Christopher Carmon donates half the proceeds from his custom mint business to the Lorain County Blue Foundation
At the age of 12, Christopher Carmon is well on his way to being a leading philanthropist.
Christopher’s business Topher Joe Promotions LLC, which sells mints with company logos printed on the wrapper, donates 50 percent of its proceeds to the Lorain County Blue Foundation, a support organization for law enforcement officers injured in the line of duty. In his first three weeks of business, Christopher raised more than $600 for the foundation.
Christopher is a hands-on business owner, making it his trademark to personally deliver each order. He even gets the business owners to pose for a photo with him for his Topher Joe Facebook page. Christopher’s proud to showcase his clients’ support of not only his business, but the Lorain County Blue Foundation.
The mints are reasonably priced and made in the U.S. Christopher already has some big name clients, which include The Fedeli Group, Pease & Associates, Zito Insurance Agency, Ogletree Deakins, Landscape Management (published by North Coast Media), Firment Chevrolet, AT&F and even some area political candidates.
Christopher is so pleased by the response he’s received so far, that he hopes his efforts will inspire others to give back as well. ●
Philanthropist at heart
Jasmyne Johnson has endless ideas on how to help those less fortunate around the world
You might say Jasmyne Johnson has spent nearly half her life in philanthropy — and it would be true. A senior at John Hay School of Science & Medicine in Cleveland, she has been a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland since the age of 9.
In fact, this summer, Johnson worked as a junior staff member for the organization. She spent the summer being a role model and mentor as part of SPARK, a reading and literacy program for children ages 6 to 9.
Her participation in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland only scratches the surface of Johnson’s involvement in community philanthropy. When relief efforts were needed for the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Johnson was in charge of the promotion, advertising and collections for her church’s fundraiser — helping to raise $12,000.
Another project that Johnson is spearheading involves providing Bibles to schools in Africa where students are less fortunate and don’t have access to one. She has also proposed a pen pal program with high school students in Africa to encourage them in their education.
A member of the National Honor Society, Johnson has maintained perfect attendance throughout high school while serving as an intern with the Cleveland Division of Water. Johnson hopes to be nominated to the United States Air Force Academy. ●
Young Ambassadors of Middleburg Heights lend support to various community organizations
Every summer, the Young Ambassadors of Middleburg Heights, a group of 10 to 14 year olds, meet on Fridays at the community center to engage in outreach programs in and around the city — and receive first-hand experience in philanthropy.
This year, the Young Ambassadors were involved in several activities that benefitted the community, including the following:
• Making and delivering homemade cards to seniors at an assisted living facility, sharing doughnuts, playing games and visiting with residents.
• Delivering handmade dog toys to an animal rescue facility.
• Collecting litter in city parks.
• Organizing a senior dance at the community center.
• Collecting donations to purchase and deliver school supplies to the Positive Education program.
• Baking cookies and delivering them to safety forces in the city.
“Overall, the program has been successful, and we have received wonderful feedback from the various organizations that we have reached out to,” says Joanna Mocho, Kidzone activities director. “More importantly, the Young Ambassadors along with their parents have been delighted with the positive experiences.” ●
When Scott Moorehead became the CEO of The Cellular Connection in 2008, he thought culture was just what people knew about art.
“If you had culture, then you drank your coffee with your pinkie in the air,” he says. “I didn't know anything about culture. I didn't know what it meant. I didn't know if it was important or not.”
But after being in the driver’s seat for a short time, and networking with some other companies, he realized that a company culture was a crucial matter.
“Now I believe that no matter what your company sells, what it does, no matter how many inventions you have or patents you have, your only secret sauce that nobody can steal is your culture,” he says.
While you might say Moorehead’s mind-set makeover sounds like a dramatic enlightenment, it was more of a shift in what he knew about the company already but hadn’t quite put together all the pieces.
While growing up, the ebullient Moorehead knew that one day he was expected to take the reins of the company that was founded by his parents. So over time, he worked 32 positions in the organization — nearly every one — to earn his spot at the top so everyone would know it was not just given to him.
“Because of having worked my way up through the company, I could see there was a cultural difference between the people who worked in the stores, and the people who were in the corporate office, and the people who were in executive positions,” he says. “It didn't match, and it didn't feel like we were all on the same page. That was the feeling I got before I knew what culture was.”
The Cellular Connection is the largest Verizon premium retailer in the nation with more than 800 locations across 28 states. Annual revenue went from $191 million in 2009 to $606 million last year under Moorehead’s leadership. Here’s how the culture Moorehead drives plays a big part in the company’s success.
Make order out of chaos
Starting a company and building a culture from the ground up is one thing; merging two cultures is another matter; and the hardest job of all may be sorting out a disorganized culture. That’s what was facing Moorehead. The de facto culture created a lot of barriers walls that one had to hop over constantly to get things accomplished, and Moorehead realized it was a tall order.
“We didn't even talk the same language, man,” Moorehead says. “It was a constant battle because the stores were speaking a different language than the executives because the executives didn't have a lot of transparency at the time. They had the right intentions, but the transparency wasn’t there.”
Once Moorehead found the weaknesses in the primitive culture that was in effect, he took time to consider the journey ahead.
“You have to take a step back and look at what your values are,” he says. “Then you can build your culture around that. Trying to force a culture that doesn't exist, from a value perspective, is impossible.
“It's a constant battle to make sure that your culture is right and you have to do research, and you have to have opinions from all levels of the company, and you have to figure out how to get people to speak up on their own behalf. It's tough. Otherwise it's just one person's point of view. That's not really a culture; that's more of a directive.”
Moorehead’s major goal was to build one team out of several disconnected ones. That meant getting the big picture to be accepted by 1,400 employees.
“Somebody's got to raise the sail, and somebody's got to paddle, and somebody's got to steer, and somebody's got to make sure we are cooking the food to feed everybody who's hungry, to keep them healthy; it takes a crew to run this ship,” Moorehead says. “Everybody has a job — but everybody realizes everybody else's job is just as important.”
When you explain the big picture, it likely will be easy to get employees to buy in. Moorehead found that his good fortune was to follow the excellent vision his father, who co-founded the company with his mother, had laid down: he wanted a company where people wanted to come to work each day, he was not going to manage by intimidation, and there would be a family aspect of the company.
“When you put all that together — customers matter, employees matter, no management by intimidation, and family feel, and let's just make a company where people want to come to work, — and you say that out loud, it sounds like buzzword bingo!” Moorehead says. “So getting people to believe in it wasn't hard. It wasn't hard at all. Now, getting it actually executed is a whole different story. And that is hard.”
Let your culture be your filter
What makes it difficult to get everyone on the same company culture page is how each employee views his or her personal role in the process. So a key feature is to keep the explanation simple.
Moorehead conveys the message this way: the culture serves as a filter through which every decision must flow.
“You have to build the culture around what you believe in, making it the first thing that you filter all your decisions through,” he says. “It’s hard, because you have to try to get every person to do that. And without a doubt, it is not perfect here. You can’t have several thousand employees and make it perfect every time, but we are getting a heck of a lot closer.”
While you make the essence of culture real, make it regular as well. Repetition leads to mastering the process.
“You have to really make it habit,” Moorehead says. “If you can make it habit, then you've got a chance. But if you just talk about it just once a year, when the annual sales rally comes around, and you don't live it, then you've got no chance.”
Part of making the culture real is transparency when it comes to the company goals and how the team is going to reach those goals.
“I don't keep anything from anybody,” he says. “They know the corporate goals and they know where we are trying to get to and then ultimately, they need to know what every department is doing to help everybody to get to the same place, so we are all headed in the same direction, talking the same language. That makes everything pretty easy.”
One other cultural feature that can be effective is to appeal to employees on a family level.
“We do ultimately feel like we are a non-blood family, and when you feel like that, you feel like you want to help your family out,” Moorhead says. “I think they are absolutely bought into being part of bigger than just themselves.”
Nurture the entrepreneurial spirit
While it is not necessary for all employees to have it, an entrepreneurial spirit is sought for all high-level execs at The Cellular Connection.
“If you don't have an entrepreneurial spirit, then you probably should not come work here because you may not be completely fulfilled with your job,” Moorehead says. “We are not going to hand you a piece of paper with a bunch of boxes to check. And that's empowerment.”
With empowerment there is a lot of trust involved, so you have to hire the right people.
“Then every now and then, you have to check up on everybody and make sure things are smooth, but there is a ton of empowerment, and that is a thin line to walk on. Things can go awry pretty quickly and if you're not engaged, as a boss, you can have things fall apart on you very quickly.”
If you are not good at it, empowerment can become a reactionary style of management.
“But if you're taught how to be a great leader, and you're taught how to stay out front, and be that person who motivates the team and sets reachable goals and who works together with a plan that's built by everybody instead of just from the top down on how to achieve these things, then you can do it,” Moorehead says.
“It just takes the right person. Not every person is right to come work at our company. Not everybody likes it. But we have found that the people who we have brought on board have been yearning throughout their entire career to have their thoughts and their personality to be heard. It's like they've been set free.”
Moorehead cites the example of a TCC employee who was a new hire into a management position, but wasn’t feeling fulfilled.
“It took him a while to really jump into the fact that his opinion mattered now,” he says. “As soon as he figured that out, he developed a program called the Rock Star Sales Process. Customers have to feel like rock stars, that's the point.”
In short, his suggestion became the standard sale process for the company — and he got to be in charge of it.
“He was just beside himself with the fact that one good idea rolled into something that thousands of people across the country now use has their technique to do sales in our stores,” Moorehead says. •
- Make order out of chaos
- Let your culture be your filter
- Nurture the entrepreneurial spirit
The Morehead File:
Name: Scott Moorehead
Company: The Cellular Connection
Birthplace: I was born and raised in Marion, Ind.
Education: I'm a Boilermaker. I went to Purdue University, and I graduated from the school of business, majoring in business management.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? My first job ever was bagging groceries at a grocery store. No tips. This was beyond the days of tips. I learned that I didn't want to do that kind of job forever. My first, I would say, job was for my dad on the wire line side, when we were pulling in local area networks. I didn't know any better at that point in time, so when I got to work, I worked hard. And not everybody liked the fact that I worked my butt off. It was like maybe you should slow down and have a cigarette, or something, man. But I don't smoke! One of the jobs that I worked the whole summer was when we were wiring the state hospital in Richmond. There are several buildings that are 100 years old and I had to work through difficult spaces. I told my dad, this wasn't all that great, and he said, “If you don't graduate from business school at Purdue, this is what you're going to do the rest of your life!”
What was the best business advice you ever received? A lot of the guiding principles that I use as a manager, and I feel like I'm a pretty good manager, a pretty good leader, have been from my dad. My mom and dad, Phyllis and Steve Moorehead, shared a lot of the same practices. My dad told me you always take care of the company and the company will take care of you — essentially, don't make selfish decisions. That's the fastest way to lose your staff. This is business advice that you can't just send to everybody; this is from an ownership perspective. But I have given the same advice to my leaders, and I think it's worked for them.
Who do you admire in business? There have been several people who made an impact on me, in a lot of different ways. My dad, first and foremost; both my mom and dad actually. In my early years at Verizon, I had a lot of people who had a positive effect on me. Nick Pyros had a huge impact on me, and a woman who is actually the COO of Verizon Wireless now, Marni Walden. Every time I am around her I seem to take way something from her that makes me better. Then from an ownership standpoint, and building your business from small to big, I've latched on to a guy who I have partnered with recently, and his name is Marcelo Claure, founder of Brightstar Corp. He is an amazing business person. If there is one person on the planet who was in the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent of business people, it's him. Being in the same room with him and watching how he conducts himself is like getting a master’s degree.
What is your definition of business success? A lot of people ask me what my goals are, and when I want to quit or move on, or do something different or whatever, and I say, man, I wake up every single morning, and I want to come to work and have fun, and I do. And the day that I wake up and am absolutely sick of this whole thing, then I know it's time to quit. But I've never felt like that. Ever. I mean every single day since I have started this, I've never dreaded going to work. Ever. Not once. It didn't matter what's going on. It's fun around here. I don't have a financial resolution or any particular saying other than I want to stick to my morals, and I want to come to work. Those other two things that I feel like if I can stick to that, then I have success.
The Cellular Connection Social Media Links:
How to reach: The Cellular Connection, (765) 651-2001 or www.ecellularconnection.com
Most employees are far removed from the design and analysis of their compensation plans. Behind the scenes, the employer is investing time and resources in designing the plans that attract, retain and motivate top talent.
While every company plans compensation packages differently, there are some core strategies that can be applied to attain success in recruitment and retention.
You can plan big with these five strategies to building a successful employee compensation plan:
1. Communication is key.
Good intentions behind the design of a compensation plan do not necessarily deliver the intended results. Communication is the driver. Management is responsible for communicating the “why’s” and “how’s” of the plans it has designed. In addition, keeping people abreast of performance — both corporate and individual — is paramount when a company has a pay-for-performance culture.
2. Good corporate strategy equals successful compensation plans.
All too often, compensation plans are in place because “it has been done in the past.” For a compensation plan to be truly successful, it must be tied directly to corporate strategy.
One of the biggest failures of pay plans is they do not take into account all the key drivers that will make the company successful. Without this “linkage,” pay plans can actually promote unwanted behavior that offsets the overall strategy of the company.
3. A sound employee performance evaluation process is essential.
The employee evaluation process may be tedious, but it is the catalyst that drives most, if not all, pay decisions. The employee evaluations and the process utilized should have direct ties with the compensation plans used. It gives the company the ability to show definitively that results impact rewards.
4. Pay is not perceived the same by all.
Abraham Maslow’s theory of the “hierarchy of needs” directly pertains to this strategy. Base salary and benefits are typically essential to all employees in the corporate workplace. These are key “building blocks” of pay.
Beyond these basic building blocks, the “hierarchy of compensation needs” changes as much as the demographics of the organization. Giving appropriate consideration to these unique needs and tailoring portions of total compensation allows an organization to reinforce its culture while maximizing the utility of the total compensation dollars.
5. Recognition, recognition, recognition.
Acknowledgement is a fundamental human need. Compensation is a great way to express appreciation and acknowledgement of a job well done; however, compensation plans are typically based upon milestones in the calendar year.
Remember, everyone wants a “pat on the back” or some form of recognition when they, as an individual or as a team, have achieved something worthwhile. Recognizing and reinforcing top performers through compensation will promote the corporate culture, promote desired work ethic and achieve results.
Well-designed compensation plans have the ability to propel an organization forward. These strategies, among others, should be considered by those responsible for compensation design — the CEO, CFO or vice president of HR — in order to achieve success. Leading organizations are built on talented, committed professionals — competitive, well-planned compensation packages are vital to recruiting and retaining these top performers. ●
Brent Longnecker is chairman and CEO and Chris Crawford is president of Longnecker & Associates, and are experienced in the field of compensation and corporate governance consulting. They have authored 15 books on compensation, including “The Power of Restricted Stock.” For more information, visit www.longnecker.com.
Ask any number of business leaders if his or her employees are satisfied with their jobs and the word “engagement” will probably be in the answer. It’s not just a coincidence; it’s an accepted fact that employees, who by freedom of choice have a desire to work in the best interests of the organization, will drive positive outcomes for the company.
While employee engagement is not a new concept, it has received considerable attention in the last 20 years as one of the top management techniques that can have a significant impact on a business.
Here are seven tips from Houston business leaders on the importance of employee engagement — and how it works for them so it can work for you.
1. Strip off the badges
Steve Stagner, president and CEO, Mattress Firm
When Steve Stagner and his company Mattress Firm took over the 180-store Mattress Giant, he made the first day of the merged operation a memorable one.
He closed all the stores — temporarily — to host a team-building exercise at seven locations across the country.
“We had about 400 of their sales associates show up along with a couple hundred of our people,” he says. “They spent the first four hours in shorts and T-shirts, running around the community finding things together, creating videos on their phones and trying to help accomplish tasks.”
The modified scavenger hunt was actually a way to develop camaraderie, teamwork and a foundation for a common culture between employees who once viewed each other as competition.
“The idea was that I wanted to take our culture and their culture, strip our titles and our badges, badges meaning what company you work for — Mattress Firm and Mattress Giant — and get people to work together, play together, laugh together and solve problems together for a few hours,” Stagner says.
“We had been fierce competitors for 25 years and by noon, we were all sharing ideas. To me, that is the foundation of how a culture is built. It is built on trust and on a relationship.”
2. Communicate casually
Drew Alexander, president and CEO, Weingarten Realty Investors
Meeting with your direct reports and having them cascade information down to other levels is a common method to communicate, but it shouldn’t be the only one.
“It is important to spend some casual time with employees, to go to lunch with them, to have a cup of coffee with folks and to meet with them in their offices, maybe have a drink after work occasionally and hear what’s going on with them,” says Drew Alexander of Weingarten Realty Investors.
The talk may even include some disagreements about operations. While they are unavoidable — you can’t expect agreement all of the time — you can learn to exercise control in how you respond to avoid making matters worse.
“Always try to walk the talk,” Alexander says. “When somebody disagrees with you and says you’re wrong, or when somebody gives you some difficult feedback or says that something isn’t working, always try not to retaliate in any way, shape or form.
“Don’t get into an argument. Maybe ask a little bit more about why they think that to really solicit other feedback. I may not always agree with it but I learned a long time ago if you want honest feedback then you have to accept it graciously.”
3. Look at it FAIR-ly
Jim O’Neil, CEO, Quanta Services Inc.
Jim O’Neil of Quanta Services found that simple is best, and he made it easy to commit employee engagement steps to memory by using an acronym.
“I call it the FAIR model; F stands for Focusing everyone in the organization on the overall vision and strategy of the company,” O’Neil says.
This takes into account that you have company vision and mission statements already in place. If you don’t have them, it’s time to write them.
“No matter what job position you are in with an organization, you work as hard as you can to make a difference,” he says. “You listen and you learn from those around you.”
A stands for holding employees Accountable for their performance.
“You have to hold people answerable and watch for complacency,” O’Neil says. “How do you know whether people are complacent or not? One of the main ways is to set financial targets. Also set employee development targets for them to develop talent within their organization.”
I is for Involving every employee in the mission of the company.
“A CEO must always remember that employees are his internal customers,” he says.
“You have to be a good listener. More than 95 percent of all problems brought to my attention deal with the need for better communication. People often require a sounding board to talk it out. Some problems are complex and require a collective approach to a solution.”
R stands for Recognizing people for their results.
“It means understanding what each person brings to the table in the way of value, knowing that you may have people at the table who are new, and they are there just to learn,” O’Neil says. “But just the experience of sitting through that type of exercise is invaluable to anyone. I learn every day. It’s a continual process.”
Employees who are involved are more likely to generate ideas in the suggestion box.
“They’ll pretty much tell you if you empower them that, ‘Look, I know I’m responsible for A, if you let me go pursue B, I think I could improve value to both our organization and the customer,’” O’Neil says.
4. Consider salary bands on merit
Jason Bernal, president, YES Preparatory Schools
When it comes to the subject of wages and salaries, it’s one topic no company or organization can afford to ignore. Some companies put a salary cap on positions, limiting advancement, but often denoting a dead-end job.
YES Prep realized that there are some people who just want to teach and be great teachers, so a pathway called Teacher Continuum was created, a system on how teachers are paid based on performance and not tenure.
“With the Teacher Continuum program, we have teachers who start out in a certain band; if you are a first-year teacher, you start off at the novice level,” says Jason Bernal of YES Preparatory Schools. “Then you can move throughout the bands to mastery teacher. So based on how your performance is throughout the year, you can move into a higher position.
“A big part of this is that we don’t want to lose great teachers and people who don’t necessarily want to go on to be administrators,” he says. “They just love teaching. We want to keep those teachers. It gives teachers the incentives just to continue doing really, really well in the classroom.”
5. Get inside their head
Taseer Badar, president, CEO and co-founder
It’s been said many times: Managing employees takes a good bit of psychology to be successful — and to grow your business. The first step is to consider the way the employee looks at the job.
“It’s important to understand that when you are dealing with people’s psyche, dealing with human emotions when you are a leader of a company, you’re dealing with their families, you’re dealing with what is going on in their home life,” says Taseer Badar of ZT Wealth Inc./Altus Healthcare Management Service.
He uses the analogy of an airplane to describe how to manage a company and its growth.
“Make sure you don’t fly too high,” he says. “You take off in an airplane, and there is nothing underneath you. If it crashes, you can’t save the plane. When you grow too fast and you don’t have a foundation underneath you, it’s the same thing.”
The foundation is not only some statements describing the company core values or its mission, but a real knowledge and awareness of what’s going on with employees.
6. Engaging in a virtual world
Dana Sellers, CEO, Encore Health Resources
When Dana Sellers realized there needed to be a process to keep Encore Health Resources’ employees up-to-date on new tools and methods, she instituted monthly “lunch and learns” at the virtual company. These videoconferences cover educational topics and are recorded so they could be accessed on Encore’s Web portal. This way, a consultant on the road can stay up-to-date with training topics while relaxing in his or her hotel room.
In addition, about every 18 months, Sellers, holds a retreat that includes team-building and training exercises.
“That retreat is really important in a virtual world because it is where you do come together and actually get to spend time with people,” she says.
The personal connection is also important to retain when there are grievances or problems. Sellers devised a virtual “open door” policy that may rival those of her non-virtual peers.
“We are very, very conscious that we are virtual so we make sure we do a lot of things to keep people engaged,” she says.
“The policy is this: We will make certain that you are face-to-face, personally, with that person, whoever you reach out to, within two business days somewhere in the United States. We don’t guarantee where. You may have to fly to them, or maybe they will fly to you. We will figure it out. There won’t be any retribution; we don’t guarantee you’ll get the answer you want, but we will take your issue seriously and we will look into it, and we will follow up.
“We will hear your issue. And there never, ever will be any retaliation. That’s how you do it.”
7. Seek and enhance relationships
Ric Campo, chairman and CEO, Camden Property Trust
While many businesses feel their most important relationship is between the company and its customers, equally important are employee/employee relationships. You have to have the second one before you can even think about developing the company/customer relationship.
Camaraderie is your lifeblood and without it, work and even life in general may be rather dull.
“One of your core values should be to have fun,” Ric Campo says. “If you can’t have fun with the people you work with, why bother? We try to make it feel like employees want to get up in the morning and come to work for Camden. And they want to have fun doing it.”
Creating a culture of fun starts with researching and borrowing ideas from fellow companies’ successful efforts. Once you have some plans in mind, roll out an initial one — a good time is during the first part of the year.
“One of our big ones is at the beginning of the year. Starting in February and running throughout March, we have what are called ACE awards, which is Achieving Camden Excellence. It’s basically an employee recognition event,” Campo says.
Employees vote for other employees on how they emulated Camden’s values in the last year, and winners get prizes.
“It’s a really big deal,” he says. “Some people get up and cry when they win. They also get money, like $2,500, a trophy and a watch.”
You can try different formats and vary the locations. Campo finds an all-day employee event effective for rehashing how everyone did last year and what is going to go on in the new year.
“But if you think about what you have — a lot of people, maintenance people and service people and so on — don’t communicate in corporate speak,” he says. “Communicate in normal language. For example, when we talk about how we did over the last year, we don’t talk about balance sheets, income statements, earnings per share or multiples on stock.”
Talk about normal things that people understand. Incorporate some well-produced videos and other types of presentations if you can.
“We use a lot of fun stuff, so that creates a camaraderie with the employees; it gives them a sense of pride where they work,” Campo says. “Spend a fair amount of time talking about what you do.”
As the discussions are carried on, it’s important to follow through when suggestions or requests are made. Those can be turned over to a committee structure which you would have in place by that time. ●
Mark Pentecost knew it was time to work on the substantial growth his company, It Works!, was experiencing — and stop putting out fires all the time. The health and wellness company, whose flagship product is called the Ultimate Body Applicator, grew from $29 million in revenue in 2010, to $45 million in 2011, to more than $200 million in 2012.
There were growing pains along the way, but Pentecost, president and CEO, prefers to think of them as high-class problems.
“I think you get caught in the weeds putting out fires all the time instead of being at 10,000 feet, seeing what’s going on,” he says. “It was how to connect the departments. We were growing so quickly. We were adding 10 or 12 people to a department and all of a sudden we were becoming too many departments instead of one team.
“I had to make sure the focus was crossing over and that people were spending time together as a team.”
Pentecost set out to find ways to ensure crossover between departments. One device he settled on was an informal company get-together called fire pit talks.
While certainly not a revolutionary idea — the term “fireside chats” goes back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s days — it offered a tool to fire up team members while they were in a relaxed, casual setting.
But there was one rule that made it different. The participants, usually the lead figure from each department, were not allowed to talk about anything in their departments — they could only talk about ideas they had for other departments.
“So that made it OK to leap across departments and say, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about this with your supply chain? Or have you thought about this with your marketing team? Social media, I know you guys are doing this, but what about … ?’” Pentecost says.
The fire pit talks put It Works! back on track, and emphasized how critical teamwork was.
“It led to being one team, and now as we see challenges, we are trying to pick up on them,” Pentecost says. “In the last couple of years we have added so many more people, and we have had to do more processes — which sometimes is painful and isn’t fun.
“You’ve got to have a process for everything you do. Your operations people say, ‘Let’s just walk over and do it,’ and your vision people say, ‘I’ve got to wait for the process.’ So there are those kinds of growing pains. For me, it’s fun. It’s exciting how to put those together.”
Here’s how Pentecost makes it all come together with his team of 60,000, who serve more than 400,000 customers through direct sales.
Instill one team, one mission
It takes a strong teamwork structure and a leader with vision — and hopefully experience — to make a company successful.
Pentecost found that his 16-year career as a high school teacher and basketball coach gave him the foundation to understand what makes up a team.
“In business, I found I did the same thing I did with coaching,” he says. “First you have to get the right people on your team in the game. It’s kind of like that Good to Great proverb: You’ve got to get the right people on the bus and get them in the right seats. Then you’ve got to have a great game plan, keep people focused and inspire them to see the vision that you have.”
The company uses a cross-interview process through other departments to help make sure new hires fit into the team.
“Even though you are coming into the supply chain, or you’re coming in as a programmer or maybe you are coming in as a customer service representative, or whatever level that you are coming in, what we are learning here is that not only is it your resume and your talents, but it is also how you interact with the whole team,” Pentecost says.
A part of Pentecost’s game plan for It Works! to reach its first $100 million in sales was to use a sports-like technique. He designed a jersey for employees at the headquarters, as well as in the field, and staffers added the motto, “One team, one mission.”
“This led to monthly events that focus on what we are doing,” he says. “At them, there is a lot of passion, energy. It may be a jersey one month, or bracelets that we wear the next month, and we all really get behind pushing that. I wouldn’t call it, ‘rah, rah;’ I would call it just inspiring people to be connected that way.”
Even splitting employees into two teams to help a common purpose, such as raising funds for a charity, helps build teamwork — and does not become divisive.
“I do worry about that, but, to me, I look at it from when I was coaching basketball, I had 12 on my team,” Pentecost says. “But in the stadium there might be 8,000 to 10,000 people. So to me, it is unifying them as a fan of our company and unifying them with the same focus, the same message that somebody would have watching their team. That’s worked well for us so far.
“For me, the coaching part was innovating, doing it your own way, having a good vision, focus, keeping people focused and then building a great team. That has been our magic formula for success, especially in the last few years. Our growth has been amazing.
“I feel like coaching was really just a prelude to being the CEO,” he says.
Brainstorm and build upon an idea
When Pentecost was first using the fire pit talks to smooth out the wrinkles in the teamwork fabric, he also realized it offered a time for brainstorming, which not only resulted in some great ideas but also helped build the feeling of team ownership.
Anyone can bring up an idea, and even Pentecost tosses out a few.
“I will see a commercial on TV, and I’ll say, ‘Hey, what do you think of this crazy idea?’ And then I let them take off from there. We like to have a crazy idea. Something that might be really crazy but you throw it out there.
“I find some of our best stuff comes from someone saying, ‘This might be really dumb or this might be really crazy,’ and then it ends up being ‘genius.’”
The gatherings provide a platform for these conversations and no one feels threatened, and everyone has fun.
“To be able to laugh at something or be able to say, ‘Well, that’s crazy but what if you took it over here,’ we may end up way far away from where it started but with a great idea that helps the company.”
Even ideas such as moving the company are fair game at the fire pit chats. Originally located in Grand Rapids, Mich., the company moved to Bradenton, Fla., a little over two years ago.
“Sometimes in the middle of winter for some reason, people didn’t enjoy coming to Grand Rapids,” Pentecost says. “We all laughed about it because we had about 25 families in our management at that point. I remember the bank saying you would lose half of your management in such a move.”
The decision was made and 100 percent of the management moved to Florida.
“We moved 25 families from Michigan — we were already a tight group,” he says. “We had to find schools together, we had to find churches together, we had to find golf leagues and softball, and where the kids play altogether, so it made us tighter. As we added people to that, we made sure that we all clicked.”
Consider those who helped along the way
Teamwork and competition is not all about winning, although winning the championship is certainly a goal worth seeking. It’s the middle ground that needs to be considered.
Pentecost is careful to point out that while a leader is often a competitive person, the leader must learn that his or her greatest strength is also the greatest weakness.
“I can be so competitive that I have blinders on to what is going on to the side of me, and so it’s been a great strength,” he says. “It’s realizing it’s not just getting to the end line. I used to set a goal — it’s finishing, it’s winning the championship or it’s having another championship year, where now I am realizing it’s that process in between.
“When I was teaching, I was in the teachers’ union,” Pentecost says. “I didn’t understand what was going on. Now that I have been on both sides of the fence, it really helps me understand a lot of the troubles and views different people may have.”
In short, it’s not forgetting the people along the way who helped in the pursuit.
“It’s how you take care of your people at the office,” Pentecost says. “It’s the victories that you celebrate together as a team. It’s the change that you can really make in your community.” ●
- Impart the theme of one team, one mission.
- Brainstorm and build upon an idea.
- Consider those who helped along the way.
The Pentecost File:
Name: Mark Pentecost
Title: President and CEO
Company: It Works!
Birthplace: I was born in Holt, Mich., which is near Lansing. I started teaching just outside Grand Rapids and loved the area, so when we started our business I was living in that area.
Education: I got my teaching degree from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I had a lawn care business. At one time I was mowing about every yard on our block. I learned how to be your own boss and do a good job. I learned that if you messed something up, if you ran over a hose, you had to repair it and take it out of your profits. I definitely would say now I am frugal with money as far as not wasting it. It’s being smart, being prudent with my team.
What is the best business advice you ever received? I think for me, it was, “Never give in, never give up.” I look back at 13 years of It Works!, and I remember a couple of times that someone called us and said maybe we should quit putting money into it, that it was going to ruin us — we had financed it ourselves, and we just kept thinking we had the vision and we had to have faith in what we’re doing. The reason for our success is that we just never gave up or gave in. We stayed with the values that we thought were right and we were just like that little train, we were just going a little more, little more.
Who do you admire in business? I think I would take a little from a lot of people. I look at Warren Buffett. He really studies the numbers of the business and what they do. I look at Donald Trump and the branding that he has done. I look at someone like Mark Cuban who bootstrapped himself and didn’t come from money but was able to create that. I love John Maxwell with his study on leadership and leading. I think probably more than ever I realize how important that is in this world today. We are under a magnifying glass so you have to be real. I think it has been a case of taking a little from quite a few and try to take the good and put that in our own.
How do you define business success? That’s a great question because that changes. In the beginning when I started the company, it was all on the bottom line, being profitable and being able to pay your bills and your employees. Sometimes I tell people I don’t have a high IQ — I have high grit. We just stuck with something and didn’t let it go. To me that’s what business is. It’s that grit of getting in there and even though we didn’t have a silver spoon, you can create that. We truly are in a country that if you’ve got high grit, you can accomplish anything. If you had told me I would be teaching for 16 years, then I was going to own a golf course and a ranch, and I was going to own a company in the Inc. 500 and sales were going to be in the multimillions yearly and international, I would’ve thought, man, that sounds like something you read in a book. But we’ve done it ourselves and we are just getting to it. I mean the story is not complete yet.
It Works! Social Media Links:
How to reach: It Works!, (800) 537-2395 or www.myitworks.com
Steve Weis admits it’s fun to be in a Max & Erma’s restaurant on Free Cookies Wednesday. He watches for the responses on customer’s faces as the freshly baked treats arrive after they’ve finished their meals.
“We do it because we see reactions, and we do it because we love it,” he says. “No one else really does it. We love that it’s unique. It always has had a culture of being just a little quirky and a little different — and it’s always been about quality.”
And quality is the magic word that Weis, president of Max & Erma’s Restaurants, knows is helping reinvigorate the casual dining chain that was rescued out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010 by American Blue Ribbon Holdings LLC.
Weis is a firm believer that there was something worth saving.
“There was clearly this great brand underneath it, and the previous owners had probably made some poor decisions along the line that got them into the situation they were in,” he says. “You could feel there was this quality of a concept and also just an amazing group of people that was still operating the restaurants.
“What was beautiful was that there were a lot of great people and a lot of great locations that had a real local connection with the guests. I think that is the difference Max & Erma’s has.”
He recognized that Max & Erma’s bread and butter was the quality of the brand, and his mission was to get operations under control.
“The guests liked the concept, but they had been frustrated with the way it had been operated for some period of time,” Weis says. “That to me is a great problem to have. I think if you realize, ‘Hey, they like us. They just want to see us do it right.’ Well, that is something we can tackle.”
Here’s how Weis is reinvigorating Max & Erma’s and putting it back on track to generate more than $100 million in revenue this year through its 73 locations in 10 states, ending a period of double-digit sales decline.
Find out what’s worth saving
If you look at any company, you’ll find a backstory — the foundation it was built on. You use it to help establish your brand, and you may need to revisit it if your brand is in trouble, which is exactly the approach Weis took.
Max and Erma Visocnik operated a neighborhood pub in Columbus’ German Village from 1958 to 1972, when they retired. Two businessmen purchased the tavern and developed the brand and its theme, including a converted bathtub that served as a sundae bar.
“We have such a long heritage, and people have these warm stories about some connection they have to our brand,” Weis says. “You just don’t get that with a lot of other companies. You just don’t. Most restaurants, it may be just a place where they are happy to dine — or maybe not happy to dine — but it is not the emotional attraction which we really, really appreciate that we have.
“You might see a Max & Erma’s in an area along with some other national chains, but the reality is that we are very local in the way we behave. We do lots of local charity fundraisers, and it’s always been that way. The company operates much more as a neighborhood place rather than a national place — and I think that is appealing to guests.”
While Weis launched a new prototype design and system-wide remodeling program, and introduced a new food and beverage menu with local draft beers, the atmosphere still has the same down-home, community feel. There are still all the quirky, kitschy collectibles, the warm chocolate chip cookies and the cartoonish pair of Max and Erma characters.
“You can’t imagine how many photos I have of a Max and Erma showing up at a walkathon in Pittsburgh, at a bake sale in Detroit, in Indiana and in all these different markets,” Weis says. “We are showing up at all these local events. People have such a connection with this, and I think it’s one of the greatest things about this position and this organization — to see the happiness that it brings people.”
Put passion into your service
The chain was sold to an equity investor in 2008 and American Blue Ribbon Holdings bought the chain out of bankruptcy.
“We acquired the Max & Erma’s brand because we recognized in the restaurant a key ingredient for ultimate success: genuine personality,” says Hazem Ouf, president and CEO of American Blue Ribbon Holdings. “Truly authentic and unique personalities like Max & Erma’s are rare. So I began the charge to bring the restaurant back to the basics.
“We focused on the quality and personality that make Max & Erma’s a memorable and lasting restaurant experience for its guests,” says Ouf, who chose Weis, then American Blue Ribbon Holdings’ vice president of operations to head Max & Erma’s. “With this blueprint in place, Weis continues to embrace Max & Erma’s genuine personality while moving the brand forward in ways that remain true to that spirit.”
A former vice president of operations for an Applebee’s franchisee, Weis drew on that experience to instill the disciplines the operation needed. He didn’t have to look too far to find what needed to be fixed.
“One of the things I think goes out the window during bankruptcy, and when there is this sort of anarchy, is the standardization of how to do things the right way, the same way,” he says. “We had to start focusing on the daily basics, and giving the guests a better experience.”
The key ingredient is to impart the core value of “a passion to serve,” according to Weis.
It’s making sure that every guest who comes into the restaurant has a great experience.
With a number of locations and a number of employees, it is much easier to get the team focused on a core set of values than it is around one particular item.
“Instead of saying I want everyone to work on cooking a burger a certain way, it is much easier to get them focused on a passion to serve,” Weis says.
“For the guy who cooks burgers, it might be one thing; for the server, it might be something else; and for the manager a third thing. They all have a common thread between them, which is if you work here, you have to have a passion to serve guests. There is no point in being in the restaurant industry if you don’t love that and you just don’t do it.”
Find the true connection
The passion to serve is an awesome value — one that Weis believes can come about in two very distinct ways. An employee either arrives with it, or comes in with a malleable mind, allowing you to inspire them. Either way, it’s the employee’s connection to the business that counts.
“We always use the phrase, ‘People always join companies, and they stay with companies because of values connections.’ Every day in every industry, people call and say, ‘How would you like to go across the street and work for me for X dollars more?’
“And the people who jump are leaving because they don’t have a true connection to the company that they are in, and the people who stay and continue to make the company great are the people who really do believe and connect with it. It connects to their own personal values.”
To stop a disconnect from happening, stay balanced and values-focused.
“If you say quality of life is important to you, and you want to spend time with your family, but your company makes you work seven days a week and close every night of the week and you never get to see your family, that’s a value disconnect and you’re not going to stay there.”
Weis stresses a life/work balance, focusing your time and attention on matters you can control, including “ownership” of your job.
“Staying balanced and very values-focused is a little bit untraditional for the restaurant industry,” Weis says. “Restaurant work is known as a grind for everybody, and everybody’s got to work all kinds of hours. I think sometimes they miss the long-term picture of really keeping the best people connected to the business.”
The final piece of getting the connection is having a little skin in the game, no matter how you look at it.
“It has to be what you talk about, and how you behave and what your actions are,” Weis says. “Clearly, we want to make sure that everybody feels there is something for them in it. So if we are going to sell a particular item, for example, it has to be good for the guests, it has to be good for the server, so that they have the ability to make money doing it, and it has to be good for the company.
“And the good news is sales are growing, and guest counts are growing. I can’t say that about everybody in our segment and in our industry.
“There’s lots of stuff people focus on in business and the reality is, if you just run it very well and you have lots of people coming through the door, you are never really going to have a hard time figuring out how to be successful.” ●
- Discover what’s worth saving.
- Put passion into your service.
- Find the true connection to the business.
The Weis File:
Name: Steve Weis
Company: Max & Erma’s Restaurants
Born: Queens. I grew up in North Jersey. We moved there when I was young and my dad worked in New York City.
Education: I went to American University in Washington, D.C. That’s where I lived and where I started to get in the restaurant industry. I worked for Domino’s Pizza back in the early growth days in the 1980s, and kind of moved into the industry from there.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I was a dishwasher in a restaurant when I was 15 or 16, and I remember it was hard work and that you couldn’t cut any corners. It was kind of a fancy, upscale restaurant. The hardest part was that there were lots of pots and pans that had to be scrubbed by hand. If I was tired or didn’t feel like scrubbing it as clean as I should, I remember the owner coming in, looking at it and saying, ‘Hey, it’s not good enough. You’ve got to go further.’ I think probably the greatest lesson to learn at that age was that you might as well do the job really well the first time rather than have to do it a second or third time.
What is the best business advice you ever received? When you lead people, it is much easier to lead them through their heart than it is through their minds. So that ties into our values — how that works for us here and how that works for me. If you can connect with the people you work with through the things that matter to them, they will give you their brain, their energy and their efforts. If it matters to them in some way, they do it wonderfully, and they do it better than you can ever get them motivated to do if you went the other direction.
Who do you admire in business? Innovators — people who had the guts to take something small and make it much larger. I look at somebody like Bill Gates. It is not just the success and the money but the fact that he had this idea that was pretty remote when he co-founded Microsoft, and he was able to turn it into something that made everybody connect. I admire people that from a business perspective have the ability to take something that’s a fairly small idea and completely change things. And then I love the fact that he is giving his money away and that his intent is to really kind of change the world by eliminating, for example, diseases by vaccinating the entire continent of Africa. That’s pretty amazing.
What is your definition of business success? In the restaurant industry, it is pretty simple. We need to have happy guests, and a happy team that in the end drives growth. We have to have more people coming in to the restaurant this year versus last year. So for us, it’s a combination of giving a great experience to guests and having a team that really is energized to deliver that to the guests. Then the business grows; it takes care of itself.
Max & Erma's Social Media Links:
How to reach: Max & Erma’s Restaurants, (615) 256-8500 or www.maxandermas.com
What started as a chat between Bob Shearer and a caterer led to a match made in snack food heaven.
When Shearer, co-founder of Shearer’s Foods Inc. and founder and CEO of Shearer Solutions, heard that Keith Kropp, owner and president of Or Derv Foods, was setting new standards with innovative appetizers, he wanted to meet him.
“He was not looking for a partner, but we hit it off,” Shearer says. “And he said, ‘With your experience and what you have done at Shearer’s, I think we could really do a lot with the company.’
“I agreed and so one thing led to another, and then basically with my investment group we bought 40 percent of the company. We’re looking to expand and grow the company and are planning a new manufacturing facility.”
Shearer discussed his first investment with Smart Business after selling Shearer’s Foods last year.
Q. Besides its signature sauerkraut balls, Or Derv Foods produces a range of deep fried products such as calamari, banana pepper rings and even Oreos. With your 40 years in potato chips and other snack foods, how did this opportunity pique your interest?
A. I look for something that has a special niche, something in which we could be different, where we could diversify ourselves and be unique. With the group of talent that we have at the company, I feel good about the innovation that we can bring to the company.
Q. Who is in your investment group?
A. Bob Hanline, founder and CEO of The RS Hanline Co.; Al Melchiorre, CEO and president of Melcap Partners LLC; Steve Surmay, vice president at Shearer’s Foods Inc.; Joe Rogers, COO of Shearer Solutions; and John Bahas II, owner of Akron’s Waterloo Restaurant and Catering and Prime 93 Restaurant and Event Center — he tipped me off about Or Derv Foods, he’s also product development director at Or Derv Foods.
Q. You grew Shearer’s Foods from scratch in 1972 to more than $500 million of annual billings in 2012. You recently won the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Northeast Ohio Award. What’s the key to this type of success?
A. My philosophy has always been to try to work with good people. And I really like Kropp. Then I think you always have to have a unique product in the category and be innovative. Those are the things that help successfully move a company forward.
Q. Can you describe the plant expansion that’s slated for 2014?
A. The new plant will be a sustainable plant. We will be doing LEED certification. Obviously we have a great interest in conserving our natural resources and working to make our foods very sustainable in their nature and manufacturing processes.
Q. What is it about the uniqueness, for example, of the products that enticed you?
A. We make wonderful falafels. Now I am really hooked on them. We are trying to do some products that cater to the vegan world and are organic and all-natural. We do an all-natural meatball that is just a great product. We do a meatless meatball for vegans that is just to die for. It’s great. We’re trying to develop a lot of unique products that set us apart from our competition. Outside of Shearer’s, this is my first adventure in food. I’ve done some minor things outside of the food industry, but this is where my real love is. I like the opportunity to be able to do that. ●
How to reach: Or Derv Foods, (330) 376-9411 or www.ordervfoods.com
Mike Thompson was going through the most difficult time in his career — he was spending a lot of time trying to keep Montrose Auto Group employees calm during the 2008-2009 recession.
“People were panicking around the country,” he says. “Nobody in our government leadership was really out there with confidence, reassuring the people that we were going to get through this thing — that we were going to survive.”
So Thompson did the next best thing. He took his years of experience with the business cycle and decided to be the take-charge guy who would inspire confidence among his employees.
“You have to believe that you can knock the walls down and get through it,” he says. “We were one of the fortunate ones who never had to lay anybody off, never had any need for anybody to take pay cuts. Sometimes we didn’t replace people when they left and we spread out the workload, but we kept on going.”
Pundits are quick to remind everyone of the cyclical nature of business, and while that may provide some consolation, someone who appears in control can strengthen its effect.
“I believe that for every down cycle, there is an up cycle,” Thompson says. “You’ve just got to be able to ride it out. And that was my message to our people. You’ve got to hang tough, because if you leave me and go somewhere else, you’ll be just as nervous.”
Thompson made it a point to communicate regularly with the managers who ran his operations.
“I explained to them how to talk to their people, and how to keep the people from panicking,” he says. “They had to keep them calm; financially, we were going to get through this thing. None of us had ever gone there before.”
While calm and reassuring words from management helped the situation, Thompson, president and CEO, didn’t stop there. His successful years in business — growing Montrose Auto Group into 12 auto dealerships, garnering more than $400 million in annual revenue — meant he had a few tricks up his sleeve. Here’s how he combines his principles of business with lessons learned to steer Montrose Auto Group through choppy waters.
Crunch your information
Business critics use many indicators to try to predict where the economy is going, and Thompson has found that a leading indicator such as sales of new automobiles carries a lot of weight.
“Usually, we are the precursor of six to eight months as to when a recession is going to start,” he says. “All of a sudden, even before people are aware, showroom traffic starts to do what I call turning — visitors go from excited, happy buyers to all of a sudden buyers who just have to buy cars. When that happens, you can always expect a slowdown coming sometime in the near term in the car business.”
Once Thompson saw a pattern there, he also looked for the reverse to support his belief.
“It is just the opposite when all of a sudden you start seeing people with smiling faces going out to buy new cars just because they want a new car and they can buy one,” he says. “That means we are looking at some good times coming up.”
While the nature and number of prospective buyers alone can give some important insight to economic trends, you would do well to support that indicator with research.
Thompson finds that rather than relying on reports from analysts, he does his investigating first-hand.
“I watch all the television programs that are important to business,” he says. “That’s the first thing I do in the morning. You try to stay ahead of the curve and you’ve got to go by your instincts. After so many years in business, your gut kind of tells you certain things are going to happen.”
Thompson finds that the often-overlooked signals are important.
“I read The Wall Street Journal; I look at little articles that a lot of people don’t even bother to waste time looking at,” he says. “You see how the ‘stars and the moon’ line up when you take all these little bits and pieces and pull them altogether.”
For instance, Thompson examines how many dealerships are for sale in the Automotive News. If there are only a small number listed — instead of several pages — things are good in the car business.
“You look at the Kiplinger report, you watch Fox Business news, you watch the international scene as to what is going on in Europe, Japan … I look at all that.
“Look at currencies, whether the dollar is getting weaker or getting stronger, whether the yen is weaker or stronger, what’s going on with the deutsche mark — those are little hints; what is going on in the bond market, what is going on with LIBOR — all those things give you clues.
“It’s just assimilating that information and tying it all together and saying, ‘Wow! Times are going to be good.’”
Saving for a rainy day is vital
Developing a sixth sense to predict the ups and downs of the business cycle gives you a powerful tool to employ. Of course, as economists are prone to say, leading and lagging indicators are not always accurate. So it is a good business practice to save for a rainy day.
Thompson learned as a young auto dealer with his first Chrysler store how tough it was to not only make money but to borrow money. Once he understood that, and depending upon how much the company made, he set aside an amount for a reserve fund.
“We put somewhere between 20 and 35 percent of whatever we earned that year into the rainy day fund,” Thompson says. “Then so much went to pay taxes, and then the rest, if I needed to leave it in the business, I did. If I could declare a dividend for myself, I did. Or we took that money, reinvested it and bought more stores.
“There were a couple of years when we didn’t put any away because we wanted to make sure we didn’t breach any covenants with the bank.”
Another advantage of having a cushion was apparent in the most recent recession, when as Thompson says, it was difficult to borrow a nickel, unless you really didn’t need any money.
“We were able to borrow money and invest in other stores because we had put away the cash cushion for a rainy day,” he says. “When they saw me investing in other companies, our people relaxed because I was one of the few in that first year and a half of the collapse who was out there buying stores.”
Along with the skills and experience of analyzing market conditions, it can take having a gut feeling for when change is imminent to ready your next move.
“I threw my money into the market when the Dow Jones dropped to 7300,” Thompson says. “I knew I didn’t have the bottom; it went down to 6600. But still, I said it is time. If it doesn’t turn around, the money is worthless anyway. So we got back into the stock market, and it worked out.”
Realize your reputation is king
It can take years to assemble a strong staff to run your operations well. If you have your pulse on the market, and realize that the cycle will run its course and bounce back, you need to be ready for that rebound. You will be ahead of the game if you are able to keep your experienced, senior staff rather than paring back and then hoping to obtain new talent when the market turns around.
“Even in the down cycle, never once did I think about letting senior level people go because it took me all these years to gather the people that I had who were really the strength of the Montrose Auto Group,” Thompson says. “I can give them all the tools, I can give them guidance, I give them money to run the businesses; without them, my businesses wouldn’t run the way they do now.”
In short, your company’s reputation, which you have carefully built over the years, could suffer a critical blow if you don’t ensure the continuation of your standing. Thompson knew how he had vowed in 1967 as a new salesman that if he were ever fortunate enough to buy his own dealership, he would never allow customers to be treated with less than the highest quality service. And he was going to keep that vow.
“You have nothing if you don’t have a quality reputation today,” he says. “That is why all the manufacturers today have to build quality cars. They had looked so bad, especially the domestics, in the late ’60s to early ’90s. They had no options to do otherwise; they had to start building better products. I give them a nine out of 10. They are just that good now.” ●
- Develop your information crunching methods.
- Saving for a rainy day is key.
- Realize your reputation is king.
The Thompson File
Name: Mike Thompson
Title: President and CEO
Company: Montrose Auto Group
Born: I was born in Cleveland. I’m a local boy.
Education: Besides the school of hard knocks, I went to Wickliffe High School, and I was the oldest of eight kids. I had to leave home in the middle of my senior year because there was no room for me at the house. My dad gave me my options: ‘Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines? We are bringing grandma here and there is no room for you.’ I went into the Army. I got my high school GED and took college accounting courses in the Army. I served in Vietnam in 1967 with the 9th Infantry Division.
What was your first job? As a boy, I mowed lawns, had paper routes, washed cars, waxed cars, shoveled snow by hand — anything to make a few pennies. I came home from Vietnam, and my dad told me there was an opening where he worked at Dowd Oldsmobile for a used car salesman. I went in and saw Healy Dowd who my dad had worked for 33 years at that point. And he said, ‘Mike, I’m going to do you a favor. I’m not going to hire you, because you will never make it in the car business.’ And I said, ‘Well, gee, thank you Healy.’ You know, that’s the biggest favor he did. Seven years later, I bought my first store, Trotter Ford in Euclid.
Who do you admire in business? In the car business, Alan Mulally, the president and CEO of Ford Motor Co., is the guy I admire most. And prior to him, it was Lee Iacocca. I liked both of those gentlemen … Iacocca was a tough guy. He pulled Chrysler out of trouble and turned it around. Mulally earned all my respect when he refused to take the handout from the government; he rolled up both sleeves and went to work just like Iacocca did and said we are going to fix this thing and he did.
What was the best business advice you ever received? This is a little bit of a joke. My dad said, ‘Son, you don’t want to go into business. Get a job and get a paycheck, you know you can count on it.’ That was the best business advice I ever got. My dad had an eighth grade education. On the other hand, the best advice I give to people, relative to business is, ‘Follow your money.’ A lot of people will take their money and invest it, and they expect other people to make it grow. Well, the way it’s really going to grow is if you keep watering it yourself. You worked hard to get that money, so, keep watering it. It pays off eventually.
How to reach: Montrose Auto Group, (330) 666-0711 or www.gomontrose.com
Allison Barber isn’t surprised that there are more ways to communicate in business today than ever before, but the top complaint on workforce surveys is a lack of communication.
“If you look at employee surveys across every sector, every business — even nonprofits — the top complaint about the organization is a lack of communication,” she says. “But let’s review how much we are communicating. We have never had more communication in business than we have today, be it from social media, newsletters, e-newsletters, intranets and websites.”
So what’s the problem?
“There is a major disconnect, and I think it comes from a lack of authentic communication and a lack of targeted communication,” says Barber, chancellor of WGU Indiana, an online university established by the state of Indiana in partnership with Western Governors University. “We need leaders who we can trust; trust is connected to authenticity.
“A lot of times leaders will just blast everything out to everybody — the equivalent of direct mail, when you go home and you go through your mailbox and you just start throwing stuff away. It’s not speaking to you.”
Barber should know a thing or two about communication challenges. WGU Indiana is a virtual organization, and all 157 employees in Indiana work from home.
“We have had to be even more creative because I never see anybody at the water cooler,” she says. “How do we communicate to our employees in an authentic, targeted and consistent manner? I think those are the keys.”
Founded in 2010 as a nonprofit online university, WGU Indiana enrollment tripled in the first six months as demand for an affordable college education grew among working adults. More than 3,300 Hoosiers currently attend WGU Indiana and 40,000 students attend WGU throughout the U.S.
Here’s how Barber uses authentic, targeted and consistent communication to eliminate the disconnect that, once removed, can help leaders build camaraderie and collaboration among employees.
Be authentic in your communication
As a leader, you have to be committed to the value and power of communication. As with any powerful tool, its effective use can make or break an organization. One of the first steps in effective communication is authenticity.
“People are just smart — they will see right through communication that is not authentic,” Barber says. “Sadly, we have had a decline of respected leaders. The American people have started to distrust their corporate leaders. So the way to rebuild trust is through authenticity.
“Leaders show authenticity in several ways. We show it through transparent communication, being honest with our employees, being honest with the public and through passionate concern for our employees.”
Many companies are looking for new ways to care for their employees through benefits, work-at-home policies and family leave policies.
“Society is starting to say, ‘How do we connect better with the people who we value — the employees?’” Barber says.
One of the best methods for a leader to demonstrate caring concern for employees is by supporting efforts to give back to the community.
“You have entrepreneurs who are starting their own foundations, they are giving back to the community and when that starts to take place, it pulls back the veneer to show the heart of the leader,” she says. “And that’s where the authenticity comes in.”
If you’re trying to achieve authenticity, however, you’ll have to do much more than just go through the motions.
“Where you can go south is when a leader says, ‘Oh yeah, today is Clean the Park Day. I’d better go out there,’” Barber says. “If the CEO says, ‘I’d better go out to a volunteer project,’ your employees will see right through it.
“If you really want to be a strong leader, it has to be authentic, or don’t do it because your employees and consumers will see right through it.”
Talk to the right people about the right thing
Every piece of communication needs to be targeted to a specific audience in order to be effective. You need to be talking to the right people about the right thing.
“You have to understand where your employees are, what space they are in, what is the best way to communicate to them and what tool you use to target them,” Barber says.
“If I am trying to reach my employees, who are working from home, I’ve got to be in their space. They spend a lot of time with email and phone calls because we are a technology-based university. So everything we do is technology.”
Well, not everything. Barber is a staunch supporter of the power of the pen, which can be used very effectively and can make a lasting impression.
“If I want to target a communication to the employees in Indiana, I spend a lot of time writing handwritten notes because I am a big believer in them,” she says. “I write hundreds a year.”
The point is that there is no one-size-fits-all tool to communicate. If you aim to communicate to your employees through a 30-minute webinar, you may be wasting precious time and energy. If, however, you assemble a short video that tells about a single topic or two, your employees will watch it.
“My general manager and I do video announcements — commercials that are two minutes or less,” Barber says. “Employees really don’t have time to call in for a webinar because they are busy helping students.
“But if I create a communication tool that is two minutes long, and they always know that it is going to be two minutes or less, and it is going to be some upbeat video message about the next thing happening in our university, then they will watch it. They know it is a communication targeted and created specifically for them with respect to the rest of their busy day.”
There are different communication tools for all your audiences if you wish to communicate effectively.
“Whether I talk to my employees, students, prospective students or to corporate partners, all four audiences require a very different communication tool that I use so that it meets my listener where they are,” Barber says.
A generic approach won’t reach anyone effectively. The goal is a targeted communication that will engage the recipient.
“I am so committed to employee engagement because I think it is one of the missing elements in so many companies,” Barber says. “This is part about reaching your employees where they are, as you have to know them. We spend a lot of time trying to memorize all 150 people’s names, we have company picnics, we send them birthday and anniversary cards, we send them notes when they have a baby; we just try to embrace our employees in as many ways as possible.”
Establish consistency by being persistent
Everyone today seems to be incredibly busy in his or her job. So is there a way to find the time to do what needs to be done?
“Everyone has time — to do what they care about,” Barber says. “So if you are committed to employee engagement, committed to being the kind of executive who says, ‘Hey, my internal team is my first team, and if I get this right, for my external customers or my students or parishioners — fill in the constituents — it will work.’
“But it won’t work if you don’t get this right with your internal team. You are committed to them, and if you are committed to them, that will drive your consistency. Commitment is the value system. The consistency is the tactic.”
One of the fundamentals to ensure consistency is to manage to the best of a scenario, initiative or situation.
“When you have a remote workforce, you have to kind of throw all the spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks,” Barber says. “So you try as many things as possible, and try to manage to the best of these.”
The more challenging the workforce situation, the more you just have to be persistent. A perfect scenario would be nice to have, but there may never be one.
“I’ve seen in some corporations that people manage to the least of these; so it is like, if only four people show up, we are not going to do it,” she says. “At WGU Indiana, we manage to the best of these, so if four people show up, we are going to make it the best opportunity for four people, because next time, maybe 14 people will show up.
“For leaders who are looking for a kind of forced morale building, which I am really offended by, somewhere along the line you have missed the boat in employee engagement if you have to make your holiday party mandatory,” Barber says.
“You get discouraged unless you manage to the best of these and be encouraged by the ones who do show up. Just keep swinging for the fence for those who will continue to show up. It’s a long-term deal. But that’s what you have to have as a leader.” ●
- Authenticity is the first step to effective communication.
- Talk to the right people about the right thing.
- Establish consistency by using persistence.
The Barber File
Name: Allison Barber
Company: WGU Indiana
Birthplace: Gary, Ind.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Tennessee Temple University; master’s degree in elementary education, Indiana University.
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it? I was 10 years old, and I was anxious to work, but there were not too many opportunities for someone my age. I saw an ad for a door-to-door salesman, selling packets of seeds. The ad did not mention an age requirement so I sent in my name and address and a few days later, I received several packets and a bill for $18. I immediately went outside and started knocking on doors. I was turned down seven times. I remember reciting the Bible verse Proverbs 24:16. “A just man falls seven times and rises again.” (I attended a Christian school.) I was determined to keep trying, but I recognized that I needed a different strategy.
I rode my bike to my great uncle's house, told him my plight and he couldn't believe his good fortune. He was just thinking about buying seeds. He bought everything I had.
The lessons I learned: 1. Don't sell seeds in the late fall (market research); 2. Don't quit (personal determination); 3. Sell to people who want to buy (consumer research). 4. Always support a kid who is working hard.
What was the best business advice you ever received? It is actually a quote by President Harry S. Truman: ‘You can always amend a big plan, but you can never expand a little one. I don't believe in little plans. I believe in plans big enough to meet a situation which we can't possibly foresee now.’
Who do you admire in business? I admire Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, because his mantra is “Everything matters.” I appreciate his focus on details and experience.
What is your definition of business success? To play offense, not defense. That is true in any area of life, not just business. I have yet to find a successful leader who doesn't take risks and doesn't play offense. As my dad has always said to me, ‘Take it to the hoop.’ That is success!
Barber on being personal in an impersonal world: I really believe that what is important at WGU Indiana is that we are on the front lines of emerging technology, but yet we have this commitment to this high-tech and high touch formula. I think that is where engagement, transparency and commitment really come into play because if we didn't create the culture with our employees, if we didn't create an environment where people care about people, then we really lose the value of leveraging technology. Then it is a robotic system and people won't succeed and won't learn and won't graduate in a system that doesn't embrace them as people and individuals and support them in that way. I think that is always the risk with emerging technology. If we embrace technology, we can’t forget the people side of the business that we really all are in and should be in. That is the blend that we really try to get right at WGU Indiana.
How to reach: WGU Indiana, (877) 214-7014 or indiana.wgu.edu
Paul Sarvadi wanted to launch his company’s rebranding from Administaff to Insperity in the right way — in a big way. So he and his team rented Minute Maid Park and invited all 2,000 employees, some friends of the company and guests. Forbes publisher Steve Forbes was the guest speaker and NFL sportscaster Jim Nantz served as emcee.
If all that fanfare wasn’t enough, the rebranding also leveraged the company’s 25th anniversary into the message.
“It was a very high energy and exciting event,” Sarvadi says. “But at the same time, the rebranding was a little unnerving. It was kind of like your foundation was changing. It was like every one of us was having our first day on a new job the next morning.”
By the time employees got back to the company’s 57 offices, the new brand was in effect — not only a new name that better defined what the HR and business services company provided, but also a solidified lineup of the company’s expanded services.
“The reason for the rebranding was partly because of the limitation of the old brand,” Sarvadi says. “Administaff had a connotation of being in the temporary staffing business, which we never were, and we found that it limited our ability to get in the door because people presumed that was what we did.
“However, people who knew us well loved the name because it was our identity. We served customers well for so many years, and we had a lot of advertising that supported that brand. It was a very positive brand in the marketplace among those who knew us.”
But the real reason behind the $10 million rebrand was that Sarvadi needed something that went past the core service that the company originally offered.
“We were known so well for that one product — Workforce Optimization™ — and it was very difficult to use that brand to ever do anything else beyond that,” Sarvadi says.
“So we needed kind of a bigger vessel, something that could really allow us to extend our competencies into other product offerings and into other markets.”
While the huge but short-lived event heralded the arrival of Insperity, the impact was that the company could now take care of customers for life. Here’s how Sarvadi lead the rebranding process for the company that capped a complete business transformation over the last several years.
Transformation precedes the rest
Rebranding often arises out of a negative event that happens to a company; for instance, a scandal or faulty product the company wants to put behind itself. But in the case of Insperity, it came out of the desire to improve how the company performed in the past, and to leverage the strength developed over 25 years of existence.
“We had to make some serious changes,” Sarvadi says. “We really didn’t have cross-selling in our DNA. Now we do. Now we have the ability to look at a customer for life: when they are first in business, when they find out where they are, and then help them as they move through different stages with different solutions that are appropriate for them.”
For most of its life, Administaff sold one product to a perfect-fit customer at just the right time. Customers were receiving administrative relief, better benefits, reduced liability, a technology platform and a systematic way to improve productivity.
“We had been in business for 25 years, and we had tremendous success as a company,” Sarvadi says. “But the one issue that we had was, ‘Why hadn’t we grown faster? Why weren’t we larger? I know $2 billion is pretty good but why weren’t we $10 billion, $20 billion?’
“We just felt like there were a lot of companies that we could have assisted if we had some way to help them get started rather than to just take the leap to the full comprehensive service.”
The first step in such a transformation is to develop complementary businesses that serve as stepping-stones toward the full-service product.
“For example, we use what we call a Build by Partner strategy to either build our own new service offerings or build out of what we had already been doing,” Sarvadi says. “For example, we now do payroll on a standalone basis, recruiting on a standalone basis and retirement services.
“We also bought some companies that helped to fill a gap in our service offerings such as expense management, time, attendance and organization planning.
“So for me as an entrepreneur, it was like entrepreneur heaven because now we had a dozen or so new businesses in different stages of development that were all part of the new brand.”
Start with a name
Once Sarvadi had the package to offer, it was time to brand it. The company went through a two-year process to evaluate the current brand and conduct internal and external studies.
“There was literally a full year before a decision was made to rebrand or not,” Sarvadi says. “Then it took another six months to pin down the approach we would take.”
Administaff hired Addison Whitney, a rebranding company out of Charlotte, N.C., but also did a lot of branding work in-house.
The first step centered on the new name and the promise that went with it.
“We decided to hone the mission of the company even further,” Sarvadi says. “Our mission is to help businesses succeed so communities prosper. With the recent economic upheaval and reversal, you could see the opposite effect that when businesses were not succeeding, the community suffered.
“We chose the word ‘inspiration,’ which is so important in entrepreneurship — having that inspiration about a new product, a new service or a new company to provide an improvement in the marketplace, that particular inspiration in the business owner — and the desire to find ‘prosperity,’ not just financially but to be successful to achieve, to create.
“We took those two words, and we put them together into Insperity.”
Once the name was established, extensive planning was made for all the people involved in the process. A small group within the company had to be fully aware of what was going on because it handled implementation.
“Planning is so important,” Sarvadi says. “Having some advice from people who have done it is always a good thing. We were so deliberate about the process and the steps and the communication, and that is really what paid off most. We could demonstrate the ‘why.’ You know, people want to know what we are doing, but they want to know why we are doing it too. The better you can articulate the need for change and what change you are trying to drive and why that is important, then the more accepted it is.”
The company went through a full education process over the time period.
“We held monthly company meetings,” he says. “We took another step to kind of demonstrate where we were and where we were going, and eventually toward the end of that process, why a new brand was not only necessary, but represented a huge opportunity.”
Know when it is time to get on board
It takes a tremendous amount of communication to nurture people in a rebranding, giving them a chance to come on board and then ultimately just saying this is the way it is.
“At some point, you just have to say, ‘This is what we are doing,’ Sarvadi says. “People normally are going to stay in their comfort zone absent a significant reason to get out of it. So after you try all the different positive ways to do that, eventually you just have to say, ‘You know what? The train is leaving the station. If you’re staying on it, you’ve got to get with it. If you’re not, the best to you, and thanks for your contribution.’ But at some point you have to get on board.”
While Sarvadi and his team did have a few bumps along the way, trying to make sure that a company could still have consistent predictable results while going through a massive transformation like this was no small feat.
“I’m not sure it could have been done faster, but my gut is if we would have spent more time with the field leadership people to get them along faster, they could’ve helped us get to the frontline people faster, but that’s all under the bridge, and you just got to go from there now,” he says.
“It was almost like we were refueling an aircraft in midair, or changing the tires while we were going 60 miles an hour.”
The rate of unaided awareness was one of the sure signs that the rebranding was working.
“We developed some very powerful television commercials to have a big impact initially to get the brand out there, and the effort has been very successful,” Sarvadi says. “In fact, in about a year and a half, the old brand disappeared. It was amazing how much work we had to put in on an ongoing basis just to keep that brand alive. The new one almost doubled the recognition in 18 months.” ●
- Transformation often precedes the rest.
- Start with a rebranded name.
- Know when the train is leaving the station.
The Sarvadi File
Name: Paul Sarvadi
Title: Chairman and CEO
Born: Aurora, Ohio
Education: I attended Rice University and the University of Houston, but I never completed college. I got the entrepreneurial bug about halfway through and never finished — much to the chagrin of my mother. But I think she got over it.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? The first one I would call a job was caddying. My brother was the caddy master, so that taught me never to work for your brother. But the other thing was that you learn to serve people. With caddying, you actually learn a lot about personalities and people when you are watching them play golf. Golf has a way of bringing it all out of you. You learn the value of service, and I think that is always a very important thing for young people to learn.
Who do you admire in business? There have been a lot of folks that I have admired over time. Early in the development of our company, I was particularly intrigued with Compaq. They had been the fastest growing company, $1 billion at the time. Rod Canion ran that business, and he really spent a lot of time and effort on the culture of the company and getting discretionary effort and creativity. He had kind of a consensus-style management that works a lot, but depending on different times, it can be effective, or not as effective.
What is the best business advice you ever received? I think the best advice any business owner could have ever received is about persistence and perseverance — you just can’t give up. Believe me, when you own a business, the thought of giving up does enter your mind periodically when the challenges are great. That is really why we started our company, because I felt like the success equation for business owners was going the wrong way. It was getting harder to be successful, both in the level of success, the degree if you will, and the likelihood, and we wanted to provide services and support to improve that success equation.
What is your definition of business success? The beautiful thing about business is that there is a report card — financial success is certainly an integral part. But I don’t agree that is the only part that makes you successful. I think you can be successful financially and leave a wake behind you, if you will, that was not of benefit. And that to me is not success, just having financial results without making something better. You have to make your community better, help employment, help individuals be successful. To me business success means that you contributed in your community in a way that has been uplifting. You have provided a good product and service, your customers benefited, your employees benefited, your shareholders benefited and all of them throughout your community.
How to reach: Insperity, (866) 715-3552 or www.insperity.com