Cincinnati (1116)

Ronald Reagan was well known for not only his confidence but also his positive outlook and sense of humor. He had a way of never taking himself seriously and always found a way to find humor even during the direst times.

In fact, following the assassination attempt, he told his wife, “Honey, I forgot to duck.”

His constant positive outlook made him appealing to voters and is one of the reasons he continues to score high in polls ranking presidents.

Do we approach life and leadership the same way that Reagan did? Do we always take a positive outlook into the start of each day?

Some CEOs act as if being in charge makes them a victim and complain of the burden. Leadership is a privilege that all of us should learn to enjoy. We have to train ourselves to enjoy the process, not just the end result.

Let’s take some time to reflect on the victories, no matter how small, and celebrate them. Learn to reflect on the great clients we have and the great people who work for us instead of focusing on the one unhappy customer or an employee with a bad attitude. But most importantly, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

Each day that passes is a day that we do not get back. We have to look at each day as a series of moments and find the happy things that put joy in our life.

These can be simple things — a funny comment from your child, something silly you heard on the radio or a bright, sunny day. When we start focusing on these small joys in life and start stringing them together, we’ll find that an entire day has become joyous. Enjoy the time you are in now and don’t spend so much time fretting about tomorrow. Be intentional: Start by writing down four little things a day at work that bring you joy on a daily basis and build from there. This can even be a conversation around the watercooler that makes you laugh. String together a few days like this, and we are well on our way to a more joyous life.

By developing this habit, we will be more inclined to treat people better, and they, in turn, will treat others better, which will increase the overall positive culture of our workforce. The work environment is a bigger factor in why employees leave than money is, so focusing on providing a more joyful environment will also help your business in the end.

Whether in business or in life, it all comes down to being joyful. Happiness is fleeting based on circumstances, but joy becomes permanent once we have cultivated it. Start by focusing on the little joys and build from there. Remember, people won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you treated them.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.

The more there is available of something, the less it costs. Conversely, when there’s a limited quantity of that same something, the more it’s coveted and the more expensive it is. This is a rudimentary concept, but few companies know how to effectively manage the process to ensure they balance supply with demand in order to maintain or improve the profitability of a product or service. Of course, before you can maximize profitability, you must have something customers want, sometimes even before they know they need it.

Think about precious metals, fine diamonds and even stocks. The beauty and a portion of the intrinsic value of these things are effectively in the eyes of the beholder. In reality, much of their value or price is determined by the ease or difficulty of obtaining them.

As for equities, as soon as everyone who can own a given stock has bought it, then, in many cases, the only direction that stock can take is down because there are simply more sellers than buyers. On the flip side, when few people own a stock but everybody decides they want it, for whatever the reason, that stock may take a precipitous upward trajectory.

A case in point is Apple. At one time, when its per-share price was more than $400, $500 and even $600, everyone thought the sky was the limit and the majority of institutional funds and many home gamers, aka small individual investors, jumped on the bandwagon. The stock reached $705 a share in the fall of 2012, and just when all of the market prognosticators were screaming, “Buy, buy, buy,” there were too few buyers left (because everyone already owned it) and the stock fell out of bed. In many respects, Apple was still the same great company with world-class products, but there were simply more sellers than buyers and — poof — the share price evaporated, sending this once high-flying growth stock to the woodshed for a real thrashing.

The question for your business is how can you manage the availability of your goods or services to maximize profit margins? The oversimplified answer is once you have something of value, make sure that you create the appropriate amount of tension, be it requiring a waiting list to obtain the product or service or underproducing the item to create a backlog. However, this is a delicate balancing act, because if it’s too hard to get, then customers will quickly find an alternative, and your product will become yesterday’s news.

Some very high-end fashion houses, such as Chanel, have it down to a science. It can be very difficult to walk into a marquis retailer today and obtain one of its satchels without being made to jump through waiting-game hoops, just for the privilege of giving the store your money in exchange for the fancy schmancy bag. That stimulates demand and keeps the price up because customers tend to want something they can’t seem to get.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

A unique new book with an unorthodox, yet proven approach to achieving extraordinary success.

What does it take to grow rapidly and effectively from mind to market?

This book offers an unconventional philosophy for starting and building a business that exceeds your own expectations.

Beating the competition is never easy. That’s why it requires a benevolent dictator.

Published by John Wiley & Sons. AVAILABLE NOW! Order online now at: www.thebenevolentdictator.biz

Monday, 01 April 2013 08:37

How to create a happy workplace

Written by

Business leaders understand the value of employee engagement, yet many have been slow to implement plans within their organizations.

“It’s interesting that 75 percent of leaders have no engagement strategy, even though 90 percent say it has a positive impact on business success. So while they think it’s important, they’re not actively engaged in affecting change. I think they don’t fully understand the impact it can make on the bottom line,” says Beth Thomas, executive vice president and managing director of consulting services at Sequent.

She says employee engagement is about creating an environment where employees understand the company’s values and what is expected of them, and are committed and dedicated to their work.

“Employee engagement is probably the biggest reason why companies are successful. Engaged employees generate 40 percent more revenues than disengaged ones and are 87 percent less likely to leave an organization,” says Thomas.

Smart Business spoke with Thomas about ways to boost employee engagement and the impact it can have on an organization.

What can companies do to foster employee engagement?

There are five keys to creating conditions for thriving, engaged employees:

  • Empowering employees. No one wants to be micro-managed; they want to feel that what they bring to the table is valued. They were hired for a reason — let them do that job.

  • Sharing information. People get anxious and disconnected when there are a lot of closed-door leadership meetings. Create a connection by bringing employees into the growth of the company with quarterly or town hall meetings.

  • Minimizing toxic behavior and negative feedback. Hire the right talent that will fit the culture and bring positivity. Then hold employees accountable to the values and expectations of the organization.

  • Offering performance feedback. Everyone wants to know how he or she is doing, and it shouldn’t be just once a year. Empower them and let them know they’re in charge of their careers, and can move forward if they are motivated and dedicated.

  • Appreciating employee value through reward and recognition. Have an employee of the month award and profile that person because people will want to emulate what they are doing. Make it very clear what is needed in order to be successful and profile those behaviors, characteristics and performance standards so everyone knows what is valued. That includes recognizing all the qualities that are valued; it doesn’t have to be based on the same performance. An employee might not be a high-powered salesperson bringing in six-figure deals every month, but might be the most positive person in the office and contributes to the organization’s culture.

Does employee engagement start with the hiring process?

Absolutely. When you are hiring people, it’s just as important to assess their ‘soft skills’ as their knowledge, skills and abilities. It’s more difficult to train people to be team players. Having the personality to go above and beyond to meet a customer’s needs or to be a trusted adviser is a soft skill that is largely innate and takes a lifetime to build. It’s important to evaluate those qualities to ensure they match the organization’s culture beyond the skills they bring.

Is it the workplace culture that promotes engagement?

Yes, it’s about the culture, but also all the employees and the leaders. It’s important for employees to ‘hang with the gang that gets it’ — those people at work who are successful — steal shamelessly and emulate what they do. Conversely, when employees hang with the people who are negative and contribute to toxic behavior, leadership sees them as being one of them, even if they’re not participating in those activities.

Engagement goes hand in hand with happiness. In a work context, happiness is about finding what in your career makes you happy. While it may sound trite, happiness leads to engagement in your work, which motivates you to give 110 percent or more discretionary effort. This is what contributes to business success, not only boosting your own career but at the same time increasing the company’s bottom line. Who wouldn’t want that?

Beth Thomas is an executive vice president, managing director of Consulting Services and author of “Powered By Happy” at Sequent. Reach her at bthomas@sequent.biz.

 

Event: Get your company “Powered by Happy” with the employee engagement workshop.

 

Insights HR Outsourcing is brought to you by Sequent

What is economic freedom? It’s the ability to decide how to produce, sell and consume without unnecessary government interference. Economic freedom powers prosperity and is the key to greater opportunity, more jobs and a better quality of life for all Ohioans.

Since 1893, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce has been aggressively championing free enterprise, economic competitiveness and growth for the benefit of all Ohioans. Our united voice in the state’s legislative matters speaks for the thousands of individual businesses that we represent, thus strengthening the business climate in Ohio.

At the beginning of each new General Assembly, the Ohio Chamber crafts a legislative agenda. These are the goals that our governmental affairs team will strive to achieve in the next two years. These goals help us to fulfill our mission of improving our state for the benefit of all Ohioans.

With an unwavering focus on improving Ohio’s economy and a thorough understanding of the need for public policy supporting business growth and job creation, policymakers tackled many long-ignored problems in state government during 2011-12. And the result has been an improving business climate, a healthier economy and fewer unemployed Ohioans.

Now, we must build upon this positive momentum to further boost Ohio’s economic recovery. More still needs to be done to enhance the ability of Ohio businesses to compete, and we must not allow the state government to return to the old ways of doing business.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s 2013-14 public policy priorities reflect an emphasis on these goals, and all our priorities serve to advance the important objective of fostering economic freedom. We are committed to working with lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich’s administration during the 130th Ohio General Assembly to achieve an enduring economic renewal through the following:

 

Affordable energy

Maximize the economic potential of Ohio’s domestic energy resources and cultivate a diverse portfolio of energy sources and technologies.

 

Business costs

Unleash the job-creating potential of Ohio employers by reducing the cost and complexity of doing business in the state.

 

Government mandates

Provide businesses with the freedom and flexibility to operate and innovate without intrusive government mandates.

 

Government red tape

Maximize regulatory benefits in the most cost-effective manner.

 

Legal environment

Enhance and protect a fair and predictable civil justice system with common-sense reforms that control litigation costs and eliminate lawsuit abuse.

 

State constitutional reform

Modernize Ohio’s system of government and safeguard the Ohio Constitution from abuse by special interests.

Tax climate

Foster a more competitive tax system that encourages business investment, expansion and location.

 

Transforming government

Improve government efficiency, effectiveness and accountability to achieve better results at a lower cost to taxpayers.

 

Workforce excellence

Strengthen the link between education and workforce development programs and the skills needed by employers in today’s competitive, mobile and high-tech economy.

As the voice for business in Ohio and the state’s most diverse business advocacy group, the Ohio Chamber has several information outlets. Follow the Ohio Chamber of Commerce on Facebook (search Ohio Chamber), Twitter @OhioChamber and on the Web at www.ohiochamber.com. The Chamber’s blog “Talking Policy” reports on legislative and regulatory issues that impact Ohio’s business community. The “Ohio Pro-Biz Politics” blog follows Ohio’s political happenings. ?

 

Keith Lake is the vice president of government affairs for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. He oversees the day-to-day operations of the Ohio Chamber’s legislative advocacy program, directs the activities of the lobbying team, follows health care legislation and oversees the political and grassroots programs. Lake is also the principal contact for members of the Ohio House and Senate. He can be reached at klake@ohiochamber.com or (614) 228-4201.

Decent bosses typically try to lead by example. As a leader, you must model appropriate behavior to promote the greater good and to send a constant message with teeth in it.

The French term “esprit de corps” is used to express a sense of unity, common interest and purpose, as developed among associates in a task, cause or enterprise. Sports teams and the military adopt the sometimes-overused cliché, “One for all and all for one.” “Semper Fi” is the Marine Corps’ motto for “always faithful.” We commonly hear, “We’re only as strong as our weakest link.”

However, the real test of team-building and motivational sayings is that they are good only when they move from an HR/PR catchphrase to a way of doing business — every day.

As soon as you put two or more people in the same room, a whole new set of factors comes into play, including jealousy, illogical pettiness and one-upmanship, all of which can lead to conflicts that obstruct the goals at hand. Certainly, much of this is caused by runaway egos. Perhaps a little bit of it is biological, but most of it is fueled by poor leadership. Everyone has his or her own objective and it’s the boss’s responsibility to know how to funnel diverse personal goals in order to keep everyone on track. This prevents employees from straying from the target and helps avoid major derailments. Essentially, it all gets down to the boss leading by example with a firm hand, understanding people’s motives and a lot of practicing “Do as I say and as I really do myself.”

Communicating by one’s actions can be very powerful. A good method to set the right tone is stepping in and lending a hand, sometimes in unexpected and dramatic ways. This shows the team that you govern yourself as you expect each of them to govern their own behavior. In my enterprises, I constantly tell my colleagues that the title following each person’s name boils down to these three critical words: “Whatever it takes.” Certainly, I bestow prefixes to this one-size-fits-all, three-word title, such as vice president or manager, but I consider these as window dressing only.

After speeches, when I explain this universal job description, I always get questions from the audience about how I communicate this concept. I follow with a real-life experience that played out in the first few months after I started OfficeMax. As a new company, we had precious, little money, never enough time and only so much energy, which we preserved as our most valuable assets in order to be able to continually fight another day.

In those early days, too frequently, I would see what looked like a plumber come into the office, go into the restroom and emerge a few minutes later presenting what I surmised to be a bill to our controller. I knew whatever he was doing was costing us money and probably not building value. The third time he showed up, in as many weeks, I immediately followed him into the restroom (much to his shock and consternation). I asked him what in the world kept bringing him back. He then proceeded to remove the john’s lid and give me a tutorial on how to bend the float ball for it to function properly. That was the last time anyone ever saw this earnest workman on our premises. Instead, after making known my newly acquired skill, whenever the toilet stopped working, I became the go-to guy.

This became an object lesson to my team about how to save money. At that time, 50 bucks a pop was a fortune to us. It got down to people knowing that all of us in this nascent start-up were expected to live up to their real, three-word title. This was our version of how to build esprit de corps. Others began boastfully relaying their own unique “whatever it takes” actions, and it became our way of doing business.

The lesson I learned in those early days was that it wasn’t always what I said that was important but rather what I did that made an indelible impression. A leader’s actions, with emphasis on the occasionally unorthodox to make them memorable, are the ingredients that contribute to molding a company’s culture.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

A unique new book with an unorthodox, yet proven approach to achieving extraordinary success.

What does it take to grow rapidly and effectively from mind to market?

This book offers an unconventional philosophy for starting and building a business that exceeds your own expectations.

Beating the competition is never easy. That’s why it requires a benevolent dictator.

Published by John Wiley & Sons. AVAILABLE NOW! Order online now at: www.thebenevolentdictator.biz

Also available wherever books and eBooks are sold, and from Smart Business Magazine and www.SBNOnline.com. Contact Dustin S. Klein of Smart Business at (800) 988-4726 for bulk order special pricing.

Friday, 08 March 2013 17:08

How to get your marketing messages aligned

Written by

When sales and marketing departments get together to position a product, new or existing, in the marketplace, it is often a challenge to get both parties to agree on what should be a product’s messaging.

While both parties bring great ideas to the table and a business case can often be made for why their ideas should be given importance, there are a few things that should always be considered as a part of a product’s key message — and some that should never be a part of that message.

 

WII-FM

They often say that a customer’s favorite radio station is WII-FM — “What’s in it for me?” When it comes to technology, this is doubly important, especially as more individuals get involved with the buy cycle.

A salesperson no longer speaks to a room full of tech experts and a few executives that must sign off on the sale. Today, the salesperson may be speaking to business users prior to ever coming in contact with the information technology side of a company.

These users might not know what the brand new development you’ve implemented behind the scenes of your product means. They won’t care if it’s built on the latest and greatest platform. Instead, they want to know what your product being built on the latest and greatest platform means to them.

In this instance, case studies and customer success stories are of tantamount importance. A salesperson needs to have these pieces with key messaging about how the product has helped other similar businesses and how it could potentially help theirs.

 

Features and functions

But just because a salesperson might be speaking to more people in a company during a sale doesn’t mean they can only focus on the aspirational nature of their product. There will still be people involved in the technical side of a company who need to know whether or not your product can integrate with the systems they currently have in place.

These individuals will be seeking information about the features and functions of your product. They will want to see those latest and greatest improvements and innovations in your product. But they are heavy investors in WII-FM.

They are seeking the same answers to “What’s in it for me?” but with a different focus on how a product will benefit them.

Because of this dual focus on needing to know the technical aspects of a product but also seeking to meet personal and business goals, these features and functions cannot be the main focus of a product’s messaging. It, like case studies and success stories, needs to be a piece of the message of a product when it is taken to market.

 

Price is never a feature

One thing that should obviously be included in discussions during a sales cycle but should never be considered part of the WII-FM or features and functions is price. Both sales and marketing often want to focus on the price as a benefit of a product. It is frequently seen as a cost benefit that the purchasing company would be receiving the great software, the great support and the huge benefits to their company and selves for the “small price” charged.

This is why the key message of any product, new or existing, in the marketplace needs to be value — the value you bring to a company, the value you bring to a customer, the value you bring to their existing systems. If you convince them that you’re the most valuable offering in the marketplace then price is not an issue. Every product message needs to further the value of that product in the marketplace.

 

Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and insurance. http://tomnies.cincom.com/about.

For Chuck Shive, coming to Mikesell’s Snack Foods Co. was an opportunity to get into a different industry and utilize his background to make a difference. He entered Mikesell’s as the executive vice president of marketing, looking to upgrade a more than 100-year-old potato chip brand.

Not long after Shive started, the company’s CEO, David Ray, retired and Shive made the leap to president and CEO in May 2012, becoming only the fourth CEO in history of the company, a 180-employee organization with annual revenues of more than $40 million.

Once he was in the top spot, he turned his attention to building on the company’s strengths while also taking the opportunity to rebrand outdated packaging and also introduced new flavors of chips.

“It was an opportunity to take the equities that the brand has and build on those,” Shive says. “We didn’t want to touch the quality of the product, because in 100 years we’ve learned how to make it pretty well over here, but we wanted to take a look at the packaging and differentiate it and emphasize our premium product.”

While Shive and his team at Mikesell’s believe they have the best chip in the marketplace, the branding and packaging didn’t reflect that. Shive set out to make some overdue changes and upgrades.

“The keys were building on the strengths that we do have, but also looking at the challenges and opportunities going forward and being willing to address those rather quickly so we could establish our new strategic direction going forward and get that in front of our employees and in front of our partners and make sure it was a dynamic transition as it was happening,” Shive says.

Here is how Shive combined company strengths with new ideas to improve a more than 100-year-old brand.

Find your direction

Undertaking a challenge such as rebranding a company, not to mention one with a rich history, is a daunting task. Shive had to make sure he did his due diligence before moving forward with ideas.

“You have to ask a lot of questions,” Shive says. “Ask a lot of questions with your team, with your employees and with your suppliers. How do they view the company? How do they see the strengths and weaknesses of the company? What are the opportunities going forward? What are the great ideas?”

Mikesell’s received a lot of ideas from its employees over the past year and especially since Shive has been in charge. The company executes on the ideas that make sense and will move the business forward.

“There’s a lot of good institutional knowledge among partners and employees that all you have to do is ask and they’re willing to share that information and ideas,” he says.

Sitting in the CEO chair, Shive had his own ideas about where he wanted to lead the company.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there and some are opportunities that make sense for you and some don’t,” he says. “You’re going to understand that as you move forward and move through the planning process and strategy development process and then the execution around that strategy.”

While Shive had his own ideas about direction, that doesn’t mean he ignored others’ input in the decision process.

“It is a balance,” he says. “You strategically have an idea of where you want to go and through asking a lot of good questions and getting a lot of good feedback and working with your executive team and others, you refine that strategy based on what is realistic to expect and execute going forward.

“At the same time if you believe in your strategy, your team and employees, and the company understands what that strategy is and you’ve communicated it well enough, then it becomes time to implement it and execute it.”

Define your brand

To execute on the direction Shive wanted to take the company moving forward, he sat down and discussed how they wanted the new branding to look and what the challenges and opportunities would be.

“We basically took an overall review of our branding as a company, our branding on our packaging and what the strong points were that we wanted to keep and what we thought we could do better with going forward,” Shive says. “Some of the key equities of the brand and packaging that we have is, No. 1, our name.

“Mikesells is an iconic brand for this region, so we didn’t want to touch that to any degree, but we wanted to refresh the small town feel that we have.”

Mikesell’s old packaging as well as some of its competitor’s old packaging was what Shive calls “old foil cartoon-looking packaging.” Mikesell’s made subtle switches such as moving from a foil bag to a matte-finish bag, which gave the product a much more premium look and feel in the marketplace.

The company also cleaned up some of its messaging that has appeared on the packaging since 1910. The slogan changed from, ‘They are delicious’ to ‘Creating delicious since 1910.’

“We went through that process and some consumer testing and reviewing with the steps along the way to make sure we were making the right moves and that consumers were delighted by the new packaging we were coming out with,” he says. “Then it just became the process of implementing that with our packaging partners to bring the new branding to life on the new bags.”

The company also took the opportunity to find what differentiates Mikesell’s from its competitors in the snack food arena.

“It’s not our packaging, it’s our product, but with our old packaging you really didn’t get a look and feel of what our product was,” Shive says. “You didn’t see the actual appetite appeal that our product has, so we wanted to emphasize that on the new packaging moving forward.”

Mikesell’s strength was its product and the rebranding of its packaging helped to emphasize how good the product really was.

“A lot of people may look at a brand change as an opportunity to correct weaknesses, but for us we look at it as an opportunity to build on the strengths that we have,” he says. “That’s a more proactive than reactive approach to take to it.”

Building on those strengths allowed Shive and Mikesell’s to develop a newer brand that will help push the company forward for many years.

“It’s about getting to an area that you’re really comfortable with that you’ve kept the soul of the brand and enhanced it to where it meets what you’re looking for going forward,” he says. “It’s not a quick fix. Our point of rebranding and upgrading our packaging was not so we could do it every couple of years.”

Add new products

Once the new branding had been put in place, Shive kept busy last summer by also adding new products to the company’s line of potato chips. Mikesell’s introduced a sweet chili and sour cream flavor and a Tuscan spice flavor.

“We wanted to put flavors in there that matched consumer wants and desires,” Shive says. “These are the first new flavors we’ve added in more than five years. We’re constantly reviewing what our offerings are and whether we see any need for new products out there.”

Mikesell’s is always consulting its employees, consumer feedback and its partners to help drive new product decisions.

“We get to try new flavors constantly,” he says. “We take them through a process where we rank them versus existing flavors or rank them on the taste qualities and expectations of a particular flavor going forward.

“If we have a particular item out there where it doesn’t seem like we made the right decision for what the consumer was looking for, then we’ll look at moving that out and replacing it with a new flavor or new offering.”

One of the reasons Mikesell’s released these two new flavors was because it had been a while since the company had new offerings out in the market.

“By the nature of the business, consumers are looking for new, different flavors and we’re making a conscious effort to be a little more responsive to that,” Shive says.

Releasing new products that make an immediate impact is a game of hit or miss.

“You want to do all of your due diligence and define what that product is going to be based on robust consumer and market research,” he says. “Then you have to follow through with it and be prepared to support it when you bring it out.

“A lot of people want every single item or product that they introduce to be a home run and that’s just not going to happen. You have to go in knowing that and expecting that. You take the learning’s from that, and you apply them to the next one.”

How to reach: Mikesell’s Snack Foods Co., (937) 228-9400 or www.mike-sells.com

Takeaways

Gather input for any new direction of your business.

Build on strengths, don’t correct weaknesses.

Do consumer and market research surrounding new product releases.

The Shive File

Chuck Shive

President and CEO

Mikesell’s Snack Foods Co.

Born: Vicksburg, Miss.

Education: Graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a B.S. in business administration

Sports: He was a pitcher at Southern Miss from 1987-89. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies and spent one year in their minor league system. “All I ever wanted to do was be a professional baseball player, and I got to do it for a little bit.”

What was your very first job, and what did you learn from that experience?

One of my first jobs was working in a production plant on a production line grabbing containers of pesticides and sticking them into boxes for eight hours a day. What I learned was in that line, nobody is independent from anybody else. In what is considered a basic menial job, you’re still dependent on the guy to your right and the guy to your left to make sure that the line ran correctly.

From the earliest job that you could have, even to the role I’m in now, you’re still reliant on interactions with other people.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?

None of us is smarter than all of us collectively. The collective wisdom of a group outshines any individual wisdom.

What is your favorite Mikesell’s product?

It’s tough to pick among them, but I’m a big fan of the new sweet chili and sour cream chips. A close second would be our bold Bahama barbecue kettle chips. I like spice and flavor.

What are you most excited for about the future of the company?

Where we are today there’s still so many growth opportunities out there that we haven’t tapped and putting our strategy in motion to go out and attack those growth opportunities is what gets me going every day.

Steve Jobs was the master of spotting trends and the opportunities that go with them. He was so good at it that he could see trends when they were still in their infancy. This allowed him to create products that kept his company at the front of the waves of change and ultimately drove massive profits and stock growth for Apple.

While not many people possess the uncanny sixth sense that Jobs had, it’s important to spend time studying your industry and what’s happening at various levels, from customers to suppliers to competitors.

You need to recognize when the trend is pushing positive growth and when it’s not. The additional challenge is to know the difference between a trend and a fad. A trend is more long-lived and drives a lot of long-term opportunity, while a fad tends to burn out quickly. This isn’t to say that trends last forever, because they don’t. An important part of studying trends is to know when to jump off the wagon and find the next opportunity, because if you ride a trend too far, you may find yourself in a rapidly declining industry or an area of waning interest.

For example, Y2K was a fad. For those who don’t remember, the Y2K boom was caused by old computers that only saw years as two digits instead of four, and widespread computer issues were predicted if systems weren’t upgraded. A giant boom in computer consulting and sales resulted from this issue, but it was short-lived. The moment 2000 rolled around, the need for Y2K upgrades dried up.

The dot-com boom, which was partly fueled by Y2K, was a trend. For a number of years, a ridiculous amount of money was being thrown at any project that contained the word “Internet,” regardless of its business model or competitive factors. While it was active, there were plenty of online growth opportunities for businesses to take advantage of.

Those who recognized the trend were able to capitalize on it, and more importantly, those who recognized the end of the trend were able to cash out before it went bust. Not every trend will be as big as the dot-com boom, and depending on your industry, they may not be so obvious.

Finding and recognizing trends starts with studying your industry. You need to stay in tune with what’s happening with competitors and constantly read about not only your industry but related ones as well. Talk to suppliers and vendors to get their opinions as to what direction your markets may be headed. But the most important thing may be to have an open mind. Don’t assume that because something hasn’t changed for 20 years that it isn’t ever going to change.

With an open mind, you are more likely to recognize an emerging trend before everyone else has rushed to capitalize on it, putting you ahead of the curve. Once you are exploiting a trend, you have to be equally diligent to know when it’s going to end, and that’s done in a similar fashion to identifying it in the first place: Stay plugged in to your industry.

These are exciting times and change is all around us. Look for the hidden clues that can lead you to the next big opportunity, and never stop challenging your own beliefs. The CEOs who do the best over time are the ones who don’t accept the status quo.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.

Employers are scrambling to figure out the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) on their business and whether it makes sense to “pay or play” when it comes to providing health insurance coverage for employees.

“Pay or play regulations were released Dec. 28, so we’re all trying to digest this. Employers want to know what the rules mean for them,” says Dwight Seeley, vice president of Employee Benefit Programs at Sequent. “I have several meetings scheduled to review the math of the penalty phase with companies so they know where they stand.”

Smart Business spoke with Seeley about the pay or play provisions under PPACA and what employers need to do in preparation for the Jan. 1, 2014, start of health care exchanges.

How do companies prepare?

They need to determine answers to these questions:

  • Do they have a general understanding of pay or play?

  • Are they considered a large employer?

  • Will any employees receive federally subsidized exchange coverage?

  • Does the company plan offer minimum essential coverage?

  • Does the plan provide minimum value?

  • Is the plan affordable?

  • What penalties could apply and what is the potential cost?

First off, pay or play applies to employers with at least 50 full-time or full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, so you have to determine if that applies to you. PPACA rules are different from those of the IRS. Under PPACA, a full-time equivalent is considered 120 hours per month, 30 hours per week. There’s a fairly detailed structure for measuring FTEs based on employees with variable hours, seasonal employees, etc. Companies that have variable schedule employees, part-timers or a lot of seasonal employees are going to be challenged to determine how many FTEs they have.

If you have 50 or more FTEs, what do you need to do to avoid penalties?

Businesses can avoid penalties by providing minimum essential coverage with a plan that offers at least minimum value and is affordable. No guidance has been given on minimal essential coverage but there’s a general idea of what it’s going to look like based on industry standards.

Once you’ve established that a plan provides minimal essential coverage, you then look at whether it meets the minimum value requirement and if it’s affordable. It’s considered poor if it pays less than 60 percent of total benefits under the plan. To be affordable, it has to cost less than 9.5 percent of an employee’s household income.

What are the potential penalties?

If you do not offer coverage and at least one full-time employee receives a federal subsidy, the tax is $2,000 per the number of full-time employees minus the first 30. An employee can get a subsidy if their income is between 100 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level — about $92,000 for a family of four.

If you offer coverage that’s considered unaffordable and at least one full-time employee receives a federal subsidy, the annual tax is the lesser of $3,000 per subsidized full-time employee or $2,000 for all full-time employees.

Should some employers drop health care coverage and pay the penalties?

Studies corroborate the fact that a lot of employers feel they still need to offer health insurance as a differentiator and as a recruitment and retention strategy. What they want is to get the numbers straight in order to make an informed decision. That means going through the penalty scenarios and working out the math. Any penalties will not be deductible or tax favored, whereas the health insurance you’re providing is tax favored, so you have to calculate the impact from pre-tax and post-tax perspectives.

One other challenge that’s not being talked about is the cost companies are going to incur to implement the administrative changes required by the law. They’re going to have to put in new processes to allow easy access to data the way it is defined by the PPACA, such as an ongoing way to monitor the number of FTEs.

The published regulations contain many detailed examples so there has been an attempt to provide direction. Still, the sheer volume and complexity make it a lot to absorb.

Dwight Seeley is a vice president, Employee Benefit Programs, at Sequent. Reach him at (614) 839-4059 or dseeley@sequent.biz.

 

Save the date: Learn about the changing landscape of health care reform. Register for the March 19  Pay or Play Webinar at http://bit.ly/XFjwB3.

 

Insights HR Outsourcing is brought to you by Sequent

 

There are market cycles in every industry, and insurance is no exception. But you don’t have to just take what the market brings you. Jonathan Theders, president of Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc., says the market cycle is only half of the pricing equation.

“You can’t control the market itself — storms are going to occur, natural disasters are going to cause pricing to change,” Theders says. “You have to focus on what you can do to differentiate your business and make yourself stand out.”

Smart Business spoke with Theders about how to position your business for success in the hardening insurance market.

How is the insurance market cycle determined?

There are two types of markets — soft and hard. In a soft market, premiums are stable or decreasing, and insurance is readily available. There is a lot of competition.

A hard market is the converse to that. Pricing goes up, it’s harder to find coverage, there are fewer competitors in the marketplace and there is an increase in claim activity across the board.

Economic downturns, natural disasters, and supply and demand all determine whether a market will be hard or soft.

Pricing cycles differ across the U.S. They are based geographically and also by type of coverage. For example, cyber liability used to be very expensive, but it’s gotten more competitive because there is more supply out there. You’re adding more competitors and it’s driving down the cost. You can see the converse of that in the workers’ compensation arena. You’re seeing higher than normal claim frequency. The result is increased pricing in that area across the board.

How can businesses control these costs?

Instituting safety prevention programs, managing your claims efficiently and employing various cost containment strategies can control these price fluctuations.

Look for ways to show how you stand out from the rest of your industry. You do that with a consultative approach. That involves not just looking at how you buy insurance, but also spending time identifying exposures you have to loss, finding solutions, and improving your disaster response and contingency plan.

Focus on building a culture of safety, constantly seeking continuous improvement. If you approach it like long-term cost control instead of just riding these cycles, you’re always in a better position to secure your coverage at the best price. Don’t let the market cycle dictate you. Dictate your own cycle based on what you’re doing.

Why is it important to dictate your own cycle?

When pricing decreases and you don’t have to work hard to get insurance, businesses are often unwilling to spend resources on risk management and loss control. They see insurance costs dropping, so they don’t understand the need to spend resources on something that is already under control. But that reduction in price during a soft market is setting that business up for a huge shock when the market changes, because it is not doing what it takes to differentiate and increase its risk profile.

Your risk profile encompasses your specific industry, issues, your building and the way it’s protected or not, and your policies and procedures. If you focus on risk profile improvement, you improve the way you look to an underwriter.

Then, take it one more step: Communicate all the things you’re doing. That guarantees a differentiation in the marketplace. A lot of companies do great things safety-wise. Very few are good at communicating those things to their insurance carrier. They may be doing great things already, but nobody knows about them.

Jonathan Theders is the president of Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. Reach him at (513) 779-2800 or jtheders@ctia.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc.