Fred Koury

Wednesday, 31 January 2007 19:00

The importance of image

First impressions are everything. A picture’s worth a thousand words, and so is a first impression. Living in a high-tech, low-touch society, our face-to-face interaction is decreasing.

But despite our reliance on technology, it’s important that we not lose the basics of our relationship skills. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to dealing with people.

Here are some things we can do today to make sure that the first impression we make is a good one. 1. Send a letter instead of an e-mail after meeting someone new. This may feel like a hassle, but that person will take notice and know that you went the extra mile to make him or her feel important. 2. Be professional. It is very acceptable in today’s society to dress down or settle for basic etiquette. But first impressions are everything, and we should make the other person feel important. You also send a message about who you are with how you dress and behave. Make sure your appearance and actions send the right message. 3. Drive these ideals across your organization, from the top managers to the receptionist. Anyone in your organization who encounters anyone else represents you. As the leader of your company, you are responsible for the first impression being made on your behalf. Make sure it is the one that you want. 4. Reassure your customers. When dealing with new customers, it is important that they feel they made the right decision to do business with you. It is always helpful to send a thank you letter letting them know that you are aware of them and that you appreciate their business, regardless of the size of your company. I am not talking about a form letter that you stamp a signature onto, but a letter they know that you personally wrote and signed.

When you take the time to do the little things to make sure you and others within your company are making a good first impression, people will see you and your business in a better light. Their perception of your professionalism and level of service will increase, helping you gain new customers and keep old ones.

Be vigilant about these things, because you only get one chance to make a first impression. A blown opportunity to impress a potential new customer won’t come again.

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at or (800) 988-4726.

Thursday, 29 April 2004 06:31

Leadership legacy

Building a strong culture that goes beyond the CEO should be the legacy of every great leader. Many companies have a mission statement, core values, goals and objectives, yet something is missing to bring it all together: Corporate culture. Building a strong culture will build a much greater company.

Many of the great Fortune 500 companies, such as Wal-Mart, have been extremely successful at building a strong culture. Consider two rules Wal-Mart uses in its culture.

* The Sundown Rule. Wal-Mart has set a standard to get things done today -- before the sun goes down. Whether it's a request from a store across the country or a call from down the hall, every request gets same-day service.

The Sundown Rule was implemented by founder Sam Walton. It is still an important part of the Wal-Mart culture and is one of the main reasons it is known for its excellent customer service.

* The Ten Foot Rule. One of Wal-Mart's secrets to customer service is the "10-foot attitude," also Walton's idea. During his store visits, he encouraged associates to take a pledge with him that whenever they came within 10 feet of a customer, they would look him or her in the eye, greet the person and ask if they can help.

Regardless of the size of a company, it is important to create an atmosphere that lets everyone know what they are working toward. By creating the right culture, you allow people to see the bigger picture.

A company's culture shapes the attitudes of individual workers. For example, consider a ticket agent working for an airline.

One person goes to work and feels like he is doing his job if he puts eight hours in each day. This could be the culture the airline has created.

Another person in the same role feels she has a responsibility to go out of her way to accommodate each individual who is traveling to help make the flight arrangements as enjoyable as possible.

Same job, two different outlooks. The difference is in the kind of culture the airline has created.

A company's culture sets the attitude of its employees. Culture is difficult to create. It requires the right mix of leadership-by-example, empowerment of employees, internal support and hiring the right people with attitudes that match your corporate goals.

When successful, a corporate culture will carry a company long after the founder is gone. Just ask Sam Walton.

Wednesday, 03 March 2004 08:45

Finding direction

One of the main reasons so many companies are struggling today is because CEOs do not have their finger on the pulse of what is going on in their business.

Leadership is not to be taken lightly. Many CEOs are drifting from their jobs. and it is affecting those around them.

There are a number of signs that indicate you are drifting away, such as coming in late, leaving early and meeting with fewer and fewer people. When was the last time you visited a customer? Do you have a clear direction for where the company is going? Are you always looking for other opportunities to get involved with?

Here are four reasons that could explain why you might be drifting.

* You simply don't like what you do. You see what you are doing as a job rather than a career. You have no passion. You are just passing time for a paycheck, and your intentions are evident to everyone except yourself.

It is very difficult to be true to yourself in this type of situation; however, once you are, it will benefit you as well as the company.

* You are in over your head. Many people end up in a position they should not be in. This could be because of a transition in the company, where someone is placed in a position they shouldn't be in.

Another reason could be good salespeople oversold themselves into a position they are not qualified to fill. It is only a matter of time before these people are exposed.

* You are bored. Day after day, week after week, month after month -- it becomes a blur after a while. The redundancy of doing the same job over and over can burn people out, so a change is obviously needed.

* You are too far removed from the details. The longer a CEO is on the job, the less information that flows to him or her.

Over time, the CEO figures out what information he or she considers valuable, which results in gathering less information to make good decisions. As time goes on, the CEO loses touch with employees and customers.

The question to ask is, would you hire yourself if you were looking for a replacement? If the answer is no, it may be time to start looking for a replacement before it is too late.

Change can be a good thing for you and your company.

Wednesday, 17 December 2003 06:38

Directing the course

January marks the beginning of another new year, and I am optimistic that this will be a good one.

Many of us would just as soon forget the past three years, but many great lessons come out of tough times. In difficult times, a company's leadership is critical to its survival. The word leadership has been often overused and misinterpreted. Sometimes I wonder if people truly understand what leadership is. The dictionary definition is "to show the way" or "direct the course." Are you doing either of these things?

Many leaders lack the character to direct the way or show the course and not be swayed by the people around them. I am not suggesting you ignore your people or fail to gather as much information as possible to make good decisions; however, once the decision has been made, you need to live with the outcome. Directing the course takes leadership, and staying the course takes character.

During difficult times, leadership with strong character is needed to succeed. Many people claim to be good leaders, but the fruits of their labor do not show it. Here are several principles needed to be a good leader through good -- and bad -- times.

* Make tough decisions. Don't be afraid to make tough calls. People are looking for leadership and want to have confidence that the leader is making decisions for the good of the company. You have to set the course by making these decisions.

* Stay focused. Don't get sidetracked by contrary opinions. Do your research, make the decision, and stick with it. Changing objectives is usually counterproductive.

* Be innovative. Know what separates you from your competitors. To serve your customers, it is critical to offer something that differentiates you from the pack. When you understand your advantages, decision-making becomes easier.

* Be patient. Decisions might take weeks, months or even years to show results. Those based on solid facts will almost always come out in your favor.

The test of a person's character is what makes a great leader. Don't be swayed from your core values or beliefs based on other people's opinions. No matter where you stand, people will always disagree with you.

Look at our president. The country seems divided on him, but he continues to score high on character and leadership. People may disagree with his decisions, but they don't question his character or leadership.

Would your employees say the same thing about you? Stick to your values, show character, make the tough decisions and direct the course for your company, and everything else will fall into place.

Tuesday, 16 May 2006 20:00

Keep it short

Welcome to the premiere issue of Smart Business Tampa Bay, 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 17 years in the publishing business, we know to listen to our readers. The publication you hold in your hands — the 16th in our growing chain and the third in Florida — 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 Tampa Bay taps into the top local business minds. In this issue, our cover story tells how CEO Keith Sirois turned around Checkers Drive-In Restaurants by building a culture of operational excellence.

Smart Leaders, featuring thoughts from top local executives, showcases Jim Abrams, whose $180million Clockwork Home Services is his fifth highly successful business venture, including one public company.

Finally, Fast Lane features Bonefish Grill President John Cooper explaining how the business model of parent company Outback Steakhouse helped drive 100 restaurant openings in less than six years. In the coming months, you’ll hear from the best business minds in Tampa Bay on issues ranging from leadership to motivation to innovation.

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 banking, benefits, education, legal affairs and real estate. They have front-line experience with the issues facing middle-market companies in the Tampa Bay area.

3. Keep it short. Most articles in Smart Business Tampa Bay fill just a page or two. 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 are looking for.

You will find these three principles carried throughout the premiere issue of Smart Business Tampa Bay — and every subsequent issue — just as our readers have come to expect from our other award-winning publications for the last 17 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 or (800) 988-4726.

Monday, 30 August 2004 20:00

The right choice

Choosing leaders in the political arena is always challenging, but choosing a president to lead us into the future can be vexing.

We all are searching for that perfect person, the one who represents all of our views and who will fight to make sure what we believe in takes center stage, but we are living in an imperfect world.

There is no ideal leader. There isn't anyone who has the solution to all the problems that we think are important.

John Kerry is a qualified candidate with a lot of political experience, but he is also an unknown factor when it comes to business. We don't know what direction he would take toward business policies if elected president. With George Bush, we have four years of history to examine.

For the business community, the best choice is George W. Bush. We know what we are getting. He is a controversial leader, but he sticks to his convictions and has proven he is pro-business. He's led us out of one of the worst recessions in decades, cut taxes and even refunded some of our money.

Consider the following accomplishments.

* Bush has reduced taxes for 25 million small businesses. He has quadrupled the amount small businesses can deduct for investments to $100,000 each year and is phasing out the death tax. On average, small businesses have received $3,001 in tax relief.

* Bush supports the enactment of medical liability reform, class action lawsuit reform and asbestos litigation reform to expedite resolutions and curb the costs lawsuits impose on American businesses.

* Bush has slowed the growth of burdensome new rules by 75 percent while still moving forward with crucial safeguards for homeland security and health care.

* Bush signed into law new free trade agreements with Chile and Singapore that will enable U.S. manufacturers to compete on a level playing field.

* Bush has achieved a higher Small Business Optimism Index rating than when he took office.

Bush's goals are clear: He wants to create an environment that is conducive to good business. Business leaders and organizations nationwide are supporting the Bush campaign because they know that, for business, he is the better choice.

From a political standpoint, there are two choices on the ballot in November. From a business standpoint, there is only one.

Vote for George Bush on Nov. 2 to make America a better place to do business.

Friday, 30 May 2003 06:36

Character test

The true test of a person's character doesn't come when things are going well, but when they are going badly.

Today, as the business climate becomes more competitive, we are forced to multitask if we want to be well-rounded in all areas of our life.

But multitasking doesn't account for unforeseen events that throw us off. It could be an illness or death in the family, a project at work that unexpectedly comes up or a well-laid plan gone awry. These can affect us in a number of different ways.

We can be receptive, embrace the unexpected as part of life and accept the good with the bad, or we can become angry and embittered and look at this event as something we didn't ask for that was imposed upon us.

Two different people can have the same event happen to them and react in two completely different ways. It all has to do with attitude.

Here are four ideas to help keep the event in the right perspective.

1. Accept the reality. We cannot control circumstances around us. As much as we'd like to be in control of everything, we are not. It is important to realize this and take it to heart.

2. Take an inventory to put things in perspective. Look at all that we have. We live in America, we have freedom and we have nice cars and a place to live. Two billion people in the world live on less than a dollar a day. This exercise puts in perspective how much we really have.

3. Sacrifice is important. It's not always about us. In the military, a soldier would never leave an injured soldier on the field to die by himself. Sometimes we can get too self-absorbed and forget about the needs of others.

4. Nothing lasts forever. Sometimes we need to put on our game face and make the best of it. Look at the unexpected as a temporary setback from our own agenda. This may surprise us to our own benefit.

The true test of character will come for all of us sooner or later. When it does, remember that people are watching. It is important, especially in a leadership role, to be a good example for those around you.

Friday, 28 March 2003 08:29

Smart changes

SBN Magazine.

This name has served us well as we have transformed our company from Small Business News Inc. to Smart Business Network Inc. However, we decided it was time for our magazine to take on a title that clearly expresses what we are all about.

There was really only one choice: Smart Business.

These two words say a lot. The name describes what everybody wants their company to be.

Since our launch 14 years ago as Small Business News, we have sought to provide business owners and top decision-makers with solutions to the challenges of growing a company. We have mined the best business minds in the region for their ideas for growing and managing companies -- from ways to increase revenue or control costs to hiring and retaining the best employees.

Through the years, the concept of smart ideas has become an integral part of our magazine and our company. In 1999, we dropped the Small Business News name, going with the now familiar SBN flag and adding our tag line of "Smart Ideas for Growing Companies."

At the beginning of 2002, we introduced our Smart Ideas section, devoted to providing a concise resource of best practices and winning strategies in key areas of business -- accounting, finance, health care, human resources and technology, to a name a few.

At the same time, we decided we needed to change our corporate name to bring it more in line with our corporate and editorial mission. Our new corporate name -- Smart Business Network Inc. -- reflects not only our role of providing smart ideas to area business people, but also our role in building stronger business networks throughout the community through our Internet site,, and our conferences and events.

I hope you will agree with us that our new name, Smart Business, is a reflection of the ideas and principles we bring to you every month throughout the pages of the magazine.

Tuesday, 26 November 2002 08:18

Fighting back

It recently came to my attention that a number of our employees have been receiving unsolicited pornography via e-mail.

This bothered me for several reasons. First, I don't appreciate e-mails of this nature being sent to our business. Second, we have been receiving them for some time. And I had no clue we were receiving them.

Just when you think you have a good handle on the business, you find out about something like this and feel pretty stupid.

I suggest doing an internal survey to see what kind of information your employees are receiving in their e-mail. If they are receiving offensive or unsolicited material, it may be time to try to reduce the problem.

Here are several steps you can take to cut down the amount of unsolicited e-mails, or spam, your company receives.

* Filter your mail server. Talk to your IT department about applying filters that will help prevent some spam from ever reaching your computer. The IP addresses of known spammers can be blocked to prevent future mailings. There are also RBLs, or Real Time Black Lists, of known spammers your mail server will scan before accepting mail.

* Filter your computer. As a last line of defense, you can install antispam software such as McAfee Spam Killer or Norton Internet Security, which help identify and block spam with little effort on your part.

* Go on the offensive. Contact the spammer's Internet Service Provider and report the abuse. This sounds simple, but oftentimes the real return address is hidden or filtered, and it takes some know-how to find the original source. Contact your own ISP. ISPs can bring legal action against spammers and collect up to $500,000 in damages.

* Demand restitution from the spammer. According to an Ohio law that went into effect in November, penalties of $100 for each piece of spam and up to $50,000 and attorney's fees, court and other costs can be recovered by companies subjected to illegal, unsolicited commercial e-mail.

* Contact your representatives. Tougher laws against spam are needed at the federal level. Contact your representatives and tell them spam is costing your business time and money.

Spam has become a major problem. Instead of focusing on our business, we are dealing with unsolicited e-mails containing offensive pornography, gambling offers and get-rich-quick schemes. Think about how much time and money we waste deleting unwanted e-mails, setting up filtering systems or handling employee complaints. This is time and money that should be focused on business, not spam.

Let's hope that tougher laws will be passed that will put the spammers out of business and allow us to get back to work.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:08

Does morality still matter?

On May 28th, 15-year-old Kipland Kinkel, armed with a 9-mm pistol and a .22-caliber rifle, went on a shooting rampage in Springfield, Ore. After murdering his parents, he went to Thurston High School, where he killed two classmates and injured 22 others.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are left searching for answers-again. How could this shooting take place? In the 15 years of Kinkel's life, what could have brought him to such a point? And why the earlier killings in Paducah, Ky. and Jonesboro, Ark., involving children as young as 11? What is leading kids to commit such crimes?

The knee-jerk reaction is to simply ban all guns. But guns merely allow these kids to act upon their inner rage, their use is just a symptom of a deeper underlying spiritual disease. Is this just the beginning? Is our society on the verge of plunging into anarchy?

To find the answer, we needn't look far away.

Capitalism harnesses self-interest, the desire to profit, to produce goods and services which communities need. Problems arise, however, when certain products are designed to destroy communities from within. And some companies are especially at fault.

The next time you have a chance, study the lyrics of some popular music groups. Marilyn Manson, a self-avowed anti-Christian satanist, is one such "artist" with a rabid following among suburban teenagers. In his album "Portrait of an American Family," you'll find a song entitled "Lunchbox," which portrays a schoolyard shooting:

Wanna go out, gotta get out

to the playground, gonna throw down at the playground.

I wanna go out

next motherf--- gonna get my metal

pow, pow, pow.

Harmless words? That's what many maintain. Unfortunately, these supposedly harmless words are being converted into violent action with increasing frequency. The lyrics of rappers promote the use of guns and murder as the solution to problems, and some companies are making short-term profits as a result. But if society starts to collapse from this short-sighted activity, we will all suffer from the lack of corporate morality.

No one is immune from the effects of this appalling lack of discretion. The chairman of Time Warner, Gerald Levin, recently lost his son Jonathan to violence. A gifted teacher in New York, the younger Levin was gunned down by one of his students. It was an especially bitter irony that Time Warner had been involved in distributing the album "Cop Killer," which suggested blowing away police officers as a method for solving one's problems. The company eventually divested the division which produced this trash, but only after heavy pressure from police, the black community and anti-violence crusader Bill Bennett.

The real question, though, is this: Why did these executives get involved in these illicit products in the first place? Are we forever doomed to letting potential profits blind us to our moral responsibilities for the larger communities in which we live?

I think companies ought to be held responsible for the messages they convey. They shouldn't be permitted to hide behind the curtain of free speech even as they help destroy the society in which we all live. We should be outraged at the irresponsible manner in which profits are earned at the expense of all of us. Why wait until we hear about our child or nephew killed in a senseless act of violence? Why not, instead, act now to head off tragedy?

In our schools, children should be taught a code of moral standards, a benchmark-such as the Ten Commandments-for their conduct.

The important thing is to replace in our kids' lives the ceaseless rant of popular culture with the splendor of truths built on firmer foundations. After all, it's only in an orderly and morally centered world that business will flourish and grow.

Fred Koury is CEO of Small Business News Inc. He can be reached via e-mail at