Digital Storage Inc. saw business decline but Simon Garneau took a line of novelty flash drives and brought some comic relief

Simon Garneau, president, Digital Storage Inc. and Emtec North America

Simon Garneau, president, Digital Storage Inc. and Emtec North America

With the market for computer backup storage devices decreasing about 15 percent a year as far as revenue and number of units sold, Simon Garneau feared that Digital Storage Inc. might soon be one of the many in the technology scrap yard.

“It took us awhile to see that it was declining because obviously all our suppliers were trying to convince us otherwise — that it is growing, and it is exciting,” he says. “Secondly, there are all kinds of competing and advancing technologies that satisfy the demand for more storage.

“So our challenge was what else can we do because if storage devices and distribution are all we do, we will disappear from the surface of the map,” Garneau says.

The parent company, Dexxon Group, which distributed high-capacity tapes for computer backups, decided it was time to diversify rather than to stick with the way things had been. Its response was to establish a division in North America of Emtec, its retail side of storage devices that grew in Europe out of the former BASF brand.

But there was a challenge, and Garneau knew it would be a formidable one.

“The whole strategy was to focus on the retail market of which we knew absolutely nothing,” he says.

“We had no idea how retail worked, how do you introduce these kinds of products to retail, and we were facing very large and well-established competitors: SanDisk, Kingston, Lexar and PNY,” he says.

Garneau was not fazed. His business sense told him that in a competitive market, you have to be different to survive.

Here’s how Garneau, president of Digital Storage Inc. and Emtec North America, built a $75 million successful retail business over the last four years by offering customers something the competition didn’t.

Pitch to a different crowd

If you are a clothing manufacturer and you are searching for the next big thing, it may be as easy as signing a promising designer and going with his or her creations. But Garneau didn’t have the luxury of just adding a new line to the market he was already in.

He was finding himself in the much the same stadium, but he was going to have to pitch to a different crowd.

“Digital Storage had focused on the commercial market, or the B2B as a wholesale distributor,” he says. “Our challenge was to find a growth market for the company because we knew that we could not stay where we were.”

The company started looking for opportunities in the data storage arena because it was a field in which it had familiarity as well as capabilities with logistics and distribution. Emtec would be the company’s own retail brand in North America that was sold through the business-to-consumer sector. An added bonus was that the European division had been marketing flash storage, or key USB flash drives, for a number of years.

Garneau and his team began discussions with existing customers about what Emtec could deliver that other companies would not.

“For instance, doing private labels, modifying their products, packaging it differently and that sort of thing,” he says. “So we decided as a strategy, we said, ‘Well, since we have no brand recognition, we will do for them what the other guys wouldn’t do.’ That was our differentiation strategy.”

The company began creating the novelty type of USB flash drives, with animal characters and popular culture comic icons such as Looney Tunes, Angry Birds and the European Asterix characters.

“Up to that point, most flash keys were totally utilitarian; they were all black or silver, fighting on price and no special attraction,” Garneau says. “But taking the lead from the customers, we decided to do private labels, and we added colors, patterns, schemes, shapes and forms and so forth. That’s really how we got in.

“So we got lucky in that sense and based on the advice of our marketing reps, they gave us good coaching as far as which programs to support with the customers.”

Garneau says that by taking the approach of listening to the customers, being sensitive to what they want, responding, making suggestions, engaging in a working dialogue as opposed to a high-pressure sales pitch — as well as receiving a vote of confidence from the headquarters in Europe — a solid retail effort was launched.

Get off to a good start

Once Garneau and his team had their strategy, it was time to find those who would drive in the revenue. The question then was whether to go in-house with sales associates or outsource the efforts.

“The No. 1 issue was if you don’t know anything about this business, you hire manufacturers’ reps,” he says. “We went with manufacturers’ reps because we felt that they would know the business, we would have the benefit of their contacts, and we could move quicker, if you will, and we only pay once we have sales, so it is not a drain on cash flow.”

Garneau was able to recruit in a short period of time a network of manufacturers’ reps, including one particular standout whose performance was excellent. A major opportunity for a large line review with a large company was obtained, which as luck would have it, already had a relationship with the European division of Emtec.

“Then here in the U.S., we were able to get some strong references from distribution customers who could say, ‘Digital Storage is very strong from a logistics point of view, and they are responsive, and we are happy with them,’” Garneau says.

With a sound strategy and a good bit of luck, Emtec was underway in the U.S.

“The first order we got was like $4 million,” he says. “We literally created a new category of flash keys. Now, we are challenged to keep it up because all our competitors are trying to imitate us. We have a thriving business.”

Sales figures support that observation. Two years ago, the business grew by 32 percent, last year 37 percent, and this year, Garneau budgets about 50 percent growth.

Keep the old as important as the new

If a company launches an innovative venture and the sales figures indicate that things are pretty rosy, there is still the challenge the company faces of how the new plays against the old.

“When you face a situation like this, the challenge is how do you motivate the people — all of them?” Garneau says.

“You have a group of people who are dedicated to your old business, which is declining. And at the same time, you are building a new business, which is all new and exciting, but you have to keep a balance between the two because you need the first one to provide the cash to fund the new one.

“The key challenge then, which is also ongoing, is how do you motivate everybody and not make the old people feel that they are not so important anymore versus the new guys who are building all the excitement,” he says.

Should you find yourself in this or a similar situation, communication will often make or break the situation.

“We do this through a lot of information exchange,” Garneau says. “We tend to be very open with everybody. We share the numbers. We have town meetings every quarter. We state the strategy in simple terms.

“The trick is to make sure that everybody feels they have a role to play and that they are very important in that challenge.”

This has to be reinforced all the time, Garneau says.

“I like to do a lot of walking around,” he says. “If I talk to the people in the warehouse, they have to understand how important it is for them to be quick and caring and satisfying for the customers, which they do. But everybody has a role to play. We need people to sell the old media because we have to maintain that business as long as we can.

“So it’s ongoing. Let’s communicate; let’s talk. Let’s share the information. Everybody’s important; everybody has a role to play.”

In short, you need to develop your company culture to include two extremely important aspects.

“What makes us different from others is that people care,” Garneau says. “Everybody here cares. If a customer hurts, everybody hurts. We don’t tolerate indifference. We don’t hire indifferent people; you have to be excited. You have to believe in what you do, and you’ve got to care.”

The second point is to try to be fast, not fast to the point of making mistakes but to the point, quick and responsive.

With a major retailer that didn’t know Emtec from anyone, Garneau established a 24-hour turnaround policy for communications.

“Every single thing that they asked of us, we responded within 24 hours,” he says. “They were totally surprised. They were flabbergasted. It gave us such credibility with them because they were thinking, ‘Well, gee, if they respond to our legalese that way, we can only imagine how they will service our account.’ And we really got their attention that way. We ended up doing business. We’ve been doing millions of dollars of business with them ever since.” ●

How to reach: Digital Storage Inc., (800) 232-3475 or www.digitalstorage.com

The Garneau File

Simon Garneau
President
Digital Storage Inc. and Emtec North America

Born: I was born and raised in Québec City, Canada. I am French-Canadian.

Education: I have two degrees from Université Laval in Québec City, a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science in engineering physics.

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

As a teenager, I pumped gas at a gas station. I realized that, in those days you had to serve the people gas. But it struck me that most people wanted to talk to you, as opposed to sitting in the car and to let you finish filling the gas tank. So it really hit me. I felt that, gee, this was an opportunity to be of service and be pleasant and listen and be curious about these people and you can have a little chat. It could be to your advantage to take the lead with people as opposed to assuming that they don’t want to talk to you.

What is the best business advice you ever received?

I will give you two that really hit me and served me well in my career. I worked for a CEO, and the big thing he taught me was that his approach was to focus on revenue first. Everybody believes that a budget is a license to spend, well, it is not. You only spend if you have the money. If the money is not in there, let’s talk revenue first.

As for the other one, I was the president of the division at National Computer Systems in Minnesota. I learned from the CEO not to feel obligated to fix every problem at once.

Who do you admire in business?

I don’t go by names; I admire attitude and style. Just to give you one example, one billionaire CEO I used to run a company for was so humble and simple had such respect for people. If he made a commitment to you, he would always honor it. That is the kind of person I respect. To me, when I give my word, I come through with it, even if you cross me. I will meet my part of the bargain. But it is this kind of honesty and commitment that I admire. I like people who commit and come through with their commitment.

What is your definition of business success?

Make your numbers, because if you don’t, you can explain and this and that but when you make your numbers, everybody is happy, you are satisfied and everybody wins. And you don’t have to explain it for too long. I remember when I applied for this job that was the point I made to the people. At the time, out of 30 years in business, I had made my numbers at least 28 times. To me that is important.

How Pascal Houillon unified Sage North America around a single brand

Pascal Houillon

Pascal Houillon, president and CEO, Sage North America

Sage North America was a company in hiding — or at least its name was.

When Pascal Houillon was appointed president and CEO of Sage North America in 2011, the specialty software solutions company was known to the North American marketplace by many different brand names. But “Sage” wasn’t one of them.

Depending on which of Sage’s products or services you used, you might have known Sage by any number of names — and your experience as a customer might have varied greatly from brand to brand.

Houillon, who had led various global regions for parent company Sage Group PLC since 1997, knew Sage North America would never leverage all of its resources and realize its full potential under such a fragmented setup.

“In my vision, I wanted to bring this group of brands together as a singular company with a consistent customer service experience and a consistent way to go to market,” Houillon says. “The flag that I’ve tried to focus everyone on is the Sage flag, the Sage brand. Right after I took this position, we dropped all of the product brands, which we have become known for throughout North America, and merged everything into one master brand called Sage.”

But it wasn’t as simple as a name change for the 3,000 employees working for Sage in the U.S. and Canada. To sow the seeds of change and allow them to take root, Houillon needed to define what the unified Sage brand would embody, the vision for the company moving forward, and then communicate that vision in a manner that would create belief and buy-in across the entire Sage North America footprint.

Houillon recognized from the outset that it would be no small task.

“It’s a big transformation when you’re taking a group of companies with their own specific products and characteristics and merging them together,” he says. “You’re trying to form one company with one common customer service experience.”

Define the brand

As a veteran leader within the Sage organization, Houillon had spearheaded branding initiatives in other countries and regions. Apart from an emphasis on the Sage name itself, the other main component lacking in Sage’s North American branding approach was a focus on customer solutions.

Because Sage had become so fragmented, the company had aligned along product lines. Each segment of the business was driven by the production, promotion and sales of a particular product.

In a commodity-driven business, that approach works. But in the solutions-driven, customer-focused business that Houillon wanted to create, it missed the mark.

“We believe the Sage brand should mean we give our customers the freedom to achieve their visions for their own businesses,” Houillon says. “It is not about software or technology. It is not about the product by itself. Our customers are often small and midsized businesses that don’t have their own IT departments, so the Sage brand has to be a customer brand.

“It is not about promising that we are going to change the world with our technology. It is that we are going to give our customers the means to achieve their own goals and ambitions.”

Houillon and his leadership team pared Sage’s 11 North American business units down to four product lines, all focused on delivering customer solutions instead of promoting and selling a particular product.

“The first line is small business, the second one is midsized business, the third one is our credit card processing line, and the fourth line centers on verticals of a specific area or industry, such as IT solutions in the construction industry,” he says. “That was an important step in moving the focus from products to understanding the needs of our customers.”

Changing the field of play was a critical initial step, because the following steps focused on shifting the mentality of several thousand employees, who had been cultured to sell product, not find solutions.

“In a product-focused organization, you focus on developing your products, and after that, your salespeople focus on selling the product as it is,” Houillon says. “When you move to an organization and a vision that is more focused on marketing and customer solutions, you’re not developing a product and then figuring out how to sell it.

“You’re first analyzing the customer’s needs, then you move into the product development phase. Then you focus on the types of services you’re going to develop around that product. That is why this type of process takes time. We’ve been on this journey for well over a year.”

Manage the process

To help redefine the Sage brand, Houillon needed to redefine his company’s connection to the marketplace in North America. Shortly after Houillon took over, he helped initiate a series of projects aimed at defining a new beginning for the company.

“I asked Sage employees from different levels in the organization to work on different projects, and in the end, we would select the three to six different projects that we would ultimately work on and move forward with,” Houillon says. “In total, about 150 people were involved in the different projects, along with others who gave some inside information about their department to our project teams. It was really incredible how people stepped up and invested their time in these projects.”

Houillon and his management team ultimately selected four projects out of the 11 total projects. Sage North America focused on those projects as the initial steps that would redefine the brand.

By involving employees in the projects and initiatives that would shape the future of the company, Houillon spurred the new Sage brand off the boardroom table and into three-dimensional reality.

For several thousand employees, the idea of a new, unified Sage brand began to move from an abstract concept to something living and breathing. It was a critical step that, in many ways, served as the ignition switch for the entire process, as employees took a sense of ownership in what Sage would become.

“In the beginning, I think you have a lot of nostalgia,” Houillon says. “People are hesitant to drop the name and the brand that they have been working for and possibly have been working for over a long period of time. I’d say, for the first six months, people were excited by the change but also afraid of the change.

“Everybody wants to change, but nobody wants to have to deal with the consequences of the change.”

Houillon realized he needed to give his people an opportunity to express their thoughts and concerns over the elimination of the product brands in favor of a unified Sage brand. He couldn’t minimize how his people felt, but at same time, he couldn’t allow nostalgia and a fear of change to derail progress.

To Houillon, it wasn’t a matter of neutralizing the emotional attachment employees felt toward the old brands. It was a matter of taking that emotional attachment and moving it to the Sage brand.

“People have to have the ability to speak up and express themselves, because it is normal that they’d have an emotional link to the previous brand,” he says. “Having that emotional connection isn’t a bad thing. It’s a matter of viewing that emotional connection in a new way, with a focus on the Sage brand. I wanted to take those emotions and move them to Sage.”

As the initial rebranding projects began to bear fruit, the new, unified Sage brand developed an increasing profile with the company’s customer base. As customer feedback started to filter in, Houillon used it to deepen his employees’ connection to the new brand.

“After a bit of time, the employees start to see that the Sage brand awareness is rising, they see the feedback from customers, and they see that the customers like the change,” Houillon says.

“Previously, customers had to deal with several product brands, and now they’re dealing with a single brand for everything. The customer adapts to it, the employees see that, and they see it is a positive reaction.

“I remember getting some emails from customers who told me it was about time that Sage reorganized under one brand. They were tired of having all these different products with different names. When an employee sees that type of reaction from customers, it is much easier for your people to see the company is moving in the right direction.”

Keep communicating

Once employees started buying in to the concept of a unified Sage brand, Houillon needed to keep the momentum going through his communication strategy. To help strengthen the effort, he hired an internal communication specialist, eventually developing internal communications into a department of three.

The internal communications department has become responsible for developing messages that are initially rolled out at the local level, at each of Sage’s offices throughout North America, and then combined with large-scale communications from Houillon and his team at the North American headquarters.

“In our meetings, every quarter, I will speak, as will some of my colleagues,” Houillon says. “We’ll have about 20 different locations where everybody participates from their own location.

“It was critical for us to change the way we have internal communication, because it used to center on a single product line and now it is more of a global company communication. It is critical for me to explain the vision, explain where we are and ask for feedback from Sage employees. I wanted to be genuine and transparent, because a lot of the time, it is about what people see.”

Houillon also used his communication opportunities to focus people on the value proposition of the Sage brand — in other words, explaining why it is advantageous to customers and, in turn, to Sage to remake Sage as a unified brand.

Sage’s leaders had previously tried to straddle the fence between maintaining the product brands and moving toward a unified brand, but old habits are hard to break.

“About three or four years ago, we had a product called Peachtree, which is accounting software,” Houillon says. “We renamed it to Sage Peachtree, but after a while, everyone just went back to calling it Peachtree.”

The leaders at Sage quickly discovered it was necessary to completely rename the product under the Sage brand, and it was relaunched as “Sage 50.”

“What we have done is to redefine the global value proposition, and by doing that, what we have done is analyze all of the product brand value propositions and move them to a Sage brand value proposition,” Houillon says. “It adds more value to the Sage brand, and it helps us explain how all of our employees play a big role in this new connection and this move to a new brand.

“We want our customers to see excitement about the move. We don’t want them to call up and get a sense of resistance from the employees they encounter. If the customers see a sense of excitement among the employees, they’ll see that the change is a good thing.”

However, Houillon acknowledges that performing a fundamental branding change often means taking a step back to clear the path for a leap forward, and all that you can do as the leader is continually reassure your people that you’re making the right move for the company.

“This isn’t a linear progression,” he says. “Embedding a new vision with employees is a process that will create fear and expectation at the same time. Most of the time, things won’t improve right away. In fact, things will often get worse at the beginning. But things can’t get worse forever, and once you’ve reached that point, you try to build success.

“That’s why you need to be transparent; you need to explain exactly what is going on and what will happen. If you let your people believe that everything is going to be better simply because you’re changing, that is a big mistake. You have to be flexible and pragmatic in a time of transition and let your people know that when things go wrong and mistakes are made, it’s a normal part of the process.”

How to reach: Sage North America, (866) 996-7243 or na.sage.com

 

The Houillon file

Pascal Houillon

President and CEO

Sage North America

Born: Lyon, France

History: Houillon joined Sage in 1989 in sales and held a number of management positions as a regional director and sales director before leading the Sybel business when it was acquired by Sage in 1995. In 1997, he became CEO of Sage France, and in 2005 he also took on responsibility for Sage in Belgium, Brazil, Switzerland, and Morocco.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Being patient, which is sometimes not one of my qualities, I will say. As a leader, you tend to be very strong-willed, which means not only do you know where you want to go, you can get upset if it’s not exactly the road you want to take. That’s why you need to show some degree of patience with others. You need to be clear about where you’re going, but flexible about the road taken.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

You need to always have a mentality where you’re willing to question the work you have done. You have to be a bit of a paranoiac in that you’re never satisfied with the work you have done, that you’re always looking at your work with a critical eye. You always want to do things better, and that has to be a constant in the way you think.

What is your definition of success?

When our customers say we’ve had an impact on their company. If we can make a positive difference to our customers, at the end of the day that’s success to me.

How Jim Geiger piloted Cbeyond into the cloud computing era

Jim Geiger, Chairman, President and CEO, Cbeyond Inc.

For most of its first decade of its existence, Cbeyond Inc. was a growth machine, achieving double-digit revenue advancements year after year. But four years ago, the IT telecommunications firm’s growth engine was stalled by a double dose of bad news: the onset of the recession and an incursion by cable companies at the low end of Cbeyond’s market. This malignant combination began to smother Cbeyond’s year-over-year growth rate, which gradually fell into low single digits.

“Our customers are small businesses, and the recession was tough on them,” CEO Jim Geiger says. “Many of them went out of business. The incidence of financial default and bankruptcy was significant over the past several years.

“Also, a lot of these folks are Subchapter S corporations. Their income flows to them personally, so they’re very concerned about all the uncertainty and the issues surrounding their tax liabilities. All of these things that have become political fodder of late are very real around the kitchen tables of our customers.”

The emergence of cable companies as players in the market has exacerbated Cbeyond’s recession-fed slowdown.

“That’s the other aspect that has been difficult for us: the emergence of cable as a competitor,” Geiger says. “I hesitate to say ‘competitor’ because cable only competes with us at the lowest end of our market. But at that end of our market, they have been very effective and have caused us to react.”

Gradually, the twin challenge of the recession and the cable companies’ encroachment started sending trouble signals to Geiger and his leadership team.

“Our incidence of business failure in our base started increasing, and the cancellations due to financial duress in that time frame literally doubled,” Geiger says. “Our bad debt expense has increased. And while we still have a very small churn rate — in the neighborhood of 1.5 percent of our customers per month — it used to be only 1 percent. And just about all of that increase in churn has been because of increased business failures and business contractions.”

Alarmed by the slowdown in growth, Geiger and his leadership team started looking for ways to turn the trend around. And throughout the last two years, as a new technological opportunity began to materialize, they shifted their company’s business strategy to capitalize on it.

Adjust and adapt

Geiger and his team realized that Cbeyond would need to change and adapt in order to get the company’s growth rate back on track. Some of the changes they made were small and incremental: running Cbeyond in a more lean, cautious fashion; competing more on price; and introducing greater flexibility in the company’s product and service offerings.

“Those are some adjustments we made to our core business, adjusting as any business would, and we continue to focus on them,” Geiger says. “We’re conservatively capitalized, and we don’t have any debt, so this slowdown never threatened our future. It just threatened the fairly gaudy growth rates that we had experienced for most of our history.”

One other change Cbeyond made was more substantial, however: It started offering cloud-based telecommunications and computing services.

“In that same time frame, about 2010, technology took a leap forward and virtualization became economical,” Geiger says. “Along with greater bandwidth and access rates, this allowed us to start focusing on a different piece of the marketplace. This was exciting to us. Of course you’ve heard the overused phrases ‘cloud computing’ and ‘cloud services.’ Everybody wants to be offering cloud services today. But, indeed, we are.”

Geiger explains Cbeyond’s move into the realm of cloud-based technology in terms of “boxes.”

“It’s as simple as this,” he says. “There are boxes that companies — small businesses as well as large ones — used to have on their premises. When I say boxes, it may have been a firewall, it may have been a PBX [private branch exchange] or a key phone system, it may have been a server that ran some piece of their company’s automation.

“But now these boxes can be housed in a data center out on the Internet, if you will — out in the cloud. And we recognized this as a very natural strategic extension for us.”

One benefit of extending its business into the cloud is that Cbeyond is now attracting a different breed of customer: businesses that are slightly more, as Geiger terms them, “upmarket.”

“With companies that have a real technology dependence, if they don’t have access to their systems, they’re basically out of business,” Geiger says. “Professional service firms, doctors and dentists — who happen to be two of our biggest verticals — as well as attorneys, accountants, small manufacturing — these are companies that really depend on technology. They have knowledge workers. In many cases, they have multiple locations or at least remote workers. And they are willing to outsource. So we’re able to come in now with our new products and channels and offer a much broader package of capabilities to our customers.”

Cbeyond’s new set of offerings is also attracting larger companies with greater revenue and more employees as prospective customers.

“We’re now able to access a larger wallet of spending capacity of these slightly larger customers,” Geiger says. “Whereas our average customer used to have 12 employees, our new customer has somewhere in the 20s. And these newer customers have been growing, so I would say probably that average will end up being about 30 employees.”

Shift strategies

The result of these changes is a redefined, repositioned Cbeyond. The company, which was launched in 1999 as a small group of entrepreneurs to solve technology problems for other entrepreneurs by providing them with basic IT and communications packages, is now a cloud-based, broadband Internet, Web-hosting telecommunications firm with 2,000 employees and projected 2012 revenue of $485 million.

Additionally, Cbeyond now has offices in 14 markets across the United States and four data centers in Atlanta, Louisville, Dallas and Las Vegas.

“The positioning of the company is really a lot different now than it had been,” Geiger says. “In the past, we had really good, broad solutions for a rather simple bundle of communication services. Now we’re a much more rich service provider in technology services.

“Our positioning now is to be a technology ally for small businesses. We’ll do the hard stuff, the heavy lifting: make sure that your data is always available to you, that it’s accessible over an adequate piece of bandwidth, that it’s up and running 24/7, that it’s protected, that there aren’t any viruses, that the operating systems of the servers and devices are all up-to-date and patched. We’re really acting almost as an outsourced CIO to our small-business customers.”

To get itself moving toward that goal, Cbeyond did a great deal of research to determine what types of cloud-based products and services it should offer its customers.

“While we knew that this was the direction we were going in, we weren’t so certain about which specific product offerings our small businesses would be interested in buying,” Geiger says. “So we did a ton of primary research. We talked to about 7,500 small businesses, both existing and prospective customers. We gathered a bunch of data, and then we went to work developing products to satisfy what we understood the market to be.”

Two of the primary results of all that research are Cbeyond’s new TotalCloud Phone System and TotalCloud Data Center. Both products are aimed at giving small-business customers greater flexibility in concentrating on their core business operations and not having to directly concern themselves with the operation of their communications and IT systems.

“The TotalCloud Phone System gives our customers the ability to have remote workers anywhere, with many different types of phones, and it gives them all of the same types of phone capabilities they would have if they were on a phone system in the same building — four-digit dialing to co-workers, transfer, etc., etc.,” Geiger says. “And it takes the job of taking care of the system’s uptime and performance and makes it our problem instead of our customer’s technical person’s problem. You can wash your hands of it once it’s in our care.

“Our TotalCloud Data Center is a similar offering for servers — for computing power. It enables our customers to outsource their servers. We’ll take their servers and house them in the cloud, and we’ll connect them securely and be responsible for their operation systems. Also, many of our customers have certain compliance regulations for their data today, which aren’t easy for them to figure out, and we can do that for them.”

Cbeyond’s leaders project that these new services will represent a quarter of the company’s revenue by the end of 2013, and that Cbeyond will be back to double-digit revenue growth by that time.

“These are very popular services, and they’re growing fast in popularity,” Geiger says. “They represent a material amount of our growth opportunity.”

Take quick action

Once Geiger had a clear picture that an economic downturn was deeply impacting the company, along with a new group of competitors nipping away at his company’s market share — it was crucial to be decisive and act quickly.

“If your gut tells you to make a change, do it sooner rather than later,” he says. “Follow your instincts and make the changes you need to make right away. Don’t waste a lot of time trying to improve the status quo. When you start to feel things shifting in a major way, don’t wait. React and respond.”

Trusting one’s intuition is a theme that Geiger keeps circling back to.

“It’s a mistake to fall into the trap of always listening to the experts,” he says. “One of the things you have to constantly remind yourself of is that no one knows more about your business than you do. If that isn’t true, then you need to find a new line of work. But assuming it is true, you absolutely have to trust yourself and your own instincts — and don’t listen to the experts.”

Lastly, Geiger says, a leader faced with the type of challenge that Cbeyond faced has to keep an eye out for opportunities and always be poised to act, to move forward quickly and forcefully.

“You have to have a high level of aggressiveness,” he says. “I think the level of aggression with which we embarked upon the change wasn’t enough at first. We were a little more hesitant than we could have been. And we’d necessarily be further along today had we had acted sooner.

“Of course, a lot of people could say that about many different aspects of their business. But if you see changes starting to happen and you feel it and you believe it, it’s probably true. As the often-said quote goes, the only constant is change. So you have to embrace it and act decisively and rapidly.” <<

How to reach: Cbeyond Inc., (866) 424-2600 or www.cbeyond.net

 

THE GEIGER FILE

Jim Geiger

Chairman, president and CEO

Cbeyond Inc.

Born: Syracuse, N.Y.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting and pre-law, Clarkson University, 1981

What was your first job, and what business leadership lessons did you learn from it?

In my midteens, I had a mentor who lived down the street from me. He ran a successful produce business. His name was Frank Mento. I worked at a farmer’s market unloading produce from rail cars and tractor-trailers. Frank started out with a single truck and would get up at some ungodly hour like 2 o’clock in the morning and go down to the farmer’s market, pick the best produce and deliver it to his customers personally. He was an advocate for his customers. The quality was all that mattered. He didn’t think in terms of short-term profit; he thought in terms of long-term relationships.

Do you have a central business philosophy that you use to guide you?

We’re very metric-driven at our company, and I’m personally very focused on creating systems that give us the best chance to meet those metrics: management systems, talent identification and development systems, incentive systems. I find that when all of those things are consistently defined, communicated, understood and implemented, that’s the fastest route toward the success of the business. Also, I have a coach: I’ve used the same consultant for the past 16 years, and he has helped me design those systems and be true to them.

What trait do you think is the most important one for an executive to have in order to be a successful leader?

Trust, which flows from integrity. We have a lot of long-tenured employees, and I’m very proud of their continued support and commitment to the company. We’ve gotten to where we are because there’s a tremendous amount of shared values and cross-commitment and trust.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Listen to your customers, listen to your employees and do what they tell you. Frank Mento taught me that.

How Bob Bellack’s relentless pursuit of progress drives his team at Newegg North America

Bob Bellack, CEO, Newegg North America

Bob Bellack got an early start in the entrepreneurial game. Selling golf balls and lemonade, mowing lawns, cleaning gutters and washing windows were just a few of the jobs Bellack took on before he had even turned 10.

“Anything I could do to make a buck,” Bellack says with an air of confidence. “I was driven by the need to do things independently and have money of my own to get what I wanted when I wanted it.”

Flash-forward to 2012 and you’ll find that Bellack, now all grown up, is still in a hurry to achieve success as quickly as he can make it happen. He’s the CEO of Newegg North America, an e-retailer with an offering of more than 3 million products and roughly $2.5 billion in annual sales.

Those are great numbers, but Bellack says they won’t cut it in tomorrow’s world. He explains that as the market continues to evolve, so must the products available for purchase at Newegg.

“We have to be faster, smarter and more nimble in what we do,” Bellack says. “Not in everything but in what we do. Newegg did a great job getting to where it is today. But where it is today isn’t where we need to be. We need to keep changing the business. There’s a lot of change that’s going to happen in the next 12 to 24 months.”

You won’t find pingpong tables, brightly colored walls or slides for employees to swiftly glide from the second floor to the first floor at Newegg. Bellack says it’s a different approach than that of other companies in the tech industry, but it’s one that suits him best.

“When people come here, they have to be people who don’t look to see what it is,” Bellack says. “They see what it could be. That’s the biggest challenge is finding people who have that vision. What we’re doing is we’re going to change and evolve Newegg to another stage in its life. To do that, you have to have those people.”

 

Aim high

It’s not that Bellack is trying to be coy about his company’s future when he says prospective employees need to visualize it for themselves. It’s more like he views the future as a picture that hasn’t been painted yet.

And if you’re not confident enough, or brave enough, to come along for the ride and help him paint that picture, Bellack says you’re not going to be a good fit at Newegg.

“Innovation is not going to come from me,” Bellack says. “It’s going to come from them seeing opportunities to do a job better or see what somebody else in their realm is doing and make change and drive change.

“It’s not going to be from me telling them to do it. If that’s the culture you have, you cannot be competitive. Amazon has 50,000 employees around the country trying to figure out how to be better than everybody else. If you think I’m smart enough to beat 50,000 people, that’s absurd.

“We have to build a really strong group of people who are creative, independent thinkers and risk takers who are willing to take risks and change things.”

The big question is how do you find those talented people, and then once you find them, how do you get them to mesh all of their talents together for the betterment of your organization?

“I do a lot of interviews,” Bellack says. “I talk to three or four people a week and then sometimes more. When you reach a certain point of your career, a large part of what you do is recruiting and finding new people and finding new skills. You learn things from people who you interview and people you talk to. That’s one way you stay current with what’s going on.”

Talking to people is only scratching the surface of what you need to do, of course. Anybody can find people and engage in conversation, but that alone is not enough to bring you the talent you need.

The key is your ability to set your ego aside and not set barriers as to who you’re willing to talk to or consider bringing into your business.

“Don’t be afraid to hire experts or to hire people who know a lot more than you do,” Bellack says. “Shoot for as high as you can get. If you don’t, the last thing you ever want to be in any leadership role is the smartest guy in the room.”

If you have a problem hiring people who are smarter than you, you have to ask yourself what your goal really is with your business. Is it to achieve personal glory? Or is it to build a successful business?

“It’s not about people or personalities,” Bellack says. “It’s making sure people understand it’s really about the ideas and the business. It should never be personal. It should be very focused on what is our business objective. Our business objective is to make the place better.”

Give someone a sense that they can be part of a big success story and achieve growth on a personal level and they’re more likely to buy in, even if you don’t yet have a clear sense of where it’s going. They’ll see it the same way you do, as a challenge and an opportunity.

“The person you hire has certain expectations,” Bellack says. “Pay is one of them. That’s kind of the ante to be in the game.

“What they really want is to work with smart people that they are going to learn from. They want to do things that are unique, different, cutting edge and innovative. They want to be able to have a career path or development path, maybe in the company, maybe out of the company.

“But at the end of the day, they want to be at a place where they like to get up and go to work every day.”

 

Focus on the big picture

When Bellack talks to people about coming to work at Newegg, he engages in every conversation with the hope of learning something from it. If he’s lucky, it will be something that he can apply to his plan for growth at Newegg.

“I’m looking for someone not just to say, ‘I had $1 million to spend on marketing, I bought search keywords on Google and my click-through rate is ABC,’” Bellack says. “What I want to know is they actually had a bunch of different ideas on how to bring customers in and they executed those plans in a unique way, one that I hadn’t thought of before.”

Bellack is particularly interested in where people have gone who have worked either for or with the people he is interviewing.

“Tell me where the people are who worked for you,” Bellack says. “Where did they go? What jobs did they take? Have they been successful in their career? One of the guys answered, ‘Well, I’m not sure what they’ve gone on to.’ That was about over and we were about done.

“That tells you the kind of people that they bring in. The people I’ve brought in to work for me, a lot of them, I wish I had taken the jobs they took. They did far better than I did in many cases. But I’m happy for them. I think people should pick people who are smarter than they are and have the confidence they can hire good, smart people.”

In Bellack’s mind, it needs to be all about the business. If everyone is focused on the business and on making it better, all the other things will come. The personal growth, the personal rewards and the opportunity for everyone to experience a lot of success — it will all be there if everyone has the same goals in mind.

“I want to hear good ideas,” Bellack says. “I want to hear that they have recruited and developed good people and I want to know that they have concrete things they have accomplished.

“I want to know that they could work together with others to accomplish a goal. Personally, there is no incentive or benefit to me for self-promotion among the people who work for me. The only way I win is if this company creates more value.”

 

Put it all together

The final piece is to take those ideas and talents and potential and put it all together to build a better business. It’s not always easy as even people who work well with others and enjoy collaboration have days when they don’t agree with their colleagues.

“When you start bringing in a lot of people who have strong views and vision, I think the biggest challenge becomes what the alchemy is when you put them all together,” Bellack says.

“Part of my job is to try to make sure what we make here is constructive and that people work together. The people who were here before and the new people, what I don’t want is conflict and confusion. I want people who are creative, and I want people to debate and challenge things. But at the end of the day, you need people who can work together constructively.”

One of the most important things you need to do when you’re building a team is to set expectations. If you’re a business that is still shaping its future, that’s fine. But you and your people still need a road map of how you’re going to do it.

“If you set the ground rules and you tell people how to behave and you set the culture where people behave in that way, generally it works,” Bellack says. “I can’t say it always works. But I believe most people want to do a good job. They just want to know what the rules are and how best to work in an environment.”

Bellack takes personal pride in helping the people he hires become successful. In the same way he looks for stories from interviewees about people they have developed, he wants to have stories he can share about talented people he helped grow and succeed.

“My role is to make sure the people I bring in are as successful as they can be,” Bellack says. “What we need to do is make sure we identify employees with unique skills and capabilities and make sure we set a climate and environment where they can be successful.

“Sometimes they can’t do other things, but they can do one thing really well. Part of management is figuring out where those people are and finding the right spot where they can excel and make the company successful.”

As Newegg continues to grow and rack up more awards for its ability to meet and exceed consumer expectations, Bellack says he’ll continue to try to do it even better.

“You should never stop asking the question, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’” Bellack says. “At the end of the day, that drives you to continuously get better.”

While Bellack pursues growth relentlessly, he doesn’t let himself get overwhelmed by all the moving parts that make up Newegg.

“I cannot worry about whether someone in Shanghai or New Jersey is doing the right thing,” Bellack says. “I will never know that. I can never know that and it’s somebody else’s job to know that. But if they understand how they link back and how the goals and metrics are tied back, then we shouldn’t worry.” <<

 

How to reach: Newegg North America, (800) 390-1119
or www.newegg.com

 

The Bellack File

 

Bob Bellack

CEO

Newegg North America

 

Born: Chicago

 

Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting, DePaul University, Chicago. MBA, Kellogg School of Management — Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.

 

Who has had the biggest influence on your life?

My father. He was an entrepreneur, a musician and a music publisher. He did all kinds of things. He was basically a very successful guy doing lots and lots of things. He fostered a climate of independence and entrepreneurialism in our family.

 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

My father told me to not be afraid to make mistakes. He told me when I played percussion, I had the cymbals, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid to hit them hard.’ Let me tell you, when you have those cymbals, if you’re not on the right time, you’re going to be singled out as the guy making the mistakes. But that’s true of anything. You learn every time you do something.

 

What one person would you like to meet now or have met from the past?

Steve Jobs was a very interesting guy. He is somebody who went through a lot of pain. He had some unbelievable successes, but he is somebody who was criticized and challenged. He made the world’s most valuable company. He went from Michael Dell telling him to give the money back to making the world’s most successful, valuable company. It’s more his spirit, his ability to be successful despite a lot of challenges. Some were self-inflicted; some were not. It would be interesting to hear his innermost thoughts about how he felt at different points in that experience.

 

Takeaways:

Know the kind of people you want to hire.

Look for people who have helped others succeed.

Set the expectations for what you want to achieve.

How Gordon Hunter successfully led Littelfuse Inc. through a series of pivotal changes

Gordon Hunter, chairman, president and CEO, Littelfuse Inc.

Gordon Hunter expected that a few minor problems might arise in Littelfuse Inc.’s effort to move its headquarters in 2008 from a manufacturing facility in Des Plaines to a high-rise near O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

He got a lot more than he bargained for when the global economy went into a recession that fall.

The corporate headquarters relocation was a small part of a larger effort to restructure the footprint of the 6,000-employee company, which develops components used in a variety of electrical, industrial and automotive products.

The goal was to transform Littelfuse into a business that would be more responsive to customers and more efficient with respect to its expenses. The whole effort was quite necessary, but it was also quite a lot of work.

“It’s a major financial cost and time distraction for salespeople to work with customers on qualifying a different plant where the product is made,” says Hunter, the company’s chairman, president and CEO. “It means the salesperson is not hunting for new business. It’s a cost to the company.”

Hunter felt strongly that the restructuring was essential to the company’s future and something that needed to go forward, even with the recession that was creating a lot of doubt and uncertainty about the future.

“Keeping our team on track with all of those big structural changes while cutting expenses and managing the business in the short term was fairly challenging,” Hunter says.

He and his leadership team decided the best course of action was to attack the restructuring initiative head on with a boldness that let employees know decisively that the company’s plan for the future had not changed.

“I think everybody looks back and says, ‘Wow, that was a tough couple of years,’” Hunter says. “We spent so much time with our heads down trying to juggle so many things, and we didn’t have a lot of time to reflect on it. But when we look back, we say, ‘We really got through a lot.’”

Build a plan

It’s largely the continuing convergence of technology in Asia that led Littelfuse to move out of its manufacturing facility in Des Plaines and transition from 16 small plants around the world to six large plants that are more strategically located.

“A plant in Ireland can’t have the same cost structure being on the other side of the world from its customers,” Hunter says. “The customers have moved to China. The competitors are in China. The cost structure is a Chinese cost structure. We need for business reasons to do this rather than to just close the business down.”

On paper, it would have been easy to close plants in Europe and open new ones in Asia. But when you have an 85-year-old company that has a rich heritage and culture of hard work and high integrity, you’ve got to do it with respect.

“People are very straightforward, incredibly honest, very engineering-focused, very incremental and very data-driven,” Hunter says. “All of this is a great foundation on which to go through restructuring.”

Hunter felt that if he approached the big changes the right way with trust and respect, his employees would be willing to follow him through a lot.

“Get people to know very early and with a lot of lead time,” Hunter says. “There’s nothing worse than being told, ‘Well, you’ve heard some rumors. We’re going to close the plant. It’s going to happen next month.’ You tell people, ‘Look, 18 months from now, this plant will close, and it will impact some of your jobs. In that time, we want to work with you and we want to help you. We want your help.’”

Hunter knew that some plants would need to be closed and others relocated to get the company to where he and the board of directors wanted it to be. But he needed to work collaboratively with his leadership team to reach informed conclusions.

So before he even brought up the idea of closing plants with his employees, he met with his executive team in hopes of developing a sensible and fact-based plan that they would buy in to.

“If you’re a new CEO and you haven’t got a good team around you, I’d spend your time developing a good team before you go off and try to do dramatic things like restructuring,” Hunter says.

If you’ve got a good team in place, put team members to work. Each person should have expertise in a certain aspect of how your business operates. Lay out the situation you’re looking at and what information you need team members to provide.

“Get your team together and figure out what’s the data that you need,” Hunter says. “What data do we not have today that we need for comparison? What modeling do we need to be doing to back this up with real data?”

Rely on your leaders for expertise in their area, but ask them to bring a broader view to the discussion as well.

“I expect at this level for people to be able to wear two hats,” Hunter says. “Be the expert in their own functional area of the world but also be able to understand the corporate strategy, understand the goals of the company and be able to participate across any discussion on something as important as restructuring the company and moving plants.”

Create a sense of urgency so that people understand that just because you’re talking strategy, it doesn’t mean there are no deadlines.

“It requires a lot of communication,” Hunter says. “A lot of explaining to people that if we don’t set the path for ourselves, someone else will. Our competitors will. So there’s a lot of communication involved.”

 

Do what is right

It’s likely that you have your own ideas in mind for the best way to proceed with changes such as plant restructuring. But you have to be ready to accept that sometimes your team won’t agree with you.

“You have to be prepared to say I’m going to do something that wasn’t my idea,” Hunter says. “I’m going to be prepared to listen to that and say, ‘Well, that’s not what I would have done, but I’m prepared to go along with your idea on this.’”

Think about your role with the company and where you think you are at in your tenure with that company.

“If I just arrived here and I’m 40 years old, I might have a different view about what we should be doing over the next five years,” Hunter says. “But when the company is in this enviable position of being very healthy and we’ve done a lot together, it’s sort of time to have the next generation be more vocal about the future.”

Hunter quickly adds that he has no immediate plans to go anywhere away from Littelfuse. But his point is that you can’t just think of yourself when you’re making important decisions for your company.

“It’s being prepared to say to people, ‘You’re a great guy. I’d like you to be with the company 10 years from now in a bigger role,’” Hunter says.

As much as you appreciate your people and the need to treat them with respect, you just have to keep in mind the company that you, your team and your employees are all a part of and why it needs to always take priority.

“If you don’t do what’s right for the business, there won’t be a business,” Hunter says. “The business has been very successful for 85 years. We’ve got to protect it and grow it for the future. The world is much more global and things that worked 20 years ago don’t work today.”

In addition to keeping the company’s best interests in mind, you need to make sure that you and your team are all on the same  page once the decision has been made.

“It’s like running a play in a game,” Hunter says. “You need a team to all be coordinated. Some may not think it’s the right play at the right time. But you need them at some stage to say, ‘I’ll commit to go along with it.’”

When it comes down to actually making the decision, don’t expect that everyone is going to be happy about it. That will be the case no matter how up front and honest you’ve been about the moves before they are officially announced.

“There is going to be some resistance,” Hunter says. “It’s making sure we’ve thought it through to the best of our ability before we make the announcement, making it clear that we’ve really given it a lot of thought and that there is a rationale for doing it.”

 

Talk to people

Throughout the process of transforming Littelfuse, Hunter made sure he was visible to his people, even the ones who live and work far away from the Chicago headquarters.

“People like to see the CEO come to their location,” Hunter says. “Most of the senior management does reside here in Chicago, but they are very open to spending time and listening to people in China or the Philippines or Mexico or Europe. Getting out personally to those places is very important and that’s a critical part of my job.”

Have a plan when you head out to distant locations to meet with people from all levels of the organization, not just the top management.

“A lot of the time, I’m listening to people present what they’ve been working on, the outcome of a project, and that requires time,” Hunter says. “It requires going to plants and talking to people at different levels. It could be junior people in the customer service organization in the Philippines showing how they have really improved going about how they do their work.”

When you have a situation where plants are closing or people are being relocated, do what you can to help them through the situation. If that means there isn’t a place for them at your company any longer, help them land on their feet somewhere else.

“Help people with basic things like interview skills, writing a resume or helping them get contacts with other companies,” Hunter says. “There are a lot of things for people who have not moved jobs in their career that they need some basic help with. It’s being able to help get people over their bad news and work with them and communicate with them. Demonstrate that you’re not going to cut corners and you’re going to be respectful.”

One of the best ways to show respect is to just be truthful.

“In many cases for us, the plants were sort of technology specific,” Hunter says. “There weren’t as many degrees of freedom. The idea of closing Ireland, it was a special technology. That business with that technology just would not survive with that cost structure. So it was very specific to be able to explain it.”

As Hunter looks at Littelfuse today, he sees a company that is in a much better position to compete. Net sales increased from $430 million in 2009 to $665 million in 2011. But the strategic planning is ongoing and will be a key to maintaining the company’s success.

“It’s setting the right things we want to work on, putting the right people on the teams to work on it and giving them good direction,” Hunter says. “Good things happen if you have the right people.” <<

 

How to reach: Littelfuse Inc., (773) 628-1000 or
www.littelfuse.com

 

 

Takeaways:

Get a solid plan in place.

Make the best decision for the business.

Be visible to your people.

 

 

The Hunter File

 

Gordon Hunter

Chairman, president and CEO

Littelfuse Inc.

 

Born: Newcastle, England

 

Education: Electrical engineering degree, University of Liverpool; MBA, London Business School. Part of that time in my MBA, I studied at Helsinki School of Economics (Aalto University School of Business) in Finland where I lived for four years.

 

What did you think of the way England handled hosting the Summer Olympics?

I got quite captivated watching the opening of the Paralympics. It seems to have really engaged people. People realize that people who have handicaps in the past may just not have been openly recognized and made visible.

They are really being brought to the front. It’s quite tremendous. That’s even more important because the momentum of the Olympics, it became a bit of a show. But what they are doing now with the Paralympics, I’m really impressed.

 

Who has been the most influential on your life?

I certainly look at several of our board members as being people that I go to for counsel and have a lot of respect for. This company had a very good board before I came to the company. I do think that’s a critical part of having a successful company.

 

Whom would you like to meet and why?

Probably Nelson Mandela. I did go to South Africa two years ago and spent some time there. What he has done in his life is quite remarkable.

How T.E.N. creates contexts for tech and security execs to interact

Marci McCarthy, CEO, T.E.N. — Tech Exec Networks

T.E.N. — Tech Exec Networks is a national executive networking firm that creates channels of communication between technology and security executives and builds bridges to knowledge using an interactive approach. Led by CEO Marci McCarthy, T.E.N. empowers IT and security executives to interact with peers, industry leaders and technology providers.

The company’s offerings include some of the country’s most acclaimed peer-to-peer leadership recognition and executive programs, including virtual and traditional executive round tables, road shows and private executive engagements.

In addition to meeting the needs of the information security community, T.E.N.’s programs serve the technology vendor community. The stimulating style of recognition, peer discussion and thought-provoking agendas paired with celebrations give technology vendors unparalleled access to C-level decision-makers.

The level of success of T.E.N.’s programs hinges on its ability to promote the offerings to security executives and technology solution providers within the information security community. Meeting the needs of the technology vendors depends on the ability to put the right information security executives in the right seats with pinpoint precision. The business model is reliant on providing customer service and establishing personal trust with the security executives and vendors alike.

“I worked with T.E.N. when I was nominated for an ISE Executive of the Year award,” says Mario Chiock, global chief cyber security authority for Schlumberger. “I was unfamiliar with the nomination process and constrained for time. The T.E.N. team took it upon themselves to educate me and keep the process very well-synchronized.

“The customer service provided by the T.E.N. team was superb and made the process much easier. The extra care, advice, advance notice of due dates and assistance was tremendously helpful. They made me feel extremely special while also making me look good.”

How to reach: T.E.N. — Tech Exec Networks Inc., (404) 920-8582 or www.techexecnetworks.com

How BlueWave Computing keeps its customers atop the IT curve

Steve Vicinanza, CEO, BlueWave Computing LLC

As a provider of outsourced IT services, BlueWave Computing LLC regards service as the core of its mission and its key competitive advantage. The company, guided by CEO Steve Vicinanza, ensures that its service is the best available in its market segment by adhering to four concepts:

  • Hire the best staff possible to deliver the company’s services.
  • Provide the training and processes to ensure consistent service delivery.
  • Develop service metrics that allow BlueWave to continually improve the quality of its services.
  • Apply recommendations from BlueWave’s customer panel to support quality development.

BlueWave has implemented a rigorous recruiting process that focuses on connecting with college placement offices to find the top students available in its field, and then it pairs its new hires with seasoned company veterans to reinforce customer service concepts and adherence to proven processes. The company’s training program provides a focus on teaching its outstanding young engineers “The BlueWave Way” to ensure that its customers are consistently satisfied with the service they receive from the company.

BlueWave considers every one of its customers a VIP and strives to deliver top-quality service to each of them. The largest customers are assigned a technical account manager whose responsibility is to make sure that the customer’s complex IT environments are managed appropriately and effectively.

The results are self-evident. A third of BlueWave’s clients have been with the company for five years or more. And Ecolink, BlueWave’s first customer when it launched 15 years ago, has continued as a customer through three changes in corporate ownership.

“I have seen BlueWave grow from a small five-person IT shop to become one of the largest IT firms in Atlanta,” says Brandon Pelissero, Ecolink’s COO. “So many companies grow quickly but lose their ability to deliver high-quality service. I’m delighted to say that has definitely not been the case with BlueWave.”

How to reach: BlueWave Computing LLC, (770) 980-9283, www.bluewavecomputing.com

How I.B.I.S. helps its clients grow by gaining a deep understanding of their business

Andy Vabulas, CEO, I.B.I.S. Inc.

Enterprise business software provider I.B.I.S. Inc. emphasizes what it calls its vertical focus to customer service. By specializing in understanding of its clients’ businesses and helping manufacturers and distributors run their business more effectively, I.B.I.S. limits the price factor for prospective clients.

By offering what it calls Discovery sessions, I.B.I.S. gets to know the prospective client’s business in great depth. “The value of partnering with I.B.I.S. is a trusted relationship,” says Timothy Roe, director of sales and marketing at NSPI. “They are very knowledgeable about our business and will be here for us after the initial implementation.”

Under the guidance of CEO Andy Vabulas, I.B.I.S. hosts its clients twice a year to develop their Microsoft software skills. In the first meeting, a Microsoft user event called Convergence, I.B.I.S. helps clients choose their schedules and hosts them for a reception. The second event, called iSight, is exclusive to I.B.I.S. Offered in Atlanta and Charlotte, iSight is a no-cost event held for I.B.I.S. clients. The iSight event provides users with valuable tips and tricks on how to use technology in a more beneficial way. It also teaches them new skills and gives them the opportunity to network with other clients and to share solutions with each other.

I.B.I.S. has a help desk called DynamicsCare staffed by three full-time experts, all of whom are certified on all Microsoft products. I.B.I.S. clients have the option of purchasing an unlimited DynamicsCare plan, which gives them around-the-clock access to the company’s help-desk experts; alternatively, clients can purchase a DynamicsCare pack, which guarantees them a three-hour response time.

I.B.I.S.’s culture includes a top-down approach to motivate employees to be creative and productive for the benefit of the company’s clients. I.B.I.S.’s executives pride themselves on empowering their staff to create an environment focused on learning, education and continuous training.

How to reach: I.B.I.S. Inc., (770) 368-4000, www.ibisinc.com

How to build strong global teams to enhance your prospects for success

Sang Yook, Chief Strategy Officer, CorFire

The U.S. Army briefly used the slogan “An Army of One” for its recruiting efforts. While I can’t speak to its effectiveness, I’d argue that the slogan goes against the principles for building and growing a global organization.

There’s a Korean proverb that states, “A kitchen knife can’t carve its own handle.” To me, this means that even the strongest leaders often need help from others. For a growing global corporation, strong collaboration is even more critical. In my role as chief strategy officer, I need to work with employees at every level to garner insights into areas where I may not have the experience they do. This provides a different perspective and builds a more positive environment in which everyone feels and acts like a true stakeholder.

For my last article of the year, I’d like to focus on the most critical component for corporations looking to grow globally: teamwork. This year’s Summer Olympics provided a lot of metaphors for the business world, including the importance of building strong teams. The daily life lessons include overcoming obstacles and how to find success, even in loss.

While CorFire understands the importance of individualism and innovation, the team approach is, for us, a better workplace model as it strengthens inventiveness and provides employees with access to a wider array of insights and ideas that help move our business forward.

But it can be challenging to build functional teams across geographic locations or offices. Sometimes this is because of real issues such as time differences or language barriers. In other instances, however, employees may simply not see the value of working closely with a peer with whom they don’t have frequent interaction.

Promote process

To get employees on board, management needs to communicate the value of building well-designed teams. The goal of establishing a team approach within a corporation goes beyond creating good will among co-workers. Although a positive environment is one upside, it is not realistic or practical to believe everyone will get along equally and that a workplace will be free of disagreements.

The ultimate goal is to build better products and deliver better service than your competitors. To do this, successful organizations take a pragmatic approach to building teams by looking at employees’ skill sets, personalities, and strengths and weaknesses. By building processes around the teamwork philosophy, a company factors the broader organization into decisions such as hiring and restructuring.

I liken this process to a sports team’s recruiting decisions. The smart teams look to complement their core players in skill sets and personalities. In some cases, talent trumps all, but team chemistry and the ability of a player to work within the system need to be weighed heavily.

Get personal

As companies become more global, they may want to implement personality tests or behavioral assessments as part of their hiring and team-structuring processes. There are a variety of tests available, and many do not require a lot of financial or time investment from the company, its employees or its prospective hires.

These assessments do more than ensure that organizations hire the right people; they also help companies build efficient teams in which the people mesh well and build on each other’s strengths.

Keep doors open

While an open-door policy may not be practical every working hour in every organization, the overarching philosophy is a good strategy for companies as they grow and build teams.

By encouraging communication and feedback, employees can share issues that need to be addressed before they boil up and become a serious problem. Even better, employees can discuss their views on what is working well within the organization so management can do more of it.

Work hard, play hard

I don’t think CorFire employees will be walking over hot coals any time soon as a way to build stronger teams or individual confidence. However, we strive to provide an environment where employees can have fun inside and outside the office.

Activities are not always formal. They include signing up a group of employees to attend a business or association luncheon. More formal “fun” activities such as employee cookouts are another way to help employees learn more about each other in a stress-free environment.

Look at the dynamics of your company to determine what optional activities will generate excitement in your workplace and enable your organization to “be all it can be.” <<

Sang Yook is chief strategy officer of CorFire, the mobile commerce business unit of SK C&C USA. You can reach him at (770) 670-4700.

John Allen: Social media raises new questions for hiring companies

John Allen, President and COO, G&A Partners

A frenzy arose recently when the Associated Press reported some hiring companies were asking potential job candidates for their Facebook passwords. While the practice is not nearly as widespread as the news story originally suggested, the idea of such an invasion of privacy hit a strong nerve and sparked a national discussion. Maryland was quick to pass legislation prohibiting employers from asking to access an applicant’s social media profiles, and other states have proposed similar legislation.

So where should the line be drawn? If asking job applicants for Facebook passwords is taboo, can you Google them? If sending friend requests is too forward, can you connect with applicants via LinkedIn?

There are no correct answers because there are no concrete rules, but before you take to the Net to investigate your next new hire, ask yourself a few questions.

What’s to gain?

What do you want to learn by investigating a job applicant online? Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission laws dictate that companies make hiring decisions based on job-related information only. While a basic Google search is unlikely to provide much job-related data, it could easily divulge information that puts an applicant in a protected class — their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetics. Certainly, some of the same information would be disclosed during an interview, but what if after reviewing one candidate’s lackluster resume, you decide interviewing him or her would be a waste of time?

However, out of curiosity, you Google the applicant anyway and learn she’s an African-American woman in her late 50s. Now there is the potential taint of discrimination attached to your decision not to interview her.

Can you handle the truth?

What will you do with the information you discover? Remember the famous courtroom scene in the movie “A Few Good Men” in which Jack Nicholson’s character screams, “You can’t handle the truth!” Can you handle the truth? Are you ready for what you might learn about a job applicant online?

What if through connecting with your top candidate on a social networking site, you come across a fundraising campaign for his child with muscular dystrophy? You might assume if you hire him, your company’s health insurance premiums would increase or that he would be unable to fully commit to the job with a special needs child at home.

What if you discover the young go-getter you are about to hire as an executive assistant has been moonlighting at a questionable nightclub? You can’t unlearn facts once you’ve learned them, so can you trust yourself to make a completely unbiased hiring decision?

Can you be certain that what you find is a current and accurate representation of the candidate?

Protection concerns

If your parents were right and you’re judged by the company you keep, for better or worse a company is also judged by the people it employs. In this age of rampant online recklessness, it’s understandable that employers would want to protect their company’s reputation from the damage even just one employee’s careless indiscretion could cause.

Remember the Domino’s Pizza incident when two employees posted a video of themselves sabotaging a submarine sandwich? Personal posts could be a red flag that the candidate you are about to hire doesn’t always display the best judgment.

But how can you be sure those party pics you found tagging your star candidate were posted with her knowledge or are not from 10 years ago when she was still a college coed?

Social media offers companies an alluring platform to connect with their audiences, whether that’s customers, employees or even prospective employees. But company representatives need to use discretion if they intend to access social media or any online tools in the hiring process. Some well-intended prying could be deemed discriminatory or lead you to pass up a potential star.

Poor judgment, whether it is on the part of an individual or part of a company practice, will always carry negative consequences.

John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based human resources and administrative services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses. For more information about the company, visit www.gnapartners.com.