Fred Koury

Monday, 26 July 2010 20:00

The power of vision

A visionary is defined as a person with unusual foresight and the ability to anticipate things before they happen. Whenever we are in a position of leadership, we carry the responsibility of being a visionary, whether we like it or not.

Smart Business is all about visionaries. In 1999, we hosted our first Innovation in Business Conference, which recognized leaders for their innovation and vision in business.

This year, the featured speaker at the conference is Jim McCann, the founder and CEO of 1-800-Flowers.com. Jim started with one flower shop in New York in 1976, and by 1986, had acquired the 1-800-Flowers number and changed his company name to match the phone number. By 1999, the company went public and added the dot-com to the name. Today, Jim sells more than $700 million in flowers and gifts annually. He anticipated the demand for quality products that could be delivered anywhere in the country and made moves to put his business at the forefront of that trend. When buying shifted to online, he was once again ahead of the curve.

Jim and others like him have the uncanny knack of knowing which direction their industry is headed before everyone else. The Innovation in Business Conference has been a smashing success because people want to learn what it takes to acquire these skills and apply them at their own business.

Failing to be a visionary will put you out of business. If you don’t have a vision, it will be hard to retain your top people. With no clear goals, they’ll see the company as stagnant and move on to more promising positions.

In the end, it’s all about accountability. It doesn’t matter whether you are running a $50 million company or a $1 billion company. It’s about the morale of the people, whether your top performers are being rewarded and whether everyone understands your long-term vision.

As the visionary for your organization, you have to keep everyone working toward that end goal that you set. You have to put back into the business as much as you take out. There are too many companies where the CEO is living good but no one else is.

Being a visionary isn’t easy, but if you carefully define where you want to go and how you are going to get there, you’ll already be ahead of most of your competitors.

For more information about the 11th annual Innovation in Business Conference held in Cleveland, Ohio, please call (866) 582-7011 or e-mail Caroline Calfee Zerbey at ccalfee@sbnonline.com.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010 20:00

Health-based wealth

When it comes to wellness, it’s hard to beat Motorola. The company started a pilot project a decade ago and turned it into a global initiative that is now run by more than 50 employees and is funded with an annual grant.

Individual programs are continuously assessed on effectiveness for the 30,000 workers, family members and retirees.

The company either provides free membership to its wellness centers or pays for memberships at qualifying fitness centers. It has provided flu shots and offers a variety of health education plans each year.

The results are impressive. For workers that regularly used a fitness center, the company saved $3.93 for every $1 it spent, and participating workers cost $6.5 million less in lifestyle-related medical costs than nonparticipants. Those in the program saw health care costs rise 2.5 percent annually, compared to 18 percent for nonparticipants.

While you may not have the resources that Motorola has, there are some things you should consider. Healthy employees, whether it’s through a formal wellness program or an informal encouragement for healthier living, help your bottom line. And more importantly, a commitment to health is the right thing to do.

Each person has a sphere of influence. As CEOs, it is our responsibility to get involved to do what we can to help those around us live healthier lives. Any health initiative has to start at the top. If you aren’t serious about it, then it’s going to be much harder to achieve any results. This isn’t just about absenteeism, it’s about doing what’s right for ourselves and our companies.

Motorola’s commitment shows what can be done when you have a lot of resources at your disposal. Most middle-market companies, particularly in the current economic environment, can’t match that level of funding. But there are some things you can do to make a difference.

Once you decide to make a personal commitment to health, you need a champion for your program. It can be you, but if time constraints prevent that, then find someone who strongly believes in the effort. The key to health initiatives is getting buy-in from every level so that each employee’s success helps generate other successes. Healthy living is contagious, and by getting a lot of people involved, you will be able to start to see significant results sooner rather than later.

As time goes on, the commitment to good health will become part of the fabric of your culture, making it easier to launch new initiatives and build on prior success.

Motorola has its own fitness centers in some of its locations, a luxury you probably can’t afford. But these programs do not have to cost a fortune. Check with your insurance provider and/or your local hospitals. Many have either free or low-cost programs that can help you get started. Some have consultants or health coaches that can do initial assessments and advise you on how to set up a program that is right for your company.

Experts will tell you that you won’t see returns for probably two or three years, but if you are doing it because it’s the right thing to do rather than from a strictly economic motivation, this won’t matter. Healthier employees are happier and more productive.

Not everyone will be interested in participating in whatever program you set up, but don’t worry too much about participation rates. If you lead the way, you are giving people who are interested in good health a means to reach their fitness goals, and participation will increase as people see the successes of those around them.

In the end, it’s all about your health. Because if you don’t have that, what do you really have left?

Sunday, 25 April 2010 20:00

Tightening the belt

There’s no doubt that the current economic conditions have put a strain on a lot of business relationships. Money is tight and that requires tough decisions both internally and externally. Take banks for instance.

Tough economic conditions forced many banks to rethink how they were doing business. Companies that ran into trouble weren’t getting off easy. Banks needed cash flow to deal with their own problems — remember, banks are businesses, too. What happened was a perception that credit availability tightened. What really happened is that banks that were in trouble did indeed change their methods — they could no longer afford to take any risks. With a lot of bad loans on the books and no end in sight to the downturn, they took a much harder look at each loan. Meanwhile, at banks that weren’t in trouble, they continued to loan money using the same guidelines as before, which were a bit stricter than other banks — which is partly why they were in much better shape than their competitors.

The end result is a banking market where most people feel it’s difficult to get a loan. Compared to several years ago, that is certainly the case. If a financial institution turned you down, there were several competitors who probably had less strict rules and were willing to loan you the money. But now, those same banks have either been seized by the federal government, bought up by a more solid competitor, or are in survival mode and aren’t taking on any additional risks.

So where does that leave you? Probably caught in the middle. You may have a solid plan and some decent returns but maybe not enough for the banks to feel comfortable loaning you the money you need.

Your only option is to persevere and make the tough decisions. Tighten your belt as much as possible and keep going. Get out in the field and listen to your customers. Do everything in your power to get by until economic conditions improve. Here are three general rules to guide you:

  • Be forthright with everyone. Don’t try to hide any troubles you have, that will only undermine the trust people have in you. Spend time talking directly with your clients and customers so they know where you stand and what to expect. Being honest with them will hopefully encourage them to be honest with you about their future plans. You also need to be honest with your banker. Talk about long-term plans and the hurdles you see preventing you from getting there. The better they understand your business, the better off you will be.
  • Lower your pride. In the past, you may have been choosy about what jobs to take or which customers you would serve. In this environment, you need to take every job you can get. Don’t let pride stand in the way of a job. And who knows, that small customer that doesn’t seem like much today might be the one who comes out of the recession on top of the heap. Build as many relationships as you can to take advantage of those situations.
  • Don’t wait to make tough decisions. Keep people that can help your business, but if you have someone you can’t afford, you need to move on sooner rather than later. You still need to do it in a humane way and help the person find another position if possible, but you can’t keep positions that your revenue will no longer support.

If you do everything you can, what you’ll find is that banks are willing to work with you, even if things aren’t perfect. A number of people in the construction industry told me that banks were working with them and were willing to cut debts in some cases by 50 percent. The banks recognized the economic difficulty and would rather have half of the promised amount rather than own a property they would be unable to sell.

The banks that haven’t closed their doors are pushing people hard because they have to remain healthy, but if you do everything you can to run a tight ship, then your bank should work with you to help get you through the economic crisis. But don’t expect your bank to make sacrifices if you aren’t willing to do the same.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:00

The main event

In an economy where every penny counts, return on investment is king. People want to know how much they will get back on anything they spend money on.

One area you probably can’t go wrong in is business events. Investing in events, and the face-to-face opportunities they present, provides you with returns that you can measure.

Regardless of whether you attend, sponsor or buy a booth, you can determine whether it was worth the time and money you invested. If you attend, how many people did you meet who were prospective customers? In an age dominated by e-mails, text messages and the occasional phone call, nothing beats face-to-face communication. People do business with people whom they know and like. The best way to earn their trust and get to know them is through a face-to-face meeting at a casual business event.

If you are sponsoring an event, you’ll know how many people were there and will probably get introduced to some VIPs and get other opportunities to provide information about your business to others. Like the attendees, you’ll get plenty of opportunities for face-to-face contact with business prospects.

If you buy a booth, you’ll have a list of qualified leads to work off of after the event is over, and they will be people you met in person. So no matter what route you take with events, you will have a measurable return on your investment.

The key to a successful event, whether you are putting the event on or just attending, is qualified people. You want to go where your potential customers would go. Customers are lured by high-quality information that’s relevant to them.

The more specialized the event, the more significance it will have. It’s easier to find general information than it is niche information, so if you have an event that is narrowly focused, you will find a lot of customers in attendance who are attracted to that niche.

If you are the one putting on the event, take great care that everything is professionally done from start to finish. If you are uncomfortable handling the details internally, I recommend using an event management firm to look after all of the details for you. It only takes one small slip up to ruin the entire event. You will be judged not just on attendance but also on things like the food quality and how well the sound system worked.

Your event should provide an opportunity to bring buyers and sellers together, even if you are the primary seller. Use your event to get face-to-face time with not only prospective customers but existing ones, as well.

A big part of building a company is repeat business. You can’t afford to lose a client these days. An event can build on the trust and rapport you already have with your customers. It offers the opportunity for face time and perhaps even a chance to introduce them to other customers who can assist them with other problems they may be having. The more value they get out of your relationship, the harder it becomes for them to walk away.

A good event will keep people coming back year after year. Regardless of whether you are a sponsor or attendee, with a little preparation and the right attitude, you can get a great return on investment. In this economy, is there anything better than that?

Read Fred's previous column.

Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

Phoning it in

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of business being done out of the office.

I’m not talking about lunch meetings, golf outings or mixers. I’m talking about the little device that’s most likely attached to your waist that you couldn’t possibly live without. It allows you to leave the office without leaving your business behind. E-mails find you no matter where you are, stock prices stream directly to you, and people can call you when something big happens. And the gizmos are also pretty good at helping you kill time at the airport.

The problem is that the technology is advancing so fast that it’s hard to keep up with what phone is best for your needs. Maybe you find the phone you need, but will the network it’s on give you the coverage to keep you from being out of touch with your business?

There are a lot of questions to sort through to find the right device. For instance, up until a few years ago, BlackBerry was the business standard. But it won’t integrate with every business’s network, which can be an inconvenience. The iPhone has come on strong, but is it a consumer device with spotty coverage or a can’t-live-without-it handset with no problems? Depends on who you ask. What about the other phones that are out there? Would they be a better choice for what you use it for? Droid is generating a lot of buzz; would it be the best choice?

For all of these questions, if you query 10 different people, you’ll get 10 different answers, and they’ll each point to a “must have” function that only comes on one phone or another. And if you wait 10 minutes, the technology will change again.

I just got used to my old phone, but now it’s outdated. Navigating through this technology maze to find a new phone takes time and effort, and there are no clear answers. Some people simply give up and use two phones because they can’t find one that has all of the features and coverage that they need. The industry is advancing so quickly that it’s almost impossible to catch up. By the time you find what you like, the next great thing has arrived on the shelves, and everyone has moved on.

But if you want to be efficient and have the convenience of being in touch with the office no matter where you are, you are going to have to take the time to do a little research to find the phone that best fits your needs.

Look at all the features available and prioritize what’s important to you. For me, I focus on the basic function of the phone — making phone calls. I don’t want to miss an important call while I’m out of the office. But be wary, because the best “business” phone with its multitude of features may not necessarily be the best phone for making and receiving phone calls.

Go to a store and try out anything you are considering. Some of the phones have buttons and keyboards that look like they were designed for elves instead of humans. If every time you try to dial you are hitting four different numbers simultaneously, is this really helping your efficiency? Touch screens are cool, but are you comfortable using one?

The key is to narrow down your choices with some basic research, then go out and give your finalists a test drive before committing to one. While it might be difficult to figure out which phone, which network and which applications are for you, in the end, it’s all about staying in touch in a way that works for you.

But no matter what direction you decide to go, don’t forget the most important feature of all: Can you make a phone call on it?

Thursday, 26 March 2009 20:00

Change for the better

Last November, an African-American was elected president of the United States.

This one event illustrated how far our country has come in regards to race relations. Does it mean everything is perfect? Absolutely not. There are still many things that need to be done, but it at least shows progress.

Ten years ago, if I asked you if an African-American could be elected president, what would you have said? What about five years ago? In just a short time, attitudes changed, and Americans picked who they felt was the best person for the job.

In business, that’s essentially what we are trying to do every time we hire. We want the best person for the job regardless of race, sex or ethnicity. People would be foolish to exclude potentially great candidates based on personal bias. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but those that pursue such policies will ultimately suffer in the end as their talent pool is limited to only those that closely resemble themselves.

America’s demographics are rapidly changing. Minority and ethnic groups are rapidly gaining ground in personal wealth and influence and are having a direct effect on the marketplace. How are you potentially going to market to these groups if you don’t understand their point of view? Having a diverse work force can help you be more competitive. But beyond that, having the best person in every job can help you with more than just diversity outreach.

Obviously, CEOs see the importance of diversity. In a national Smart Business survey of CEOs, 48 percent indicated that diversity was “very important” when hiring and 62 percent have an official diversity policy.

We need to make sure we have created an equal playing field for all candidates. Having a diversity policy is one way to do this, but you can also start by reviewing where you are searching for applicants. A big failing of many companies when it comes to diversity is only posting jobs in places where nonminorities look. If your job openings are only seen by a predominantly white applicant pool, then obviously you are going to get predominantly white applicants. By putting in a little extra effort, you can get a better diversity of applicants and increase the overall quality of the candidate pool at the same time.

Diversity does not mean hiring people just for the sake of being diverse. In fact, of those surveyed, 83 percent said it’s possible to go too far with diversity efforts. You do not want to create a situation where you are hiring unqualified candidates for your positions. That just creates bitterness and sets up the person hired to fail — neither of which benefits your business. An equal playing field equals an equal opportunity for all.

Attitudes about diversity are changing. There is still much to be done, but the smart business leaders are taking a proactive attitude toward creating the most talented and best-equipped work force possible.

When it comes down to it, diversity is an issue of the heart. Biblical teachings emphasize that in the eyes of God, we are all the same people. Thomas Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal.” But some people don’t believe this in their heart. Once their heart embraces this idea, their beliefs and behavior will change, and when it does, America will take another big step forward. In the meantime, why not take a step forward at your business?

Other survey highlights:

? 89 percent said they hire across a broad range of ages to relate to a broad range of clients

? 72 percent said it’s important to their customers that they have a diverse work force

? 75 percent make some sort of effort to have a diverse work force

? 58 percent spend between $1,000 and $10,000 annually on diversity efforts

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with yourcomments at (800) 988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.

Sunday, 02 December 2007 19:00

Keep it short

Welcome to the premiere issue of Smart Business St. Louis, 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 demand on our time from employees, suppliers and clients seems to increase every day. The bumpy economy only adds to the pressures of managing a successful business.

That’s why we have 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 fifth 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 St. Louis will tap into the top local business minds. Take this issue as an example. Our cover story tells how Edward Jones Managing Partner Jim Weddle strives to maintain a culture in which senior leaders feel empowered to make important decisions in far-
flung offices, and employees feel they have a means to speak openly about the way in which the business is operating.

In our Smart Leaders feature, St. Louis Blues Enterprises CEO Peter McLoughlin shares how he turns passion into profit and how you can get the most out of your employees.
Finally, our Fast Lane interview subject, Adamson Advertising President Kimberly Boyer, explains how she drives innovation at the fast-growing agency by giving employees independence.

In the coming months, you’ll hear from more of the best business minds in St. Louis 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 real estate and employment services. They have front-line experience in dealing with the issues facing middle-market companies throughout 
the St. Louis area. We work with these companies to develop content 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 St. Louis 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 one 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 St. Louis — and every subsequent issue — just as our readers have come to expect the same from our other award-winning publications for the last 18 years.

So why are you getting Smart Business St. Louis? 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.
One more thing: You won’t find stacks of Smart Business St. Louis on newsstands or in building lobbies. Just as we carefully select the CEOs we feature, we carefully select who receives our management journal, as well. I invite you to share your feedback with me by e-mailing me or 
calling me. I look forward to hearing from you.

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

Friday, 26 October 2007 20:00

Direct involvement

At one of our recent events, Steve Demetriou told our audience that if he is spending a lot of time with his direct reports, then he has the wrong people in those positions.

Demetriou, chairman and CEO of Aleris International Inc., a $5 billion metals company, really struck a chord with that comment. While it may seem that the role of the CEO should be to spend a lot of time with his or her direct reports, that’s not really the case.

If you are spending a lot of time managing your management team, who’s working on the major strategic issues facing the company?

It’s always tempting to jump into the fray and solve day-to-day problems, particularly in the parts of the business where you have a lot of experience. If you came up through the ranks on the sales side, there will always be the temptation to meddle with sales and get things done the way you used to do them. But now you have someone else that’s in charge of that function, and you need to let that person do it his or her way.

There’s always a time and place for the CEO to get involved in the details, but these opportunities need to be chosen carefully and should produce maximum results.

This goes back to Demetriou’s comment. If you are spending a lot of time with a particular department head to straighten things out, then you probably have the wrong person running that department. Short-term fixes are fine, but if it’s a regular occurrence, you need to think twice about what is going on.

You also have to give your key people the wiggle room to get the job done. Give them the parameters in which to operate, then get out of their way.

The great American general George S. Patton is credited with saying, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” Sure, you hold them accountable for results, but if you find the right people to begin with, then you don’t need to be managing how they manage others. CEOs have their own role to play within the organization.

Some like to spend more time with their front-line people — who are closer to customers — to stay current on trends and specific needs. Some like to talk to customers directly to make sure the product and service offerings are relevant in a changing market. Others like to tweak long-term plans and spend time refining the corporate vision.

The point is, no matter how you prefer to be spending your time, if you have the right people in your key positions, then you will have more time to focus on the things that are most important for the long-term success of your company.

So if you find yourself spending a lot of face time with your direct reports, you have to ask yourself two questions: Am I micromanaging these people? And, is this the right person for the job?

If the answer to the first question is yes, then it’s a matter of trusting them with the responsibility and the authority to get the job done — and hold them accountable to that. If you aren’t micro-managing them but you’re still spending a lot of time with them fixing problems, then it might be time for evaluating whether you have the right people in your most important positions.

Ultimately, if you’re having to do their jobs, then who is doing yours?

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

Wednesday, 28 February 2007 19:00

Friends in need

The bigger your business gets, the more attention you will attract. Bigger suppliers become interested in doing business with you, and bigger customers start to take notice. But you also will get attention from the aspiring businessperson, the one who runs a small operation but isn’t doing as well as he or she could be doing.

These people are attracted to you because you’re obviously doing something right. They’ll approach you looking for advice, business, money, referrals or all four.

Your first reaction may be to send them packing because you don’t have the time or the patience. But maybe you should take the time to hear them out.

Odds are, somewhere along your climb to success, someone helped you out in some way. Maybe it’s time you did the same by doing your part to help improve the local business climate.

Before you jump in to help, make sure you are in a position to do so. Don’t try to help someone if you need help yourself.

People are typically looking for one or more of the following.

  1. Advice. Sometimes all people really need is guidance from someone who knows more than they do or a push in the right direction. In this case, you’re just sharing the wisdom you’ve gained during your own growth process.

  2. Business. Often people are looking for you to do business with them. They have a product or service they think your successful company might benefit from. Give them a chance. Maybe they can provide a better price or service than your current supplier. A little business thrown their way can really make the difference between survival and failure.

  3. Referrals. If you can’t use their particular product or service, they may want you to refer friends and colleagues their way. If you trust they’ll do a good job, refer someone to them.

  4. Money. Depending on your relationship with the person, you may be comfortable loaning him or her money directly, bartering services or even taking some sort of ownership stake in return for cash. Be cautious about lending someone money, but if you believe in this person and his or her business, then it may be worth the risk.

There are many ways to help another business, but never offer to help someone who isn’t asking, because doing so can offend that person. Those who ask are already showing leadership by admitting they don’t have all the answers, so why not consider hearing what they have to say and seeing if you can lend them a helping hand.

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

Wednesday, 21 July 2004 11:19

Due credit

Have you checked your credit rating lately?

Never assume that your personal or business credit is accurate. These reports are often plagued with errors and inconsistencies, which can affect your overall credit rating and, ultimately, the rates you pay on your loans, costing you money. A bad credit rating can also prevent you from getting the loans your business may desperately need to grow.

The power the big three credit reporting agencies -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion -- have over your personal and business life is potentially disastrous. Will you miss out on your dream house because an error on your credit report delayed your financing? Will an error on your business credit report cause you to pay higher interest rates than you should and cut into your cash flow as a result?

These agencies need to be held to a much higher standard than they are currently, especially considering their past actions. In 2000, the Federal Trade Commission fined the three agencies a combined $2.5 million because they weren't complying with provisions in the Fair Credit Reporting Act, namely the requirement that they maintain a toll-free number to allow consumers to challenge mistakes on their credit reports.

Equifax and TransUnion were even accused of blocking certain calls based on area code.

If you want to see your report, you have the privilege of paying the companies around $10 just to see what they have reported about you before you can even start correcting the problem. A new law requires that by Sept. 1, 2005, everyone will be entitled to one free credit report annually, which is a step in the right direction, but not enough.

The credit reporting agencies take a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach with consumers and businesses, and that's unacceptable. The burden of proof should be on them to prove a negative remark before it's ever posted to your report. You shouldn't have make sure the information they built their business on and profit from is accurate -- that's their job, not ours.

In a country built on capitalism, credit reports wield a great deal of power. Those who profit from generating those reports should be held more responsible for making sure everything in them is 100 percent accurate. There is too much at stake to expect anything less.

If you would like to see action taken on this cause so that laws are changed, please contact us.

To learn more about credit reports, credit scoring and how to obtain your report, go to www.myvesta.org, a nonprofit consumer education organization or www.ftc.gov.