LLP, www.rachlin.com
or (305) 377-4228

Making the change

Sometimes, bold steps are needed to move a company forward. Last summer, Butch Gelnovatch, managing partner at
Berenfeld, Spritzer, Shechter & Sheer, decided it was time to

sell off the firm’s condominium practice, a branch of service the
accounting firm had been involved with for many years. The tricky
part of making such a move was that this practice was handled by
Marc A. Berenfeld, a partner whose name just happened to come
first in the title of the firm.

“It was a third of his practice,” Gelnovatch says. “It was $300,000
worth of business. He trusted me enough to do that.” By
November, Berenfeld’s work had been replaced.

Trust has played a key role in growing the 2006 revenue of the
160-employee firm to $18 million, up 51 percent from the previous
year.

Smart Business spoke with Gelnovatch about how trust makes
potentially difficult decisions easier to digest.

Q: How do you create a vision for the future?

You can’t know where you’re going if you have no idea where you
want to end up.

We narrowed it down to the areas that we were in and did well
at, and the areas that a firm our size should be in that we were not
in. We put together a plan on how to promote the areas (in which)
we had a really deep expertise, and then we went out hunting for
the right people to fill the gaps that we knew we had.

Our focus wasn’t on growth; our focus was on being a highly
sought-after accounting firm. We picked five areas that we just
went out to people and started talking about instead of talking
about a whole list of services.

Unless we had laid it all out, we were just sort of out there in the
marketplace and not really projecting a focused approach. The
secret to the success is planning and focusing on the areas that you
know are going to have a marketplace, but also that you know that
you have an expertise.

Q: How do you find employees to fit the mold?

We have one recruiter on site, but then we have a group of
recruiters that are professional that work with us. The last piece is
getting your people out there, all your partners and principals and
managers, and go connecting with people that they know from
professional organizations.

We’ve been tremendously successful. Good people bring good
people with them. If you hire senior-level people and they are good
people, other people follow.

Q: How do you deal with mistakes?

When I first started working, I was very impatient and probably
not as empathetic as I should be to people who didn’t do a good
job or didn’t do well. But the minute you start getting all over people and yelling, they turn you off. They are nonproductive for at
least that day and probably all week.

You need to take that under consideration and say, ‘Look, we do
have an issue, but let’s not drill this person into the ground so they
are ineffective to take care of the problem. Let’s get them moving
in the right direction.’

Q: What is the key to assessing employee performance?

If the people didn’t fit in the area we brought them in for, we try
to find a place for them to fit somewhere else. If we can’t do that,
then we try to find them someplace else to work. The truth of the
matter is, if you don’t buy in, if you’re not a team player, it’s just not
a good fit for you.

Human nature is to try and reform everybody. We determined
that we spent more time trying to reform people that were marginal than we did pampering the people who are your stars. So you
end up losing stars because they didn’t get attention.

We try to make an assessment very early whether they are going
to fit or not. We do extensive amounts of training. We’re trying to
work toward having teams of people to help other people out.

If five people come up to you because they worked with five different people, and they say that person is just not cutting it, you
can be pretty sure that person is not cutting it and probably never
will.

Q: How do you build trust as a leader?

You have to get these people to work for you and work as one.
Sit down with everybody and gather their input and their thoughts.
Be collaborative. After the first couple times, they will always
come in and give you their opinion.

A lot of times, they are right. That’s the scary part about someone
who doesn’t have that type of relationship. You’re making these
decisions in a vacuum on what you think and the limited amount
of information that you have.

HOW TO REACH: Berenfeld, Spritzer, Shechter & Sheer, www.bsss-cpa.com

Brand builder

At its core, the job performed by employees at DHL Express USA is a simple one: Take a package from Point A and deliver it in a safe and timely manner to Point B.

But as DHL executives assessed the landscape of the express shipping industry, they decided that this simple process had developed a hitch.

CEO Hans Hickler says finding a strategy that eliminated that hitch became the focal point of an initiative to bolster the company’s standing in the express shipping industry.

“We start with the premise that customer service is not alive and well in the shipping industry,” Hickler says. “We actually believe it’s not alive and well in the U.S. in general. The business community in the U.S. has strayed from the path of putting the customer at the center.”

The notion that customer service had declined to such a degree became an important component of the new strategy and how it would be conveyed publicly.

“We’re not saying that DHL is here, and therefore, customer service is back in shipping,” Hickler says. “What we’re saying is that what we stand for is, we won’t rest until this industry is known
for its customer service and responsiveness, and we’re going to be the ones introducing it in this industry. You really put a stake out there.”

It’s all part of a customer-service focused brand-building strategy for the company that employs more than 22,000 people and delivers more than 1.2 million packages a day.

“It’s not always about who we are,” Hickler says. “It’s about what we’re about and that we’re relentless in going about achieving that. Your internal initiatives to get there are one thing. But how
you position your brand out to the customers is the same thing. We tend to do it in a way that is a little brazen. It’s the opposite of apologetic. It’s, ‘Why wouldn’t we do it that way?’ I think that’s
hit a chord.”

DHL’s ultimate goal is to solidify the company’s standing in the express shipping market as a solid alternative to the duopoly of FedEx and UPS. However, while DHL wants to be the flag bearer for bringing customer service back into shipping, Hickler says the company couldn’t just come out and rip its primary competitors.
“We’re a distant third, and frankly, we’re OK with that,” Hickler says. “We couldn’t come in and say the other two guys don’t have the basics right and we’ll have them right. The other two guys
have the basics right. This is the most competitive express market in the world. You have to come in with something that customers value beyond that.”