Jim Holbrook eavesdrops. Whether on airplanes or in aisles at local retail stores, he keeps a journal of what people do, why they’re traveling, what they want and what they need. That’s because the answers are in the marketplace, says the CEO and director of EMAK Worldwide Inc., a family of marketing agencies with 348 employees worldwide. Although his mantra is admittedly borrowed from another CEO, Wal-Mart’s Sam Walton, it has brought impressive results to EMAK, which posted 2006 revenue of $181 million. Smart Business spoke with Holbrook about consistency, short-term memory loss and why it’s important to weed out assholes when hiring.
Make employees feel that they are part of the team. The last thing you want to do is show up and feel like you’re not making a difference, that you’re just a cog, that you’re just pushing stuff around, that your role doesn’t really matter. Getting everybody to feel like they’re on the team is critical. Delegate the work so that they feel like they’re making a difference.
We put our business plan on one page, and everybody gets a copy of it. It’s very clear what our objective is, what we’re trying to do and what the key priorities are for the year. Everybody gets a copy of it so they can refer back and say, ‘OK, I’m working on this project, and I see how it fits in,’ or, ‘I’m working on this project, and I don’t really see how it fits in. I’d better ask somebody if I’m heading in the right direction.’
The ideal work environment is a place where people drive fast to work in the morning and drive slow home at night. I’ve worked at companies where they have massage therapists come in or there’s a barista making special espressos. That can be artificial and superficial. Employees know when they’re being bamboozled. It’s got to be a genuine effort.
If people are happy, stimulated, and feel like they’re productive and part of the solution, then the results will be better.
Avoid assholes. There’s a book out now [by Robert I. Sutton] called ‘The No Asshole Rule.’ Hire people that are good people, that have a positive outlook on life, that are optimistic and that are outgoing. It makes work life a lot better.
Look for people that are curious. The people that come into interviews and ask me lots of questions, generally, I know are well-briefed, interested and trying to learn something. Those are the kind of people that are not assholes. The curious people are the ones who really want to know what it’s like and how does everything work.
Our interviewing process is multistep. We don’t interview somebody on one day and make them an offer. It takes several rounds, meeting with several people. It’s an inclusive process, so the person gets voted on by the team.
I never recommend that we hire that person unless they ask me five or 10 questions, at least, throughout an interview. The curiosity factor that is the real recipe for success in business.
Know when to act. At some point, you’ve got to say, ‘OK, I’ve heard enough. Like it or not, we’ve got to do something. Let’s do this.’ I think that’s the critical balance at the CEO level know when to intake and listen, and know when to decide and move on.
My first boss at Procter & Gamble always taught me to get to 80 percent. That’s good enough. Once you have 80 percent of the data, do something. Getting the last 20 percent is so painful, so expensive, takes so much more time and has diminishing returns. If you have to be 98 percent right all the time or have 98 percent of the data or facts, the organization will become more stagnant
Remain in the present. We try all kinds of things that don’t work. If we were batting 1.000, that would mean that we were playing in the wrong league.
One of the key factors is short-term memory loss. You don’t look back. My management group spends some time talking about what we tried that didn’t work and coming up with those conclusions. Playing too much Monday morning quarterback is not a good proposition.
CEO as judge and jury is a bad role: ‘I’m going to wait for you to screw up, and I’m going to criticize you.’ It makes the organization become risk-averse, and then the CEO has to be the one coming up with all the things because nobody else wants to get criticized. A little bit of criticism, a little bit of introspection and self-analysis is a good thing.
It stretches the people. It shows the people that they can try things as long as it’s prudent. The benefit really is making the employees feel like they can push the boundaries.
Stay consistent. We set strategies that are enduring, not something that happens this quarter, this month or even this year. It’s an ongoing objective that we have to work toward. Setting those objectives and coming back to them consistently is what drives alignment and then drives the results.
Re-evaluate not the goals as much as the way to get to the goals. It’s not like, ‘These don’t work. Let’s try something else.’ Try to be very consistent, day to day, week to week, month to month, even year to year.
It gives people the opportunity to understand and get on board.
A lot of organizations change their agenda all the time, and that just confuses everybody: ‘Are we working on this? Were we working on that? Well, now we have a new agenda, so I’m not going to work that hard on this because something else is going to come down the pike.’
If people know what’s going on and have visibility into what’s happening, then it drives alignment. Alignment is the key to a successful and empowered organization.
HOW TO REACH: EMAK Worldwide Inc., (323) 932-4300 or www.emak.com
Executives are always searching for the next bright idea in business. For Ellis Yan, bright ideas are his business.
As CEO of Technical Consumer Products Inc., Yan oversees one of the country’s leading energy-efficient lighting manufacturers. Founded in 1993, his company has become the premier producer of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in the United States, increasing sales more than fivefold since 2000.
The spike in production after 2000 was no coincidence. In the 12 months after June of the same year, rolling blackouts left much of California in sporadic darkness. The energy crisis had myriad effects said blackouts, higher energy prices but none proved to be a bigger factor for TCP than the increased awareness of energy-efficient lighting.
Before the crisis, CFLs packed little luminous punch for a hefty price. A cost of $7.99 per bulb was hardly economically savvy, and consumers opted for traditional incandescent lamps instead. When the need for efficient bulbs rose, however, lighting manufacturers were left scrambling to produce high-quality lighting at an affordable price.
TCP quickly found itself ahead of the pack in efficient bulb design. With the introduction of the “SpringLamp Inside” rather than a straight tube resulting in the twisted tube shape that characterizes energy-efficient bulbs the company matched the performance of old-fashioned incandescent lamps while offering an energy-saving product that could actually save consumers money in the long run.
Since that time, Yan and his team at TCP have created a number of different products for a variety of name-brand and private-label lighting manufacturers, including a new line of energy-efficient bulbs for its largest retail partner, The Home Depot, over the past year.
With increased production, so came the need for more space and manpower. Yan addressed the former by moving corporate headquarters to Aurora. The new 154,000-square-foot facility opened in spring 2007.
To address the latter issue of manpower, the CEO hired 94 employees a growth of 123 percent over the past five years. TCP now employs a staff of 170.
As our country becomes increasingly eco-conscious, the need for energy-efficient lighting isn’t going to wane any time soon. To meet that demand, Yan and TCP are going to need a whole bunch of new bright ideas.
HOW TO REACH: Technical Consumer Products Inc., (880) 324-1496 or www.tcpi.com
Redefining an existing company’s brand and launching a new brand are daunting tasks for even the savviest of executives.
But trying to do both at the same time? Difficult, but not impossible, says Greg Skoda, who as chairman of Skoda, Minotti & Co. facilitated a complete brand overhaul in the midst of launching three new companies.
“We didn’t want to go down the path where we started a range of different businesses and then got involved in the brand,” he says. “It was important for us to do those things simultaneously.”
The process began in early 2006 when the firm’s vice president of marketing began interviewing Skoda, Minotti’s partners to find the true essence of the brand. Following these oneon-one interviews, the staff was interviewed in two-hour group sessions.
“Everyone in the company had an opportunity to participate in the development,” Skoda says. “They’ve got to have bought in to who we are, what we want to be and how we want to deliver services.”
When all the responses were compiled and analyzed, a new brand was born. Featuring a new logo and slogan — “Delivering on the Promise” — the brand was launched internally in January, in tandem with a new five-year plan. The external launch is set for early September 2007.
At the same time Skoda was overseeing this brand implementation, he was simultaneously developing three new businesses. Skoda, Minotti & Co. Financial Staffing was formed in 2006 to help clients fill financial staffing needs. Also last year, Skoda, Minotti & Co. Small Business Services launched to help small business owners manage their finances. Skoda also helped create Aurum Wealth Management to complement the firm’s existing financial services.
Each business was developed with the new slogan in mind, and by offering distinct services, each business aimed to deliver on that promise of helping clients grow.
“We want to be an integral contributor to their success,” Skoda says. “The only way that we’re going to is if we can continually find ways to add value for them.”
HOW TO REACH: Skoda, Minotti & Co., (440) 449-6800 or www.skodaminotti.com