Thursday, 14 July 2011 11:46

The climb to the top

In the sports world, there is a clearly defined champion each year. Every team strives to be the one that finishes on top, but most don’t make it. Many teams have good seasons and might be satisfied with that, but only one is the true No. 1.

The question to ask yourself is, what is your goal? Are you trying to be the No. 1 player in your industry? Or are you happy with just having the equivalent of a good season? A lot of you might say you are aiming for No. 1, but are you really putting in the effort to get there? Is everything you do focused on obtaining that goal?

Tiger Woods, Steve Jobs, Jack Welch and Warren Buffett know what it takes to win.

Building a championship team in any industry, whether it’s sports or business, is a full-time effort. Here are four observations on what it takes to get to the top.

Continuous improvement. Tiger Woods has a coach. One of the best golfers in our lifetime has a coach and works with him to get better. The coach challenges his thinking, pushes him to go further and doesn’t let him get complacent. Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean you can’t get better. The road to the top requires long hours of identifying every flaw in your organization and then working tirelessly to eliminate that flaw. Once you are on top, you have to work even harder, because all of your competitors will be using your success as the new benchmark. If you don’t work to improve even more, you’ll drop back to the middle of the pack. The day you think you know everything is the day you start to decline.

Look ahead. Winners identify trends before anyone else and are able to take advantage of that knowledge. If you are working on continuous improvement, you’ll obtain what you need to move quicker than your competitors. Why? Because you will have networked more than the next guy, talked to more of your customers and interacted with your employees on the front lines. You will have spent more time analyzing the data and reading up on the latest trends. When you put all this information together, you’ll start to see patterns that you can take advantage of. Steve Jobs of Apple has been ahead of the competition with almost every product he’s launched. In fact, some of his few failures have been partly because he was too far ahead of everyone and the market wasn’t ready yet. Jobs is able to look at consumer needs and combine that with technology trends to create new best-in-class products.

Desire. This one is simple. If you don’t have the desire to be No. 1, then don’t expect to be No. 1. To be a champion, you have to have the heart of a champion. Maybe this is something you are born with or maybe it is learned. Either way, if you don’t have it, you’ll never be the best. Jack Welch wanted to be at the top of everything he did. If he wasn’t going to win, then he had no problem selling off business segments and using the resources to build a champion in another area. There’s nothing wrong with just being a “good” business, but don’t try to fool yourself by saying you want to be the best when you don’t really have the desire to do what it takes to get there.

Commitment. One clue that you might be lacking the desire to be the best in your industry is a lack of commitment. If you are only working 40 hours a week, you are probably not committed to being No. 1. With the talent level of the CEOs who are out there, it would be almost impossible to work fewer hours than they do and expect to beat them. You have to be willing to outwork the competition and do whatever it takes to win. Warren Buffett would often start his day at 4:30 a.m., and he also saved $1,000 by the time he was 14 — a lot of money back in the 1940s. He was committed at an early age to being a success. Long hours and hard work are mile posts on the road to a championship. Do you have what it takes to win it all?

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

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 07 July 2011 16:56

Columbus2020 drives economic development

You’ve heard the saying, “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” As leaders in the Columbus region contemplated the community’s future and the importance of economic development, they understood that change was necessary. That change had to be broad-based and include a variety of people and perspectives. Here’s our story of making that change.

Nearly two years ago, the Columbus region embarked on a journey that has transformed the way in which it tackles the economic development of the eight-county, central Ohio region. The discussion began with The Columbus Partnership following a situation that forced the community to scramble to save an important local business. Members of the partnership, a group of more than 30 top business and community leaders representing major corporations, reflected on the way in which the region organizes economic development. Following months of research, benchmarking and discussions, my job was to return a recommendation to The Columbus Partnership. While many may have expected a proposed solution that put the partnership at the helm, I felt strongly that while this situation required a laser vision, it also had to be driven by divergent brains, talents and interests. This felt risky and was a change for our community — exactly what was needed.

Getting organized

I recommended and we executed a broad engagement strategy that started with a series of leadership round-tables that, over time, brought together more than 1,500 people representing big business, small business, government, elected officials, young professionals and more. Each round-table session was a three-hour conversation of our community, its strengths, its weaknesses, economic development successes and failures and most importantly a discussion on our collective aspirations. We asked a lot of questions, did a lot of listening and connected the dots as common themes emerged. Columbus 2020, a 10-year vision on economic development was born through broad community engagement.

Friday morning

Now to my favorite part of this story. A transition team was formed to discuss, debate and decide just how economic development could be different for our region. Each member of that team had skin in the game — they each represented organizations that had a hand in economic development. Members represented organizations including The Columbus Partnership, Columbus Chamber, TechColumbus, the city of Columbus, Franklin County, CompeteColumbus, the Columbus Foundation and the Mid-Ohio Development Exchange (MODE). This team came together at 8 a.m. every single Friday morning for more than one year. They did so because they decided to, not because it was dictated. These organizations had collaborated before but this situation was different. This time, the group was focused on a common vision, one that could make transformational change for our community. And, they knew that staying the same was not an option. Fueled by coffee, passion for our community, and a willingness to set individual interests aside, they reviewed, debated, questioned, presented options and, in the end, made difficult decisions.

Doing things differently

Today, Columbus2020 is our region’s economic development integrated strategy. It’s not a new organization but a compilation of organizations, each playing a role in achieving our aggressive goals for the region. And it’s working. As a community we’ve secured more investment in economic development than ever before. More organizations are contributing financially and with other resources. There is enthusiasm, commitment and, most importantly, a willingness to look through a different lens.

I congratulate Smart Business on recognizing a diverse group of business individuals as the 2011 Smart Leaders class because it’s this diversity in thought and action that will continue to improve our region. As a community, we must be open to ideas. That’s one of Columbus’ greatest assets. Let’s use it to our advantage.

Alex Fischer is the president and CEO of The Columbus Partnership.

Published in Columbus

Thomas Kirkpatrick, a 19-year veteran of the Procter & Gamble Co., had an urge to try his hand at entrepreneurship. In 1998, he bought the assets to Eco Engineering LLC, a lighting energy services company.

Kirkpatrick saw big potential for the service his company provided, but it was lacking an organizational culture. The values that Procter & Gamble used touched home with him, and he figured those same values could work for his small business.

“Those ethics fit well with my own beliefs, so I tried to establish those same values here,” says Kirkpatrick, president and CEO. “I wanted to develop the organization to create a culture that would bring the good things I experienced at P&G and leave behind some of the things that could plague a larger organization and prevent it from being a nimble, customer-focused organization.”

By following core values and his company’s vision and mission, Kirkpatrick revitalized Eco Engineering, which saw 2009 revenue of $15 million.

Smart Business spoke to Kirkpatrick about how he runs his business by sticking close to the values he knows can create success.

Establish cultural values.

As the CEO of a small business you have the sole responsibility in being the leader to establish the vision, the values and the culture to set the tone for your organization. It surprises me every day how carefully people observe what you do, whether or not you’re setting high personal standards. It is absolutely essential and critical to communicate well and make certain that you are sharing your own personal character and standards.

As a CEO, you need to make sure that you communicate clearly the mission and vision of the company. [Employees] need to have something they believe in with passion and something they can get excited about.

You’ve got to decide what kind of an organizational culture you want to have, your values. You need to establish honesty, openness and integrity and create partnerships. Once you get a clear mission and core values set up, you will be able to get an organization in place that can go to work. You have to put together a set of measures so that you have something you can look at to see if you are achieving what you set out to do. You then have to evaluate what you have established, and from there, you set out to try and be the best.

Record and update values.

One of the first things I did back in ’98 was put down on paper a vision, a mission and core values. Most small business owners might say they don’t need a vision, mission or values. But they would agree that they need to provide written guidelines on how the work needs to be done. Some have very basic guidelines and others just use an apprentice program where new people learn just by watching. They need to formalize that and instead of letting new people learn by observing, they need to force themselves to put the process down on paper, and as a result, they can have specific measures of how they’re succeeding or where they’re falling short. That will help them become a better company.

It’s important to continually be looking for the best practices from outside your own company. Participate in a CEO round table to share ideas with other CEOs or keep up on the latest business books. It’s making sure that the CEO doesn’t get so caught up in running the business day to day and that you’re taking time for your own personal development. If you’re not out there looking for the best practices and bringing those to your organization then you’re going to be stagnant.

Reinforce core values.

Every three to four weeks, I meet with all 53 employees, and every quarter, I meet with my leadership team, and we review our values and how we are doing. Have we made progress over the last quarter in working toward our vision and our mission? Are we living up to our core values? I reinforce the fact that our whole focus is customer satisfaction and that we are proud of ourselves and we want to be the best. The only way to do that is by focusing on getting better. As I review these values, it hopefully empowers every employee to live up to those.

HOW TO REACH: Eco Engineering LLC, (513) 985-8300 or

Published in Cincinnati

Wal-Mart and Apple operate in different industry segments with different business models, and yet the same management principles drive their long-term success. What is it they are doing that you need to do in your business?

Wal-Mart and Apple have absolute clarity about their core management philosophies, and they do not violate them. Core management philosophies define a company’s business approach and its fundamental choices. The combination of these choices creates a company’s unique position or business model in the marketplace. The strict adherence to these core philosophies often creates an unassailable advantage.

Wal-Mart ranked No. 1 on the Fortune 500 list in 2010 and reported profits of $14.3 billion. It has the money and resources to carry any merchandise it desires in its stores. Why is it, then, that you are not likely to find a $2,000 suit or dress in a Wal-Mart store? If you did, as a customer, what would go through your mind?

Wal-Mart’s core management philosophies include operational efficiency, lower prices and higher volume. Wal-Mart does not feature high-end merchandise in its stores. It would confuse its customers, employees and suppliers. The customer of a $2,000 dress has a very different set of expectations than that of a customer of a $30 dress. Selling a $2,000 dress requires a markedly different selling process than selling a $30 dress. Wal-Mart knows its business model and strictly adheres to it.

How well articulated are your core management philosophies? Is there ambiguity about your business model? Core philosophies are part of the DNA of your company. If there is confusion about the DNA, the company will not do well. Core philosophies affect everything the company does from its vision, goals and strategy to its capabilities, processes, roles and responsibilities, culture, performance measurement, and execution. Therefore, it is critical for you to identify your core management philosophies.

Business experts and consumers regard Apple as a highly innovative company. Many other companies also claim to be innovative, but Apple innovates in a special manner. It follows a core philosophy that permeates every single product it puts out in the marketplace. Apple constantly breaks new ground to make its products intuitive and easy to use. That is Apple’s No. 1 mantra, and it sets Apple’s products apart in the marketplace. Go out and search — you are unlikely to find an Apple product that is not easy to use.

Core philosophies are at a higher level than strategies. Strategies may change but core philosophies remain the same regardless of internal or external conditions. To identify its core philosophies, your company should consider if there are any unchangeable, non-negotiable aspects that define its business approach. Some questions for you to ask include: Does your company limit itself to certain industry verticals, market segments, account sizes, specific customer needs and specific product/service attributes?

Look around and identify successful businesses, whether they are Fortune 500 companies or the local bakery store. If you examine these successful businesses closely, you will find they all have a set of core management philosophies that they do not violate. It defines their business. It is their DNA.

It does not matter what core management philosophies you choose. Every answer is right. What is important is to have a clear answer that removes all ambiguity. You may select operational efficiency and low prices like Wal-Mart or you may choose superior products and premium pricing like Apple. Know what you are choosing and make sure all your stakeholders — employees, customers, suppliers, investors, board and management — understand those choices. It may very well be the difference between success and failure.

Ravi Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corp., a management consulting and executive coaching firm. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “Coherent Strategy and Execution: An Eye-opening Parable about Transforming Leadership and Management Perspectives.”

Published in Houston
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