Palmer’s first exposure to the business was as a worker for staffing service firm Kelly Services.
“I knew this was the right fit for me,” she says. “The business just keeps getting better and better. It has really evolved over the years. Temp services used to basically provide warm bodies. We now fill critical positions within organizations. It has become a more professional and respected business.”
Palmer started The Palmer Group 20 years ago, and it was successful from the get-go.
“We have been profitable from the beginning,” she says. “I was lucky enough to know many people in the area, but I was also very frugal. So many people get into debt when they start a business. I bartered for or borrowed just about everything in the beginning.”
That approach has served Palmer well, and today The Palmer Group has annual revenue of more than $4 million dollars generated by a temporary staff of between 125 and 250 workers.
Smart Business spoke with Palmer about how to attract and retain the best employees and what it takes to be a great leader.
What is your best leadership advice?
Two things are essential if you want to be a respected leader. First, you must be honest and sincere. If your employees cannot trust you, nothing else really matters. When they come to you with a problem, you must address it.
Second, you must be willing to work hard. You cannot be out for your own agenda or be selfish or self-centered. I am amazed at the lack of integrity in many businesses today, and it is sad.
Managing people is not easy. I have a sign in my office that reads, ‘The trouble with being a leader today is that you don’t know if you are being chased or followed.’ Sometimes it feels that way, but the reality is that, just like any other job, it takes dedication and focus to be successful.
What lessons have you learned the hard way?
I tend to be too trusting. That has hurt me in the past, and I have learned to use more caution.
My feeling is that we all should be able to operate on a handshake, but that is not the way it works these days. I learned this painful lesson when I first started the business.
The contractors building the office said it would take three months and a certain price. I believed what they said; however, it ended up taking 14 months and was twice as expensive.
My husband reminds me to be more careful in my business dealings. Rather than contributing to every charity and trusting whatever people tell me, I do more homework now and check things out before putting myself out there.
How do you attract and retain great employees?
Every survey I read about what motivates employees points back to appreciation. Everyone wants to feel needed, respected and part of the team. I have really taken that to heart, and we put a lot of energy into treating our employees well. I want them to work hard, but also play hard and enjoy life.
We have whole families that work for The Palmer Group, which is a great testament. If there is a problem, we take care of it. If someone is not happy, we do whatever we can to rectify the situation.
We pay as much as possible. I think this strategy has worked, because we have had no problem attracting or retaining employees.
How do you make sure you are meeting your clients’ needs?
We acknowledge when changes are needed and we make them. For example, many of the people interested in working for our agency had been out of the work force for a while and needed computer training.
We responded to this need by starting a new division called Computer Tutor. We are now able to provide excellent technical training for both our staff and our clients.
We also started a new division called Personnel Solutions, which provides human resource services such as pre-employment testing to our clients.
We are not interested in being known as a temp agency only to be called upon when an employee is out of work for a few days. We want to fill a broader scale of needs so that our customers think of us as a true business partner.
So many human resource departments have been scaled down recently, so there are tremendous opportunities.
HOW TO REACH: The Palmer Group, (800) 860-8367 or www.palmergrp.com
“My husband’s friend was going to law school, and I became intrigued with the idea after visiting with him on campus,” she says. “I love taking a position and defending it, so this was a perfect fit for my personality.”
After earning her law degree from the University of Michigan, Rom joined a small bankruptcy firm, where she met her mentor, who managed the firm.
“This gentleman is 23 years older than I. On the surface, we do not appear to have much in common in terms of gender or age,” Rom says. “However, he has been an invaluable support to me. He made sure I had good visibility in the legal community. I believe in mentoring and try to pass it on with those I can assist and influence.”
In 1989, Rom joined Pepper Hamilton, a full-service law firm with 400 lawyers nationwide.
Smart Business spoke with Rom about keeping staff and clients happy, and the most difficult lesson she’s learned.
How would you define the qualities of a great leader?
Obtaining timely and accurate information is essential. You cannot manage properly if you rely on rumor and hearsay. When you are responsible for setting policies and resolving personnel issues that impact your staff, you must get the facts, decipher them and make a decision.
That is the second quality that comes to mind being decisive. Some people rethink, rethink and rethink more. You don’t have the luxury of overanalyzing in most companies.
Once I have the facts, I make a decision. The important next step is to communicate these decisions along with the rationale for them to staff. I need my employees’ hearts and minds I must have their buy-in, and whether I get it or not depends on how I present the information.
We have intelligent and dedicated employees working here they deserve that level of respect from me.
How do you keep your staff motivated?
We compensate well, and solicit and value their opinions. We have a number of meetings to make sure there is a steady stream of communication and interaction.
Based on my personal experience, I believe in mentoring, and we do have a formal mentor program at Pepper Hamilton. Our younger associates are paired with partners.
One of the advantages to this program is that the younger associates have hands-on contact with clients, under the guidance of their mentor. This is unique in that most law firms keep newer lawyers away from clients.
How do you keep your clients happy?
I’ve read many surveys about how customer service from law firms is perceived, and the No. 1 complaint seems to be lack of responsiveness from or accessibility to attorneys. So we go to extremes to avoid this irritant.
Attorneys do not make widgets our business is communication. We put a lot of focus into delivering prompt and constant communication ... you cannot avoid communication without paying a price.
How do you create a cohesive company culture?
The one defining aspect of our culture is that nobody is perceived to be higher or lower on the totem pole. We are a team with different duties and responsibilities, but they are all essential and therefore, we respect one another.
We have one lunch room, one holiday party and we are on a first-name basis. There are very few barriers among the staff, which allows people to feel comfortable. We get the best out of our staff by setting a culture of mutual respect and courtesy.
Our focus is not internal it is on our clients.
What is the most difficult professional lesson you have learned?
I read something that has stuck with me, and I literally think about it every day. It is a quote that says, ‘No one ever learns anything by hearing her own voice.’
My most difficult challenge has been to be quiet and listen. It is hard for attorneys, as we are mouthpieces and generally verbose and articulate. I believe this is powerful advice for most managers, though.
The other lesson I have learned is to not overcommit, and I did learn this the hard way. There is another saying I like, which is, ‘Time is not elastic.’ It will not stretch to fit everything you try to pack into your day, so you must learn how to say no.
HOW TO REACH: Pepper Hamilton, (313) 259-7110 or www.pepperlaw.com
After working for 11 years at a national staffing company, she faced a career crossroads when her employer lost its Columbus franchise. So Mativi and Mary Iannarino exercised their entrepreneurial muscle and started Solutions Staffing.
“We went in to it with confidence,” Mativi says. “Sometimes opportunities present themselves at inconvenient times. You must have the courage to go for it.”
The company started operations in 1980 as JTSG Staffing.
“This was a compilation of our children’s names, which shows our priorities were in the right place,” Mativi says. “However, the name was difficult to explain and for our customers to remember, so we subsequently changed it to Solutions Staffing.”
Solutions Staffing is a full-service permanent and temporary staffing company with 100 employees in seven cities, with plans to grow even further.
“We have aggressive growth plans,” she says. “The sky’s the limit as far as we are concerned.”
Smart Business spoke with Mativi about launching a business, staying motivated, and balancing life and work.
What strengths did you focus on when establishing your business?
Our strategy was one-on-one marketing. We literally talked to people all day long.
There was no other way to determine what our potential clients’ staffing needs and preferences were other than intense communication. I believe our dedication was apparent because we were able to gain clients quickly.
What is your leadership philosophy?
Strong leaders must have a strong sense of self, but their focus has to be on their staff. This needs to be a constant mindset what is good for the employees? What are their needs? How will they react to this decision? These are the questions that run through great leaders’ minds.
Effective leadership teams have clearly defined managerial functions. So often, leaders trip over each other unless it is crystal clear who is supposed to do what.
There are four people in our senior management team myself, Mary, my son, Jeff, and Mary’s son, Anthony. We have divided our management responsibilities into four strategic areas capitalizing on the strengths that each of us brings to the table.
This approach has worked beautifully for us because we are tapping into our own individual strengths, and we are not overwhelmed or distracted by trying to do it all.
As the company grows, how do you train employees to remain focused and enthusiastic?
We put a huge emphasis on training. Because we are in several cities, we have instituted weekly conference calls that are focused on skills.
In these calls, and our other training efforts, we constantly remind employees of the basics communication, how to provide outstanding service and methods for keeping customers happy.
Training is not a two-week deal intended only for new hires. We believe in life-long training. Employees who have been here 18 years are still being trained so that their skills stay sharp and they remain focused and rejuvenated.
The surveys I have read seem to continually point to a training deficit. When asked what they want more of, most employees mention skill training. We do not want to become complacent in this area, so we keep training as a top priority.
How do you maintain your personal balance and motivation?
I am naturally a very internally driven person. I put in long hours at work, but I have a life outside of work. You cannot be one-dimensional and remain effective.
I am most gratified by seeing young lives change. Many former employees have sent us thank you notes years later saying how much they grew and learned from us. That keeps me refreshed and motivated.
We tell our new hires that we do not expect them to be here forever, but if they give us two good years, they will leave with some great experience and a strong reference.
How do you maintain a positive working relationship with your business partner?
The partnership must be built on 100 percent trust and honesty, and there is no room for competition. There is enough competition from other staffing companies we cannot afford to have it internally.
Keeping our focus on our employees and clients rather than pettiness and keeping score between ourselves has kept our partnership healthy and allowed our business to thrive.
HOW TO REACH: Solutions Staffing, (614) 732-5800 or www.solutionsstaffing.com
“I learned both from the school of hard knocks and from paying attention to the decisions of others in the business,” says Hilleary, owner of Central Ohio Graphics Inc., a full-service printing company. “For many years, I watched people carefully. I saw them do the wrong things in this business. Being a close observer of failures and successes is more valuable than any formal training.”
Central Ohio Graphics Inc. has 54 employees and 1,200 customers, and expects to generate $7 million in revenue this year.
Smart Business spoke with Hilleary’s about leadership skills, from communicating with and motivating employees to creating internal efficiencies.
How do you keep employees motivated?
It takes work to maintain rapport with staff; however, it is essential for a successful operation. Patience, understanding and knowing when to be strong are all key leadership qualities. I never raise my voice to employees.
Jobs are stressful, so I make it worth their while. We have quarterly state of the union addresses so that they are fully aware of the profitability status. I take 15 percent of my profits every quarter and give it to staff in quarterly bonuses. I pay my employees well above the standards of the industry.
Finally, I am tolerant of mistakes. We all make them in fact, I threw away a $10,000 check one time. Those experiences keep you humble and mindful of the fact we are all human.
How do you approach project delegation?
Simply put, if you don’t delegate, you will not survive. I learned this in my early days in the business when I was taking on too much. My quality of life improved drastically after I disciplined myself to let go.
There is a right way to delegate. You must have competent staff with the right skill set who are willing to accept responsibility. They also must be aware of how they fit into the workings of the company. There are those who prefer not to accept responsibility, so the art of delegation includes properly reading your staff and knowing what makes them tick.
How do you communicate with employees?
Money is important, but keeping staff informed is equally as important. It’s dangerous to keep employees in the dark. I am very open with staff about business decisions. If I am buying another print shop, I keep them all abreast of the progress.
I am also a strong believer in maintaining accessibility with staff. We have a two-story office. The customer service and sales staff are on the upper floor and the others are down below. I used to be on the president’s floor on the upper level but decided to move to the lower level.
I am literally right by the receptionist. I don’t believe in ivory tower management you must circulate among the employees to maintain good morale and energy.
How do you create and maintain efficiencies?
When I purchased the company, good employees were hard to find for that matter, any employees were hard to find. So I made the decision to replace most of our equipment in order to gain efficiencies. We now have about the same number of employees as we had in 1999; however, we are generating 45 percent more output.
What is your best advice for business leaders?
Stay up with technology. Don’t be afraid to upgrade and replace your equipment. You can be sure your competition will, and you will be left in the dust. It’s wise day-to-day decisions that ensure a thriving and profitable operation. Technology is key to most industries, including mine.
How to reach: Central Ohio Graphics Inc., (614) 294-3200) or www.centralohiographics.com
And that’s a good thing, because as the president and CEO of United Way of Central Ohio, she’s charged with leading the organization to inspire the community and change lives.
“We all have a community service responsibility,” says Jackson. “(United Way) strives to impart this value not only to our customers but our entire stakeholders. Marian Wright Edelman, author of “The Measure of Our Success,” summed it up perfectly when she said, ‘Service is the rent you pay for living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.’”
That’s a grand message for just one organization to spread, but with Jackson at United Way’s helm, it seems not only possible, but probable.
Smart Business spoke with Jackson about the trials and lessons of leadership.
What makes a great leader?
First, you must be a visionary. Strong leaders know the organization’s goals and articulate them often and well so that employees are excited about what they do.
Second, you must be humble enough to accept feedback, admit you do not know it all and surround yourself with people a lot smarter than you.
Finally, great leaders are risk-takers. You cannot accomplish much by sticking with a safe and comfortable status quo.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned?
As the oldest of six children, I naturally have a take-charge personality. It is an ongoing challenge for me to be quiet and listen. ... Part of effective listening is learning to put aside preconceived ideas.
Another lesson I learned the hard way involves making a bad hiring decision. I was very upset with myself when I missed the mark and brought a person on-board who was not a good fit.
One of our board members put this in perspective by explaining that the hiring process continues for the first year an employee is in the organization. You make the best hiring decision you can initially, based on the information available to you, but the decision to hire continues during the first year. You must be able to recognize and react when you see signs the new hire is not working out.
It’s about cutting your losses and being willing to admit he or she is not the right fit.
How do you handle mistakes?
A mistake we have made in the past is to communicate with (donors) heavily during fundraising season. We now realize that we need to be in front of them year-round to educate them about our work.
We are resolving this gap in a number of ways, such as asking companies to include a United Way feature in their monthly company newsletters. We need to constantly promote the good work United Way is doing so that we have a year-round relationship with our customers.
How do you build a successful organization?
The basic foundation is a strong team. To build and maintain a strong team, management must listen. I now see that employee surveys are an excellent vehicle to keep a finger on the pulse of the organization.
The right way to do surveys logistically is to conduct them every two years and to use an outside agency. Employees must know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can be candid and that the results will be anonymous. Finally, senior management must review the results, consider them in a nondefensive manner and be prepared to take action.
I also put emphasis on having the right people in the right roles. When staff is miscast, or perhaps restless and ready for a change, management must be astute enough to pick up on the signals quickly and react accordingly.
How to reach: United Way of Central Ohio, (614) 227-2700 or www.uwcentralohio.org
And the biggest challenge for the CEO and chairman of Resource International Inc. was, undoubtedly, completing road construction services in Kuwait from 1974 to 1985 and in Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1996.
“I was the only woman who walked through the Saudi Arabian Ministry,” Majidzadeh says. “The culture is not friendly to women, not to mention the fact there is a drastically different way of doing business in these countries as compared to the United States.”
Resource International Inc. which offers services including geotechnical engineering, surveying and mapping, and environmental services was founded in 1973 when Majidzadeh’s husband, a professor of engineering, was researching equipment that analyzes conditions under pavement without disturbing the surface. Majidzadeh was intrigued.
“I knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to start a business around this service,” she says. “I had many ideas but not a lot of financial resources. I sent 400 letters out to potential clients and immediately received two responses.”
Resource International employs 170 to 200 people, depending on the season, and generates more than $10 million in annual revenue.
Smart Business spoke with Majidzadeh about how she finds the best employees to grow her business and how she measures success.
How do you find and keep clients?
So much of our business and any other, for that matter is built around trust. Building a reputation of quality and reliability is essential. It is a direct result of the excellence of our work, timeliness and ability to stay on budget.
If we had not done so in Kuwait, we would have never been invited to Saudi Arabia. I’ve never been impressed with quantity quality is what strengthens relationships with clients and builds loyalty.
How do you monitor the financial side of the business?
When I started Resource International, I needed basic training on finances. I enrolled in a six-week course focusing on ways to analyze the books and budget resources. Since then, I have been very disciplined about taking a hard and honest look at the numbers every month. To do so less frequently means you will repeat mistakes.
There are two ways companies lose money employees hiding under the radar and wasting dollars, and management not being strong enough to control expenses. I have regular meetings with my directors to keep them mindful and hold them accountable when it comes to where our dollars are going.
How do you maintain balance and manage stress?
I accept stress as a part of life. My work is like a roller coaster at times. My heart will drop on some of the turns, but I am always ready to take the next ride.
You have to love what you do and keep things in perspective. I have four adult children, all of whom are actively involved in the business. As I have continued to pass the reins to them, my stress level has gone down considerably.
What is your best advice for business managers and owners?
Stick with what you know well. Although our projects in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were great learning experiences, I consider myself lucky. There were enormous cultural differences and nuances in the ways business is conducted.
Although the money was good, there was a lot of suffering throughout the years we worked the projects. I would suggest this to other presidents and CEOs: Stay in the U.S. there is plenty of work and opportunities here.
I also strongly recommend that business owners develop a strong relationship with their bankers. We would not be where we are today without (our bank’s) support. They truly understand our business, trust us and have enabled us to have many opportunities we would not have had otherwise.
What is your management style?
You must know your employees not just as workers but as human beings with lives outside of the office. When someone has a baby, we honor him or her with a shower. We have loaned employees money to buy houses and granted college scholarships.
During another interview, I was asked what makes an employee stay at Resource International. I suggested that the interviewer ask the employees directly. The answer was flexibility. We are responsive to our employees’ needs, and our turnover is extremely low as a result.
How to reach: Resource International Inc., (614) 823-4949 or www.resourceinternational.com
Cornerstone has owned and managed government-assisted housing since 1984, with 20 properties in eight states. The staff of 60 provides complete oversight of the apartments, which are owned by investors and a nonprofit agency.
Cornerstone’s services include refinancing, collecting rent, maintaining properties and advising owners of the best times to sell.
“I got started in this business when I worked for a CPA firm in the late ’70s and later an apartment developer in the ’80s,” Quinn says. “I handled the tax projection number-crunching. I was fortunate enough to gain the boss’s confidence, which allowed me to be exposed to the full gamut of the business. It was a great background, which allowed me to start the business when I was in my 20s.”
Quinn says her company has been fairly insulated from fluctuating market conditions.
“Because we manage government-assisted housing, we work with long-term, fixed-interest rates,” she says. “A few years ago, changes in the welfare laws impacted many of our residents, but other than that, our business has been stable and predictable.”
Quinn spoke with Smart Business about how she finds and manages great employees and how she measures success.
How do you find top-notch employees?
We look for bright people who are quick to learn. We learned the VICE motto during change management training conducted for our employees during our transition period. VICE stands for Vision, Integrity, Character and Excellence. All of our employees know this is what we are all about, and those who do not buy in don’t last long.
Because we are not into rapid growth, I cannot promise quick advancement when hiring. But I can commit to a high degree of flexibility in utilizing an employee’s knowledge and talents. Smaller companies allow employees to do a larger variety of tasks, which appeals to those wishing to expand their skills.
How do you manage your staff?
When I started the business, I was in my late 20s and frankly, I had a lot to learn about effective people management. I tended to overcontrol and was frequently disappointed when employees did not perform to my expectations. I realized that my expectations were simply too high, and it is unwise to hold everyone to an extreme level of competence.
I learned an important lesson to pick my battles. Allowing employees to develop their judgment and problem-solving abilities by making their own mistakes is an ongoing struggle. Even when I can predict a less than ideal outcome, I make every attempt to support the employee’s recommendations. I want them to learn through personal experience, which is the best teacher.
How do you control expenses?
We are diligent in preparing a budget and using an order system requiring all expenditures to be reviewed and approved. Every bill comes to my office for payment.
Many of our main expenditures are not really controllable, such as utilities, insurance, real estate taxes. Personnel costs are also a large expense. We used to try to find good staff at a low rate, but experience has taught us that we can pay more to quality staff members and have more profitable properties. Cutting corners in this area is a short-sighted strategy that usually backfires.
How do you measure success?
That has really changed from seven or eight years ago, when we were on an aggressive growth track. We were quickly adding properties, and it was a stressful time for me. I had to sit back and re-evaluate our strategy and ultimately realized that fast-track growth was not comfortable for me.
With rapid growth, you lose control and order very difficult for a perfectionist to handle. We consciously reduced our portfolio by getting rid of underperforming properties. Some of our employees did not like our new focus and pursued other career opportunities, which was fine we expected the fallout. Everyone is happier and less pressured now.
The lesson here is that growth does not necessarily equate to success. You have to find your comfort zone, and in our business, stability and carefully controlled growth works best.
How to reach: Cornerstone Properties Inc., (317) 574-4700 or www.cpgroup1.com
Acloche provides temporary and contract staffing, and contingency search and human research consulting, focusing on placements for finance, banking and distribution companies.
Ruch’s parents founded Acloch in 1968, and joined the company in 1978, taking over with the title of vice president when her mother retired in 1986. And with decades of experience has come Ruch’s keen ability for matching the right person with the right job.
“We will process approximately 15,000 W-2s for last year,” she says. “The future looks bright for the staffing industry, and we are carefully positioned to meet the demands of employers in Ohio. We love doing business in this state and plan to continue focusing our efforts locally.”
Ruch’s optimism is well-founded. Although Sept. 11 created a significant setback for the staffing industry, it recovered in 2004, ending the year with accelerating double-digit annual growth rates.
Smart Business spoke with Ruch about how she keeps her clients happy and her staff motivated.
How do you keep clients happy?
Acloch has strict performance metrics for all major clients on which we hold ourselves accountable. Items such as service delivery, performance, fulfillment ratios and overall satisfaction are monitored.
I am a firm believer in the saying that if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. And if you are not in control, you have big problems ahead.
How do you keep staff motivated?
I foster a warm and supportive culture with a strong focus on keeping things fun and providing ongoing learning opportunities for our 70 full-time, permanent employees. Businesses run by women might be different than those led by men, but I think Acloch greatly benefits from this gender difference.
I put a lot of effort into keeping momentum going and the creative juices flowing. For example, we have contests among staff with business-related goals. The prize is a set of tickets to Blue Jackets games.
How do you find the right employees to grow your company?
We have a saying that our employees live our brand. I need staff members who embrace this concept and take pride in representing Acloch.
I don’t apologize for the fact our standards are quite high. For every five people we interview for a job, we hire one. It’s interesting we tend to see the same people again through the years. Some staffing companies get upset when one of their temporary staff members is hired by the company they have worked with. However, we consider this a sign of success.
Obviously, we made a great placement. When the individual has worked with the hiring company a few years and is ready for a career change, they tend to come back to Acloch to pursue new opportunities.
How do you remain competitive?
The staffing business is highly competitive with incredibly thin margins. For this reason, we are careful when taking jobs. If we don’t think we can do it well, we won’t take the job.
Also, we look for long-term payoffs to large investments. For example, we recently upgraded our technology by installing a Voice over IP phone system. Although we will not see an immediate payoff, there is no doubt that it is a good long-term decision which will allow us to operated more efficiently and provide more state-of-the-art service to our clients.
How will you continue to grow Acloch?
We want to expand in Ohio and continue diversifying. We do more than find X person for X job. We also provide a wide range of HR consulting services, including recruitment, training, succession planning and orientations for new employees. This allows us to have a broader scope than most staffing companies and truly serve as business partners to our clients.
How to reach: Acloche, (614) 416-5600, www.acloche.com
Oliver Wendell Holmes observed that “A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimension.”
Idie Kesner, Ph.D. and chair of the MBA program at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, has done plenty of mind-stretching over the past 25 years. But as successful as she’s been, it wasn’t her original choice of a career.
“I fully intended to get my degree and join the ranks of Corporate America,” Kesner says. “It was only after a professor saw me do a presentation and suggested teaching that I began to consider academia as a career. It’s a great job with plenty of variety I’ve never regretted my decision to become an educator.”
The Kelley School of Business MBA program is ranked 18th nationwide by Business Week, and has been in the top 20 seven of the eight times MBA programs have been ranked.
“We are especially pleased since these latest survey results come just a few weeks after having received the No. 1 ranking by the Princeton Review for best-quality MBA teaching,” Kesner says. “We hope to continue our upward momentum ... as we continue to provide a great educational experience for our students and prepare them to take on top leadership positions in national and international companies.”
Smart Business spoke with Kesner about how she keeps employees motivated and how she deals with funding constraints.
How do you measure success?
Surveys are the typical measure used in today’s environment. Early on, these surveys probably provided useful information. However, in my opinion, the litmus test for success should be the improvement of knowledge and skill level of the graduates.
How do they serve the business community? Where do the graduates end up, and how do they contribute to the success of their organizations?
How do you keep your staff motivated?
I have 19 full-time and 15 part-time student staff members. I am very fortunate to partner with Terrill Cosgray, who is the Program Director. Terrill does much of the day-to-day management, which allows me to focus on curriculum development and interface with the faculty and community.
We are a participatory group of people dedicated to being responsive to the needs of the students. My position as chair of the MBA program runs for a three-year period. With this limited time, I’ve had to rely heavily on the experience and expertise of my staff to help me move down the learning curve quickly.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Overall, applications for MBA programs have dropped over the past few years, for three reasons: It is more difficult to obtain visas, so international applications have declined; the U.S. was in a recession, so people were hesitant to give up their jobs; and demographics changed so that there are fewer MBA-age students.
It has been challenging to keep the momentum in light of these changes. Thankfully, each of these three factors is changing, and the future looks brighter. Operating in a resource-constrained environment can also be an obstacle. Funding to public higher education has been cut back considerably, which makes it difficult to compete with privately funded schools. Enthusiasm and commitment are great, but ultimately, resources are needed, and they are often in short supply.
Who’s leadership style has inspired you?
The CEO of a board I served on several years ago was the best leader I have ever seen. He was extremely balanced in every respect. He maintained a calm demeanor, supported staff and was a thoughtful decision-maker.
It was ironic here I was on the board of directors, and yet he taught me more than he ever knew through his modest and unassuming style. It goes to show that great leaders have quiet strength and confidence that inspires staff and generates loyalty.
How important is an MBA for a businessperson?
The average salary pre-MBA was $50,000 last year. The average starting salary following an MBA was $82,000. Many of our MBA graduates in some industry sections earn base salaries well over $100,000, with bonuses on top of that.
I think it is deeper than a money issue, however. MBA graduates enjoy work that is strategic in nature, and therefore, more rewarding. There are doors that open which would likely remain closed without the degree.
How to reach: Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, (812) 855-8100 or www.kelley.indiana.edu
Ghafari arrived in Detroit in 1988 with $500 in her pocket. A native of Lebanon and a widow raising two teenage boys, she struggled to learn English, and she knew nothing about the staffing industry when her brother presented her with the opportunity to build and grow G-TECH in 1989.
Despite her lack of experience, she had a strong desire to be a role model for her sons and that, along with her love for people, catapulted her to success. Her hard work, and that of her team, has resulted in a business with more than 500 contract employees and revenue that has grown from $700,000 in 1989 to nearly $44 million in 2004.
Smart Business spoke with Ghafari about how she grew the company, how she makes G-TECH a great place to work and how she maintains a positive attitude.
How have you grown the company to $44 million in revenue?
G-TECH’s growth has come as a direct result of working harder and smarter to exceed our client expectations. This has led not only to repeat business but also to referrals that have brought us new business and significant growth.
I have often told my team that the key to exceeding expectations and growing our company is being the best listeners in the industry. I really believe that is one reason why G-TECH typically scores high in customer satisfaction surveys.
How do you make G-TECH a great place to work?
My strategy is simple. I treat my employees as valued customers. I do not mistreat, overpromise or underdeliver.
All issues are addressed immediately. If you let issues fester, it can lead to someone walking out the door. I always want to know if something is bothering my employees. Turnover is extremely expensive in this business.
I am proud to say that we were just named one of Metropolitan Detroit’s 101 Best & Brightest Company to Work For. The criteria for this award include a favorable ranking against other firms in areas such as work-life balance, employee communications and recognition, community initiatives and strategic planning.
How do you recruit top talent?
Thorough job orders are critical, so we delve into the client’s expectations and concerns up front. It’s not only a matter of matching up technical skills to the job we have to understand the personal qualities the client is seeking.
Our recruiters are skilled in asking the right questions during this fact-finding stage. We have a sophisticated database that pinpoints the ideal person for the job, taking into account soft skills and technical abilities.
It is not unusual to start with 50 potential candidates and narrow it down to two or three perfect fits at the end of our prescreening process. This ensures that our clients receive quality candidates in a timely fashion.
How do you retain current clients and find new ones?
Since 80 percent of our business is from our repeat clients, we put a lot of effort into keeping them happy. We work with Ford, Daimler Chrysler, General Motors, General Dynamics and other well-known companies. We are a quality-driven organization and strive to partner with the same.
We solicit the other 20 percent of our business from market research and analysis, using sources such as The American Staffing Association to identify industry trends. An example of this is that our research over the past few months has determined that while engineering and IT professionals are always in demand, finance and accounting is also a booming area.
So we established a new division to fill this need and have been very pleased with the results.
How do you maintain positive attitude?
The key is my ability to balance my professional, spiritual and family life. My life is a good example of what I believe personally: Success is 2 percent luck and 98 percent what you do with it.
Complaining doesn’t change a thing, other than putting you way behind. Who can afford that? I’d rather focus on the things I can control and be happy with my achievements.