Columbus (2544)

When Albert “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap was the CEO at Sunbeam in the late ’90s, he had a reputation for ruthlessness. Besides massively downsizing the company, he was also known to intimidate everyone around him and resort to yelling and fist pounding.

While extreme, Dunlap’s behavior is an example of the type of “dictator” leadership that used to be fairly common in the C-suite. Rules were rules, there were no exceptions for anything and people were just a line item on a budget. Need to cut thousands of jobs? Don’t think twice about it.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Christ-like leader. This leader focuses more on building people up rather than tearing them down. This type of leader understands that there are rules, but sometimes to do the right thing, the rules need to be broken. For example, during the economic downturn, some Christ-like leaders went well beyond what was called for to make sure laid-off employees were taken care of.

They made sure they had the use of office resources to look for a new job and did everything they could to lessen the hardships. They weren’t required to do this; it was just the right thing to do. They saw employees as human, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.

Does it cost money to take the more humane route with your leadership? Yes and no. From a short-term, bottom-line perspective, it probably does cost a few more dollars to help people through a hardship. But long term, it can pay dividends. By treating people with respect and doing the right thing, it helps eliminate animosity toward you and your company from both the ex-employees and current ones. Maybe there are some good employees who you wanted to keep, but couldn’t afford. By showing compassion, when the economy turned around, they were far more likely to consider coming back than if they had just been shown the door with little regard to their well-being.

And what happens when these ex-employees end up in key positions in companies that could be customers? Do you think an ex-employee who you mistreated is going to buy anything from you or recommend your company to someone? It’s a small world, and what goes around often comes around, so it’s always best to treat people as best you can.

You can lead like a dictator and still get results. But do the ends justify the means? Will you conquer all, only to find yourself alone with no friends, the equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol?” Or will you have an epiphany and realize there’s a better way to do things?

During this holiday season, think about your leadership style and the long-term effect it has on people’s lives. If this exercise makes you uncomfortable, then maybe it’s time to change how you lead. ●

What would it take for a company to succeed if its leader could effectively do only one of the following: innovate, instigate or administrate? We all know that an innovator is the one who sees things that aren’t and asks why not? The instigator sees things that are and asks why? The administrator doesn’t necessarily ask profound questions but, instead, is dogged about crossing the “t’s,” dotting the “i’s” and making sure that whatever is supposed to happen happens.

Ideally, a top leader combines all three traits while being charismatic, intellectual, pragmatic and able to make decisions faster than a speeding bullet. Although some of us might fantasize that we are Superman or Superwoman, with a sense of exaggerated omnipotence, the bubble usually bursts when we’re confronted simultaneously with multiple situations that require the versatility of a Swiss army knife.

Business leaders come in all shapes and sizes with various skill sets and styles that are invaluable, depending on the priorities of a company at any given point in time.

Every business needs an innovator to differentiate the company. Without a unique something or other, there isn’t a compelling reason to exist. Once those special products or services that distinguish the business from others are discovered and in place, it takes an instigator to continuously re-examine and challenge every aspect of the business that leads to continued improvements, both functionally and economically. It also takes an administrator — someone who can keep all the balls in the air, ensuring that everyone in the organization is in sync and delivering the finished products as promised to keep customers coming back.

As politicians and pundits of all types have pounded into our heads in recent years, “It takes a village to raise a child.” All who practice the art and science of business have learned that, instead of a village, it takes a diverse team working together to make one plus one equal three.

On the ideal team, each member possesses different strengths, contributing to the greater good. The exceptional leader is best when he or she is an effective chef who knows how to mix the different skills together to create a winning recipe.

In many companies, however, leaders tend to surround themselves with clones who share similar abilities, interests and backgrounds. As an example, a manufacturer may have a management team comprised solely of engineers, or a marketing organization could have salespeople who came up through the ranks calling all the shots.

If everyone in an organization comes from the same mold, what tends to happen is, figuratively, one lies and the others swear to it. This builds to a crescendo of complacency and perpetual mediocrity.

There is a better way. Good leaders surround themselves with others who complement their capabilities, and savvy leaders select those with dramatically different backgrounds who will challenge their thinking because they’re not carbon copies of the boss. This opens new horizons, forges breakthroughs and leads to optimal daily performance.

Strange bedfellows can stimulate, nudge and keep each other moving toward the previously unexplored.

To have a sustainable and effective organization, you can’t have one type without all the others. While everyone on the team may not always agree, each player must always be committed to making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

The single most important skill of the leader who has to pull all the pieces and parts together is to have the versatility of that Swiss army knife — selecting the precise tool to accomplish the objective at hand. ●


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

More than 800 years ago, medieval philosopher Maimonides outlined eight levels of charity, the greatest of which was supporting an individual in such a way that he or she becomes independent. In Maimonides’ view, support was defined as a gift or loan, entering into a partnership or simply helping that person find employment.

Few things are more powerful than philanthropy — especially when its end goal is to better the lives of others. These days, philanthropy, and corporate philanthropy specifically, has assumed a broader role in society.

Today, companies give back more strategically than ever before. They align themselves with nonprofits that foster missions they believe in. The wealthiest people on the planet have even coordinated the Giving Pledge (, where they’ve committed to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

At last count, more than 115 people had taken the pledge. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates may be the most prominent names on the list, but others include Spanx Founder Sara Blakely, Cavs Owner Dan Gilbert, Progressive’s Peter Lewis and Netflix Founder Reed Hastings.

Last month, one member, David Rubenstein, CEO and co-founder of The Carlyle Group, discussed the importance of philanthropy during a presentation at EY’s 2013 Strategic Growth Forum.

In his pledge letter, Rubenstein explains why: “I recognize to have any significant impact on an organization or cause, one must concentrate resources, and make transformative gifts — and to be involved in making certain those gifts actually transform in a positive way.”

One way Rubenstein is being transformative is through “Patriotic Philanthropy.” He has given $10 million to help restore President Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home and underwrote renovations to the historic Washington Monument. Yet Rubenstein’s most noteworthy initiative is the whopping $23 million to acquire a rare copy of the Magna Carta, ensuring it remained in the United States. After its purchase, Rubenstein gifted it to the National Archives.

Not everyone has Rubenstein’s vast resources. But every organization and any individual can make their own impact.

In the workplace, for example, organizations that give back elevate their status perception-wise among competitors and peers. It doesn’t take much. But by being a company that cares, prospective employees want to work for you. For your existing team, deliberate and well-organized corporate philanthropy programs quickly take on a life of their own, becoming a rallying point.

Think strategically and get started by finding your cause. We all have them. They exist at our very core, forming the belief system we live by every day. So why shouldn’t our philanthropy follow that same course? Consider aligning your giving or volunteerism with something you personally believe in or care about; something that fits with what your company does or something that is close to your employees’ hearts.

Most important, get involved and just make a difference. It really comes down to that. One initiative that has always impressed me has been the annual CreateAthon event undertaken by WhiteSpace Creative, a member of the Pillar Award class of 2005. You can read a first-hand account of this year’s program here.

Being a good corporate citizen goes well beyond making good business sense. When you align yourself with causes you care about, whether big or small, you make a difference in someone’s life. And the bottom line is this: It is all of our duties to get involved. It’s no longer a question of if, but rather of what, when and how. ●


Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business. Reach him at or (440) 250-7026.

There’s no question about it, when a customer sings the praises of a particular product or company, people listen. It is more believable than a company touting its own message. The popularity of social media and review sites has proven this to be a powerful marketing truth. People believe and trust what other people have to say before they will believe what a company says about itself. Welcome to the 21st century.

Tuning up your marketing to include real-life customer experiences can enhance your credibility and believability. This can be a mix of customer success stories, testimonials, sharing customer feedback through surveys, encouraging customers to post reviews or submitting customers as references.

In any event, the idea is to get your customer’s voice singing in harmony with your messaging, to reinforce what you are promoting and confirming your organization’s credibility. 

Share success stories

Case studies or success stories are a great way to demonstrate the net benefit customers have received from your products or services. They typically take on a format of describing the customer scenario or problem, defining the solution your company implemented and the positive end results realized by the customer. They can include statements from the customer or the company.

Once developed, success stories can be integrated into a myriad of marketing activities.

Use them as content on your website, post them to your blog and social media, use them in email campaigns, submit them to trade publications and local media for publication, and format them to use as a prospecting tool. 

Use customer testimonials

Testimonials can be powerful in articulating a satisfactory experience with your company. Using testimonials strategically can demonstrate the depth and breadth of your organization and establish trust.

Like success stories, testimonials can be incorporated into any marketing vehicle. Use them on your website, include them in advertising, format them on a leave-behind prospecting piece, add them randomly in your email signature, post them to your blog and social media, use them in proposals, feature them in reception areas, etc. 

Share statistics from surveys

If part of your recent or ongoing marketing is to survey your customers to determine levels of satisfaction or other information, you could benefit from sharing the results of that information in marketing your company’s products or services.

If your survey showed that a large percentage of your customers find your company easy to work with, share that information across your marketing venues.

Promote customer reviews

Consumer-oriented businesses can benefit from receiving positive reviews on social media sites such as Yelp, Google+ and others. Promoting reviews from customers can be a great way to obtain a positive buzz about your company or its products.

Social media posts can be influential, utilize this information to market your company. 

Ask customers to serve as a reference

Having a list of customers who would take a call from a prospect to serve as a reference can be a great way to win business. It shows confidence that what you have done for your customers has been a positive experience. It demonstrates transparency and implies a high-level of satisfaction. 

Is your customer’s voice present in your marketing? If not, you could be missing out on some great opportunities. ● 

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for GREENCREST, a 23-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the U.S. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, or on Twitter @brandpro. For more information, visit  

To learn more about GREENCREST, like its Facebook page and follow on Twitter @GREENCREST

With Kelly Borth on LinkedIn

An old proverb says the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second-best time is now. The same thing goes for planning to grow your business and expand on your facility and services.

While you might take a year to decide exactly when to break ground on a building expansion or to construct a new facility altogether, the real decision to grow your business was best made the day you started it.

When I originally purchased the current building for my company, Silver Threads Inc., I already knew where the expansion would go, even though it was more than a decade away. 

Identify the opportunity

It’s important to start by choosing a business or industry where you’ve identified a unique opportunity for growth. While it’s vital that you conduct your due diligence, don’t pay too much attention to others who might be closing shops or outsourcing business overseas. It’s possible that a trend like that may actually signal a bigger opportunity for your own business.

In the case of expanding Silver Threads, I knew from conversations with clients that they would prefer the crafting of their custom drapery, shades and bedding be kept in the U.S., but most of the industry was sending manufacturing work to China.

While the cost might initially appear to be marginally lower, I saw it as an opportunity to create more jobs in the U.S. while efficiently decreasing the time and money my clients were losing because of extended shipping requirements. Being U.S.-based became an even bigger benefit when things went wrong with an order, as Silver Threads was better positioned to correct the issue that would have taken weeks or months to correct and reship from overseas. 

Research the talent pool

If you’re going to grow, you need to know that a talent pool is available to support your growth and increase your production capacity. There were a lot of talented seamstresses who were waiting for an opportunity to work at Silver Threads because the trend had been to lower costs by lowering salaries until they could no longer support American wages and then use lower-priced overseas labor.

The efficiencies in manufacturing in America allow us to pay our team fairly, give them bonuses when the company does well and keep everyone excited about our growth.

The most important mistake to avoid is basing your decision to expand on business coming in from a single client. If you’re planning your business growth on revenue from one source, you could also be planning the demise of your business based on the loss of one client.

It’s better to diversify your products and services to capture additional business from existing clients or brand new sources than to tie your expansion plans to a single client.

If I could go back in time and tell myself one thing to do differently in planning for the growth of my own company, it would be to make sure that I was thinking big enough. We just completed a 12,000-square-foot expansion, and we’re already out of room. But, that’s OK. I already have the plans for our next expansion all mapped out … I did it 20 years ago. ●

Carrie Perini is the owner of Silver Threads Inc., a commercial drapery workshop based in Plain City. Perini started the business out of her home more than 30 years ago, and has turned it into a thriving enterprise. For more information, visit


For more information on Silver Threads Inc., like its Facebook page and follow on Twitter @DraperyWorkshop


Wednesday, 20 November 2013 07:15

The 2013 Class of Power Players in Columbus

Written by

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. 


Michelle Heritage

executive director
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. 


Sheri Tackett

founder and CEO
Delta Energy

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. 


Jack Partridge

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. 


Kelly Borth

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. 


Chuck Gehring

president and CEO
LifeCare Alliance

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. 


Kenny McDonald

chief economic officer
Columbus 2020

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
Title: President
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

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.

Willliam F. Hutter is CEO of Sequent. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or

Insights HR Outsourcing is brought to you by Sequent

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 11:57

How top executives procure success

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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.”

Hamdi Ulukaya

founder, president and CEO

Chobani Inc.

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

Banco Base

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.”

Martin Migoya



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.”

Jim Davis


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.”

Amy Rosen,

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.”

Corey Shapoff

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.”

J.C. Huizenga


National Heritage Academies

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 11:46

Listen, learn and lead

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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