If you stop for a moment to think about all of the risks your business is potentially exposed to, the list can be mind-boggling. A customer could not pay you for a large order. Your building could burn down. An employee could be involved in an accident resulting in a lawsuit. Your financial data could be stolen. The list goes on and on.
Because most CEOs prefer to focus on the positives and the growth that goes with it, many areas of risk are often overlooked or ignored. Industry experts will tell you that you need to be reviewing your risk exposure in all areas at least once a year. This should involve a comprehensive look at your entire business and involve all of your top people as well as your insurance agent or some other outside expert who can help guide you through the process.
As CEO, you need to not only ask the right questions to protect the business and those who work for you, you also need to follow up everything in writing to make sure there is a paper trail in the event that something goes wrong.
There are companies out there that market themselves as risk management specialists. Most are reputable and qualified, but some are nothing more than a marketing slogan. Odds are, you probably don’t have a risk management expert in-house. If your agent or broker isn’t interested in helping you with your annual risk review or doesn’t have anything to contribute that might be a sign the person is in over his or her head and you may need to look for a firm with expertise that better matches your needs.
As companies grow, it’s easy to outgrow your experts. Your needs as a midmarket company may be completely different than what you needed as a small company, and the experts who were so vital in the early days of the company may no longer have the expertise you need to go to the next level. It can be hard to make these changes, because a lot of times these experts are also your friends or people you have had a long-standing relationship with. But as CEO, you need to do what’s best for your company. If the friend has the experience and expertise, then great. But if not, you owe it to yourself and your company to find someone who can help you manage the risks that your growing business faces.
Once you find someone, make sure everything you discuss actually makes it into your policy. Have the person show you where in the policy each item is and make sure it reflects a coverage level that you are comfortable with. You should also expect comparisons of what coverage other companies that are similar to yours have so you can see how your package stacks up with the competition. Ask for the pros and cons of getting coverage for each area of risk you face.
There are many areas that you could handle on your own and won’t need to buy coverage. But others will pose so much financial risk that it’s not worth gambling your business just to save a few dollars in the short term.
When all is said and done, send your risk management firm a letter explaining that you are relying on its expertise to guide you through these hazards. This should make it clear that the firm shouldn’t assume you know what you are doing and that you will need its guidance. If something goes wrong, you will have it in writing that the onus was on the firm to provide the proper coverage.
In this economy, there are a lot of things that can go wrong and we’d all like to not think about them. But the CEO’s job is to think through the “what ifs” and make sure the business is protected against all of the risks that are out there.
In these strange economic times, you need to talk to your bank as much as the bank needs to talk to you.
Instability in the banking world is what led to the economic downturn, and while things have stabilized, you still need to be aware of your bank’s status. Is it one of the banks that was mostly unaffected by the crisis, or did it have to take government money to survive?
You need to know because you don’t want to be taken by surprise.
In the old days, it was the banks asking all the questions. They wanted to know about you and your business to determine whether you were capable of paying back the money you wanted them to lend to you. Now, they are asking those questions and more about every customer, because they can’t afford any more bad loans. At the same time, you can’t afford to be left high and dry by a bank that suddenly decides to pull your line of credit because someone there decided he or she didn’t like the industry you are in. It’s important to ask as many questions about your bank as the bank asks about you.
This is where trust comes in. Both parties need information to make the relationship work. You need to be honest with the bank so it is not taken by surprise, but the bank also needs to be honest with you about what it can do for you now and in the future.
Ask yourself how much your banker really knows about your business. If he or she has never come out to see you and ask about your operations, you have to wonder how much he or she really cares about the relationship. If your banker isn’t going to try to understand your business, then how will you convince him or her to loan you money when needed? What will the bank base its decisions on if it doesn’t truly understand your company?
If your banker has invested some time in you, then you should invest some time in him or her, as well. Review the products and services you use with the bank and see if there are better options that might be available. Are you paying for services you aren’t really using? Are there ways the bank can help you improve your cash flow?
A good banker wants to be an adviser. If you aren’t getting any advice, you may need another bank.
In these economic conditions, it’s also a good idea to have a backup plan. What if your bank called tomorrow and said that it had to eliminate your line of credit? Could you survive?
Develop secondary relationships, both with other decision-makers in your current bank and with decision-makers in other banks. This way, if your current banker leaves or is downsized, there is already someone in place either there or somewhere else who is familiar with your business.
In today’s world, you can’t afford to be surprised by anything, let alone a sudden decision by your bank that’s driven by things outside of your control.
Work the relationship you have with your banker, but make sure you are always aware of what’s going on with your bank, just like it will be aware of what’s going on with you.
If you look through a list of top companies and compare it to a list of high-growth companies, you will usually find one thing in common: a commitment to training and development.
These companies see the way to continued growth through a continual development of their employees. Some focus on the basics of the job, some focus on leadership development, and many organizations do both. The equation is simple: Equip employees with the right skills and knowledge, and they’ll whip the competition. And the level of commitment of some of these companies is staggering.
For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers invested more than $10 million in developing 25 global programs dealing with issues of diversity and inclusion. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals sent 1,800 salespeople through an eight-level “career ladder” that recognizes performance and elective credits from approved coursework. Vanguard invests 34 hours of instruction and 17 hours of on-the-job training for its top performers, touching on topics like the company’s leadership values, coaching others and transition strategies. More than 50 percent of those who go through Vanguard’s training have been promoted to a supervisory role.
How much you spend isn’t as important as what you are committed to accomplishing. Regardless of whether you are a $10 million company or a $2 billion company, the same principles apply.
While many CEOs can see the potential of training, they hesitate because of the unknown. What will the return on investment be? How do you measure how much more effective your employees will be? Those are tough questions to answer, especially in an economy where every penny counts.
But if you want to be one of the best companies, you are going to have to take the long-term view and make the commitment. If you work closely with your managers and staff to make sure you are training on the right topics, the benefit will come. You will give employees the skill sets they need to succeed, they will take ownership of projects, and they are more likely to build a long-term commitment with you.
Not every training program has to cost millions. If you work with your local university and community college, you’ll find there are a lot of affordable programs that can meet your needs. Many offer online modules that can be completed at any time, minimizing disruptions among employees. Others offer pre-class and post-class assessments so you can see how much employees learned in the session.
No matter what type of training you choose to pursue, make sure you are completely committed to it. Don’t do it just so you can add a training overview to your company description on your Web site or as a means of enticing job seekers. If you are going to invest in people, then you need to believe in it to make the program work.
Once you are committed, make sure you maximize your return. Survey employees to find out what they are interested in learning about and what they thought of completed training sessions. That information can help you create some initial plans or refine the ones you already have. Training is most effective when all parties involved — employer, trainer and employees — are all committed to the end goals.
In a time when many companies are cutting back, a lot of midsized companies are eliminating training and development programs as an easy way to boost the bottom line. But if you are cutting back, some of your competitors are not. When the economy turns around, they will have a better-trained and more committed work force to take advantage of new opportunities.
The question to ask yourself isn’t, “Should I cut training?” The question should be, “Can I afford not to invest in my people?”
Every CEO sees the need for a health plan. Without one, recruitment of top talent becomes very difficult, and employees spend too much time worrying about potential health issues and how they will pay the resulting bills.
But once you decide to get a health plan, things get complicated. Which plan is right for your company? The options out there vary considerably. At one extreme are the plans that put 100 percent of the costs on the employees, while at the other extreme are the plans that are 100 percent funded by the company.
Most plans fall somewhere in the middle, and that’s where the CEO needs to step in. A large part of your culture is based on your benefits package, and probably the biggest element of that is your health insurance. What you pick says a lot about what kind of corporate culture you want to have.
If you pick a plan with a lot of benefits and the costs are mostly picked up by the company, that sends a certain message to your employees or potential employees. Some CEOs are perfectly happy with a basic plan, in which a fair portion of the costs are carried by the employees. That too, sends a message about how you value your work force. Employees generally have an idea of how well their employer is doing. If you are wildly successful but offer a poor health plan, that tells them that you are not all that concerned about them and gives your competitors a potential recruiting advantage. Is it worth losing talent for a no-frills health plan when for a few dollars more, you could have at least been on par with the rest of your industry?
If you are committed to a good health plan, you may want a “Rolls Royce” package, but if you are on a limited budget, you have to make choices. You have to do the best you can to provide the highest level of coverage for your employees.
When you are a smaller company, you may have no choice but to offer a bare-bones package. But as you grow, your plan should get better to mirror your success. The important thing is that, as CEO, you get involved. Do not delegate the final decision to someone else, because your health plan has major cultural and economic ramifications for your company.
If the message from your office is about how much you care about employees and the human resources manager cuts health benefits by 50 percent, that’s a major conflict in message that could severely damage your culture. That’s why it’s important to be involved in the process.
In this economy, the temptation will always be to cut, and that’s understandable. But there may be other options available to you. Shopping around for a better rate might help, but if you have employees located in multiple states, the market is limited and the price difference may be negligible.
The other strategy is to focus on the root causes of your health costs. Work with your existing provider to find out where your money is going and what it offers to help you control it. This is another factor to consider when looking at plans. If one provider is slightly more expensive but offers a free or low-cost comprehensive package that will help your employees be healthier, your overall costs may be a lot lower in the long run.
While things like wellness programs may seem like hype, a study of a workplace wellness program found that during a two-year period, employees in the program missed three fewer days of work, meaning a return of more than $15 for each $1 spent on the program. Other studies show that for every $1 spent, you save about $4 in health care expenses and $5 in improved productivity.
If you pick the right plan and put an emphasis on good health, the message sent to your employees will be clear: You care. And healthy employees are a key factor to achieving a healthy bottom line, even in an unhealthy economy.
FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
Maybe you didn’t trust Enron, or even necessarily know what Enron was, but your financial adviser probably did. If you trusted your adviser with your money and he or she trusted Enron’s executives, well, the end result was probably bad.
Business is built on a chain of trust. The stockholders trust the company’s directors who trust the officers of the company. There may be additional intermediaries, such as a financial adviser or stock broker, but everything hinges on trust.
When that trust breaks down, things get ugly. Unfortunately, it happens all the time. Enron got plenty of press but think about how many times you read about a local banker or business executive who was committing fraud at a company.
As a CEO, you have to walk a fine line between trust and control. If you trust someone too much, you may leave yourself open to mistakes of inexperience or just general oversights. If you don’t trust your team enough, you become a control freak, stifle innovation and your growth comes to a screeching halt. Failing to trust your managers means you’ll be spending all your time making day-to-day decisions, leaving yourself no time to manage the big-picture strategy of the organization.
The balance between trust and control is difficult to find because, as the CEO, you are ultimately responsible for what happens in the company. It’s a heavy burden to carry, but worrying about what an employee in a far-off office might do is counterproductive to your long-term growth, not to mention to your health.
The only thing you can do is prepare. Surround yourself with good people who can help you avoid bad situations. You have to trust in your managers and advisers, but no one is ever going to have everything covered.
You can have a high degree of faith in humanity and believe that people are good by nature and will do their best, but for me, it’s my faith in God that lets me sleep at night.
You do your best to oversee the operations, but the old Ronald Reagan saying, “Trust but verify,” applies here. Try to set things up so that there is always someone checking someone else’s work. One person might make a costly oversight, but if you have someone else checking, the odds are in your favor that the mistake will be caught before it costs you money.
You also need to be accessible to all your employees. Walk around and get to know as many of them as you can. Herb Baum, the former CEO of Dial, used to host “Hot Dogs with Herb.” He’d cook hot dogs out on the factory floor for the workers to give them a chance to speak about whatever was on their mind. The idea is, if there’s a major problem, someone is going to speak up. Maybe a machine isn’t working properly and it’s costing productivity, or maybe someone’s manager is doctoring timecards.
If employees feel comfortable talking to you, that’s another layer of protection. Good people don’t like associating with bad ones, and they’ll help you identify potential problems, regardless of whether it’s with a process or a person, if you just take the time to ask.
You have to take a lot of risks to be successful in business. One of the biggest risks of all may be the trust we have to place in our managers who control our money, our inventory and our people. To mitigate the risks, all you can do is educate yourself, educate your managers and get the best advisers you can. If you do all that, the only thing left is to place portions of your business in the hands of those you trust the most.
FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 1982, seven people died from Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules that had been tampered with and laced with cyanide.
The way Johnson & Johnson, owner of the Tylenol brand, reacted to the crisis became a precedent for the right way to handle a crisis. Company executives made quick decisions that were based in part on company values that had been written in 1943. The company recalled 31 million bottles at a cost of more than $100 million. It ceased all production of capsules and replaced them with tamper-resistant caplets.
In the short term, Tylenol lost 27 percent of its market share, but through its customer-focused actions and quick thinking, it regained all the market share it had lost.
While this is an extreme example, it goes to show you that you have to be ready for the unexpected. At the time, there was no way for Johnson & Johnson to even imagine that someone would use its products as a way to poison people.
Johnson & Johnson executives invested the time and money needed to deal with the crisis and make the brand as strong as or stronger than it was before.
If you’ve been in business long enough, you know that the unexpected is always around the corner. A crisis is not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.
Could anyone have predicted the tragedy of Sept. 11 or its far-reaching economic consequences? Anyone doing business in the southeastern United States probably knows firsthand what kind of economic effect a major hurricane can have on the bottom line.
Your next crisis might not even be so far-reaching. It might be a key employee who falls ill or quits that leaves you scrambling to fill in the gaps. Or maybe postage costs rise 20 percent, like they recently did, and cut into your cash flow.
Regardless of the scale of the challenge, you have to be ready for it. One of the best ways to be prepared is to have a reserve of resources both in cash and time. Set aside money each month, so that you have funds to draw on in an emergency.
Just about any crisis will require cash. If you’ve got funds to draw on, you can either get the people or supplies you need to address it, or at the very least, keep your cash flow going in the short term until you figure out a long-term solution.
The other investment to make is in time. Put time on your schedule each week to deal with the little details. This kind of investment can often let you extinguish a small fire before it becomes a raging inferno. When a big crisis hits, you can clear your schedule, but a little investment upfront can help you avoid some of the internal challenges that can get out of control.
This is also where your advisers earn their money. If you’ve assembled the right team of people, when something unforeseen occurs, you can gather them together and, as a team, plot your next move. They’ll help you avoid blind spots and resolve things quicker than you could do alone.
Regardless of whether your crisis started internally or externally, you have to lead by example. Be resilient in your pursuit of the resolution. Exhibit confidence so that others can rely on you to get the job done.
It won’t be easy things in business rarely are. But if you have taken the time to build a rainy day fund and assembled a solid team, you are well on your way to handling the next crisis and moving your company back up the mountain again.
FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
The car is the culmination of a company seeing a chance to dominate a market and setting goals to achieve it. In the 1980s, Toyota had what were considered good near-luxury cars in the Cressida and Crown models, but sales were not especially strong when compared to how fast Corollas and Camrys were leaving dealer lots. Lincoln and Cadillac had both fallen from grace, Chrysler had moved down market, Mercedes quality was not at its high point and Audi was suffering from the stuck accelerator debacle.
In short, Toyota saw an opportunity to dominate a market. It assigned a team of 1,400 engineers, 2,300 technicians, 60 designers and 220 support people to create the next great luxury vehicle under the Lexus brand. The company built 450 functional prototypes, and no expense was spared to beat the competition, and in 1989, the first Lexus hit the showroom floor. Its high level of luxury and reliability and lower cost than some competing brands made it the leader in luxury vehicles.
By creating a vision and a plan to get there, Toyota created a dominant brand. It’s been almost 20 years now, but thanks to long-term planning and commitment, the brand is still as vibrant as ever.
There are four key tracks to executing a plan to achieve your goals.
The immediate track. These are objectives that range from today to about six months out. This is all about focusing on what you are doing today to work toward your overall goal, achieving short-term objectives to give you a headstart on your longer-term goals. There will always be a lot of distractions, but you have to stay focused.
The short-term track. This track is about focusing on processes six to 18 months out. How can you do things faster and better? Where can you build efficiency into your systems?
The long-term track. This track is setting goals for where you really want to be in three to five years. These goals are bigger in scope and start filling in the pieces to your long-term vision. The more of these goals you achieve, the closer you get to realizing your vision.
The vision. This is your long-term vision that is at least five years away. What’s the ultimate goal of your company? It’s the proverbial carrot on a stick that you are always chasing. As you move to-ward it, it moves even further, driving you to try even harder and achieve more.
This sounds fairly simple, and you may already have plans that fall into these ranges, but the real trick is working all the plans simultaneously. Toyota worked on all these tracks simultaneously to build Lexus into what it is today.
Companies that aren’t as successful tend to be good at working only one or two tracks at a time.
Some companies have great vision and know where they want to be in five years, but don’t know how to work the day-to-day detail in the short term to get there. It’s sort of like a person who dreams of traveling to Europe one day but spends more time dreaming rather than actually figuring out a way to save the money and plan the trip.
Others are good at achieving intermediate goals such as growing sales, but they never really set a vision for what they want the company to be. Sales continue to grow, but to what end?
Toyota could have kept selling the luxury cars it had and probably been fairly successful. Instead, the company had a vision to be a leader in a market segment and set a course to get there by creating a new brand that would set the standard.
The key is to work all four tracks of the plan simultaneously so that you hit your short-term, intermediate and long-term goals on the way to achieving your ultimate vision of what you want your company to become.
Welcome to the premiere issue of Smart Business San Francisco, a monthly management journal for C-level executives of middle-market and large companies. Before you say it, let me do it for you: “The last thing I need is something else to read.”
I know how you feel. Running a growing organization is enough to keep anyone busy. The demands on our time from employees, suppliers and clients increase every day. That’s why we designed a unique publication.
After 18 years in the publishing business, we know to listen to our readers. The publication you hold in your hands the 19th in our growing chain and the fourth in California is the result of all our listening. Here is what readers like you told us they want in a local management journal.
1. Big minds, big ideas. Smart Business San Francisco taps into the top Bay Area business minds. In this issue, our cover story tells how CEO John Chen saved a dying Sybase and turned it into one the largest mobile technology companies in the world. In Smart Leaders, Business Wire CEO Cathy Baron Tamraz explains how understanding psychology can help grow a business. Our Fast Lane interview with CEO Mike Faith delves into how customer service became his No. 1 priority at high-growth Headsets.com. In the coming months, you’ll hear from the best business minds in the Bay Area on issues ranging from leadership to motivation to growth.
2. Go to the source. To get the latest thoughts on best practices in business, we partner with key local service providers in areas including accounting, banking, benefits and management. They have front-line experience with the issues facing middle-market companies in the Bay Area.
3. Keep it short. Most articles fill just a page. Only our cover stories are longer because they delve into the management styles and strategies of top executives. And we plan to keep our page count low, so you don’t have to fight to find articles.
You will find these three principles carried throughout Smart Business San Francisco, just as our readers have come to expect from our other award-winning publications for the last 18 years.
So why are you getting our management journal? Because of your success in building a business to middle-market status or your senior management role at a larger company that values the middle market. I hope you enjoy our premiere issue. And I invite you to share your feedback with me.
FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 988-4726.
There are cries of alarm as manufacturing jobs are eliminated and service jobs are sent overseas. This makes for great headlines, but it doesn't give you the whole picture.
Rising productivity is the root cause of much of the ruckus, generating higher profits, lower inflation and a strong housing market, and increasing stock prices. But productivity generates wealth before jobs.
Earlier this year, consumer net worth hit a new peak of $45 trillion -- up 75 percent since 1995. Corporate profits as a share of national income are at an all-time high, and so is the net worth of many individuals. So what's all the negativity about the economy?
According to Business Week, offshoring isn't really a problem. Unlike in most previous business cycles, productivity has continued to grow at a fast pace right through the downturn and into the recovery.
One percentage point of productivity growth can eliminate up to 1.3 million jobs a year. With productivity growing at an annual rate of 3 percent to 3.5 percent rather than the expected 2 percent to 2.5 percent, the reason for the jobs shortfall becomes clear: Companies are using information technology to cut costs -- and that means less labor is needed.
Of the 3 million jobs lost over the past three years, only 300,000 have been because of outsourcing to another country, according to Forrester Research.
As for those 3 million jobs, that number comes from a Department of Labor survey of mainly larger companies. This figure can be somewhat misleading because the department measures job loss in several ways. One survey of workers showed a job gain of more than 750,000 between January 2001 and January 2004. So it is reasonable to conclude that there may be 3 million jobs lost, but most are coming from large corporations.
Smaller and mid-sized firms are adding these employees back to the work force and driving the economy forward. It is the smaller enterprise that is the job-growth engine that hires the people Fortune 1000 firms cast off.
Don't believe the hype. The economy isn't as bad as it's made out to be. If your business isn't performing, then start looking for productivity gains before you fall hopelessly behind.
Before you say it, let me do it for you: “The last thing I need is something else to read.”
I know how you feel. Running a growing organization is enough to keep anyone busy. The demand on our time from employees, suppliers and clients seems to increase every day. The sluggish economy only adds to the pressures of managing a successful business.
That’s why we have designed a unique publication. After 15 years in the publishing business, we know to listen to our readers. The publication you hold in your hands the ninth in our growing chain is the result of all our listening. In one-on-one conversations, CEO focus groups and written surveys, here is what readers like you told us they want in a local management journal.
1. Big minds, big ideas. Smart Business Philadelphia will tap into the top local business minds. Take this issue as an example. Our cover story tells how CEO Robert Toll keeps Toll Brothers already a $2.8 billion business growing an average of 20 percent a year.
Our Q&A feature, called One on One, showcases Tasty Baking Co. CEO Charles Pizzi, who talks with us about about the challenges of marketing his company’s Tastykakes in a market that’s focused on low carb and low fat products.
In the coming months, you’ll hear from more of the best business minds in Philadelphia on issues ranging from leadership and motivation to brand-building and innovation.
2. Go to the source. To get the latest thoughts on best practices in key business areas, we have partnered with key local service providers in areas including accounting and consulting, technology and executive education. They have front-line experience in dealing with the issues facing middle-market companies throughout the Philadelphia area. We work with these companies to develop commentaries on issues facing C-level management of middle-market companies. As I always say, wisdom comes from an abundance of councilors.
3. Keep it short. Most articles in Smart Business Philadelphia fill just a page. Only our major features are longer because they delve into the management styles and strategies of top executives. And don’t look for us to drop on your desk some day like a phone book. We plan to keep our page count low so you don’t have to fight to find the articles you are looking for.
You will find those three principles carried throughout the premiere issue of Smart Business Philadelphia and every subsequent issue just as our readers have come to expect the same from our other award-winning publications for the last 15 years.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to have fun, too. We realize that not every minute of your day is spent planning or executing strategy. So from time to time we will include other offerings, such as reports on the latest luxury autos, high-tech gear, books and travel.
Also, we will summarize recent executive changes on our Movers & Shakers page so you can keep up on what’s happening with your peers. So why are you getting Smart Business Philadelphia? One of two reasons: Because of your success in building a business to middle-market status or your senior management role at a larger company that values the middle market. In either case, I hope you enjoy reading our premiere issue. And I invite you to share your feedback with me by e-mailing me at email@example.com or calling me at (800) 988-4726.