Brenda J. Wolf didn’t feel too different coming into work at La Rabida Children’s Hospital as CEO instead of COO. But she couldn’t say the same about others whose path she crossed.

“They seem much more interested in me and also in hearing more about the organization,” says Wolf, who is also president at the 400-employee hospital. “Maybe I feel more empowered because I don’t hesitate to call CEOs of major foundations or other hospitals and say, ‘I’d like to get together with you.’ I would never have done that in a million years before.”

Wolf says there has been some adjustment, but her personality has helped to smooth any rough spots and reassure people that they’re all still part of the same team working toward the same goals.

Learn to delegate

Clearly define what responsibilities and roles you are delegating. Then you yourself have to use discipline to say, ‘I’ve handed this off to someone else and they need to take on the challenge.’ That’s for yourself personally, but it’s also for others who would come to you and ask you for things. You need to direct them to whomever else you are handing it off to.

By the same token, you need to provide support to the people you’ve asked to take on these challenges so that they don’t feel you’re second-guessing them, but that you are available to help them problem-solve.

I have to give folks the opportunity to take on new challenges, and I need to take the time to focus on other areas. So it’s being able to balance that.

Know your audience

You have to know them in terms of how you would present to them. One of the advantages I had was I knew the board and knew the people. I knew the issues that would be the most complicated and most difficult to introduce.

If was a new leader and new to the organization, I would probably say you need to do more due diligence and make sure the people you have who are your direct reports are of the same mind.

You would be doing more research and due diligence before you would make a presentation like that. The other thing is to demonstrate to whomever you are talking to that you’re doing these things because of your passion for the organization. I’m very fortunate to be part of an organization that is extremely mission-driven. As long as you can remind people of why you’re here and that you’re doing these things to carry out a very important mission, that makes it so much easier.

Do it your way

I still haven’t mastered the idea of someone writing for me and then speaking it. I just write down as I would say it and use that to put my thoughts together. I always want to make sure people understand the big picture first and the vision and what you’re doing before you go into the details.

Again, it’s knowing the audience. In certain situations, using Power Point is great. But I never use Power Point to read. I use it more to highlight the salient points, but that’s more a way to keep myself on track and keep the audience focused. One of my pet peeves is people who write out a whole presentation and then they put all the words on Power Point.

Maintain eye contact

I always start off by telling people, ‘I get on automatic pilot here, so please stop me if you have questions.’ But I need to be more sensitive to the audience and have that be part of it so it’s more of a conversation. That I have not yet mastered, but it’s a goal I have.

Company facts

City: Chicago

Founded: 1896

Size: About 9,000 children served annually

Fact: Earned an international reputation for its role in the eradication of rheumatic fever in the 1950s

How to reach: La Rabida Children’s Hospital, (773) 363-6700

Published in Chicago

Scott Sumser had a moment of doubt as he prepared for his first day at work as president of Athens Foods Inc.

“There’s a sense of pride that you worked hard to get to this point,” Sumser says. “But there was also an enormous amount of anxiety. ‘Hey, can I do this? Have I bitten off more than I can chew?’”

Fortunately for Sumser, his nerves settled and his experience began to kick in.

“You have a bag of experience that you carry around with you,” Sumser says. “It really doesn’t matter what you do. You get to reach into that bag and use your learning from everything.”

Sumser decided the best course of action in leading the 200-employee fillo dough producer was to be what he was, a curious new employee.

Be a sponge

People take the transition too seriously. It’s important to show people that you have aptitude and that you’re in the role for a reason. But I think you really need to be a bit of a sponge. Use your two ears and one mouth proportionally in a new situation. Listen twice as much as you talk. Ask a lot of questions and admit when you don’t know something. You build credibility much faster than feeling like you’ve got to know everything right out of the chute. Further down your life cycle, it’s important to use leadership as a driving force. But initially, it’s better to create those relationships so that people feel like you’re willing to learn and listen rather than just come in and do.

Get to know names

It matters a lot. Everyone is going to know your name and the more you can do to learn theirs, the better impression you’re going to make. One tool I use is we have a plant of 150 to 200 people depending on the season. So I have HR take a picture of everybody who is working here. What I try to do is if I know I’m going to be in the plant, I’ll take a look at their picture. It will tell me what department they are in. It gives me one more tool to make sure I’m sending the right message that everybody, no matter what you do, matters to the success or failure of the company.

Take the stage

It’s probably good to have an all-employee meeting right out of the chute. Otherwise, depending on who you were able to tackle getting to know everybody, there’s going to be somebody who feels like they really didn’t understand who you are. It doesn’t have to be enormously formal and you can still use your one-on-one time and continual learning. But depending on the size of your organization, it’s just important for people to be able to hear you speak and find out what your background is. That kind of squelches a bit of the rumor mill. They hear it from you as far as what you are trying to do.

Proceed deliberately

Be open minded to the current way the team gets things done. Too many leaders come in and try to put their stamp on too many things. It’s best to try to learn. You may think you have a better way to do something, but it may just be your opinion instead of the best way to do it. Do keep good notes for your first 30, 60 and 90 days of all your observations. That really allows you to go back after you feel like you’ve created a good relationship with folks and remember what you saw. You think you’ll remember it at the time, but keeping good notes of what your observations were - good, bad or indifferent - really helps you refresh your memory.

Company Facts:

Athens Foods Inc.

City: Cleveland

Founded: 1958. Athens is the world’s largest producer of fillo dough and fillo products.

Sumser on first impressions: Don’t judge your team too quickly. First impressions are a great data point. But once the smoke clears and people begin to act how they normally act, you get to better understand what people bring to the table. It may align with your initial feeling or it may not.

How to reach: Athens Foods Inc., (216) 676-8500 or

Published in Cleveland

Steve Pittman had some definite ideas that he wanted to launch as the new managing partner of accounting firm, Bruner-Cox LLP. In fact, he had been working on them for quite a few months before he became managing partner last year, and he felt they would differentiate the firm from the competition by using a simple catchphrase ? “We.”

“That’s the collaborative culture within our organization, and part of that collaborative dynamic is the relationship we have with our clients. We are working together, and we are extremely effective,” Pittman says.

The feedback, in a word, has been positive.

“The response from our associates has been outstanding,” he says. “The response from our clients has been outstanding.”

Smart Business talked with Pittman about incorporating the message of “We” to a firm’s mission.

How do you decide if your brand needs polishing?

This was something I had been working on with the partners. I think it’s one of those things where you look and say, ‘OK, we’ve got a great organization. We have great people. We’ve been able to be really effective even during the tumultuous economic environment we’ve been in. So what are we doing that we can do better?’ We felt like it was finding a message ? the brand, if you will ? that we could all recognize, all feel good about and talk to our clients about.

It’s not that just the leader can drive the vision; the whole organization has to drive it.

Think of the late Steve Jobs as an example. If you talk about visionaries, he had a vision. He drove that vision. He wasn’t actually building the products, he wasn’t building the retail stores, but he had visions of what Apple was going to be. He constantly reminded people, ‘This is what we are. This is what we what we do. Nothing less than that.’

How do you get your organization to buy into your approach?

Over time, you build up your reputation as an organization, as having quality people who are excellent, who have high integrity, who have this concept of collaboration. Be sure that every person in your organization never deviates from that. If you do have people who aren’t consistent with your culture, they should not be with your firm.

You want clients to always feel like that whoever they are working with from your organization, they will get to know him or her because that person is most interested in them. First of all, they’re highly intelligent, they’re well-trained, they’re focused and they have all the professional attributes that you want in a service provider but also they get the relationship concept. They get the collaborative dynamic concept.

A culture has a life of its own. If you feed it well, if you nurture it, then it takes care of deviations because as a group, you are making sure that you all stay focused, you all stay disciplined. You don’t let variability occur.

How do you control variability?

If you hire interns, that’s an excellent opportunity to evaluate people. Whether or not you are recruiting somebody young into the profession, or someone who’s lateral, spend a lot of time making sure that they understand your culture, making sure they are going to fit in and constantly monitor that and make sure they understand that the culture is the most important thing you have.

But you don’t want to discourage independent thinking because a key value should be innovation ? innovation within the culture. Here’s an excellent example: 90 percent of the competition may look at an issue one way and one of your people looks at it a different way, which is a tremendous value-added feature for the client. So that’s the idea; you always have to be thinking. You always can’t just fix up something on its face value. You have to say, ‘OK, how can we look at this in a way that it can add value to our client?’

Company facts:

City: Akron

Founded: 1925

Size: About 105 employees

Pittman on maintaining a culture: Culture is self-managing … if it is working the way it should. The key is having people who get it and understand it, and they feel good about being in that environment. That’s what you need to do best.

How to reach: Bruner-Cox LLP, (877) 339-1040 or

Published in Akron/Canton

When Guy Marsala took over as president and CEO of Costa Mesa-based EZ Lube LLC in April 2010, the only real option was to start climbing.

The chain of quick-service auto maintenance centers entered bankruptcy in late 2008, sent reeling by the skyrocketing price of oil, regulatory compliance fines and — perhaps most damaging — an eroding company culture brought about by an ongoing revolving door of CEOs in previous years.

EZ Lube emerged from bankruptcy in November 2009, but was still a company in need of direction when Marsala took over.

“I could see right off the bat that I had to find a way to place a higher value on the customer and the employee,” he says. “Morale needed a boost, and we had a real sense of urgency and some very aggressive goals to meet.”

The steps Marsala took to engage store managers in improving the company’s customer relationships helped EZ Lube rebound to $75 million in sales during 2010.

Smart Business spoke with Marsala and discovered some of the lessons he learned about taking over a company in crisis.

Start by listening

First, ask for feedback and input from people, and really listen to what they tell you. They have the answers. I had meetings with my store managers where I went around the room and asked people how long they had been here. The would tell me five years, eight years, 12 years, and so on. I would add that up and say, ‘Wow, we have almost 100 years of experience sitting around this table.’ I’ve been here two months or whatever it was at the time. I told them that I believe they know a lot about this business and I wanted to learn from them. I wanted to challenge them and tap into that experience. Once people know that you really listen and value their input and you don’t shoot the messenger, they really tell you some amazing things. So No. 1 is to listen.

Maintain the dialogue

Second, you need to communicate. I try to never miss an opportunity to talk to employees in groups. I have monthly store manager meetings, monthly all-hands meetings — but it’s also the informal communication. We were doing some training here at headquarters recently with our store managers. I heard about it, so I just popped in there and listened, and when they took a break, I took the opportunity to talk to people. I asked them how things are going, if there was anything we could be doing to support them better. You want to use those opportunities to continue to get your message out.

Remain visible

Along the same lines, No. 3, you have to be accessible. I am out of my office a lot. I am out in the field. I am out in the stores. I am walking around the hallways. People have my e-mail; people have my phone number.

Make the tough calls

No. 4 is to be decisive. Have the courage to make tough decisions. We can’t always do the most popular thing, it’s not a popularity contest, and you have to have a bias for action. We had to make some decisions and choose a course for action, then follow it. We couldn’t debate forever which way we were going to go, what we were going to focus on.

Number five is focus on what you can control. We can’t control the price of oil. The Southern California economy has some real challenges. But we can do some other things within our control to drive for company forward in spite of those challenges, or in some cases capitalize on those challenges.

Have the right attitude

Lastly, be positive. Enthusiasm is contagious; there is a spiral of positivity that I call it. As a leader you have to be the one rallying the troops and carrying the flag for everybody.

How to reach: EZ Lube LLC, (714) 556-1312 or

Company facts:

Headquarters: Costa Mesa, Calif.

Stores: 73 (all company-owned)

Employees: 970

2010 sales: $75 million

Business: Automobile maintenance

Published in Orange County

Raquel “Rocky” Rodriguez was physically starting a new Miami law office from scratch. She didn’t have a team of employees. She didn’t have an actual office yet. From a support standpoint, however, she had a stacked deck.

Joining McDonald Hopkins LLC as its newest managing member in 2011, Rodriquez had the rich culture and resources of a firm with an 80-year history of client service success.

“So it really was very much of a start-up operation, except that I had a really good solid team supporting me all the way,” Rodriguez says.

Smart Business spoke with Rodriguez about the keys to entering a new market, starting with finding and developing a strong team of employees.

Use your network to find talent

One is to let people know that we are here through selective marketing, through interacting in the community, getting the word out, introducing the firm. The other is using my personal contacts to recruit the kinds of lawyers that we are looking for. We identify the practice areas we need, the client type, the personality set and either directly approach those lawyers or through my contacts identify who those lawyers are and then use those relationships to reach them.

Seek complementary skill sets

The biggest leadership challenge when you are expanding a firm or growing an office is being able to identify in potential [hires] the kinds of qualities that you want to reinforce in your firm while also adding capabilities that fill whatever gaps you may have.

You have to recognize that you have weaknesses because nobody is perfect, and nobody has every skill that they need for every job. Then you need to surround yourself with people who have the skills that you are lacking to compensate for them, which means that you have to be very self assure and confident rather than worried about people showing you up. You succeed by other people around you succeeding.

When you are interviewing associates or other staff as well as partners, you like to know that they have succeeded at, what they have done and know what their track record has been. You want to know that they are hard working and that they are not just going to coast. You want to look for indicia of people who always demand more from themselves.

Use interviews to find cultural matches

You work very hard at hiring people who contribute to the culture and who like the particular culture of the firm. Every firm evolves as it gets larger, but there are certain core principles in terms of how people relate to each other and the way that the firm serves its clients that cannot be compromised.

I like to know why they are speaking with us. What is it about their situation that they would like to improve on and what are their long-term personal and professional goals? I like to know about what they do in their free time when they are not being a lawyer. I like to know what their approach is to clients and practicing law.

Take charge

You have to be a friendly and approachable person, but you also have to recognize that there are boundaries, particularly in the workplace. You are not there to be everybody’s best friend. You are there to lead them and help them succeed.

A critical trait is to be able to communicate your vision, your goals and your expectations very clearly. If you don’t communicate clearly, people will assume that they know what you want, and you may not get what you are expecting.

You set clear goals. You agree on timelines and then you follow up on a regular basis to make sure that you are on track.

Do your part

If people do not see you contributing the effort, they are going to feel like you are unfairly dumping work on them. It doesn’t mean that you have to spend every waking hour in the office or constantly connected, because I do think that it’s important to unplug every once in a while so that you can do your strategic thinking. It does mean that you have to be willing to take on the hard work that you are asking other people to do.

How to reach: McDonald Hopkins LLC, or (305) 704-3990

Company Facts: McDonald Hopkins LLC

Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio

Size: more than 130 attorneys in six strategic locations, including Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, West Palm Beach and Miami

About: The company has an 80-year track record of counseling clients as a business advisory and advocacy law firm

Published in Florida

Brigette Jackson is a Detroit native, but when she took over as the vice president and general manager in charge of T-Mobile USA Inc.’s Michigan/Indiana region last January, she didn’t allow that fact to become a justification for making assumptions about the market she was going to serve.

“I had been gone for a number of years,” she says. “I had some experience of my own, from things I had gathered on return visits, but I hadn’t been a resident.”

Jackson quickly saw the need for a market strategy that could help her and T-Mobile’s 620 regional employees connect the company’s products and services with customers in Michigan and Indiana. To make the concept a reality, she needed to build a leadership team with detailed knowledge of the region, and enable them to develop branding and marketing strategies that would increase T-Mobile’s profile in Michigan and Indiana.

Smart Business spoke with Jackson about how to construct a go-forward strategy and how to construct a team to help carry it out.

Define your goals. I think the No. 1 challenge was bringing us together as one leadership unit and really identifying our business goals, making sure we’re completely aligned in retail and partner sales, and our business sales channel. Then, it was creating marketing strategies, implementing operational tools [and] strategy systems that would allow us to work as one entity and one group. That included reporting, financial data and really bringing us together. It was important for me that everyone was knowledgeable about everyone’s business, so that when we sat down together as a team, we could make the right decisions.

That took about 30 to 45 days for everyone to pull this together. We had a strategy meeting in Chicago, and we stayed true to our strategy based on everyone’s knowledge of the market. So that has been a huge win for us overall.

Build your team. When I was hiring for my team, I looked for experience, but I also looked for someone who had a pretty diverse background in sales. It didn’t have to necessarily be in retail or just partner sales or business sales. I wanted someone with a generally strong background of sales success and the ability to drive for results through people. I also looked for someone who had a proven track record through strategies or different programs that they’ve implemented or created, where they could really show success from those programs.

I looked for folks that would complement the region overall, someone who has a working knowledge of both Michigan and Indiana, so that they could make the right decisions for the area, because we’re here to really get the word out and share what we’re doing. And because we’ve spent a tremendous amount of time on our network, we have an engineering team here as well. We brought them in and worked with them, too.

Analyze the market. We had some market analysis completed prior to my arrival, which was a great place for us to start, along with the knowledge of the team.

We sat down and we looked at some of the market analysis, and we combined it with the knowledge of the team and built a strategy off of that around who is our customer, who is our customer base, what are they looking for, what is important to our customers, and also make sure we have a strategy from a brand recognition standpoint to really get the word out to our customers as to who we are and the products and services that we offer. We have targeted areas and specific plans and strategies to attack them. We have some work to do yet, but we have been successful so far.

Company facts:

Name: T-Mobile USA Inc.

Headquarters: Bellevue, Wash.

Michigan/Indiana regional headquarters: Detroit

Products and services: Cell phone and wireless Internet service, cell phone and wireless Internet device sales.

How to reach: T-Mobile USA Inc., (800) 866-2453 or

Published in Detroit

Samuel Bennett is used to being an individual contributor. Bennett, principal and eastern region client management practice leader for Buck Consultants, an employee benefits consulting firm, has had to adjust to a new mentality in his new role as leader of the Cincinnati office.

The 40-employee office has had to overcome challenges of a tough economy where everybody needs to work a little harder for less. Bennett’s job is to motivate employees and continue to right-size the business.

“The biggest transition into a leadership role out of sales is really making sure people you work with are successful and not just yourself,” Bennett says. “The best thing a leader can do is inspire others to be successful.”

Smart Business spoke to Bennett about how he is adjusting to a leadership role and motivating employees.

First steps

I always go back to, as a company, why are we here? Where are we headed? It’s easy with all the noise of the economy to get internally focused, but what I find is our people are happy and more motivated when they’re focused on the client stuff and not on the internal stuff.

You have to find and focus on the priorities both of your organization and internally on your relationships with your staff. It should be a combination. The staff should be well aware and motivated with the company direction and understand where you’re headed, but also see what their personal value is in that whole scenario and be able to connect that. I think all companies are headed in two directions. They want to grow and they want to be profitable, but if you make your clients happy all that other stuff takes care of itself.

Get to know employees and clients

There are very few people in my office in the first six months of my tenure where I didn’t buy them lunch, take them to breakfast, meet them for a drink or whatever it is to just figure out what it is that they’re about. It’s just a personal relationship-building exercise. You can transfer that over to clients too and getting to know clients on a personal basis. What their needs are, where they’re at in the organization and what their expectations are. It’s more of a communication thing and if you take the time to get to know the employees and the clients, a lot of times you’re headed off in the right direction because most employees and clients will tell you exactly what they want and exactly what they need.

You’ve just got to create that avenue of communication. It’s hard. When you’re in a leadership role you’re tugged in 25 different directions, but if you don’t make the time to build those relationships and you’re focused on the tasks, you’re missing out on the big piece of it.

Motivate employees

You have to learn as much about every individual as you can, because there is no single way to motivate everybody. Everybody has their own little thing that motivates them. Some are motivated by money. Some want autonomy. Some want some credit when things go well. You have to figure out each individual and what makes them tick. Does it work when you kind of spread it like peanut butter and treat everybody the same? I think you leave half the people out when you approach it that way. When you individualize it and really learn what makes everybody tick, you can adjust your style to meet what motivates them.

That takes a while to do. That’s not something you read in a book or is easy to figure out. It takes a little time. There’s no one way to be a true leader, but you can learn from everybody you interact with every day. Adjusting your style to fit your individual employees is more successful than to say, ‘Here’s my style, everyone adjust to me.’

HOW TO REACH: Buck Consultants Cincinnati, (513) 784-0005 or

Published in Cincinnati

Michael Fischer wasn’t expecting utopia when he took the helm at Swan Corp.

“Companies rarely bring in a new leader because everything is going perfectly,” says Fischer, president and CEO at the kitchen and bath product manufacturer. “So you normally are thrust into an environment where you can see right away more opportunities than you have the time or resources to tackle.”

Fischer took over the 300-employee company in April. At least in the early days, he resisted the urge to make immediate changes.

“You get tempted to go to your playbook and execute against things you’ve done,” Fischer says. “But unless you really understand what the needs are of the business, that may not be the right solution.”

Smart Business spoke to Fischer about establishing the right tone to lead effectively.

Get familiar. For me, the first 90 days is getting to know the organization inside and out. I normally start outside and work my way back in, which involves meeting with customers and listening to what they think of the company and where they think the opportunities are. As you make enough of those rounds internally and externally, the pieces start to come together. Usually for me, it’s at about the 90-day point.

You may not figure out right away what the biggest levers are to move the business. But the first week I was here, we started meeting as a team across all functions. To me, it’s all about teamwork and breaking down the functional silos. I wanted to send that message from the first day I was here that that was the way I wanted to run the business. Whether we solve anything or not, you can send those kinds of messages.

Ask questions. I met with everybody in the organization in the first two weeks. By the time you get to the 30th or 40th person, you start to see trends or some things that keep popping up. So I try to direct questions. ‘If you were the CEO for a day, what would be the one thing you would do to improve the company? If you could change one thing in your job, what would it be? If a customer could change one thing about our company, what would it be?’ Try to direct the conversation a little bit to idea generation and not, ‘I don’t like the lunch in the lunchroom.’

Back up your words. You have to remember that you’re the CEO or president and people are observing everything you do to see if you really are walking the talk, even more so when you’re new. If you say, “I’m going to run this as a team, and it’s all about teamwork and accountability and being customer-focused,” you have to try to find opportunities very quickly to exhibit that behavior. People tend to play chameleon in a new situation watching the CEO. What does the CEO value? What does it take to be successful in the organization? I’ve tried to communicate that.

Don’t be afraid to change things. The one thing that will get me upset or agitated is somebody saying, ‘We’ve always done it that way.’ I read one time those are the last words of a dying company. Even if you’re doing something well and it’s working today, it doesn’t mean you can’t keep challenging it and keep trying to get better each and every day. That goes with the attitude that if you’re not trying to challenge the status quo, you’re not trying to get better. You can learn from the past, but let’s not dwell on it. What are we going to do positively going forward?

Company Facts

City: St. Louis

Founded: 1964

Size: About 300 employees. Swan Corp.’s products are available through about 8,000 wholesale and retail outlets nationwide, as well as in the United Kingdom and Europe.

How to reach: Swan Corp., (800) 325-7008 or

Published in St. Louis

Dean Aloise has big shoes to fill in Pittsburgh and he knows it. Aloise, principal and Pittsburgh market leader of Buck Consultants, took over the position in January 2011 after his predecessor was promoted to managing director of the East region. Aloise is a young guy in his early 30s but is up to the challenge of leading the 70-staff employee benefits consulting firm. 

“I’ve actually been fortunate in transitioning to this leadership role,” Aloise says. “My predecessor, Harry Rienhart, has moved up in the Buck organization. My transition has been eased by the fact that part of what I’m expected to do is continue that momentum that Harry created. That’s one of my main goals, and obviously, what I’m trying to do is build further on what he created.”

Smart Business spoke to Aloise about his appreciation for his new position and looking to make his own mark.

Examine the organization

You have to understand the current history and culture of the organization that you’re in and the successes that your firm has been built on. Really embracing that, recognizing it and respecting it is a huge part of understanding where you fit into all of that. Going forward, you will be accepted a lot more as a leader that understands where he might fit within the organization’s history.

You have to spend time with the people that you know got the organization to where it is. For example, say there’s an account that’s been around for 50 years and there’s an account executive that’s run that account for the last 25 years. That’s someone you need to get to know, that you need to understand and that you need to respect. Those are the types of people that you absolutely need to spend time with.

Get to know employees

To become familiar with the role, you need to be very involved. You have to really get to know all the people that you are working with. It’s the personal relationships, whether it’s with your client base or with your employees that are required in order to build trust.

Trust is where you need to get to really be firing on all cylinders. To get that trust in a leadership role you have to put in the time on a personal level to understand people and put yourself in their shoes, have them get to know you and establish a rapport with all of your employees and all of your clients. Unless you do that you’re never going to connect to the level that you need to connect.

It might seem simple, but … take the time to go to lunch one on one with employees. Spend a solid hour talking about them and learn to truly be interested in them and in their well-being. Similarly with clients … get together with them to learn about them and get to know them and have them get to know you so you can establish that trust.

First steps

You need to figure out who you are as a leader. I think to be successful, you can’t just show up in the position and exist without putting some specific thought into how you want your organization to work and how you want the culture of your organization to exist. Part of that might be reading leadership books and finding what parts of those books resonate with you and trying to establish your identity, who you truly are, but really getting to know who that is and then you have to deliberately work to try to live that out in your job every day.

Focus on leadership

Always be putting your team and the people around you first. Always be looking out for the best interest of the folks around you. It might seem counterintuitive, but you as a leader should be the last person on your own mind. If you’re taking care of your team and the folks that work around you and your clients, then things probably will work out the best for you in the end. 

HOW TO REACH: Buck Consultants Pittsburgh, (412) 281-2506 or

Published in Pittsburgh

Dan Smith has learned a lot from his father about how to be a better leader. But it’s not all business when they speak by phone several times a week.

“We’ll talk about everything,” says Smith, new president of Columbus operations for GSW Worldwide. “Fun things, sports things, a little bit of work but a nice balance.”

It’s a similar sense of balance that Smith infuses into the way he communicates as leader of the 350-employee health care advertising agency.

“He used to tell me if you’re spending as much time listening to something as you are communicating it, that’s how you’re going to learn and advance the organization and get a broader set of views,” Smith says.

Here’s how Smith has quickly meshed with employees in his new role.

What is your primary role as company president?

Represent the organization as to what its purposes are and the way it’s supposed to behave. You go to some of the responsibilities that the position holds, at least in our office, it’s to lead and develop an annual business plan and execute that. I do wake up each week, each month, each day thinking about how I’m going to contribute toward and then how our leadership team is going to contribute toward the annual plan we put in place to drive growth, to surprise and delight our existing clients and bring new clients to our organization. It starts to move toward where you’re trying to move toward impacting three or four really critical success factors that you think are really important for your agency to be successful based off the objectives you set for the year. It sounds simple. But the leader has to be one that is indirectly working and guiding the plan that is in place and doing it by example.

How do you put your stamp on the business?

It would be a mistake or almost a bit selfish for me to place a stamp or marker on the business just to change. The change that you put forward has to be purposeful. Not change for change sake, but change to do something that is positive for the organization. You have to look back to where we are. I don’t think GSW needs big changes right now. We had a very successful 2010. We need to grow from that and capitalize on where we are, but we’re coming from a position of strength. My initial view will be to continue to advance what’s already been a high-performing organization. Be consistent with the plan we have in place. My role will be to apply my time and focus the leadership against three or four key things and deliver against those. The change part of it has to come naturally.

How do you stay in touch with your people?

As we intensify around mobile and constant communication, there’s a greater push to be speaking and directing information. We’re not taking as much time as we could to listen and formulate great thoughts and directions. You see all the cars in the parking lot and you realize you have some deeper accountability to helping guide as a team everybody that comes to work every day. It’s important to communicate and explain to the broader employee base leadership changes, new and modified roles and responsibilities, as well as identify the organization’s priorities for the year. How you do that is really dependent on the size of the organization. Remain visible and accessible to the staff. The announcement is one vehicle that should be used. But it shouldn’t stop there. It’s just the beginning.

Company Facts

City: Columbus

Founded: 1977

Size: About 350 employees

About Smith: I’m a Buckeye to the core, huge Ohio State fan. Columbus is home. I’ve raised two boys here, and they love it, and this is just a fantastic place to live. I love its location and what it has to offer. It’s kind of a hidden gem.

How to reach: (614) 848-4848

Published in Columbus
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