Rick Fezell gets it. Why else would he jump into the icy waters of Lake Michigan in the middle of January? As the new managing partner for EY’s Midwest Region, Fezell wanted to show everyone that there was another side to his personality than just being the boss. He was willing to step out of his comfort zone and do something that a lot of people think is completely crazy.
But as much as his polar plunge got everyone talking, it’s the more subtle actions taken by Fezell that demonstrate his understanding of what it means to be a strong leader in today’s fast-paced world.
While he was born and raised in Pennsylvania, he had spent most of his career working in California. It was there that he and his wife raised their family and built a life. The move to Chicago in 2012 was a great opportunity, but it was also a huge adjustment for his family. Fezell understood that if he couldn’t help his family adapt to their new home, it wouldn’t matter how successful he was at EY.
So he worked hard to build relationships with his new colleagues and other key people he would be working with. But he also managed his schedule so he would be home in the evenings as often as possible to have dinner with his family. There wasn’t much time to rest, but Fezell understood his leadership responsibilities both at work and at home.
It’s easier than ever to stay in touch with your work these days, but that often makes it harder than ever to disconnect from the office and have a little down time. The problem is if you try to go too long without taking those moments to step away, you risk burning yourself out.
But you also risk setting the wrong tone with your people. Everyone understands that you’re the boss who makes the key decisions that shape the direction of your company. But being the boss doesn’t mean you have to be distant and aloof and project an image that you’re different from your employees.
It could be as simple as sitting with a group in the lunchroom — or maybe just stopping by someone’s cubicle in the afternoon to talk about family or the big game last night.
If you’re really bold, maybe you’ll find an opportunity to jump in the lake in the middle of winter. But the point is that you find some way to relate to your people so they see you as a man or woman who has some of the same challenges and obstacles in life that they do.
Still the leader
A brash action doesn’t chip away at your authority. You’ll still be the leader and command the same level of respect even if you take your jacket off for 10 minutes and shoot hoops in the parking lot with your customer service team.
But when you leave a little early one day to watch your son play T-ball, and let your employees do the same thing, you’ll also send the message that family is just as important as business. And what better message could you send about what your company stands for than that? ●
Mark Scott is senior associate editor of Smart Business Chicago. If you have an interesting story to share about a person or business making a difference in Chicago, please send an email to MScott@sbnonline.com You can also follow us on Twitter at @SmartBiz_CHI
With margin pressures, cost reductions and ongoing economic uncertainty on most corporate agendas, a company’s supply chain has become a key driver of growth. The relationship between the supply chain and senior finance leaders is more important than ever as C-suite executives work to build a cost-effective operating model.
Yet, in “Partnering for Performance: CFO and the Supply Chain,” a recent EY survey that looks at the impact on the business when the CFO and chief supply chain officers collaborate, only one-quarter of finance executives describe their relationship with their supply chain counterparts as a true business partnership. Worse, only 21 percent of supply leaders report that their CFO chiefly plays an enabling, collaborative partnership role.
These are troubling statistics considering the study also shows that collaborative relationships result in stronger profitability, a wider, more detailed view, and a better-performing business characterized by higher growth, more focused management decisions, greater visibility into risk and strategic alignment.
Here is a look at four key areas where the CFO has an opportunity to enhance performance through business partnering with the supply chain:
Create strategic alignment
EY’s study shows that companies with strong finance and supply chain relationships report much stronger alignment between the supply chain and broader business strategy. Further, companies with a business-partnering model often report better results than those with a traditional finance model in place.
With greater visibility across the organization, leadership can strengthen planning, align manufacturing capacity with demand and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of supply chain operations.
Study investment choices
Traditionally, CFOs and their teams oversee investment and resource allocation. Yet, the supply chain leader is in an ideal position to help guide capital investments to build the right capabilities that align with the growth strategy.
In a business partner model, these two functions collaborate and greater value is generated from capital investment decisions.
Take advantage of experience
The CFO’s perspective across an enterprise, combined with being in a position as a trusted adviser, enables the CFO to play a vital role in helping to standardize the language, measurement, tools and key performance indicators across an organization.
When working in sync with supply chain leaders, the CFO can be sure that together, the company is driving behaviors and business strategy while keeping costs and efficiency top of mind.
Be able to deal with risk
Managing risk is one of the biggest contributions CFOs can make to the supply chain, but within complex global companies where there are primary, secondary and tertiary suppliers, identifying these risks can be challenging. By becoming more engaged in the supply chain, business partner CFOs can look more deeply at exposures and assess whether they are being mitigated appropriately.
Seventy percent of CFOs surveyed say their relationship has become more collaborative over the past three years. This is encouraging because of the many benefits to organizations that have a business partnering culture, where there is a highly collaborative, enabling and supportive relationship between the CFO and supply chain leader.
To explore if business partnering is prevalent within your organization, ask yourself how collaborative your relationship is with the supply chain. Is finance perceived as a gatekeeper or a policeman? See if there’s room for additional business partnering within your organization that could improve your company’s performance and fuel growth. ●
Rob Dongoski is the Chicago Advisory Market Leader for EY with more than 20 years of experience helping clients streamline costs, optimize capital and improve growth. You can reach EY at (312) 879-2000. Visit www.ey.com/GL/en/Issues/Managing-finance to read “Partnering for Performance: CFO and the Supply Chain.”
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Mobile apps: http://www.ey.com/GL/en/Home/EY-Insights
Do these terms sound familiar?
Come on, you can admit it. Aren’t there times when corporate-speak makes you nauseous? Don’t get me wrong; I live in the corporate world. It’s from there where my bread is buttered and bills are paid. Yet, those running the big businesses often forget what the keys for optimizing success are, thus garnering less than stellar results.
The construction of a high-performance team needs to be centered on the how. Having worked intensely with executive teams in the last five years, we take an unconventional approach to helping them maximize performance, as reflected by the following:
Key No. 1: Vulnerability
Each individual starts out standing front and center before their peers and speaks to how they contribute to the success of both the team and organization. They must speak on the areas they believe they’re most measured against and where they believe they’re strong and where they need the most improvement.
Vulnerability can be terrifying. But it also shows tremendous strength when an individual can get up and bare all in front of his or her peers. The comical irony about this activity is those who think this is soft or too touchy-feely aren’t strong enough to be vulnerable; are you and your team members?
Key No. 2: Feedback
Author Ken Blanchard said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” Unfortunately, too many people skip breakfast or don’t want to be told they have to eat it to be healthier. Feedback is the same. How can we remove blind spots that risk so many crucial business issues if we don’t get input?
Many performance reviews will discuss certain levels of improvement needs, but they often lack the specificity of observable indicators. In other words, how will we know you are improving? What actions will reflect your growth?
Perhaps the best way to create team trust and inspire a desire to improve is to provide feedback that is candid and constructive in a shared forum. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s for those committed to optimizing their individual and team growth.
Key No. 3: Action-based standards
We’ve all driven home and taken a different route because of traffic or construction. Sometimes, retracing the route we selected slips from our memory. Yet, we know we stop at the red light, advance on the green and adhere to the driver on the right at a four-way stop sign. Why? They are the rules of the road that become memory-formed habits.
Benign mission statements are just that because they lack verbs that execute. Action-based standards don’t describe what we will be, but how we will conduct ourselves.
If they are agreed upon and authored by the group, not by one guy at the top, they become the fabric by which everyone works. It becomes much more likely that members of the group will hold each other accountable to these standards. They become the rules of the road, which become burned in our hard drives.
If you want to establish a truly high-performing team, you need to engage people in the way that team will effectively function. When they are part of that effort, it builds long-term traction and optimizes effectiveness. ●
Joe Takash is the president of Victory Consulting, a Chicago-based sales and leadership development firm. Takash is also a keynote speaker for executive retreats, sales conferences and management meetings. Reach him at (818) 918-3999 or www.victoryconsulting.com
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The duty of leadership to effectively reward is essential to the survival and prosperity of any organization. Issues between the leader and his or her people regarding incentive compensation can undermine the entire motivation process. We really are in the “timely rewards” business as company leaders.
Here are four principles for successfully rewarding your people for a job well-done:
Deploy your people to maximize the use of their unique gifts and talents
When we have people working in areas where their individual gifts and talents don’t match the position well, employee satisfaction and employee performance suffer. Why? Because expressions of trust and gratitude from leadership become much less natural and less frequent.
Contrary to a lot of conventionally accepted wisdom, “People cannot do whatever they want to do or are asked to do.” Rather, “People can effortlessly do whatever they were wired to do.” If people’s talents aren’t lined up with what is being asked of them, redeploy them to make the best use of their gifts.
A leader’s trust and gratitude generate a great deal of employee satisfaction
I believe the greatest reward leaders can give is sincere trust and gratitude. In fact, I consider creating trust and expressing gratitude to be primary leadership requirements.
This critical combination satisfies a nearly universal desire to be affirmed and appreciated. I believe financial incentives alone are necessary, but not sufficient to motivate and drive success. Trust and gratitude create more satisfaction, engagement and enjoyment.
Design compensation rewards in advance and in detail
Compensation plans must be well designed in advance of their implementation with simple, detailed and understandable quantitative measurements, which are really leadership expectations of desired outcomes. All too often, performance bonuses, sales incentives, project milestone payments, etc., rely on qualitative rather than quantitative measurements.
To fix this, qualitative wording like “used best efforts” or “used best judgment” can easily be coupled with added quantitative language: “Used best efforts to complete the project by June 30.” or “Used best judgment in screening five bidders to two finalists by Aug. 15.”
Verify and reward outcomes, not impressions
In my experience, there is often a great temptation to reward the impression of “progress,” the impression of “improvement” and the impression of “hard work.” Yes, these are important qualitative attributes in our people’s performance reviews, but they aren’t reliable measurements for incremental incentive compensation purposes.
To be effective, compensation-based rewards need to be treated as an arm’s length accounting practice including an audit-like review of the accomplishments and calculations. Reward financially only after completing a third party, audit-like review of the quantitative measurements by human resources or accounting. This will ensure the desired final outcomes actually happen and avoid the need to go back and reverse rewards. ●
Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit www.fona.com or call (630) 578-8600.
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Not long ago, I co-facilitated a World Café discussion at which a group of 50 leaders, consultants and students in organizational development brainstormed answers to two critical questions about a multigenerational workforce:
■ How do you motivate a workforce composed of several generations?
■ How do you develop and prepare the workforce for the challenges of tomorrow?
The collective thinking that emerged offers a starting point and even a list of issues for leaders to consider when creating a strategy for addressing multi-generational needs that emerge in their organizations.
Motivating the diverse age workforce
There are predominantly four generations in the workplace today: traditionalists, born before 1945; boomers, born between 1946 and 1964; Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980; and millennials, born between 1981 and 1999.
There are communication differences and needs among each generation — for example, preferences for text versus phone. There also are stereotypes within and about each generation that need to be understood and addressed.
■ Communication channels need to be both formal and informal because it is critically important to be transparent and foster open communication among all generations, especially around specific expectations and problems or discrepancies. Train everyone in the organization on the differences in communication styles.
■ Emphasize the strengths and experiences of groups and individual employees alike. Instead of mentoring, consider the concept of collaborative partnerships that emphasize learning from each other. Encourage people to share based on their passions. Drive relationships and promote collaboration. Consider diverse participation in projects to allow relationships to grow organically.
■ Maintain flexibility regarding differences among generations. Recognize that every generation will have different needs and preferences. Ensure enough communication to clearly define expectations that each group may have.
Prepare for tomorrow’s challenges
Enhancing the value of a multi-generational workforce takes planning. Before dealing with the challenges, leaders must anticipate and plan for them.
■ Build forecasting into the core competencies of every leader in your organization. Help them be great listeners, questioners and observers who are culturally and generationally sensitive and value diversity. Ensure that they have strong human relationship skills and a clear demonstration of these skills in practice. Help them be adaptable, flexible and able to embrace change.
■ Recognize that there are global issues and a need for a global-minded, multi-generational workforce. Consider qualifications for a global workforce, help each individual find his or her niche in the global picture and help each person consider why he or she should stay with the organization.
■ Create a broader relationship with your employees. Give them the freedom to think about future challenges and to be innovative in addressing them. Emphasize creativity and adaptability. Engage all employees in an ongoing dialogue. Build trust that promotes engagement. Finally, show a strong commitment to invest in each employee’s development.
A World Café is an excellent tool in developing a multi-generational workforce strategy that employs these tactics, because it is so dynamic and collaborative, drawing on the experiences and observations of all generations in the organization. There is no right or wrong, but the collective thinking of the crowd is a great starting point. If you open up communication in this way, your employees across all generations are likely to be highly motivated, engaged and willing partners in collaborating for best results. ●
Jay Colker, DM, MBA, MA, is on the core faculty teaching counseling and organizational psychology at the Adler School of Professional Psychology (www.adler.edu). He also maintains a human capital consulting practice, is founder of Crowdsourced Coaching and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 213-3421. To learn more about Colker, visit crowdsourcedcoaching.com/about-us/.
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Count on Bob Lacy to be one of those business leaders who won’t be trying to calculate the hours his employees spend away from their work as they track their brackets or sneak a peek at the March Madness action on their computer, smartphone or tablet.
“It’s fun to do and it’s a good thing for the culture,” Lacy says, referring to activities such as bracket wagers, Super Bowl squares and fantasy sports.
“It’s just another form of camaraderie. Nobody is forced to participate. Much like our run club or the company employee lunch we do every month or our sporadic happy hours, those things are all good for morale and for encouraging employee communication.”
Lacy, who is vice president of operations at InStep Software, says he has no concern that his employees can have a little fun without skipping a beat in their job responsibilities.
“I think it causes people to be more productive because they don’t want to let their co-workers down,” Lacy says. “There is an awful lot of camaraderie and respect for each other that comes out of working and playing together. It increases communication and collaboration and ultimately, I’m willing to bet the productivity is higher. So the customer experience is also very good as a result.”
A popular pursuit
If you take the time to crunch the numbers of the people who participate in these kinds of sports-related contests, the results are often staggering at first glance. At the beginning of the 2013 football season, Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. released a report that estimated the cost of fantasy football to corporate America at $8.3 billion.
That figure was reached by taking the estimated 23 million people who play fantasy football and multiplying it times the average hourly wage for a non-farm, private-sector employee, which at the time was $23.98. Multiply that by the 15 weeks of the fantasy football season and you get $8.3 billion.
The findings are “total conjecture,” points out John A. Challenger, CEO at the outplacement consulting firm, since no one knows exactly who is and isn’t playing fantasy football or how much those who do earn for their work.
And while he adds that a company’s Internet bandwidth could be affected as fantasy players monitor their teams, leaders who seek to ban such pursuits in their companies do so at their own peril.
“An across-the-board ban on all fantasy football or sports websites is likely to backfire and cause a drop in morale, loyalty and ironically, productivity,” Challenger says in the report. “The end result could be far worse than any loss of productivity caused by 10 to 20 minutes of team management each day.”
Another thing leaders should keep in mind is the fact that few, if any employees are capable of spending every minute at the office completely focused on their work.
“Employees will talk about things like the Super Bowl or March Madness or the presidential election,” says Michael Gibbs, a clinical professor of economics and faculty director of the Executive MBA program at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
“But if they are not talking about March Madness, they are probably going to be talking about something else to some extent. If anything, having something fun or positive for people to be thinking and talking about may be a nice thing during times of pressure.”
Tough to measure productivity
Gibbs, who studies the economics of human resources and organizational design, says it’s fairly easy to measure productivity at a macro level, but notes that it becomes more difficult when you narrow your focus.
“Companies spend an enormous amount of time and hire more managers than they otherwise would just because of the difficulty of evaluating performance,” Gibbs says. “Part of that is a lot of performance is intangible. A lot of what employees do, you just can’t observe while they are doing it. You can’t look at their inputs. You have to try to figure out what their outputs are. When they are intangible, that’s difficult.”
Technology is helping companies break down some of those barriers and giving rise to workplace analytics. But Gibbs is skeptical of any leader who sees college basketball, fantasy football or Super Bowl squares as key factors in his or her company’s failure to reach its goals.
“As far as I know, there is no academic study of this kind of thing,” Gibbs says. “I’m skeptical that there is any real loss in productivity. I think it’s pretty harmless.”
Gibbs also points out that these kinds of extracurricular activities are not unique to the United States.
“I teach students all over the world, and I have to tell you, the same thing happens in London and Singapore,” Gibbs says. “European executives and employees are always talking about the soccer games or the World Cup. This is not a U.S. phenomenon at all. In fact, in Europe, I think they talk about soccer more than we talk about sports here.”
Get some fresh air
As Lacy looks at the employee turnover rate at InStep, he sees it coming down every year. He gives much of the credit to that progress to the software company’s workplace culture that focuses on more than just watching sports.
The company’s running club came together to participate in some of Chicago’s charity races that are held throughout the year, including the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge and the Chicago Blackhawks’ Mad Dash to Madison.
“People that are going to participate in those events prepare ahead of time, so that contributes to their physical health being a little better than it would be otherwise just by getting ready,” Lacy says. “They add to the social nature of the workplace. People can argue that there are some inefficiencies that come from it. But I would say the camaraderie and satisfaction with being part of the team increases as a result of these activities.” ●
Learn more about University of Chicago Booth School of Business at:
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John Kalanik, Jim Chappell and Tony Maurer brought a lot of engineering experience to the table when they launched InStep Software in the mid-1990s. In those early days, the company’s co-founders focused on solving engineering problems with software solutions.
“The Internet was really starting to take off,” says Kalanik, the company’s president. “We knew there was an underserved market for the development of engineering software. Initially, we focused on consulting projects for companies in the telecommunications, power and utility industries; many of these projects resulted in the development of a specific commercial software application.
“This provided us with the experience and background to develop our own engineering product offerings, rather than continuing to be the sole developer for software that the customer would own.”
Launching a new product or service can be both exciting and overwhelming as entrepreneurs often spend months or even years perfecting an idea that may never come to fruition. Those who don’t have the patience often give up before their idea can take hold. Others wait too long hoping that the idea will catch fire. It’s a tricky proposition with no guarantees.
In the case of Kalanik and his team, it was years of industry experience and a committed staff that allowed InStep to develop, market, upgrade and expand its suite of software products and transform the 70-employee company into a global engineering solutions provider.
Blazing their own path
Rather than look to outside investors, the partners used consulting revenue to fund the development of new software technologies. The self-funding approach improved the startup’s risk profile and created greater flexibility to expand.
The first product was a Web-based data consolidation system that went to market in 1996. It didn’t take long for Kalanik, Chappell (executive vice president of operations) and Maurer (executive vice president of technology) to identify another need, this time for a big data solution for process companies. That led to the 1998 launch of eDNA, an enterprise data historian product.
The company continued to gain ground with this product and grow itself, adding 30 new employees. But the competition was intense and the pressure to keep evolving rarely eased. While eDNA offered many superior features, it was competing with a well-known legacy product that had a large market share.
The InStep team decided to focus on growing the company’s value proposition in an effort to reach more customers.
In the early 2000s, another step forward was taken when the team identified huge demand for a predictive asset analytics solution. It was an opportunity to serve industrial enterprises and get a jump on the competition that had been slow to adapt to this need.
“There were only a few companies that provided limited predictive analytics solutions for a specific brand of equipment or type of asset,” Kalanik says. “But there was not a solution that served as a holistic enterprise system capable of monitoring an entire fleet of assets.
“That’s where our predictive asset analytics software technology, PRiSM, came in. It was the next logical step in the progression of our software and could be used with our data historian or other data management applications.”
Go the extra mile
One of the biggest challenges Kalanik’s team faced was figuring out how to make potential prospects aware of InStep and the solutions the company offered. It was still a fairly new idea, so they reached out to existing customers to help spread the word.
“When we launched PRiSM, the interest in big data and predictive analytics had not reached the level it is today,” Kalanik says. “But we knew there were engineers and plant managers in our current customer base that would find significant value and benefits in a product designed to improve equipment reliability by predicting potential equipment malfunctions before they occur.”
Effective leaders are able to tap their existing channels and find ways to get the word out when their product or service gets good reviews. When a large nuclear power generation customer was nationally recognized for using one of InStep’s products, the positive assessment resulted in a substantial number of additional clients.
When you show your passion for helping clients, you make it a lot easier to grow your business.
“We always go the extra mile,” Kalanik says. “We provide engineering advice that goes well beyond support, and we are very focused in making sure our technology integrates with each customer’s needs.”
Kalanik, Chappell and Maurer center their long-term strategy on continually adding capabilities to their software technology. The goal is to continue to meet changing regulations in vertical markets and to keep up with the rapidly growing amount of data.
“Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, our business strategy has always focused on satisfying industry needs by building on the proven technology we already have and continually advancing its capabilities,” Kalanik says.
“One way we have been able to do that is through committed and highly intelligent employees that have stayed with us long term. Those employees have become leaders within the company and have facilitated the continued development of our products.
“In addition, we have been expanding our dedicated sales and marketing team to help us grow our market presence,” he says. “That is half the battle: We know we have the best solution, it’s just making the target audience aware of what we can do for them.”
Demand follows awareness as more and more companies embrace smart grid technologies and equip assets with advanced data-transmitting sensors.
“The ‘Internet of Things’ is creating significant big data challenges and opportunities for companies across the world,” Kalanik says. “They can either take advantage of the data and turn it into actionable insights for increasing their bottom line or they can become overwhelmed with it.
“The businesses that use this information proactively are going to be the most competitive as they increase their reliability, improve business intelligence and drive profitability.”
As the need for data management solutions continues to thrive, so does InStep Software. The company is continually hiring new employees and works with customers all over the globe. The company’s international customers will soon represent half of its overall client base
“In the early 1990s, when we were just getting started, our original goal was to solve business problems with engineering software,” Kalanik says. “We did not know where we would be in 20 years, but we stayed true to that initial goal and the products, customers and growth came naturally. If you focus on what you do best, success will follow.” ●
Learn more about InStep Software at:
How to reach: InStep Software, (312) 894-7837, www.instepsoftware.com
Mark Silverman has fond memories of Sept. 1, 2007, the day Big Ten Network went live to TV viewers for the first time.
“We had been working nonstop to get the network ready,” Silverman says. “I started in December (2006), and most people didn’t come on board until April and May 2007. Flipping the switch, going live on air and watching Dave Revsine, our host, do his open for BTN, it was definitely the most memorable moment I have in our history.”
It was an instance of great accomplishment. But the work of turning BTN into the successful business venture it is today, with more than 300 affiliates and a presence in more than 52 million homes, was still a long way off when Silverman and crew came into work the morning after that glorious day.
“Launching a cable network is never an easy challenge,” says Silverman, the president of Big Ten Network, a joint venture between the Big Ten Conference and Fox Networks.
“We weren’t available everywhere and people were hearing frustrations from their family and friends that the games weren’t on.
“Financially, we weren’t able to bring in the revenue we had hoped to that first year. The schools were not happy to hear from their alumni and season-ticket holders that they couldn’t watch the games. There were just a lot of overall challenges from a management standpoint that we had to work through.”
Silverman felt the pressure, but he did his best to not let the criticism get to him or his employees. He was confident in his plan to build the 120-employee network and satisfy everyone’s concerns. It was just going to take a little time to make that happen.
“I needed to make sure everyone was focused on doing their job and not focused on everything else,” Silverman says. “They could not allow that to get in the way of creating a network. When people did see it, it needed to be a network they would want in their homes, one that they would talk about with their friends and say, ‘This is great; you should get it.’”
One of the first steps Silverman took to get BTN on an upward trajectory was to embrace his critics.
Meet criticism head on
Silverman didn’t have to look far to gather opinions about what BTN was doing right or wrong in those early days. In the case of Big Ten schools, university presidents and athletic directors, as well as the people who wanted to watch the network’s programming in their own homes, he felt a high level of accountability.
But Silverman was confident one of his best plays in helping the network meet its goals was to reach out to a different group.
“I wanted to meet the chief critics,” Silverman says. “We contacted the major bloggers as opposed to just reading negative stories about the network from people who really didn’t understand it. I spent a lot of time trying to discuss what was going on with these major influencers in our area.
“I had long conversations with these bloggers who tend to be very opinionated and very strong in their views. I got some of them to understand our point of view.”
Whenever you’re trying something new, you’re going to have skeptics. While you can talk and talk about why you believe it will all work out in the end, it’s often easier to earn support when you have other people willing to stand by your side and back up your claims.
“It’s a lot more credible than when you’re doing it yourself,” Silverman says. “For me to talk about the benefits of the Big Ten Network, of course I’m going to do that. I run the network. But if you can have famous alumni or media who are impartial in theory and just want to give their true opinion, that can really help.”
So Silverman went on talk shows and met with bloggers and editorial boards and did his best to answer questions and shift public opinion about what was happening at BTN.
“It just required a lot of hands-on direct communication with people who I think up until that point didn’t get much respect,” Silverman says. “I don’t think you saw many presidents of networks talking to bloggers. It was 2007 before they got to be more mainstream media like they are today.”
His goal wasn’t to ensure every story about his network in the future would be a glowing endorsement. He just wanted coverage to be fair.
“A satisfied customer is the best way to measure your company’s success,” Silverman says. “If you can attach your brand to something that is really meaningful and important to your fan base, or your customers, and then have others see the benefits, you can really utilize that to grow your company.”
Keep your goals in focus
The Big Ten schools represented another group that Silverman had to work hard to satisfy. Early on in the network’s life, a show was produced that listed the top 20 sports icons in Big Ten history. It did not get a good response from those within the conference.
“The conference was very reluctant to order certain schools over other schools,” Silverman says. “There is always this feeling in the conference that all the schools are equal. We need to do everything equally. But what we decided to do, which I felt was more appropriate for the network, was rather than be equal, we need to be fair.
“If a school is going to compete better than another school in a certain sport, they have earned the right to have more of their games on our air than the team that is not going to win as many games.”
Silverman had to find a way to manage these concerns about treating everyone the same with his professional responsibility to produce high-quality programming that recognized the excellence that the conference was producing.
“To lead an organization, you need to be willing to hear negative commentary on your business,” Silverman says. “Not everything we do is right or perfect. The first step is to be candid and to be aware that you could be doing things better. You want to take input from everyone, but not everyone’s input is right.
“We’ll hear certain ideas from the schools. As the leader of the network, I need to tell them, ‘Look, I hear you. But that’s not really in your best interest because of this.’ Or, ‘That’s a great idea, let me look at it and see what we can adapt.’ You need to be able to filter through the recommendations. Everyone has an opinion, but they may not always be right.”
This is where it becomes critical to have clear goals of what you want to be.
“You need to be very candid, but you also need to lead and sometimes people are very content to just do what’s been done the previous year,” Silverman says. “You need to be able to push through what you believe is right for the company whether or not everyone is on board.”
When the scandal at Penn State University with legendary football coach Joe Paterno leapt into the headlines, Silverman was faced with a critical decision.
“Up to that point, we had been very reluctant to say anything at all that wasn’t categorized as positive about our schools, our coaches or our conference,” Silverman says. “In light of covering that situation, the network really grew up, and we had to cover it the way our analysts truly felt.
“They were encouraged to just say what they really thought. We needed to cover it if we were going to really be a network. It was us gradually becoming more confident in what we do as a network and not being so worried about what the schools or our conference or our fans are going to think; do what we think is the right thing to do. That’s something that came about over time for us.”
Try new things
Silverman and his team are continuously looking for new ways to strengthen the BTN brand. In 2012, the network launched the BTN Big 10K race in downtown Chicago. About 4,000 runners signed up for the inaugural race, followed by 15,000 for the second race in 2013.
“We’ll take a hard look at ourselves at the end of each year and note what we did well and what we could do better and come up with a plan of what we can do next year to keep advancing,” Silverman says.
If your business hasn’t experienced any failures while trying new things, you’re probably not pushing yourself hard enough.
“You want to be better at limiting your failures, but you don’t want to limit the experimentation,” Silverman says. “Put failure within a decent constraint. You’re going to invest X amount of dollars and if it doesn’t work, it was worth it. It’s like research and development.”
The key to being successful at branching out is to know what you can handle.
“No matter how big your organization, you typically only have a limited few key people, and it’s their resource or bandwidth that you can allocate on so many projects,” Silverman says. “If something is going to happen, it typically needs a lot of company focus and priority and working together to make it work.” ●
- Don’t let people panic.
- Develop clear goals.
- Don’t fear failure.
The Silverman File:
Name: Mark Silverman
Company: Big Ten Network
Born: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Education: Attended UCLA and received a bachelor’s degree in economics; earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan.
What led you to a career in media? There were two things I found fascinating in my local newspaper, The Journal News, when I was growing up in West Haverstraw, N.Y. One was the top 20 TV ratings. I would delve into the shows that were the highest-rated shows on the three major networks at the time. I just found that whole idea of measuring these top shows fascinating. I also checked the top 10 movies of the week and what their box office grosses were. That just really piqued my interest from a very young age.
What fascinated you about it? You have ratings and movie grosses, which is a mathematical judgment, and you’re applying that to things you really enjoy doing — watching TV and going to the movies. It was the marrying of those kinds of things that gave me the thought that you could actually have a career in something you find interesting and entertaining as well.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life? Personally, I would have to give credit to my parents. I get my work ethic from my father and most of my personality from my mom. It’s the combination of those two. And of course my wife of 20 years, Vicki.
If you could speak with anyone from the present or past, with whom would you want to speak with? Jesse Owens. We profiled Jesse Owens as a Big Ten icon. Someone who endured what he endured as an African-American at the time, going to Munich for the Olympics at the time he was there, representing Ohio State. Gaining his perspective would be very interesting.
Learn more about Big Ten Network at:
How to reach: Big Ten Network, (312) 665-0700 or www.btn.com
Experts are needed to explain what is reasonable in various industries, scientific or technical information, complicated financial data, and anything else that laypersons might have difficulty understanding on their own.
That’s why having a good expert witness is critical to litigants.
They tend to have a broad range of knowledge and meet the legal requirements to testify as experts, but they lack intense industry-specific knowledge and can be expensive. In some instances, you may be better off hiring an expert who actually works in your industry, even if that person has never been an expert witness before.
For example, many of my small business clients are small to midsize manufacturers with five to 10 serious competitors in the world. Only a small number of people can testify about those industries without first undertaking significant research.
While such true industry experts are not as polished in court, they may be as good or better than professional expert witnesses, and much cheaper.
How can experts help before trial?
Business clients are often reluctant to micromanage lawyers, but it’s important for business owners to understand that if you can suggest a good expert witness, do not hesitate to suggest that person to your lawyer. ●
Smart Business spoke with Breuer about the benefits of ESOPs and how they’re implemented.
This is an attractive option to companies that may need capital to acquire the stock. Implementing an ESOP also allows a company to receive significant tax and financial benefits. Among the numerous benefits, the dividends paid on stock held by the ESOP are fully tax-deductible, the principal can be repaid with tax- deductible funds, and the owner can choose what portion of his or her stock to sell.
The transaction costs associated with ESOPs are also comparable to traditional buy-outs.
Under certain circumstances, selling shareholders can defer the entire gain recognized from the sale of shares for federal income tax purposes.