The times were tough for Roeslein & Associates in 2001. Sales had grown from just more than $1 million in 1990 to some $20 million in 2000. Now the volume of work was practically nonexistent.
“When you go without work for almost a two-year period and you use up every bit of retained earnings that you had, it starts to challenge your own beliefs,” says Rudi Roeslein, founder and CEO for a company that engineers, fabricates and constructs unitized modular industrial systems. “We were faced with this real identity crisis of was it all smoke and mirrors? Was I just delusional?”
Indeed, Roeslein and his company were in pretty dire straits. He let two members of his management team go and the six who remained each took a 30 percent pay cut. Roeslein and his partner, who only owned 25 percent of the 250-employee business, did not take any pay for 18 months.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to force you to do it,’” Roeslein says. “He had a family and both of us had kids at the time. We had the same bills that everybody else has. We just had to live on whatever we took out of the business previously in earnings. We tried to keep as many people as possible.”
As hard as he was working to keep the business going, Roeslein also had to fight the perception that it wasn’t ever going to get better. He had complete confidence that he would make it work, but it wasn’t shared by everyone.
“When people see that, how do you keep them enthused?” Roeslein says. “You start letting people go, and (others) want to bail out. They want to leave.”
As it turns out, Roeslein was right and his company did survive the business drought and emerge on the other side, growing to a $100 million organization today.
But Roeslein emerged a new man and a new leader. He was willing to look at himself in the mirror and ask the question that few brash, successful entrepreneurs ever want to ask of themselves.
“The big soul-searching that I did was, ‘OK, once I get out of this, even if we get the business, what am I going to do differently so I don’t get into this predicament again?’” Roeslein says. “That’s where you have to identify what are the necks in the hourglass? Am I the neck in the hourglass? I came to the conclusion that I was because of how I managed my business.”
The transformation began in 2002 with a realization that Roeslein needed to get his people more involved in guiding the business.
Empower your people
As Roeslein looked at his role in leading his company, he began to understand the problem.
“I wanted all customers to discuss their opportunities with me,” Roeslein says.
He had a CFO who handled the day-to-day personnel issues and Roeslein managed the engineering, business development and product management. But he also did selling and implementing and wanted in on every sales discussion.
He realized that had to change.
“You have to get over your own ego and really accept that maybe you’re the problem and not the solution,” Roeslein says. “Maybe the solution is right in front of you because you have all these brilliant employees and you’re just not releasing their talent.”
So as things began to pick up, Roeslein appointed the six managers who had been department managers and made them directors.
“I assigned specific customers and accounts on a regional and global basis, regardless of whether they were technical or nontechnical,” Roeslein says. “I divided it among them.”
The key to making this work was that Roeslein didn’t just call them into his office, tell them about the change and then expect them to figure out how to do it on their own.
“I said, ‘I will mentor you for a period of a couple of years,’” Roeslein says. “‘I will go with you to these customers, but ultimately, I’m turning these customers over to you. I’m turning these projects over to you. Then you guys figure out how to complement each other. Figure out who is best at construction, engineering and business development. One of you is going to become the president of the company.’”
It was a bold move, but Roeslein quickly knew it was exactly what his business needed.
“We quickly became a $100 million company, which under my leadership and style, probably never would have happened,” Roeslein says. “We would have been stuck at $20 million to $25 million because that’s what I could manage and that’s what I could keep my thumb on and have enough daytime hours to manage.”
If you feel like your company is stuck, it could be that you’re unwilling to let the people you’ve brought in to work with you and for you stretch their legs and use their talent. You’re only one person and if you keep all the important work to yourself, your company is severely limited in how much it can grow.
“You have to take the risk,” Roeslein says. “Put those people out there. Put them on the front line, put them in difficult situations and see how they respond. From that, you can start to formulate a plan as to who your leadership is and who your next generation is. That’s what I’ve challenged my six managers to do.
“Give guys an opportunity. Challenge them and push them beyond what you believe they can do and see what they can do. If you just keep them on the bench, they’re never going to be able to demonstrate their capabilities and you’re never going to know.”
Back up your words
If Roeslein had talked to his people about having a bigger role in the business or being empowered but continued to make the same decisions he had always made and lead the way he had always led, his company would not have grown.
“There are signals and indicators that employees read,” Roeslein says. “You say certain things. But it’s eventually what you do. What we did was we engaged them in a concept that signaled that we believed there was a future.”
That engagement was made with his six directors but also with every employee who had concerns about the company’s future during those dark days.
“Why would I have them working on all these improvements, cost reductions and things that work toward the future?” Roeslein says. “What I really focused on was let’s build and work toward the future. The future is confident, as far as I’m concerned. Why would I risk every penny that I have and everything I’ve worked for if I didn’t believe in it?
“That resonated with my employees and certainly with six out of eight managers.”
It resonated even more with those six directors when Roeslein rewarded their hard work and effort in getting the company turned around.
“These guys are going to sacrifice a tremendous amount of their lives to this company,” Roeslein says. “I told them a portion of their bonus each year could be applied toward ownership of the business. You’ve already made a huge sacrifice taking a 30 percent pay cut for two years to keep our business alive. Here’s your reward.”
The directors took advantage of the offer, buying out Roeslein’s partner and eventually reducing Roeslein’s share of the business from 75 percent to 51 percent.
“I don’t want to sell this business to outsiders,” Roeslein says.
Build for the future
Just as Roeslein mentored his six directors, he expected them to do the same for another group of leaders.
“If we want to grow the business to the next level, each of you needs to mentor six people,” Roeslein says of his message to his six directors. “That is the next step in the evolution of this company. You mentor six people, and you get the same level of confidence in them that I have in you.”
You’ve got to approach your business as though it were a team and you all make contributions to that team or you’re going to run into problems.
“It’s easy to be a really good guy and smile when things are great,” Roeslein says. “But when things are really bad, that’s when you find out your own character and your own ethos.”
So when failure occurs, approach it with the perspective of how the team can improve instead of focusing on the person who screwed up.
“Every leader needs to put their employees in a situation where they can succeed,” Roeslein says. “When they fail, they need to recognize they are part of the failure. You can’t have your people be so concerned about, ‘What are we going to do if we fail?’”
Roeslein says running a business is a lot like the whitewater rafting he used to do in Colorado and Utah.
“You’re just slowly going down the river and the sun is shining and you relax and your mind wanders,” Roeslein says. “Then, all of a sudden, you hit those rapids and those giant holes, and it scares the hell out of you. You wonder if you’re even going to make it through. It’s how you perform and how you treat everyone during those periods that really forms your character.”
How to reach: Roeslein & Associates Inc.,
(314) 729-0055 or www.roeslein.com
The Roeslein File
founder and CEO
Roeslein & Associates Inc.
Born: Salzburg, Austria. I was born in 1948 and came to the United States in 1956. I remember seeing the Statue of Liberty. One of my most lasting impressions was the train ride to St. Louis with my face plastered against the window looking out at the countryside. I didn’t speak a word of English.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, Saint Louis University.
How did your childhood shape you? All of us had this work ethic where we believed no one was going to take care of us. We had to take care of ourselves. Kids can be cruel. Me and two of my German friends, instead of the three Amigos, we were the three little Nazis. So we went through some tough periods.
But I think the great equalizer for me was always sports. I started playing soccer at an early age and when you’re very good at something, kids accept that you’re good at that and a lot of that other stuff goes away.
Did the tough times then help you deal with them better now? I didn’t look at it as leaving long scars. Did it toughen me up and make me more able to take ups and downs in life? I think so. But I’ve never looked back and said, ‘Gee, those kids that held me down and tried to carve a swastika in my forehead were bad kids.’ It was just a sign of the times. Things were going on and you just fought your way through it and just keep on going.
Who has been the most influential person on who you are? My father. He’s the example of a completely selfless person. His whole life was focused around us.
Let people put use their talents.
Mentor leaders through growing pains.
Reward employees who help you meet goals.
Stacy R. Janiak was not thinking about becoming managing partner of the Chicago office at Deloitte & Touche LLP when she joined the accounting firm in 1992.
The graduate of DePaul University just wanted to do her job and make a good impression on the people who had hired her. But it was an impression left on her by a mentor who she had just come to know who shaped both her future and that of the firm in the years ahead.
“Within a month of my joining the firm, a woman who I held in high regard who was a manager at the firm turned in her resignation and said she was going back to school to get an advanced degree,” Janiak says. “She confided in me and said she just felt like she wasn’t sure she could do what needed to be done to make partner.”
Janiak had arrived at Deloitte at a significant point in the firm’s history. Leadership had become aware that the employee turnover rate was significantly higher for women than it was for men, and it had them concerned.
“There was a perception that women were leaving to just go home and have babies,” Janiak says. “Finally, there was a question that then CEO Mike Cook laid out. He said, ‘Do we really know that?’”
A study was commissioned, and it was discovered that many women who left fit the description of Janiak’s mentor, who just felt there wasn’t an opportunity to grow and advance in the organization.
“They were going to work at other places they found more amenable to their personal goals and work goals,” Janiak says.
Deloitte leadership wanted to change that. The Initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women was created to help ensure more opportunities for women, but it was more than that. It was launched with the idea of bringing more diversity and inclusion into every aspect of the way Deloitte did business.
“Each business is being impacted by the changing marketplace, by the changing consumer and by the changing demographics of the population, wherever they are selling their wares or services into,” Janiak says.
“Do you really understand how all of these factors are influencing your ultimate business? Isn’t it logical, given the changing nature of all of those factors, to have some of that change represented in the people who are working in your organization so you can better react to them and better position your products and services for the consumers of the future?”
The move to make inclusion and diversity a priority put Deloitte in a strong position to help many who were poised to lose their jobs at the former Arthur Andersen LLP in 2002.
“We distinguished ourselves on a number of fronts, but that was one of them as people looked at where they might extend their career in that particular situation,” says Janiak, who became managing partner of the Chicago office in September 2011. She is also the central region managing partner for audit and enterprise risk services.
In these turbulent times, when fortunes can change overnight, Janiak says Deloitte’s ongoing pursuit of diversity is more than just a feel-good story for the firm and its 3,800 employees. It’s a vital part of being successful company.
Focus on relationships
One of the biggest initial drivers that led Deloitte to get focused on being more diverse and inclusive was the money invested and talent that for years had been allowed to just walk out the door.
“We’re investing all these funds in very talented individuals who are walking out the door and, oh by the way, those individuals bring different and unique skill sets to us as a group that help us relate better and perform better with our clients,” Janiak says. “So why shouldn’t we address this?”
As Deloitte looked at its company and the way it did business, leaders realized that they were missing a crucial point of perspective in the way they operated the firm.
“Twenty years ago, I think you could have asked a group of partners at Deloitte, why should we focus on the women who are leaving?” Janiak says. “They are leaving. Let’s focus on the women who are staying.
“But now you really are missing something by not having a group of people at the table that is reflective of your buyers or the purchasers of your products and services. Force the conversation to what ways you might increase your internal diversity to have those ideas around the table.”
Each industry is different, but whatever business you’re involved in, communication and relationships are going to play a critical role in whether you succeed or fail. The easier it is to find common ground with your customers or potential customers, the better off you’re going to be.
And as you provide a more diverse front for your customers, you create more opportunities for your people at the same time and give them a reason to stay and grow in your organization, which helps you grow too. It becomes cyclical.
“If I take Deloitte as an example, one of the big pieces of data we looked at was how much we were investing in all our people to prepare them and train them and how much we could achieve from a revenue perspective if we were able to retain some of those individuals one, two, three or four years longer than we were at the time,” Janiak says.
“How did that change our overall organization by enhancing the level of experience before they chose to go pursue a different alternative career path?”
Janiak speculates that had Deloitte not changed, she probably wouldn’t be in the position she is in today. But she adds that it’s not solely about creating opportunities for women like her. It’s about adapting and positioning your company to succeed in a constantly changing environment.
“I don’t know if I would have stayed in an environment that was not inclusive and as flexible as it is,” Janiak says. “And I think given how the world has changed, you could probably say that about a lot of the men too. There are just as many men who struggle with family and just management of all these competing priorities. I think we’d look a lot different. I don’t think we’d be as successful, and I don’t think we’d have as much fun as we’re having.”
Set the tone
If you want to promote a culture in which everyone plays an important part in your company’s success, you’ve got to make it a personal priority to instill that culture.
“A big mistake would be making it a program versus being able to describe the business imperative,” Janiak says. “Describe why it is valuable to the organization and demonstrate that. How are you developing people on your own teams that you have responsibility for?
“It’s critical that the tone is set at the top and that leaders are held accountable for their progress. It’s important that it is on the agenda of the CEO. If you relegate it as a program and have it be several layers removed from the CEO, that could be a big mistake.”
Talk about the tangible reasons why it’s important that employees and leaders consider diversity in everything that they do.
“Our potential clients are asking, before awarding significant project work, what is your commitment to diversity and how do you demonstrate that?” Janiak says. “If we don’t have a compelling track record and story to tell, we’re not in the mix. Clients who are committed to it and see it as a core value want to be working with an organization that also shares that core value, and so it’s a competitive advantage.”
You’ve got to find a way to integrate it into your culture as a way of doing business, rather than something you’re going to try for a little while before you return to what you did before.
“It’s a strategy,” Janiak says. “Whether you’re including it as part of your talent strategy, your human resources strategy, your sales strategy, there are different ways to look at it and however your organization responds to strategic direction and execution of that strategy, that’s how you should say it. It should be similar to other core strategies that you disseminate through your organization.”
Janiak says she takes her role very seriously as a role model and figurehead for anything she tries to do at Deloitte.
“I view it as one of my roles is to make sure I’m present at the various functions of our business resource groups, which represent all kinds of different folks within our organization,” Janiak says. “It’s important that I hold myself accountable to having diversity on the teams that I’m responsible for — because people look at that and they say, ‘OK, not only does she say this is important for us to do, but she’s doing it and demonstrating support.’ People pay more attention to what you do than what you say.”
How to reach: Deloitte LLP, (312) 486-1000 or www.deloitte.com
The Janiak File
Stacy R. Janiak, managing partner for Chicago office, Deloitte & Touche LLP
Born: Aurora, Colo. It’s right outside of Denver at a U.S. Air Force Base. My dad was a mechanic in the Air Force.
Education: Bachelor of science degree, commerce, DePaul University, Chicago
What was your very first job and what did you learn? The very first job I got paid for was babysitting. I babysat twice a week for the people across the street and earned $1 an hour to feed them dinner, bathe them and get them to bed. That was a pretty good deal.
It was just the concept of going out and having people trust you with some authority at a young age.
Even though it was across the street and you had your parents as the backup, you were in charge. People had expectations. I was going to feed the kids and wash the dishes and they trusted me to do that and expected me to do that.
Who has been the biggest influence on who you are today? My mom. Her name was Rose. She was born in the early 1950s and contracted polio when she was 11 months old. To hear her describe it, it was almost like having AIDS back when people didn’t understand it. You were just ostracized.
She was told she would never walk without braces and she kind of made up her mind that she would not have that be. She is a very resourceful woman that was not given a great lot in life physically. She has made up for that in many ways. She’s the reason I believe there is always a solution and there is a way to get people to it.
Think about what customers expect to see.
Be out front and visible when big changes.
Don’t spare the legwork on strategies that may take time to mature.
When significant change is on the horizon for your business, it is important to recognize how people react to the unknown.
In an article by David Rock, the co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, two broad themes are discussed.
The first is that each of us is driven by an “overarching organizing principle of minimizing threat and maximizing reward.” Those immersed in the drama of an acquisition are biologically driven to wondering and worrying about what will happen to the existing social order.
The second theme is that there are parallels between the way we respond to how well our social needs are met and how we respond to the meeting of our physical needs. He cites a study indicating that it hurts just as a much to be left out as it does to experience a hammer meeting our thumb.
Rock proposes a model, SCARF, which includes these two themes as a way to help us navigate what can trigger reward or threat behaviors in social situations. The model, in short, is as follows:
Status - This refers to how important we are or perceive we are within a particular group. When a company is acquired, employees may believe they will be viewed as lower on the totem pole than employees within the acquiring company.
What can you do?
Promote a culture of respect in which everyone’s opinion is valued in ways appropriate for their areas of expertise. When discrete events occur (e.g., promotions, acquisitions, etc.), be proactive in communicating how and why personnel decisions have been or will be made.
Certainty - Certainty refers to the need our brain has to respond to recognizable patterns. When we can’t, error messages akin to a “flashing printer icon” go on.
What can you do? Be clear. Be as specific as possible. For big projects, break them down into specific steps. In individual interactions, remember that the level of clarity necessary will be different for each person. When details are pending, promise that more details will follow, communicate a timeline for the additional information and deliver on that promise.
Autonomy - The third point refers to how much choice and control we perceive we have over our lives. As a leader, do you find yourself telling others what to do in their area of expertise? If so, you may be restricting their autonomy.
What can you do? Don’t micromanage. Enough said?
Relatedness - This refers to whether or not someone is “in” or “out” of your group. We’re all familiar with the student who doesn’t have an “in” group and sits by himself at lunch. His brain is firing the message that he’s on the outside looking in.
One way to promote relatedness is to encourage affinity groups. These could be either related or unrelated to workplace initiatives. Be a role model. Make an effort to relate to people that may be on the outside looking in.
Fairness - The fifth and final point refers to the belief that others aren’t being treated preferentially. Think executive elevators, executive washrooms, etc.
What can you do? Be clear about your reasons for decisions you make and changes that must be made. Be clear about the “why” and “how” of your decisions. There should be no hint that you’re trying to hide an unfair process by not being transparent about your reasons.
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect, Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to promote organizational sync by minimizing threat responses, you may reach Andy Kanefield at (314) 863-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cleveland-based Creekside Financial Advisors LLC has announced that Jeanne Cowart joined the financial services firm as a client manager supporting Alan Yanowitz, J.D., a Creekside financial adviser.
Cowart’s strong analytical skills combined with her deep client-service experience makes her the ideal candidate to work with clients on a day-to-day basis and provide them with the data and information they want, in a manner that suits their particular needs.
Cowart comes to Creekside after serving in client management roles at Edward Jones and AmTrust Bank. At Edward Jones, she was responsible for managing the operations of the office and, most importantly, delivering a consistently exceptional client experience. She wore many hats and was the first line of contact for the entire firm’s clients.
Alliance Solutions Group, a full-service staffing and recruitment agency, has recently expanded its presence to Lake County by opening a new staffing facility at 8334 Mentor Avenue in Mentor, Ohio.
This new office will offer recruitment and staffing services from the company’s nine business units to individuals in Mentor, Painesville, Willoughby, and the surrounding communities. The Mentor office is the fifth new or expanded office that Alliance Solutions Group has opened in the past year, with earlier expansions taking place in Mahoning Valley, Akron, Elyria and Upper Sandusky, Ohio.
Alliance Solutions Group serves the broadest scope of industries among any staffing recruitment agency in Northeast Ohio, giving its customers single-source convenience across multiple specialties.
Medical Mutual has recently announced several new appointments here in Cleveland — the health insurer has appointed Traci Fabrizi as vice president and corporate controller, Ann Vickers as senior marketing director, Gregory Young as director of strategic initiatives, and welcomes back Debra Green after a year and a half as the director of community
Traci Fabrizi will be responsible for the overall direction of various divisions including corporate financial reporting and forecasting, cost accounting and budget, cashiers, collections, corporate taxation, payroll, self-funded billing, broker administration, and financial analysis. She will also have responsibilities for the Life Group accounting and analysis for the company’s life insurance subsidiary.
With an extensive background in the health insurance industry, Fabrizi’s most recent role was vice president of finance and network at WellCare of Ohio. She also served as the vice president of finance and controller for QualChoice.
Ann Vickers is taking on additional responsibilities in her new position leading the marketing, advertising and corporate identity areas, which provide marketing and communications support to help Medical Mutual meet sales objectives.
Vickers’ new responsibilities include managing the sales and broker special events function, along with coordinating all purchased promotional items across sales and corporate communications. She has also assumed responsibility of the Consumer Advisory Council, and will work to refocus its objectives to better support Medical Mutual’s changing business and the needs of its customers.
Vickers joined the company in 2009 as marketing communications director. Prior to joining Medical Mutual, she was director of marketing and communications for MemberHealth LLC and director of communications for Delphi Packard Electric.
Gregory Young will be responsible for identifying and addressing strategic challenges and opportunities brought about by the quickly evolving health insurance industry. He will also be responsible for monitoring emerging trends and evaluating the impact on the company, and on the marketplace as a whole.
As he has done in his previous role as manager of government relations, Young will continue making presentations about the Affordable Care Act to various internal and external audiences with a focus on the company’s strategic initiatives.
Young joined the company in 2008 and served as government relations senior analyst before being promoted to manager in 2011.
Debra Green rejoins Medical Mutual from the Cleveland Clinic where she served as director of community outreach for the Taussig Cancer Institute. At Medical Mutual, Green will be responsible for developing and executing all community outreach programs and will serve as principal corporate representative in community affairs.
Green began her career with Medical Mutual in 1984 serving in customer service as a generalist in human resources, and later joined corporate communications as senior community relations specialist. She was named manager of community relations within a year of joining the department.
Having employees who tolerate stupidity is literally Phil Libin’s worst nightmare.
“I’ll wake up from a dream in which somewhere, someone at Evernote is working on something right now and they don’t understand why they are doing it — they think it’s stupid. ‘It doesn’t make any sense. It’s dumb. I’m just doing it because somebody told me,’” says Libin, CEO of Evernote Corp., the company responsible for popular Evernote and Skitch applications.
“As soon as you have someone who is doing some work and they don’t understand why they are doing it, then you’re not a start-up anymore. You’re something worse.”
Considering the noteworthy changes that Evernote has gone through over the last two years, it’s no surprise that culture is ingrained in Libin’s mind. Since launching the Evernote product public in 2008, Evernote’s apps have gained fast traction with users who rely on them to organize personal data and information on mobile devices and platforms.
Since 2010, the company has tripled revenue annually while increasing head count from 30 to 250 employees. It also plans to reach a level of 500 employees by the end of 2013.
Taking notes yet?
While Evernote’s success is undeniable, Libin’s permanent challenge is creating what he calls a “100-year start-up” — i.e., maintaining the entrepreneurial culture that makes Evernote great while continuing to grow.
“I want everyone at Evernote, no matter how big we get, to understand why it is that they’re doing something and to see the impact of their work,” Libin says. “If we can maintain that, then we have a good shot of scaling the company in the future.”
Here’s how Libin keeps the entrepreneurial spirit alive at Evernote.
Like many Silicon Valley companies, Evernote offers employees a number of unique perks, including unlimited vacation time and catered lunches. Yet Libin knows enhancing employee productivity isn’t just about add-ons; it’s about removing the obstacles that inhibit people’s success.
“All of our benefits and our office life are structured around this idea that people who are here want to do excellent work, and it’s our job to eliminate any obstacles that get in the way of that,” Libin says. “Whenever we find things that impede people’s natural desire to be productive, we ask if we can eliminate that.”
Libin and his leadership team actively look for ways to make people’s jobs easier on a day-to-day basis, especially when it involves enhancing productivity. It’s why Libin played an active role in designing the company’s new 90,000-square-foot Redwood City, Calif. headquarters, which employees moved into last summer to incorporate features that improve workflow, such as an open work plan to facilitate open communication.
“It’s the first time that we’ve been in a space that we’ve actually designed,” Libin says. “Our previous two offices have been little start-up things — whatever we could afford at the time. This is the first time we’ve had a chance to think about our surroundings a little bit.
“There are a lot of small things. A lot of times you need something from IT. You need a power cord or an adapter or a keyboard or a mouse or a network cable … so you have to track down an IT person and ask them for it, and then they go into the supply closet and get it. Now you’ve tied up two people: the person who wants it and the IT person. It’s a small waste of time, but it’s a waste of time.”
Evernote solved this problem by stocking a vending machine in the cafeteria full of equipment such as headsets, power cords, mics and keyboards, which employees can freely access by swiping a card.
“You decide when you want something, you can go down and get it, but now it takes one person two minutes to do what two people took 20 minutes to do,” Libin says. “So there’s a lot of stuff like that, where it’s something that’s not a huge thing in itself, but it adds up.”
Ideas to improve a culture don’t need to be radical to make an impact on productivity. Removing a small obstacle can actually have huge benefits, especially if it affects a lot of people.
For example, Evernote’s open work plan makes talking on the phone the biggest source of noise for employees throughout the office. So instead of having everyone work around that, Libin and his team decided to do away with desk phones entirely. If someone needs to make a call, they are encouraged to use one of the company’s numerous conference rooms or meeting spaces.
“We find an obstacle and we try to get rid of it,” Libin says. “You can find 100 things like this and it adds up to a culture where people feel like they are trusted and respected. We don’t have to explain to people that you’re only allowed to take one mouse every six months. We don’t have a policy. Take as many as you want.”
Bring on the best
Evernote isn’t Libin’s first time leading a start-up business. Before founding the company in 2007, his career as a successful engineer led him to serve as president and CEO of the software companies Corestreet Ltd. and Engine 5, respectively. In both cases, Libin found that his programming background played a direct role in his leadership style — and not in a good way.
“At my first company, I had this weird idea about people who work for me,” he says. “I thought, well, I can do their job better than they can, but I’m too important. I don’t have enough time.
“So I’d walk around and look at some programmer writing database code, and I would think to myself, I’m a programmer, too. I could write that better than he could, but I don’t have time so we can let him do it. And I’d look at a sales guy working and I’d think, well I could sell the product better, but I don’t have time so let him do it. I’d listen to the receptionist and I would think my phone voice is so much nicer than hers. But I don’t have time to answer the phone so let her do it.”
What Libin realized is that this superior mentality is self-fulfilling, breeding a culture where leaders are always second-guessing and micromanaging their people and where talented people don’t want to work. But if you’re trying to build a 100-year company, this kind of thinking just won’t fly.
“A lot of people instinctively are afraid of hiring people better than them,” Libin says. “So they tend to surround themselves with people who are mediocre. That’s the thing that kills a lot of companies.”
Finding and keeping the right is critical in fulfilling the vision of a 100-year start-up, which is why Libin encourages his direct reports and managers to follow the “hire better than you” philosophy for any position,
“I have to hire people who are so good that they can wind up running the company, and that’s true all the way down the ranks,” Libin says.
“Really embracing that philosophy is the only way I think you can scale and manage and really reduce stress, because anything I’m worried about, I know that there’s a person who’s much smarter than I am in that function, who’s also worried about it but actually in charge of dealing with it.”
Evernote may have a start-up culture, but the company has also come a long way from its start-up roots. In addition to its employees on five floors of its Redwood City office, Libin now leads an organization with offices in Austin, Texas, to Tokyo, Zurich, Moscow and Beijing.
“As we grow to be a bigger company, we’re not 10 nerds anymore,” Libin says. “We have designers. We have marketing people. We have people from all sorts of demographics. We are really broadened, and that broadens the products that we want to work on.”
It also broadens the scope of any given project, which can create a disconnect between a company’s departments, offices or teams.
“Very often in companies, and especially a big company, if you ask an average employee at the company, they kind of feel, ‘Well, I’m doing a job, the five or 10 people that I’m working with and I understand what they’re doing — they’re doing a good job,’” Libin says. “‘But those other guys two floors above me, I have no idea what they do. They’re probably just dumb.’”
One way that Evernote avoids communication and innovation breakdown is through cross-training. Taking a lesson from a friend who is a submarine officer, Libin implemented Evernote’s Officer Training Program, which mimics the idea of officers who must be trained in many different roles.
Each week, employees who sign up for the program are assigned to several random meetings outside of their department where they are encouraged to act as full participants. While the company is currently tweaking the program for simpler execution, the idea is that both the trainee and the group will benefit from the exchange.
“So if you are in IT and you sit in a marketing meeting, you see that the marketing guys do a lot of work, and they have difficult questions and problems,” he says. “It also works the other way, having a person in the room who hasn’t mastered the jargon. You wind up having to speak differently. You wind up having to think about things that you may not have thought about if you’ve been doing this job for 10 years.”
Other ways that Evernote promotes connectivity are using remote-controlled Anybots for telecommunication and video walls and “windows” to connect Evernote’s domestic and international offices. Set up near the coffee machines, the video walls are synced up to mirror Evernote’s different offices at the same time of day.
“When it’s 9 a.m. here and you’re getting coffee, you’re going to see 9 a.m. in Tokyo as somebody is getting coffee,” Libin says. “The point is you can connect with people. You can see who is there. You can see what they are wearing. You can have this ambient feeling because you know that you’re not the only person there. There are people all over the world working at Evernote that are also getting coffee.”
Experimenting with cultural perks, programs and policies should be an ongoing process, and leaders need to be willing to try and fail.
“The basic idea is we want people to be able to connect in as many different ways as possible,” he says. “When I’m traveling out of the office, and I connect to the Anybots, and I drive it around, and point the laser pointer at people, and yell at them to get back to work, everyone loves it.
“There’s no silver bullet. You say the core value is communication, and then you just find ways to make it a really magical experience.” ?
How to reach: Evernote Corp., www.evernote.com
The Libin file
Born: St. Petersburg, Russia
Education: Boston University
Why there’s never been a better time to be in business: I don’t think it’s ever been a better time to have a company, to be in business. This is the best time in the history of the world actually to be trying to build something because it’s much of a meritocracy than it’s ever been. If you build something great and you really focus on building something great then you get massive leverage in everything else because of app stores, smartphones and social media. If you make something great, then everyone is going to know about it. And everyone is going to be able to get it. … All I really want is to make great stuff. And that’s what all the people who work for me want, and it’s enough. It’s enough now to just make great stuff.
Why stress helps: As a CEO, it’s good to have a balanced diet of stress. You stress out about the product. You stress out about the finances. You stress out about improving about the office space. It’s good to have multiple completely different things to worry about and sort of balance those things.
Libin's best business mantra: I think the most important phrase is ‘simple is hard.’ That says a lot of stuff. In all ways it’s better to be simple than complicated, in terms of your product, your benefits, everything you do. You’re much better off being simple; and it’s the hardest thing to do. Always strive for simplicity, but also realize that it’s far harder to make something simple than to make something complicated.
No one said it was going to be easy. Managing others is, in fact, a very difficult process, especially when stress levels are high and you have 37 other urgent tasks to complete that day. No matter the scenario, being a great leader means being a great manager and that takes considerable time, forethought and dedication. Let’s also remind ourselves again that our associates are “the most valuable unlisted asset on our balance sheet.”
Here are a few little known factoids:
? 71 percent of all workers feel stressed.
? 40 percent of adults get less than seven hours of sleep during the weekdays.
? 34 percent of lunches are eaten on the run.
? The average person receives 156 emails per day.
Despite these statistics, the bottom line is that you can get more than these 37 tasks completed and still lead your team to success if you know how to manage them effectively.
The key is finding the time — and the discipline. Time is something we can never get back and is more important than money itself. Here are 10 steps to becoming the leader your associates want to follow:
1. Make the time.
Don’t use time as an excuse or a crutch. Prioritize your calendar to be in alignment with your goals and those of your company. Set two hours each week for strategically “managing” your schedule.
2. Provide direction.
Clearly articulate, in writing, tangible deliverables to your team, complete with timelines. Review those tangibles on a regular basis to hold your associates (and yourself) more accountable.
3. Run effective staff meetings.
Meetings are the bane of our existence — you can’t live with them; you can’t live without them. Keep them focused (one hour or less), keep them interactive and keep them content-rich.
4. Set stretch objectives.
Set high (yet reasonable) goals. Limit the number of homework assignments you assume during a meeting. Again, delegate to allow you, as the leader, to focus on high-level initiatives. By doing so, you will empower those around you.
5. Evaluate your style.
Is it effective? Leaders must create an environment of trust and transparency. And, most importantly, spend more time listening.
6. Inspect what you expect.
Never delegate without management control. Challenge your team with tasks, but circle back to ensure they are getting done.
7. Promote risk taking.
Nothing stifles creativity and growth more than “the traditional leader.” Give your associates permission to push the envelope and to do things differently than you do.
8. Get out of your comfort zone.
Surround yourself with people unlike you. And, with people who have the self-confidence to challenge traditional thinking.
9. Step away from your desk.
Limit the number of meetings in your office; make “house calls” and go to your associate’s office or even the conference room. It will foster open and positive communication.
10. Do what you say you will do.
“Walk the talk” is vital to obtain and retain the trust and respect of your colleagues. You have enormous influence, and it is pivotal to understand this enormous influence you have on people. It all starts with trust and respect.
Managing a team is challenging, but it’s profoundly rewarding if done right. When you find the time to focus on your associates, remember:
? Engaged employees are 3½ times more likely to stay with your company.
? Empowered employees are more productive, creative and resourceful.
? The more you trust your team to do great work, the less stress for everyone.
? The higher the morale, the more fun for everyone.
Once you’ve developed an empowered team you can trust, you will be well on your way to being that leader they will follow.
G. A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company providing professional management services to non-profit organizations since 1886. He can be reached at email@example.com, or for more information, visit www.fernley.com.
Throughout its history, vanpooling has been very good to Ann Fandozzi’s company.
For more than 35 years, VPSI Inc. — which is now branded as vRide — has grown and profited from running vanpools for commuters who want an alternative way to negotiate rush-hour traffic. After becoming the company’s CEO this past June, Fandozzi likely could have continued focusing solely on vRide’s vanpooling expertise with no ill effects to the company’s bottom line.
But Fandozzi saw more. She saw vRide’s potential to grow outward from its staple business, with a goal of becoming a comprehensive commuter solutions company. So Fandozzi challenged her company to expand and employ its expertise in new ways.
“My vision, and something that is palatable for us, is really broadening what we do,” Fandozzi says. “There really isn’t any type of commuter solutions company that does what we do, so that made it kind of exciting.
“When you think about it, we are really at an all-time peak of forces coming together, be it congestion in cities, be it gas prices, be it people’s time worth more of a premium than ever before. All of those forces coming together is something that allows us to come in and really offer a unique solution for commuters.”
To make her vision a reality, Fandozzi has needed to develop and implement a methodical approach that helps vRide — which generated $75 million in 2011 revenue — identify its target customers and create new ways to serve them by employing internal resources in the most effective way possible.
“If you have a commute of, say, 45 minutes or longer, you might come to us because of our vanpooling reputation,” she says. “But as we grow, we’ll be able to offer you a multitude of different solutions. We can certainly still put you in a vanpool, but we might also be able to put you in a carpool if you have a smaller group. No matter the service offering, the goal is commuter focus.”
Form a vision
To expand your company into new areas, you need a reachable vision, guidelines for achieving that vision, building blocks that will help you turn the vision into a reality and metrics that will help you measure your performance in relation to the guidelines and building blocks.
“Your vision has to be both broad and targeted,” Fandozzi says. “It has to be broad enough to capture the various value streams that the business model can deliver but focused enough that you’re not trying to be all things to all people.
“When we thought about broadening our company from a vanpool company to a commuter solutions company, our vision was significantly broader, but it was also very targeted from the sense that we are going to go after commuters and focus on solving their needs.”
To formulate an achievable vision for vRide, Fandozzi and her leadership team had to connect with the needs and pain points of current and potential customers. It required vRide’s representatives to gather customer data and conduct market research with an eye toward finding the holes in the marketplace that vRide could capably fill.
“A lot of it really has to do with delving deep into the customer’s world,” Fandozzi says. “In order to know where you want to go, you really have to take a step back and see what needs there are from a customer standpoint, areas that being underserved, and those are where the juiciest opportunities will usually present themselves. You go where the needs exist and where potential customers are being underserved.
“In our case, we’ve been looking at traffic congestion, people who are becoming frustrated with commute times, the state of the economy and gas prices, and people wanting more money in their pockets,” Fandozzi says. “We know those are the pain points, and from there, we dig a little deeper and get a read on whether we can expect those factors to increase or decrease over time.”
With traffic congestion and high gas prices remaining as fixtures of day-to-day life, Fandozzi’s team felt comfortable building a vision around how to address those needs. Then, she moved her company into the implementation phase.
“You don’t need to know every step of the 100 steps you’re going to take to get from here to there, but in general, you need to have a pretty good plan for how that vision can be achieved,” she says. “For us, a big fundamental building block has been the Web and mobile technology.”
Under Fandozzi’s leadership, vRide has taken steps to create a mobile-device app that can give would-be commuters instant access to potential solutions provided by the company.
“It’s the nature of addressing consumers who are on the go,” Fandozzi says. “You need an on-the-go solution. You need to automate instantaneous answers for consumers. For 35 years as a vanpooling company, that is a competency we didn’t have. So then the question becomes, ‘How do you scale to add those competencies?’”
It was a question of whether vRide needed to add new resources and competencies, or find new ways to utilize what was already in-house. Through rounds of organization analysis, Fandozzi’s team realized the company had a great deal of physical infrastructure already constructed, meaning scalability would be a mixture of the old and new.
It was a matter of creating new technology platforms and plugging them into what already existed in terms of vans, people and facilities.
“Currently, we have more than 5,000 vans, and there is a set of solutions that works really well there,” Fandozzi says. “So the question to the leadership team is, how do those get scaled? Anything from the way the vehicles get serviced and delivered, and anything or everything in between. That is why it really becomes a function of having those building blocks and being very honest with your assessment of whether you have them in-house, versus the items you need to bring in.”
Develop a marketing plan
With a vision and implementation plan in place, you need to get potential customers interested in your organization’s new direction. That is where a comprehensive marketing campaign comes in.
Fandozzi divides vRide’s marketing campaign into various phases focused on educating consumers and driving traffic. Once those phases are fully implemented, marketing can become an effective tool to spur further growth.
“You need to develop a phased marketing strategy that is appropriate for where you are in your development cycle,” Fandozzi says. “For us, we are kind of in a heavy learning mode right now, because we are still in the process of putting our fundamental building blocks in place.
“The next phase is once those building blocks are in place, you want to take what you’ve learned and use it to educate consumers. Then, once everything is place, you can expand your marketing efforts as you grow.
“For instance, we could then say that every man and woman in America who commutes more than 45 minutes to work is our target consumer,” Fandozzi says. “But that is a different kind of marketing effort from where we are now.
“The trick is in knowing what phase you are in at that moment but planning for the next one as you are in the current one.”
Developing a successful marketing effort around your vision often requires a combination of developing internal expertise and utilizing outside resources. Your internal marketing experts have an intimate knowledge of your business and your customer base. Third-party marketing firms will bring an outside perspective, along with data gathering and research capabilities that your company may not possess.
However, Fandozzi says external consultants should not drive your marketing philosophy. Though third-party firms bring useful skills and resources to the table, you and your team know your business the best.
“You want the latest and greatest, but you want it centrally managed with internal resources,” Fandozzi says.
“That is why you assign and train a leader who is centrally responsible for your marketing vision, because that is the person who is going to really understand where you’re going as a company, what building blocks are in place and what phase of marketing you’re going to need to be in for each phase of growth — are you in a heavy learning mode, or a heavy execution mode, and so forth.
“Those are the people who will be in charge of bringing in experts along the way to help them execute on each of those facets.”
If you make a misstep in your marketing, learn from it quickly and correct it — and have those systems in place from the outset.
“You’re testing along the way, fully preparing to fail,” Fandozzi says. “One of the things we do here is we like to learn fast-forward. You want to do something quickly and you want to learn from it quickly. Failure is OK if you learn from it, but you want to do it and correct it quickly. You are trying to fast-forward the entire process so that you develop definite answers on what you can move forward with.”
How to reach: vRide, (248) 597-3500 or www.vride.com
The Fandozzi file
More from Fandozzi on self-assessing as a business: There are several modes of self-assessment. One is having some conversations about just looking in the mirror with the leadership team and saying, ‘Hey, this is where we need to go and this is where we are.’ Another is bringing in experts, because sometimes you need a fresh set of eyes since you are just so close to the business, and it’s tough to see. One of the hallmarks of good leadership is knowing when to ask for help, and looking at experts instead of thinking that you have all the answers.
The third method is looking around at adjacent industries and seeing how they’ve been able to solve similar problems, to also free up your thinking. So, you may be stuck, but they’re going to bring in an expert and give you an expert solution along the lines of how you’re already thinking.
Fandozzi on hiring and retaining top talent: That is always the silver bullet to a business, having the right people. It comes from a multitude of sources. First and foremost, it comes from having the right screening techniques in place to make sure that as we’re bringing in people, they’re the right people. There is a lot of ownership on the part of the leader to make sure the vision is exceptionally clear, that people aren’t hunting in the dark and hoping they find the right answer.
There is a lot of personal ownership, for example, in order to develop and work with my people, I overinvest. People tend to underestimate how much investment this takes, but overinvesting on tools, resources — making sure we’ve put the right metrics in place. Then, it’s taking a step back and seeing if they can do it. It’s guaranteed you are going to make mistakes along the way, but you want those mistakes to be smaller-sized, and you want the wins to be bigger, and you want to course-correct as you go.
2013 CIN Pillar
Pillar Award for Community Service Finalist
vice president of customer care
Victoria’s Secret Direct
(614) 415-7000 | www.victoriassecret.com
Among its many community activities, Victoria’s Secret Direct joined with the Children’s Hunger Alliance to present the first Kids Day Backpack Bash for more than 500 children at Montgomery County Fairgrounds Historic Roundhouse in July 2012. The Kids Day event promoted the USDA Child and Adult Food Program, which provides hot meals and snacks for children ages 5 to 18 at approved after-school program sites during the school year.
In addition, Victoria’s Secret Direct has supported the Children’s Hunger Alliance’s Taste to Remember event since 2006 and contributed almost $34,000 to the event. Other corporate contributions include $95,000 in support of the Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools and Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities initiatives and the Children’s Hunger Alliance’s annual Menu of Hope event.
Each year, Victoria’s Secret Direct hosts Community Cares Week in Dayton. Community Cares Week supports multiple nonprofit organizations in the community with community service hours.
Melanie Rose-Billhardt, vice president of customer care for Victoria’s Secret Direct, has served as chair of the Children’s Hunger Alliance’s Southwest Ohio Regional Board, serving Cincinnati, Dayton and surrounding communities for five years. She also serves on the agency’s governing board.
Rose-Billhardt has worked to raise awareness of the Children’s Hunger Alliance by securing various marketing materials for board members to distribute when introducing the agency to corporate and community members.
She has contributed her time, talent and personal resources to advance the Children’s Hunger Alliance’s mission and vision, and she was instrumental in securing additional corporate funds to support the Kids Day 2012 Backpack Bash.
Pillar Award for Community Service Finalist
Union Savings Bank and Guardian Savings Bank
(513) 247-0300 | www.usavingsbank.com, www.guardiansavingsbank.com
The philosophy at Union Savings Bank and Guardian Savings Bank is straightforward: They get involved in community activities because it’s the right thing to do.
Led by CEO Louis Beck, the company’s service projects are employee-driven. Each month, the company holds an employee action committee meeting open to all employees. Anyone in the company can come and present a project or an organization close to his or her heart that he or she wants the banks to support.
Beck leads the company’s community giving. He is the driving force and sets a strong example through action. He never misses a community action committee meeting and constantly supports, encourages and motivates everyone around him.
The impact that Union Savings Bank and Guardian Savings Bank has on the community is far-reaching. Each year on Thanksgiving, the employees and families of Union and Guardian get together in the morning and carry out a major holiday initiative. They meet at the Kroger grocery store on Ferguson Road, load their cars and then deliver Thanksgiving dinners to needy families all over Cincinnati. Last year, they gave dinners to more than 900 families.
In addition, if not for Union and Guardian’s giving spirit, students at Ethel M. Taylor Academy, Lincoln Heights School and South Avondale School would not have the wealth of school supplies and backpacks the company provides; and the residents at Tender Mercies, a shelter for mentally ill homeless people, would not have Christmas presents and dinners provided by the company’s workers.
Nonprofit Board Executive of the Year Award
Ellen M. Katz
president and CEO
The Children’s Home of Cincinnati
www.thechildrenshomecinti.org | (513) 272-2800
Ellen Katz has been president and CEO of The Children’s Home since 2005, although she has worked with the agency since 1990. During this time, the agency has responded and adapted to the changing needs of children and families in our community and has received local and national recognition for quality service.
Today, Katz is focused on developing the vision and strategy to ensure long-term growth and success for The Children’s Home. She has grown the agency from 189 employees in 2005 to 270 today. That staff runs 25 programs and related activities serving 6,000 clients annually, up from 1,200 clients in 2005.
Under Katz’s leadership The Children’s Home of Cincinnati has seen its assets and endowment grow from $70 million to more than $81 million and its budget increase from $13 million to $19 million. Her work has impacted the community, helping thousands of children overcome significant behavioral and educational challenges.
Katz’s leadership has propelled The Children’s Home into a flexible, innovative organization that consistently responds to the ever-changing needs of vulnerable children and their families. She utilizes unique management techniques and processes, effectively harnessing for-profit business to help the 148-year-old agency adapt to changing economic circumstances.
These kinds of collaborations have resulted in higher quality and an increased impact of services, greater presence in the community and in increase in funding opportunities, as well as decreased duplication of community services and a better capacity to serve children with the greatest needs.