dunnhumbyUSA keeps a monomaniacal focus Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2010

One look at dunnhumbyUSA’s Web site (www.dunnhumby.com/us/) is all it takes to understand the customer-first strategy that serves as the brand and marketing services firm’s competitive advantage: “We put genius into making sure our clients and our people get to know and treat their essential customers better than anyone else.”

It’s a scant 23-word description, but dunnhumbyUSA COO Stuart Aitken says it’s the mindset of every one of the firm’s 300-plus employees. It’s also a key reason why dunnhumbyUSA’s client roster boasts some of the world’s most recognizable brands, including Kroger, Kraft, General Mills, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Sara Lee.

“We measure success by the impact on our clients’ customers, our clients’ business and, in turn, our business,” Aitken says. “Success is helping our clients win.”

The firm’s approach has also led it to be named to Greater Cincinnati’s “Best Places to Work” list for the past three years.

Aitken’s predecessor, Simon Hay, was named the 2009 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year winner in the Services category. Hay’s success led to a promotion this past winter, and he moved to London, England, where he now runs dunnhumby’s U.K. and Ireland offices.

With 15 years of brand creation and management experience as his guide, Aitken was subsequently handed the reins of dunnhumbyUSA. He also serves as a judge for the 2010 South Central Ohio and Kentucky Entrepreneur Of The Year awards program. Finalists for awards will be announced later this month.

Smart Business caught up with Aitken to discuss innovation, building client relationships and how dunnhumbyUSA tests new ideas for its clients.

Q. How do you encourage and mine innovation as well as visionary thinking within dunnhumbyUSA?

We are a very nonhierarchical, collaborative organization. Anyone in the organization can bring an idea to me or anyone on the leadership team. We have a phenomenally talented work force that pride themselves on bringing new and innovative ideas to the fore.

In addition, we have open sessions where we share the latest ideas and innovations we have. At these sessions, individuals have the opportunity to question and contribute to the idea. One of our values is curiosity. We welcome and encourage debate, challenge and discussion on those ideas to drive better solutions for our clients.

Q. What processes do you use to test new ideas and then bring them to market for your clients?

The process we use very much depends on the idea itself and who would leverage the idea. We have a very innovative approach and use ‘test and learn’ as a way to drive new solutions.

Q. What are the some of the keys to success for fostering relationships?

The key to our success is our monomaniacal focus in good economic times and in bad on our clients’ best customers and rewarding the behavior we seek. It is this focus that differentiates ourselves and our clients in the eyes of their consumer.

How to reach: dunnhumbyUSA, (513) 632-1020 or www.dunnhumby.com/us/

IPOs on the rise

While it may not feel like much in the economy has changed, a recent study by Ernst & Young LLP that analyzed business activity among Russell 2000 companies indicates that many companies are on a growth path.

“The current numbers suggest that all boats are rising with the Russell tide — or at least a significant number of them,” says Maria Pinelli, Americas Director, Strategic Growth Markets, Ernst & Young LLP. “If you are one of the smaller companies, it’s clearly time to get growing.”

One way to grow is to take your company public. According to E&Y’s survey, IPO activity grew significantly during the second half of 2009, with 32 IPO entrants added to the Russell 2000. That’s more than double the 13 IPO entrants during the first half of 2009.

If you’re thinking about IPOs, here are just a few of the questions you should ask yourself to see if your company is ready. You can find more questions as well as whitepapers on growth and entrepreneurship at www.ey.com/US/EN/home/library.

  • Have you developed a formal, comprehensive written plan and timeline?
  • Has your organization begun acting like a public company?
  • Are you actively addressing the four functional phases of the IPO preparation process: due diligence, drafting, SEC review and marketing?
  • Have you determined your company’s potential M&A valuation versus its public company valuation?
  • Is your team able to scale to meet the company’s growth projections?
  • Have you communicated realistic timeline expectations to key stakeholders?
  • Do you have a Plan B? Have you prepared a financing strategy to execute without an IPO?

Source: Ernst & Young, www.ey.com