Smart Business Columbus would like to recognize
The 2013 Class of Power Players in Columbus.
This year long luncheon series featured the most influential business leaders in the region sharing their perspective on why Columbus is such a great place to live, work and visit.
Meet this year's Power Players!
Janet E. Jackson
president and CEO
United Way of Central Ohio
Janet E. Jackson is president and CEO of United Way of Central Ohio, one of the largest United Way organizations in the country. Under her leadership, United Way is mobilizing the central Ohio community to accomplish concrete goals, addressing the root causes of issues facing the community in order to create lasting change.
Jackson also serves as vice chair of the Central Ohio Workforce Investment Board, and as vice chair of Learn4Life. She is a board member of The Center for Family Safety and Healing, and served on the City of Columbus 2012 Bicentennial Planning Commission.
Her work earned her an induction into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 2001, and this year Jackson was named the “2013 Professional Woman of the Year” by The Women of Color Foundation. •
Community Shelter Board
Michelle Heritage has served as the executive director of the Community Shelter Board since April 2010, providing leadership to the nonprofit by achieving community-wide objectives focused on ending homelessness.
She is responsible for strategic planning and collaborative efforts, private-sector fundraising and resource development, effective government systems and private-sector relationships. Heritage has extensive nonprofit and public sector experience, including more than 20 years in leadership roles in the homeless system, mental health, child welfare and the alcohol and drug system.
She serves on national, statewide and local boards and committees for human services, diversity, homelessness and community research. In 2010, WELD calendar featured Heritage as one of the “12 Women You Should Know.” The Better Business Bureau, United Way and Mid-Ohio Foodbank have recognized the Community Shelter Board for its accomplishments under Heritage’s leadership. •
founder and CEO
As the organization’s founder and CEO, Sheri Tackett is responsible for the strategic direction and overall business management of Delta Energy and its related companies. Prior to forming Delta, Tackett held senior management positions within Ashland Inc.’s chemical and energy exploration divisions.
With 27 years of experience in the energy industry, Tackett was recently named to the 2012 class of “Enterprising Women of the Year” by Enterprising Women Magazine. She is a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners, the Women’s President’s Organization and the United Way Women’s Leadership Council.
She is an advisory board member for Women for Economic and Leadership Development; a board member for Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; and chair for the Tiffany Circle Society of Women Leaders of the American Red Cross. •
Columbia Gas of Ohio
Jack Partridge has been president of Columbia Gas of Ohio since 2003. In 2011, he assumed the role of chief regulatory officer of Columbia Gas of Ohio, a subsidiary of the NiSource Gas Distribution Companies. Partridge began his career with Columbia Gas in 1977 as a government affairs representative at the company’s local distribution company in Pennsylvania. Partridge served as a member of the Ohio Governor’s Workforce Policy Board and as chairman of the Goodwill Columbus board of directors. He and his wife, Anne, are co-chairs for the United Way of Central Ohio’s 2013 fundraising campaign. •
Dr. Steven Gabbe
senior VP for health sciences/CEO
The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
Dr. Steven Gabbe arrived as plans for the largest physical expansion project in the history of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center were being developed. The $1 billion expansion project is expected to be finished in 2016. Gabbe is the author of more than 160 peer-reviewed papers and is senior editor of the leading textbook in his field, “Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies.” He has held leadership positions with the Association of American Medical Colleges and National Institutes of Health. Gabbe is co-chair of the Liaison Committee for Medical Education and is a member of the Institute of Medicine. •
Jordan A. Miller
president and CEO, Central Ohio
Fifth Third Bank
Jordan A. Miller began his career at Fifth Third Bank in 1998. He was serving as senior vice president and manager of Fifth Third Investment Advisors for the bank’s Cincinnati affiliate when he was chosen to head up Central Ohio operations. Before joining Fifth Third Bank, Miller was chief financial officer and business manager for Huntington Investment Co. in Columbus. He is a past member of the Bank Broker Dealer Committee for the National Association of Securities Dealers in Washington, D.C. In 2011, Miller was honored as a member of the Bank Insurance & Securities Association Circle of Excellence. •
CEO and chief strategy officer,
Kelly Borth co-founded GREENCREST, a brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm, in 1990 and has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. GREENCREST specializes in unique communications programs that begin with a solid marketing foundation and result in increased market penetration and awareness. Borth’s background includes experience as a marketing specialist, marketing director and public relations director. She is a sought-after business adviser and serves on numerous community and business advisory boards. Borth has received accolades ranging from one of Columbus’s top “Forty Under 40” to the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year, Supporter of Entrepreneurship Award finalist. •
president and CEO
LifeCare Alliance, launched in 1898, administers health and nutrition services to older adults and chronically ill or homebound residents of Central Ohio through programs ranging from Meals on Wheels to Visiting Nurses. Chuck Gehring serves as president and CEO of the organization. Gehring’s background includes an impressive list of service in both the private and not-for-profit sectors. A member and board member of numerous not-for-profit organizations, he was executive vice president and COO for Catholic Social Services before joining LifeCare Alliance, and has worked for Sanese Services and Anheuser Busch. Gehring is also an adjunct professor at Franklin University in the Master of Business Administration program. •
chief economic officer
As chief economic officer of Columbus 2020, Kenny McDonald, CEcD, oversees the economic development and business attraction efforts for the 11-county Columbus Region. McDonald’s extensive experience helps guide Columbus 2020 to be instrumental in forming private/public partnerships that help develop the company’s growth and innovation plans. He also serves as an elected member of the board of directors for the International Economic Development Council, and serves on the boards of NAIOP, SciTech and the Columbus Crew. McDonald’s previous experience includes executive vice president of the Charlotte Regional Partnership and leadership positions at the Albuquerque Economic Development Corp., Fluor Daniels Global Locations Strategies and the Savannah Economic Development Authority. •
Steve Weis admits it’s fun to be in a Max & Erma’s restaurant on Free Cookies Wednesday. He watches for the responses on customer’s faces as the freshly baked treats arrive after they’ve finished their meals.
“We do it because we see reactions, and we do it because we love it,” he says. “No one else really does it. We love that it’s unique. It always has had a culture of being just a little quirky and a little different — and it’s always been about quality.”
And quality is the magic word that Weis, president of Max & Erma’s Restaurants, knows is helping reinvigorate the casual dining chain that was rescued out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010 by American Blue Ribbon Holdings LLC.
Weis is a firm believer that there was something worth saving.
“There was clearly this great brand underneath it, and the previous owners had probably made some poor decisions along the line that got them into the situation they were in,” he says. “You could feel there was this quality of a concept and also just an amazing group of people that was still operating the restaurants.
“What was beautiful was that there were a lot of great people and a lot of great locations that had a real local connection with the guests. I think that is the difference Max & Erma’s has.”
He recognized that Max & Erma’s bread and butter was the quality of the brand, and his mission was to get operations under control.
“The guests liked the concept, but they had been frustrated with the way it had been operated for some period of time,” Weis says. “That to me is a great problem to have. I think if you realize, ‘Hey, they like us. They just want to see us do it right.’ Well, that is something we can tackle.”
Here’s how Weis is reinvigorating Max & Erma’s and putting it back on track to generate more than $100 million in revenue this year through its 73 locations in 10 states, ending a period of double-digit sales decline.
Find out what’s worth saving
If you look at any company, you’ll find a backstory — the foundation it was built on. You use it to help establish your brand, and you may need to revisit it if your brand is in trouble, which is exactly the approach Weis took.
Max and Erma Visocnik operated a neighborhood pub in Columbus’ German Village from 1958 to 1972, when they retired. Two businessmen purchased the tavern and developed the brand and its theme, including a converted bathtub that served as a sundae bar.
“We have such a long heritage, and people have these warm stories about some connection they have to our brand,” Weis says. “You just don’t get that with a lot of other companies. You just don’t. Most restaurants, it may be just a place where they are happy to dine — or maybe not happy to dine — but it is not the emotional attraction which we really, really appreciate that we have.
“You might see a Max & Erma’s in an area along with some other national chains, but the reality is that we are very local in the way we behave. We do lots of local charity fundraisers, and it’s always been that way. The company operates much more as a neighborhood place rather than a national place — and I think that is appealing to guests.”
While Weis launched a new prototype design and system-wide remodeling program, and introduced a new food and beverage menu with local draft beers, the atmosphere still has the same down-home, community feel. There are still all the quirky, kitschy collectibles, the warm chocolate chip cookies and the cartoonish pair of Max and Erma characters.
“You can’t imagine how many photos I have of a Max and Erma showing up at a walkathon in Pittsburgh, at a bake sale in Detroit, in Indiana and in all these different markets,” Weis says. “We are showing up at all these local events. People have such a connection with this, and I think it’s one of the greatest things about this position and this organization — to see the happiness that it brings people.”
Put passion into your service
The chain was sold to an equity investor in 2008 and American Blue Ribbon Holdings bought the chain out of bankruptcy.
“We acquired the Max & Erma’s brand because we recognized in the restaurant a key ingredient for ultimate success: genuine personality,” says Hazem Ouf, president and CEO of American Blue Ribbon Holdings. “Truly authentic and unique personalities like Max & Erma’s are rare. So I began the charge to bring the restaurant back to the basics.
“We focused on the quality and personality that make Max & Erma’s a memorable and lasting restaurant experience for its guests,” says Ouf, who chose Weis, then American Blue Ribbon Holdings’ vice president of operations to head Max & Erma’s. “With this blueprint in place, Weis continues to embrace Max & Erma’s genuine personality while moving the brand forward in ways that remain true to that spirit.”
A former vice president of operations for an Applebee’s franchisee, Weis drew on that experience to instill the disciplines the operation needed. He didn’t have to look too far to find what needed to be fixed.
“One of the things I think goes out the window during bankruptcy, and when there is this sort of anarchy, is the standardization of how to do things the right way, the same way,” he says. “We had to start focusing on the daily basics, and giving the guests a better experience.”
The key ingredient is to impart the core value of “a passion to serve,” according to Weis.
It’s making sure that every guest who comes into the restaurant has a great experience.
With a number of locations and a number of employees, it is much easier to get the team focused on a core set of values than it is around one particular item.
“Instead of saying I want everyone to work on cooking a burger a certain way, it is much easier to get them focused on a passion to serve,” Weis says.
“For the guy who cooks burgers, it might be one thing; for the server, it might be something else; and for the manager a third thing. They all have a common thread between them, which is if you work here, you have to have a passion to serve guests. There is no point in being in the restaurant industry if you don’t love that and you just don’t do it.”
Find the true connection
The passion to serve is an awesome value — one that Weis believes can come about in two very distinct ways. An employee either arrives with it, or comes in with a malleable mind, allowing you to inspire them. Either way, it’s the employee’s connection to the business that counts.
“We always use the phrase, ‘People always join companies, and they stay with companies because of values connections.’ Every day in every industry, people call and say, ‘How would you like to go across the street and work for me for X dollars more?’
“And the people who jump are leaving because they don’t have a true connection to the company that they are in, and the people who stay and continue to make the company great are the people who really do believe and connect with it. It connects to their own personal values.”
To stop a disconnect from happening, stay balanced and values-focused.
“If you say quality of life is important to you, and you want to spend time with your family, but your company makes you work seven days a week and close every night of the week and you never get to see your family, that’s a value disconnect and you’re not going to stay there.”
Weis stresses a life/work balance, focusing your time and attention on matters you can control, including “ownership” of your job.
“Staying balanced and very values-focused is a little bit untraditional for the restaurant industry,” Weis says. “Restaurant work is known as a grind for everybody, and everybody’s got to work all kinds of hours. I think sometimes they miss the long-term picture of really keeping the best people connected to the business.”
The final piece of getting the connection is having a little skin in the game, no matter how you look at it.
“It has to be what you talk about, and how you behave and what your actions are,” Weis says. “Clearly, we want to make sure that everybody feels there is something for them in it. So if we are going to sell a particular item, for example, it has to be good for the guests, it has to be good for the server, so that they have the ability to make money doing it, and it has to be good for the company.
“And the good news is sales are growing, and guest counts are growing. I can’t say that about everybody in our segment and in our industry.
“There’s lots of stuff people focus on in business and the reality is, if you just run it very well and you have lots of people coming through the door, you are never really going to have a hard time figuring out how to be successful.” ●
- Discover what’s worth saving.
- Put passion into your service.
- Find the true connection to the business.
The Weis File:
Name: Steve Weis
Company: Max & Erma’s Restaurants
Born: Queens. I grew up in North Jersey. We moved there when I was young and my dad worked in New York City.
Education: I went to American University in Washington, D.C. That’s where I lived and where I started to get in the restaurant industry. I worked for Domino’s Pizza back in the early growth days in the 1980s, and kind of moved into the industry from there.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I was a dishwasher in a restaurant when I was 15 or 16, and I remember it was hard work and that you couldn’t cut any corners. It was kind of a fancy, upscale restaurant. The hardest part was that there were lots of pots and pans that had to be scrubbed by hand. If I was tired or didn’t feel like scrubbing it as clean as I should, I remember the owner coming in, looking at it and saying, ‘Hey, it’s not good enough. You’ve got to go further.’ I think probably the greatest lesson to learn at that age was that you might as well do the job really well the first time rather than have to do it a second or third time.
What is the best business advice you ever received? When you lead people, it is much easier to lead them through their heart than it is through their minds. So that ties into our values — how that works for us here and how that works for me. If you can connect with the people you work with through the things that matter to them, they will give you their brain, their energy and their efforts. If it matters to them in some way, they do it wonderfully, and they do it better than you can ever get them motivated to do if you went the other direction.
Who do you admire in business? Innovators — people who had the guts to take something small and make it much larger. I look at somebody like Bill Gates. It is not just the success and the money but the fact that he had this idea that was pretty remote when he co-founded Microsoft, and he was able to turn it into something that made everybody connect. I admire people that from a business perspective have the ability to take something that’s a fairly small idea and completely change things. And then I love the fact that he is giving his money away and that his intent is to really kind of change the world by eliminating, for example, diseases by vaccinating the entire continent of Africa. That’s pretty amazing.
What is your definition of business success? In the restaurant industry, it is pretty simple. We need to have happy guests, and a happy team that in the end drives growth. We have to have more people coming in to the restaurant this year versus last year. So for us, it’s a combination of giving a great experience to guests and having a team that really is energized to deliver that to the guests. Then the business grows; it takes care of itself.
Max & Erma's Social Media Links:
How to reach: Max & Erma’s Restaurants, (615) 256-8500 or www.maxandermas.com
First, the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) health insurance exchange was delayed. That was followed by a delay in the release of community ratings for small group programs. On top of that, there’s confusion about whether businesses with less than 50 employees, which are not governed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandate to provide health insurance, can utilize health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) to buy individual coverage.
“The ACA places significant limitations on HRAs, and they are the only vehicle these companies have to distribute dollars employees can use to pay for premiums. The question is whether businesses that are exempt from the mandate are impacted by other aspects of the ACA. There will need to be some guidance as to whether it applies,” says William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent.
The delays and uncertainty have left small businesses with few options for health insurance at a time when they need to finalize plans for 2014.
“That inherently creates a violation of rules because there’s a 60-day notice requirement to inform employees of any plan changes,” Hutter says. “We think the notice will be interpreted so that companies might be able to make a plan change, but not a cost change — the employer would have to pick up any difference. But that factor also has to be determined.”
Smart Business spoke with Hutter about problems with the rollout of the ACA exchanges and how reform continues to affect businesses of all sizes.
Should the 19 million people who were told their coverage was terminated have been surprised?
That was known back in 2010; it was written about. Plans were cancelled because the ACA changed requirements for insurers and the plans they provide. Plans are not only registered on a federal level but also on a state-by-state basis. Each state has a department of insurance to oversee plans and rate structures. A carrier needs to meet new requirements under ACA and state mandates, but when a plan design is changed, it is no longer grandfathered. It has to be terminated or withdrawn, and a new plan is submitted and approved. Whether this will be true going forward is uncertain.
If you are self-insured, the opportunity to keep the same plan is greater. Companies that self-insure can continue their plans as long as they don’t make significant changes.
Are self-insurance plans exempt from many ACA requirements?
Yes, that’s why companies have been exploring the option of self-funding arrangements. It’s a strange set of rules, but you can choose to cover or not cover certain things as long as they aren’t considered minimum essential coverage requirements. However, you can’t do it in a limited way; you can’t decide to cover autism, but only up to $10,000 a year. You have to choose to not cover it or cover it completely.
What self-funding does is create more predictability for companies because they purchase a stop-loss policy to limit their liability. Health insurance costs will continue to rise because of an aging demographic. The plan design can help keep increases to 4 to 6 percent annually instead of 30 or 40 percent.
Is that option also available to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees?
It can be, although you can’t do it like a big company would because a small employer doesn’t have the numbers to mitigate the risk of large claims.
Self-insurance is a design plan issue. Being self-insured with a specific stop-loss point might work. If you have 30 employees, you can have a stop-loss of $10,000 each. Then you need to figure out your actuarial funding for it and reserve that amount to pay for claims and expected losses. If you have a healthy group, it makes sense.
Small businesses also can join a pool for health insurance. That’s a service HR consultants or chambers of commerce provide, through an aggregation model, for clients or members to get health care. They don’t provide health care but establish a contractual arrangement with a company that does.
But the problem with the ACA is that new information is coming so quickly, and it takes months to rethink your health insurance strategy. This will continue to be difficult for companies to work through. ●
Insights HR Outsourcing is brought to you by Sequent
Twelve years ago, EY decided to go global with its Entrepreneur Of The Year awards and establish the World Entrepreneur Of The Year program — and the results have been, shall we say, an international success. The conference, held annually in Monaco, features Entrepreneur Of The Year country winners competing for the World Entrepreneur Of The Year title.
Assembling business leaders from around the world in one place to be honored is a huge accomplishment — the wealth of experience, as well as the variety of successful leadership styles, is outstanding.
Here are some thoughts from the collection of the world’s most accomplished entrepreneurs — innovators, futurists, turnaround specialists and problem-solvers — about leadership styles. ●
“I built the company based on people, not on experience from before. They were willing to learn and try anything. We had a bunch of people who had never done this before. None of us had run companies. None of us had worked in high levels of companies. None of us were from Fortune 500s. Chobani not only became a business that grew, but Chobani was like a school to us, including myself.”
founder, president and CEO
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 United States
2013 Entrepreneur Of The World
“Early on, the business was centered on me, and I had to make all the decisions alone. Now I share those decisions with my 10 main directors. If there are differences in opinion, I make the last decision.
The other thing is that I have had to ensure that the people who are invited to work here are people with principles, values, integrity, responsibility and passion. If I don’t see a person with passion, they don’t hang around the company very long.”
Lorenzo Barrera Segovia
founder and CEO
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Mexico
“I’m a very passionate person, which will never change. When you grow, you gain more experience and the kind of problems you face change. As you grow, you need to grow with your organization.”
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Argentina
“In the startup days, you have to be very innovative, hire and retain talent, refine your business as you deploy in the marketplace, and you learn things from it. Today, with a solid track record of business success, I can focus on what’s next and think more strategic and long-term than you’re allowed to in the early days. My style has evolved as the business has matured.”
Chevron Energy Solutions
“Entrepreneurship and leadership is about always having ideas, knowing that it is possible even though everyone says it is too difficult. Maintain the positive and always have new ideas.”
Mario Hernandez, founder and president, Marroquinera
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Colombia
“To keep the entrepreneurial spirit and entrepreneurship alive once you've got past the startup base, I think it is making sure people understand why they are there. There are always things you can do to improve your business. You should be rethinking and retooling it every chance you get. The key thing is to make sure everybody in the organization understands the story, where are you going — how are you going to get there? And the belief that you are doing the right thing —people want to know their purpose. Keep the energy going, keep a strong sense of purpose.”
Dr. Alan Ulsifer
CEO, president and chair
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Canada
“The skill sets of an entrepreneur involve understanding how to create business. Why not work with kids who need it the most and actually teach them and help them to be entrepreneurs? That’s what is going to grow our economy and create stability where otherwise we’re going to have a lot of social unrest.”
President and CEO
Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship
“I like to be involved. I want to know everything that is going on. But I have to delegate to my team. That was the biggest adjustment for me, and it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s that delegating to others, trusting them and reinventing yourself. Now that we’ve grown, I put more responsibility on my team and rely on my team more than I once did.”
President and founder
SME Entertainment Group
“If someone makes a mistake, what do you do? You laugh with them. You don’t yell at them. You laugh. It just keeps things light and lively and people want to do their very best. You let them know they screwed up, but you also let them know it’s OK.”
National Heritage Academies
Leaders often talk about how the traits of accountability and transparency helped make them who they are, but to retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, who served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for four years under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, leadership is quite simply how you listen, learn and lead.
It’s not just a coincidence that communication is as important in the war zone as it is in an organization — and that’s where Mullen emphasizes listening to what his team members have on their minds.
Smart Business talked with Mullen about the challenges of being in command:
Q. What do you see as the most important trait that any leader must possess?
A. Integrity. Be true to yourself, and obviously true to your values. The value of integrity intrinsically has been a driver for me since I was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. It has served me exceptionally well.
Integrity encompasses being honest, truthful and consistent — both publicly and privately in leadership positions — and representing that in every situation. It is most evident in the toughest decisions you have to make.
Q. And how can you ensure integrity is present in leadership?
A. What I loved about command was the responsibility and authority that came with it. But more than anything else, the other piece was accountability — accountable leadership. That is not just having someone hold you accountable, but having enough strength yourself as a leader to hold yourself accountable.
I just found that even with those decisions that can be very unpopular, if you are true to that value of integrity, even if it may not seem to some to be the best decision, it [integrity] holds you in the best stead as a leader over the long term. And because of that, it becomes incredibly supportive of those very, very tough decisions.
Q. So what can help a leader make those tough decisions more effectively?
A. As a more senior leader, I learned to keep a diversity of views around me. The more senior I got, the more diverse the people, the recommendations and the discussions had to be in order for me to make the right decision.
I had people around me who were willing to say, ‘Hey, this is when you got it wrong,’ as opposed to the opposite, which is isolation, where nobody will tell the emperor [he] doesn’t have any clothes on.
Q. You’ve mentioned the importance of listening to others in order to help you become a better leader. How did you do that?
A. Everywhere I went, whether we had a town hall meeting or we could call an all-hands meeting, I would take questions from the audience. So, for example, when a young enlisted man would give me a question of which I didn’t know the answer, I said, “I don’t know the answer, but give me your email address. I will go research it and get back to you.”
I did that. I went back and looked at whatever their concern was. And some of those concerns generated significant changes in the military, or in the particular service they were in. For me, as chairman, that was a vital part of trying to understand what I was asking them to do, and then taking that feedback and trying to fix the problem that they raised — if it made sense to do it.
A good leader can make such a difference, and create something out of nothing, whereas a bad leader is unable to do that. The ingredient that makes a difference is leadership. ●
Retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen served more than 43 years in the Navy, having served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011, and as chief of naval operations from 2005 to 2007. He will be the keynote speaker at the Dec. 5 American Red Cross Hero Awards. Learn more about the Hero Awards at www.clevelandheroes.com.
Consider this business scenario: You’ve landed a big account for your company by converting a highly prized prospect into a valuable client. The new client has hired you to handle a specific scope of work and is counting on your team’s ability to deliver work that goes above and beyond.
While nothing is more important than delivering great customer service to satisfy the client, you may not realize that you’re probably overlooking unrealized opportunities to forge a stronger relationship with your customer.
In today’s business landscape, most large companies offer an array of products and services. More often than not, however, your clients use you for a specific service or skill set. And unfortunately, in this scenario, most companies focus solely on the task at hand — delivering what they’ve been contracted to deliver — failing to take ample time to think about the bond they’re creating with the client and what could be next.
In more simple terms, it is one thing to provide service that keeps a customer; it is another to keep that customer and expand the relationship to become a trusted partner.
Provide value in a deliberate way
The good news is that this is an easy fix. Establish a content marketing program that allows you to distribute thought leadership to your clients.
A content marketing program will help you provide value that other service providers may not, and when clients see you as an informational resource and partner, it will be easier to expand the relationship.
Take this example into consideration: You are an insurance provider and your main product is life insurance, therefore most of the communication you have with your clients surrounds that topic.
With a comprehensive content marketing program in place, however, you can educate your clients on the recent trends in the insurance industry and how that affects the individual. At the same time, you can give them an overview of your company’s wellness program and let them know that if they joined, they could reduce their monthly premiums.
As you can see, you’re not just providing your client with the original service, you’re also providing them with both your thought leadership — aka value — and additional offerings.
Personal connections payoff
Aside from providing value to the client with the content you distribute, a strong content marketing program allows you to showcase your brand’s personality. Clients will be able to connect with your brand on a more personal level.
Providing continually updated content through the right channels to the right clients enhances your day-to-day communications. Clients start seeing you as thought leaders and partners instead of just service providers.
It will help you expand relationships and, as a result, generate new business through more products and services.
Show them more than just what they see on the surface — show them how active you are in the community, or how much fun you had during a recent company outing. If may sound trivial, but your clients do similar things, and seeing you connect with the community and/or employees will help forge a more personal connection. You never know; you and your client may support the same charity, organization or team.
Open communication also will help strengthen relationships to the point where you can capture a premium price and eliminate price-jumping clients. Clients will pay more for a valuable relationship than simply look to get the lowest price elsewhere. ●
David Fazekas is vice president of marketing services for SBN Interactive. Reach him at email@example.com or (440) 250-7056.
You would think someone like Douglas Merrill would be a heavy multitasker, with multiple devices in hand, fielding several conversations — both real and virtual — simultaneously.
But you would be wrong.
Merrill, who was the CIO at Google until 2008, doesn’t like to multitask. He says that when you do it, you aren’t using your brain’s full capacity and aren’t as effective. He recommends focusing on one thing at a time.
Billionaire Mark Cuban has his own time management strategy. Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, says you should completely avoid meetings unless you are closing a deal. Otherwise, he says, they are a waste of time.
Both of these proven leaders have learned that how you manage your time is paramount to your effectiveness.
As a CEO, you are swamped every day with calls and emails from people wanting a piece of your time. Some are internal, some are charity requests, some are from friends or family members and others are from service providers.
To help wade through this sea of information, it’s important to have a system in place to help you free up time to think about your business and the things that matter most in life. These open times are what author Richard Swenson refers to as “margin.” They are the spaces between ourselves and our limits that are reserved for emergencies.
But for many business leaders, there are no spaces left.
The way out of this trap is to set clear goals and values for yourself and your organization. Once you do that, you will have a filter through which to evaluate everything. Everything will have an immediate yes or no answer, eliminating the “let me think about it” category completely.
The key is to establish what your goals are first and then prioritize what is important. With your priorities straight, you will find more time to put toward important things on your goals list, but don’t forget to leave time on your daily schedule. There is no way to foresee all emergencies, so by leaving yourself some margin, when something unexpected happens, you already have time built in to deal with it.
Once you have margin built into your life, you have to have the discipline to stick to it. There will always be the temptation to take every meeting or answer every email. But if you use your goals and priorities as a filter, those requests are easily either accepted or declined based on where they fall on your priority list.
If you want a life where you can experience more peace and joy and less anxiety, start looking at your priorities and establish some margin in your daily schedule. ●
Deny, deny, deny; fall, tuck and roll; or put your head in the sand?
The quick answer to this headline is none of the above. A leader, by definition, must do exactly that — lead, which means being in front of a variety of audiences, including employees, investors and customers. Not everyone is going to be a gung-ho supporter. Sooner or later you’ll encounter a naysayer who either has a point to prove or is on a mission to make you and your company look bad.
Many of these verbal confrontations come out of nowhere and when least expected. As the representative of your organization, it is your responsibility to manage these situations and recognize that sometimes a “win” can simply minimize the damage.
When under siege, it’s human instinct to fight, flee or freeze. Typically these behavioral responses aren’t particularly productive in a war of words. Engaging in verbal fisticuffs could simply escalate the encounter, giving more credence to the matter than deserved.
If you flee by ignoring the negative assertions, you’ll immediately be presumed guilty as charged. It’s hard to make your side of the story known if you put your head in the sand.
By freezing, you’ll appear intellectually impotent. Worse yet, pooh-poohing a question will only fuel the aggressor’s determination to disrupt the proceedings. You could use a SWAT-type police and military technique to elude a confronter by falling, tucking and rolling to safety, but that usually only works on the silver screen.
Perhaps the best method to manage unwelcome adversaries is to be prepared prior to taking center stage. This applies to live audiences or a virtual gathering when you’re speaking to multiple participants, which is common practice for public company CEOs during quarterly analyst conference calls.
Most gatherings of this nature include a Q&A segment where the tables are turned on the speaker who must be prepared to respond to inquiries both positive and negative.
Before any such meeting, it is critical to contemplate and rehearse how you would respond to thorny or adverse statements or questions.
A good practice is to put the possible questions in writing and then craft your responses, hoping, of course, that they won’t be needed. This is no different from what the President of the United States or the head of any city council does prior to a press conference or presentation. The advantage of this exercise is that it tends to sharpen your thinking and causes you to explore issues from the other perspective.
In some cases you’ll find yourself in an awkward or difficult situation where there is no suitable yes or no answer, or when the subject of the interrogatory is so specific it is applicable to only a very few.
The one-off question is easiest to handle by stating that you or your representative will answer the question following the session rather than squander the remaining time on something that does not interest or affect the majority.
The more difficult question is one that will take further investigation and deliberation, in which case the best course of action is to say exactly that. Answer by asserting that rather than giving a less-than-thoughtful response to a question that deserves more research, you or your vicar will get back with the appropriate response in short order. This helps to protect you from shooting from the hip only to later regret something that can come back to haunt you.
Effective speakers and leaders have learned that the best way to counter antagonism is through diplomacy. It’s much more difficult for the antagonist to continue to fight with a polite, unwilling opponent.
Finally, when being challenged, never personalize your response against your questioner; always control your temper; and don’t linger on a negative. Keep the proceedings moving forward and at the conclusion keep your promise to follow up with an answer. This will build your credibility and allow you to do what you do best, lead. ●
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My 7-year-old son Cole recently gave me a Rainbow Loom bracelet, which is made of linked rubber bands. It is today’s school-age children’s craze, and Novi, Michigan-based Choon’s Design LLC is churning out the kits at a record pace.
With more than 1 million units sold in the last 24 months, Rainbow Loom is the brainchild of Choon Ng, a former Nissan crash safety engineer who invented it while working on a craft project for his daughters.
And Rainbow Loom, it turns out, isn’t its original name. When it was created, it was called Twistz Bandz.
Timing is everything, and Twistz Bandz may have sounded a bit too much like Silly Bandz — the last “wrist” craze that swept the nation. Between November 2008 and early 2011, every school-age child in sight was wearing layer upon layer of Silly Bandz on their wrists. It was as hot a product as anything since Beanie Babies.
Twistz Bandz’s arrival, it seems, happened just as Silly Bandz ran into what every hot new product eventually faces: competition. Look-a-likes with similar-sounding names began flooding the market. They were cheaper, and you could buy them more readily at more retail locations. The core brand quickly diluted. So Ng did what any smart businessperson would: He changed the dynamics of the situation.
Thus, Rainbow Loom was born.
Enter social media
Within a few months, the product — which allows its young owners to custom-create bracelets — was gaining attention. Much of this was due to a full-tilt social media blitz, including videos on YouTube and an engaging Facebook page, where users could share their designs.
More recently, Ng has become vigilant in protecting his patent and U.S. trademark — battling all wannabe competitors from launching similar-sounding products and flooding the market to dilute his own brand.
His success — or failure — is yet-to-be determined. But his efforts will prove fruitless if he’s not already looking ahead to the next product. This is the dirty little secret to any hot toy craze and the core dilemma every business leaders faces: How do you remain relevant as consumers’ wants, needs and desires ebb and flow — sometimes as swiftly as the wind changes direction.
Get beyond being a fad
Success in business relies upon building a sustainable operation that will outlast any cyclical “must have” product explosion.
There needs to be the creation of an idea continuum — an innovation factory, if you will. Innovative leaders must review, measure and adapt a company’s products, services and solutions to the changing whims of the marketplace. You need to talk to customers, vendors and prospects. And you need to regularly take the pulse of the market.
If you haven’t taken at least some of the gains from today’s success and invested it into research and development for tomorrow, you’re already losing ground. Today is today, and just like the disclaimers for financial investing warn — past performance does not indicate future results.
In the end, the only thing that matters is this: Is your next big thing built to last? Or, like every other craze that’s every hit the market, will your opportunities to remain relevant long into the future fade away after the competition creeps in and dilutes your market? ●
Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business. Reach him at email@example.com or (440) 250-7026.
Sean Adkins believes in cultivating a company culture that keeps employees happy and pushes them to get resultsWritten by Dennis Seeds
Most employers would be happy if they had only one employee leave in a five-year period. For Sean Adkins, however, it brought about some ambivalent feelings.
Adkins was feeling a modest amount of pride for the showing West Monroe Partners LLC in Columbus had between 2007 and 2011. The business and technology consulting firm was growing, it was recognized as one of the best places to work in Columbus and had only one voluntary resignation during that period — all of which were almost unheard of during that recession-laden time.
After all, the employees were committed to the company mission — “to do the work we love with the people we trust” — and the development of a culture to fit that calling was coming true.
“But one of the things I have had to learn about my leadership style is you can’t also value culture without regard for business performance — because suddenly, this could turn into a country club,” says Adkins, managing director and office leader. “This has been my biggest leadership challenge.”
The heart of the matter for Adkins was the one employee who left during that five-year period.
“I actually started asking myself questions about this,” he says. “Was that good or bad? Am I not striking the right balance here? Maybe near-zero attrition is not a good thing because you are not pushing the team hard enough for results and not finding the right balance.
“I almost felt we ended up with the opposite situation. Where the culture was so valued that maybe we were missing some of the opportunities we could have had from a business perspective,” Adkins says.
“Essentially, I decided that the one turnover was probably not what I was aiming for,” he says. “Some attrition is probably healthy because that tells you that people are being pushed to where they are either going to excel or decide ‘this isn’t the pace I need to go, this isn’t right for me, and I’m going to move onto something else.’”
This year, there was a slight uptick in turnover: three employees voluntarily left. But that didn’t sound an alarm for Adkins.
“I’ve already had one come back three months later,” he says. “That’s another good sign of our culture. People don’t know what is on the other side of the fence.”
Here’s how Adkins tries to dodge the sand traps and water hazards so West Monroe Partners doesn’t become a country club, but a company where employees do the work they love with the people they trust, helping to generate $67 million in annual revenue corporate wide.
Set your core values and live them
Like many other companies do when they first launch, the founders of West Monroe Partners’ initial step was to write down their core values. Once established and followed, core values are designed to keep your company on track.
“You don’t try to fabricate a strategy you think will attract people or what may resonate in the market well,” Adkins says. “This is about describing a set of values that we individually believe in because that is the only way we are actually going to be able to live those values on a day-in and day-out basis.
“I think as we continue to grow as rapidly as we are, maintaining that culture is incredibly important,” Adkins says. “You can look at yourself five years from now and say, ‘Geez, we are a completely different company. Things have changed quite a bit.’ And that is exactly where we don’t want to find ourselves. It is something that we always have to work on.”
So to avoid an about-face in your company culture a few years down the road, there’s never a better time to start but at the beginning.
“The way we avoid being a country club is, No. 1, getting the right people on the team that are motivated to excel and achieve great things,” Adkins says. “Then the second step is having a vision that we aim for.
“We are not just trying to go through the motions each day and live to fight another day. What we are aiming for is something larger, and I can go talk to the team about what we are trying to achieve and why their contribution — and what I need from them — is so important.
“If I am clear on my expectations and my vision for where we are taking the organization, that gives me the capital to go to the team members and ask for more from them because it’s for a purpose. It is not just, ‘Please do more because we need more revenue,’ or, ‘Please do more because we have to get more clients.’ It has a bigger purpose.”
Put in a bit of intrigue
The earliest point at which you can determine if an employee is going to be a good fit for your culture is when he or she asks about the company culture during the job interview.
Adkins is prepared to give an interesting, and telling, reply.
“The answer without fail that I provide for them is, ‘If I am able to answer that question for you right now, I feel like it is doing it a disservice,’” he says. “I shouldn’t be able to describe my culture in words because it just feels like something our marketing team put together or someone has said and repeated.”
Once Adkins has crossed that threshold, he says the best explanation is how the company has a set of core values that hasn’t changed over time — and employees live them every day.
“Our culture is embodied in that ‘to do the work we love with the people we trust’ concept,” he says. “That says everything we want to say about our culture and what we expect from our people, and quite frankly, the environment that we want to provide for our people.”
Adkins observes the candidate’s reaction, which usually contains a degree of intrigue. Many express that they want to find out more, that there is something they may be missing.
“At the same time, we realize that people need facts, they need information to make a decision, and the best thing that we can point to is, ‘Hey, look, we have won several workplace awards across many of our offices as being a best place to work for four years running, and so I am not asking you to just believe me, we certainly have some proven results, but I’m not going to give you the rubric of exactly what that means because you have to experience it.’”
Watch for cracks in the foundation
Complacency is the enemy of success, it has been said. But there are warnings if too much comfort is starting to infect your business. You just have to develop your observation skills to spot them.
Adkins thought he might be seeing cracks in the company culture as 2012 unfolded.
“Some of these folks on the team didn’t appear to be going above and beyond, and I knew they weren’t, both in terms of their commitment to the organization from a time perspective, but also in how much activity they initiated on their part,” he says. “If you are waiting for someone to tell you, if you are waiting for someone to ask you for help, that is an indication that maybe it has become a little too comfortable, and you are not as motivated as you had been.”
Those were a couple of telltale signs he was seeing in the organization that he felt needed to be corrected while ensuring that the core values in the culture weren’t being disrupted.
“We needed our people to be around ... If the clock says five o’clock, and people say, ‘I’m not really interested in seeing you until the next day,’ this doesn’t lead to good results in our view. We really want it to feel like family, and feel like these are people I enjoy being around on the day-in and day-out basis.”
On the trust aspect, you need people who are motivated by the same things that you are and want to achieve the same things in their career and in their marketplace that you do.
“You know that when you look to your left, and you look to your right, there are people who are marching next to you versus you having to pull them along at the pace you want to go,” Adkins says. “I think that is inspiring for our people to know that they have people in the fight with them.”
Consider a culture well developed when it can maintain itself.
“We have a concept of stewardship for the basic fundamental principle: ‘Leave this place better than what you found it.’ So everyone has to have a personal responsibility in that. It takes everyone’s participation for that to be a reality.” ●
- Set your core values and live them.
- Put a spin of intrigue in your culture.
- Watch for cracks in the foundation.
The Adkins File
Name: Sean Adkins
Title: managing director and office leader
Company: West Monroe Partners
Born: Cleveland. I grew up in Lakewood, went to Horace Mann Middle School and then to St. Edward High School.
Education: Miami University. I have a bachelor’s degree in marketing and management information systems.
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it? I was a caddy at Westwood Country Club in Rocky River after eighth grade. The thing I learned in that job and probably the subsequent jobs I had in high school was just the notion of serving — what customer service means. You learn what it means to provide a service to someone else and how to operate in that environment, which helped me learn quite a bit of what I use today. To be a caddy, you need to be there and ready to go quite early in the morning, and for someone who’s a freshman in high school, that might not be the easiest thing in the world. But the tips were pretty good.
What is the best business advice you ever received? “The customer is always right” is one I believe in firmly. While there may be some finer distinctions in that, the attitude that I have to bring daily is that I am here to serve my customers. It doesn’t mean I always have to be accepting and obedient, but if I keep my overarching principle as I’m here to serve my customers, that sets the tone for me having a productive relationship with them. I firmly believe that.
What is your definition of business success? It’s having a team and people motivated by a vision that is personally important to them. I firmly believe that is the way you achieve success. You don’t achieve success by turning the screws harder. You don’t achieve success by setting revenue goals and meeting them. It has to be about the people on your team motivated to do more, and personally motivated by what they are doing.
If you could have dinner with anybody in history, who would it be? President John F. Kennedy. I find his life and existence to be extremely interesting and inspiring and have always looked upon his untimely death with quite a bit of interest. He has just been quite a bit of motivation for a lot of folks, and I always thought that it would be interesting to talk to him.
How to reach: West Monroe Partners LLC, (614) 372-7300 or www.westmonroepartners.com