Brian Horn

Monday, 25 June 2007 20:00

Polished performance

Larry Gaynor says going to work at his company is like going to a college football game, complete with cheerleaders, a fight song, team colors and a mascot. The president andCEO of The Nailco Group Inc. says the college football atmosphere fosters a team environment.

“Without a team, departments by themselves are viewed as an island,” he says. “But by fostering this type of culture, these departments are really part of one team, and they must work together to get the results we are trying to achieve.”

Every year, the company chooses a new fight song to sing at quarterly meetings, and its mascot, “The Rebel,” helps maintain excitement.

The company, which offers solutions to spas, salons and tanning clients, employs more than 300 people and posted 2006 revenue of approximately $80 million.

Smart Business spoke with Gaynor about how to get honest answers from potential employees and how he shows appreciation for his workers.

Q: How do you handle employee mistakes?

We focus on their strengths and not necessarily their weaknesses. If they make a tactical error, then they learn from it. If they make a silly error, where they are just not thinking, then that is a different category. If they make the tactical error, they learn from it so the next time, they don’t make the same mistake again.

If they make a silly error, that means they are not engaged in what they are doing. If you are not fully engaged in what you are doing, you need to step back and think about what you are doing so, in the future, you don’t make those types of mistakes again.

Q: How do you find quality employees?

It’s what we call ‘fit to role.’ Each person has what we call talent, a skill and knowledge. Honesty and integrity come from the talent side. They are born within you.

Depending on the position, everyone has a different fit to role. So, if the salesperson wants a position and they don’t have that talent to be a successful salesperson, sometimes all the skill and knowledge they acquire isn’t going to make them successful.

If they have the talent and we can give them the additional skill and knowledge required to make them excellent, then that is the right fit to role. When we are interviewing, we look for the fit to role and the raw talent that they have in that fit to role, so we can then give them the proper tools to make them successful.

Q: How do you determine whether candidates are a good fit to a role?

The resume is pretty much a worthless tool because most of them aren’t true. Trial and error doesn’t work, as well. We have very specific questions we ask them, the type of questions where the person really has to know themselves.

Based on their answers, we can tell pretty quickly if they have the talent and core competencies we are looking for at their position. We aren’t 100 percent correct. Nobody can be because the interview process is suspect as it is. Based on our questions we ask them, we are pretty reliable.

Once they get past that phase, we give them a test, a profile test, which they are answering another 100-plus questions, which further delineates their fit to role based on the position. It’s a combination aptitude, English, math, psychology test.

Q: What kinds of questions do you ask in an interview?

One question we might ask is, ‘In the next 90 days, what three things do you want to achieve? What is your vision for the next 12 months? What is your personal mission statement?’ These are the types of questions people really haven’t been asked, generally, in the past.

They might not even know what a personal mission statement is, what their goals and objectives for the next three months are, or what their vision is. So, they have to think. They can’t just bullshit their way through it. The questions we ask are never yes or no answers. They are typically open-ended.

Q: How do you reward employees?

We award a gold star. Each winner each quarter gets a framed certificate, $200 cash and a preferred parking spot. Then, at the annual meeting, we reveal what the gold star is worth because it’s a surprise.

In the past, we’ve put them on a bus, taken them bowling, lunch and then we go to Costco, and they would all have $500 to spend at Costco in an hour and a half. Last year, we gave everyone iPods, docking stations and digital cameras.

HOW TO REACH: The Nailco Group Inc., (248) 347-7700 or www.thenailcogroup.com

Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Roderick K. Rickman

Being a leader can be a very lonely proposition, says Roderick K. Rickman. The founder, chairman, president and CEO of Minority Pollution Solutions Group Inc. says that as a result, it’s important for leaders to talk to their peers and share best practices and lessons learned. And one place Rickman gets that is from his business partner of almost 10 years, Adam Soave, whom Rickman has known since he was a teenager. Being open to advice from others has helped Rickman lead MPS Group — which serves the automotive and truck manufacturing industry — to $80 million in revenue last year and more than 250 employees. Smart Business spoke with Rickman about how he serves the community and keeps a personal life without losing focus on business.

Set priorities. You want to say, ‘I’m going to spend five hours Saturday, quality time with my son playing baseball.’ Just don’t get too far off of it. If it wasn’t Saturday, try to make it Sunday. If it isn’t Sunday, then definitely make it on Monday, and make it six hours. Make up for the day lost. Spend time at home. Turn the business off. Don’t turn it off and lock it away, but you have to hand it off or pass it along and spend that down time. I call it deleting some of that e-mail that is built up in your database because your database is overtaken.

There’s a lot of stress in day-to-day work. The right answer is to be able to turn it off and on at the right time, but that becomes a challenge. It’s knowing the right amount of quality time you need and make sure you fit that in your life.

Watch for continuous improvement. I’m an owner/operator, so I work on my business every day. As I send down messages, I want to see continuous improvement as it relates to cost savings. I want to make sure we have improved our process by going back and reconfirming it and sampling it for effectiveness by actually going in and being hands-on to it.

Typically, when you get too hands-on, your managers will push back because that tends to be teetering into micromanaging, when you find yourself spending 25 to 30 percent of your time doing something that is not in your direct responsibility. Oversight is something you should be able to do in what I call a monthly operation review between your management staff.

Learn to let go. It’s like when your child goes to school. You have to, one, as a leader, identify a vice president or general manager that has your similar disciplines and likes. From a culture standpoint, you guys align. That gives you some comfort when you know you have to step back and let your operating officer operate. I have a daughter, and it’s important for succession.

It’s exactly the same thing. That’s my succession plan, and you have to let them get in there and get their oars wet to be able to make some of those decisions you make every day. The more times you do it, the more comfortable and confident you get.

Remember that you aren’t perfect. Sometimes you can just get burnt out and be too close to things. So take that back to training and identify where shortcomings and gaps were and build strategy to close them and to shore them up.

Move quickly, and then get back in there. It’s not to the point you made a mistake, it was how fast you fixed it to move on.

It takes maturity. It never gets easier. You get more mature and are able, from an external standpoint, to manage better. It’s still tough to have a bad decision and feel bad when you do something wrong. There was no intent or malice, you just have to go back and re-evaluate it again and make the correction.

Get involved in the community. There is a certain amount of charities that we do every year. We try to rotate them. There is not one we don’t look at.

For new ones, I have selected a committee that will consist of 12 people that will be the giving committee, who will go in, look at them and vote who gets the budget. We have a budget of annual giving and we make sure we get all of these well-worthy 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations and charitable organizations well-needed funding.

Another way is to advocate and communicate to my peers who may have not been giving to get them involved, too.

For me, it’s where I come from. I’m from that community. It’s what is needed for the more fortunate to give to the less fortunate. It sets a perfect example for the kids of the community.

One of the requirements is that I do it anonymously. I want you to use MPS Group because we are a good service provider, not because I give to the Boy Scouts or adopt a child.

Create a positive corporate culture. We have incentive programs and plans. In 2004, we gave a 2004 Harley Davidson away. We give away trips. We have recycling programs where the winner gets dinner out for six or their staff gets to have dinner out. They get an upgrade in a hotel for a business travel.

A happier employee is a more productive employee. If they know the direction and future of the company, they are more adaptive to make a change.

As well as you can communicate to your employee, the more informed he is and the more comfortable he’ll feel. Annual and quarterly reports, newsletters, company picnics, team-building things; they are the good, successful programs that drive good culture and good service.

HOW TO REACH: Minority Pollution Solutions Group Inc., (313) 841-7588 or www.mpsgrp.com

Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Constructing a culture

Paul Hatcher realizes there is a perception — although not an appropriate one — that the business he works in does not have the highest ethics and morals. So, the president of Oliver/Hatcher Construction combats that by making sure his company and its culture are different from others in the business.

“One of the keys to that is having the highest ethics and treating customers the way you want to be treated,” he says. “When people come in, it’s one thing to talk about it and to sell your customers on it. It’s another thing when they come from a different company and start living that part of that culture.”

While Hatcher prefers to keep the company’s revenue private, Oliver/Hatcher does 12 to 15 projects a year, each worth $5 million to $8 million.

Smart Business spoke with Hatcher about how he established his culture and how he conveys a clear message that it is not to be breached.

Q: How did you establish your culture?

It’s pretty easy and difficult at the same time. You need to educate them on the company culture. We aren’t a huge company, but there is a culture here, a way of doing things and a way of looking at things.

You have to lead by example. When you are faced with difficult decisions or decisions that you can go one direction or another, you’d better choose the direction that establishes that your ethics are strong and your morals are in the right place. Your people need to see that. It also goes back to finding the right people. They have to have those personality traits. But, if they come to our company with those traits and see their bosses make decisions in the proper manner, it’s much easier for them to make decisions.

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

You have to find the right people. By the right people, I mean those that share the same approach that you do, the dedication to business you have from a customer satisfaction standpoint, business ethics and the willingness to work hard.

It’s important for our groups to work as teams, and as a team overall from a company standpoint. In order to do that, it is important for them to understand the culture of our company.

Also, giving them clear direction. Not necessarily how they should do it but, ‘Here is the goal we want to accomplish.’ Let them develop their own approach to solving an issue, certainly, being part of that approach and, if they need assistance, making yourself available to be part of that approach as they are moving down the path to solving whatever issue it is.

We are always checking in with them to see how they are doing and if they are on track to accomplish their goal, or whether they are making the right progress.

Q: How do you find the right people?

We are always looking and talking to people. It comes from knowing people that know that particular person.

When you know someone in the marketplace well enough that they have a pretty good understanding of what our culture is, and they are recommending someone to come into our company, that says a lot. It’s not just they are a good person or know technical aspects of the job.

We don’t just hire them based on that. The interview process is, they could come through four interviews. It’s going to be me or my partner, it’s going to be their superiors and it’s going to be the people that they are going to work with on a day-to-day basis. Then it would be another interview back with me and their superior before there is a job offer made.

I wouldn’t say there are always four interviews, but there are always multiple interviews for every single position.

Q: How do you make sure you are conveying a clear message to your employees?

Repetition is part of it. It goes back to a bit of the culture, lack of turnover and familiarity with the people I am working with and their familiarity with me. I question myself a lot of times.

Did I give them a clear direction? I’ll come back and ask them questions to see whether they understand whether I gave them a clear direction. I may repeat myself again. But, just repeating yourself time and time again doesn’t mean they are going to get clear direction. It’s trying to find a way to say it differently or understand what they do and don’t understand in terms of the direction you are giving them.

If we do have someone who’s only been here a year or two, they feel comfortable going to someone who has been here 10 years and asking, ‘Is this what he means by this when he gives me this direction?’

HOW TO REACH: Oliver/Hatcher Construction, (248) 374-1100 or www.oliverhatcher.com

Wednesday, 28 February 2007 19:00

Bill Hermann

The Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have others do unto you — isn’t only appropriate for school; it can work at the office, too, says Bill Hermann, managing partner at Plante & Moran PLLC. To drive the message home at the accounting and business advisory firm, every employee is given a 6-inch golden ruler as a reminder of the company’s commitment to the rule, and Hermann says he’s been pleasantly surprised to see how many are sitting out on people’s desks. The rulers serve as a visual reminder of doing the right things, such as smiling, holding open the door and being pleasant, he says. Hermann has used this simple idea to lead the company of more than 1,400 employees to 2006 revenue of about $240 million. Smart Business spoke with Hermann about the advantages of good communication and establishing a caring corporate culture.

Listen and communicate to the max. You find the best ways to communicate, and you just do everything you can to be out and be with the people as much as you possibly can.

Face-to-face meetings are very effective. We’ve got about 15 to 17 offices. I try to get to each of them a couple times a year. I’ve found small groups are effective.

I’ve found what I want to communicate isn’t necessarily what they always want to hear. Everything you have to cover is not always pleasant news. You can be as direct as you possibly can be without beating someone over the head. It’s getting the right tone and the right message and explaining things that may be uncomfortable.

It sets a tone for the way you do things. The way you treat other people helps communicate the intent you have. You don’t have to make it uncomfortable to deal with things you might disagree on. It really supports an idea of working together.

If you want to make a change in the culture, start with yourself. My dad always used to tell me, ‘The fish stinks from the head.’ The CEO has to model what they want to see.

If that means they have to walk around, smile more and do some management by walking around, then that’s where you have to start. But it really starts with the leadership of the firm or the company.

It might come from the leadership group, and if they see something that might not fit, then they have to call it out and let people know that’s not acceptable.

People are going to slip, and you have to realize that. But if someone is always slipping, that’s a problem. You have to identify it, deal with it and correct it. If it’s not corrected, you might have to ask somebody to leave.

Say ‘no’ sometimes. The most difficult thing is to put your foot on the brake every once in a while. Opportunities tend to come in bunches. In our case, it is merger opportunities. A lot of people knock on our door, but we have regional growth we’d like to experience.

If a great opportunity comes up in another part of the country, and it looks really good, then you have to have the discipline to say ‘no.’ Fortunately, we’ve talked about it enough, agreed what we want to do and how we want to do it.

Our goal is to grow incrementally into the balance of the country. If it is someone from California or Texas, we have to have the discipline to say, ‘By having that much distance between our offices, we think we would lose the value of our culture and the opportunity to work together.’

You have to believe the plan you laid out is worth sticking to. If you can’t come to reconciliation, you have to get a group together and say, ‘I can’t get to the answer myself ,and I need help.’

Find balance for yourself and your staff. Any time you do too much of something, you’ve gone too far and you are probably going to step off the tightrope.

The Personal Tightrope Action Committee is about how to create balance in life, whether it is as a parent or as a professional. Part of what we learned is everybody has a different balance. We try to take things that we have learned as a group, gather information and make it available.

Any one of our staff members that is having a child for the first time, we have information that we’ve gathered and recourse we have come in contact with. The goal is to help them with information and support so going through that first-time experience is a little easier.

We also assign a buddy to anybody that joins the firm. Their purpose is to help them get the lay of the land and develop a level of comfort within the firm to figure out how this big machine works

Optimize activities and events as opposed to maximizing them. There’s a lot of ways you can maximize profitability, but when you do that, you are stealing from the future. You need to strike a balancing act between profitability, investing in the future and sharing the rewards that come.

My goal is to optimize our position as opposed to maximizing it. A lot of it is more art than it is science. It is a little bit of feel. You can tell if you haven’t made enough investments. You can feel it from the business. You just have to have a pulse of what is going on.

It’s a feel you develop from being involved with people and the various leaders throughout your organization. I probably ask for input, if not every week, it’s monthly. I have a management team and I find it’s beneficial to have a group evaluate situations, and it helps to get a different perspective.

It is laying out a long-term plan with different parameters.

HOW TO REACH: Plante & Moran PLLC, (248) 352-2500 or www.plantemoran.com

Sunday, 31 December 2006 19:00

Calling your shots

When you are constantly pulled in many different directions, being the boss can be painful.

Tony Holcombe has found that communication is one of the cures, and he tries to divide his time in thirds. The president and CEO of Syniverse Technologies Inc., a provider of technology services to wireless telecommunications companies, makes it a priority to spend equal time with employees, customers and investors.

Holcombe keeps in contact with investors to answers questions, and he holds informational meetings with employees.

“We do small group lunch-and-learn meetings,” he says. “We have a small group of employees, without managers, to have a free exchange of information with me.”

Holcombe also sits down with customers to achieve a personal level of communication. “It’s important for me to get a lot of face time with customers to see what customers are thinking, what they like about us and what they don’t like about us,” he says.“More importantly, where are they going with their business, so we understand what we need to do to support them.”

Holcombe has been at the helm of Syniverse since early 2006 and has been on the board of directors since 2003. Previously, he was president of Emdeon Corp., formerlyWebMD, and president of Emdeon Business Services.

Throughout his career, Holcombe has relied not only on communication but also on employee empowerment, finding the right people and acquisitions to drive success.

Empowering employees
With 1,000 employees, Holcombe realizes he couldn’t do his job effectively if he was micromanaging.

“You really have to build a team who are philosophically in line with where you want to take the company and understand how to deliver results against key objectives,”he says. “Then you have to let those people go do their job.”

Holcombe says he is very results-driven and not so concerned about the activities that lead to those results. Once an agreement is made on the target results, Holcombehands it off to the management team. He then expects managers to hand it off to their teams, and if there aren’t results, Holcombe gets involved.

“I really try to give them the key objectives and let them get it done,” he says.

Holcombe is instituting Six Sigma at Syniverse, which ties directly to employee empowerment because everyone has a part in finding a solution, which keep them involvedand up-to-date.

A management team identifies areas where there is potential for better efficiency or better productivity. The team leader, or black belt, goes to those areas and talks topeople who work in that process about what doesn’t work well.

“Through statistical analysis, we will be able to find where the problems are associated with that particular process,” he says. “The black belt will present some solutions back to the team, and the team will help the black belt to find what will work. Then the team and black belt will come back to senior management and say, ‘Hereis the problem we have identified, and here is the solution. We either need resources or capital or a change in process to implement it,’ and we will sign off on it.”

At a previous company, Holcombe saw firsthand the power of empowering employees to find solutions when a problem arose with an automated call directory system.After the system was installed, the number of calls handled by a human increased, defeating the purpose of the system.

Using Six Sigma, a black-belt team and employees of the call unit jumped on the problem and discovered the system was installed improperly, with a key directionalstep missing.

“One of the really exciting things is you not only help employees solve problems they deal with day in and day out, but they actually come up with the solution,” hesays. “They own the solution at their level, and that is a tremendously powerful concept. Not only did we get rid of the increased calls, but we got rid of the number ofcalls we thought we were going to have to handle manually, anyway.”

Finding the right people
Syniverse’s revenue was $341 million in 2005, and the company is looking to increase that with growth opportunities through the Asia Pacific and European marketplaces.Two years ago, succeeding internationally was much tougher because Syniverse lacked brand recognition. That problem was slowly solved as the company built new business relationships outside of the United States.

Holcombe says succeeding internationally comes from having the right people working for you.

“You’re constantly looking for people,” he says. “If you had an entire team in place and you didn’t want to hire any new people, you’d still be looking for new people. It’s hardto find the top people because they are in demand.

“When you get ahold of a person, you work hard to get them on board and sell them your story. Basically, court them to come work for you and put them in a place they cansucceed.”

Internationally, Syniverse hired local people who had industry expertise and good contacts and who understood their regions. That paid off as Syniverse went from having zero market share in Europe to about 25 percent over a two-year period.

“We invested for the long term, and we waited a couple of years for all that to play out,” he says.

Growth through acquisitions
One way to achieve rapid growth is through acquisitions. But the companies have to be methodically chosen, and the integration has to be handled with care.

If a company is to be acquired by Syniverse, it must meet five criteria: It must have the ability to extend the range and scope of services offered; it must expand and leveragethe customer base; it must increase profitability; it must improve strategic positioning; and it must allow Syniverse to enter new markets and increase the scale of business.Currently, Syniverse is focused on acquiring technology-based companies that can provide products and services to customers not already in the company’s portfolio.

“What we are looking for are companies that have leading-edge-type technology and services that we can not only take and develop, but sell on a worldwide basis wheremaybe we didn’t have the reach to get into a world wide marketplace,” he says.

Holcombe says the company also keeps its eye on competitors that exit the industry.

“There, what we are acquiring is customers,” he says. “We want to bring those customers over to our platform, our services, and build a strong, long-term relationship withthem.”

At that point, Holcombe says it’s important to understand what the customer wants.

“It’s really important you sit down with the customer and go, ‘What are the things that cause you pain? What are the areas where you are trying to control your cost or increaseyour ability to increase your revenue?’ You have to listen very carefully to what they are telling you. Then you have to create a solution for them.”

Holcombe says that once you get past questioning whether you have a good product set or a good financial deal, the thing that can make or break the success of a deal is thecultural integration component.

“It’s something that I, as all CEOs do, have struggled with,” he says. “When we acquire somebody, we want to get to know the management team of the company and the culture of the company pretty intimately.”

Syniverse has weekly integration meetings chaired by Holcombe, at which the company walks through the issues between Syniverse’s people and the people of the ac quiredcompany.

"We have laid out plans, so we are checking off against that,” he says. “We are trying to make sure if there are issues, we deal with it.”

Syniverse recently acquired a company in Hong Kong, and Holcombe spent time there with its senior managers to understand how they work. He says it’s important to spendtime in the offices of the acquired company to answer questions and show support. And potential problems should be addressed immediately.

“When you close that acquisition, my approach has been you really selectively put the pieces of the companies together where it makes sense, and really build some wallsaround areas where you can have some cultural clashes,” he says.

Holcombe wants to leverage the Hong Kong-based company’s development capabilities for product sets in a specific marketplace.

“We build some walls around them and make them more of the development engine for us because that is where their expertise is,” he says. “Rather than us coming in andtelling them how to do things, they’re going to tell us how to do things. We leverage their strengths and give them a bigger role and a bigger marketplace to play. That helpsthem feel like, ‘There is no one here to pound me to tell me how to do stuff.’”

As far as branding acquired companies, Holcombe said that’s decided on an individual basis. The company in Hong Kong will keep its brand but be branded a division ofSyniverse. Time will determine what brand is most advantageous based on what the customer wants to see.

“It’s what is going to give us the best marketplace presence and the best expectation factor from the customer base,” he says.

HOW TO REACH: Syniverse Technologies Inc., (813) 637-5000 or www.syniverse.com

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