Dustin S. Klein

Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

Winning ways

No matter how lousy the economy is, a team staffed with star-level talent holds a distinct advantage over competitors that aren’t staffed by superstars.

While the economy and its woes predictably drew top billing from respondents of the 2009 ERC/Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey, driving sales and recruiting/retaining top talent ranked a close second and third.

This month’s cover package, which contains the results of our 10th annual survey, reveals that all three issues are interconnected. When you have top talent capable of increasing sales, they are able to roll up their sleeves and sweat a little more than usual to help your organization weather tough times.

But finding those people isn’t easy, as Jeffrey Friedman, chairman, president and CEO of Associated Estate Realty Corp. admits. Keeping them is even harder, especially when you want to hire candidates with the potential to be better than the people making the hiring decisions.

“Good managers really want people who can do their job, because the more people that we have who are that capable, the better the overall company is,” Friedman says.

This “hire smarter and better” philosophy is shared by many successful organizations but can encumber executives who feel threatened that they might be hiring their replacement long before they’re ready to voluntarily give up their job.

That is a shortsighted view.

Having a team of all-stars provides a bevy of benefits that manifest during good and bad times, acting as an insurance policy when people need to step up and take on larger roles. And beyond ample compensation for these employees, it’s imperative to invest in their career development.

AEC offers an extensive training academy for each of its employees. Similar tactics held true for Workplace Practices Survey respondents, who additionally employ a mixture of mentoring (38.5 percent) and Web-based training programs (53 percent) as part of their employee development initiatives.

Further, of the 145 organizations that participated in this year’s survey, manufacturers reported that they dedicate 9.4 percent of their HR budgets for tuition assistance and job-related training while nonmanufacturers dedicate 6.3 percent.

Taken as a whole, it doesn’t matter what your product or service is. Just like a baseball team with great hitting and lousy pitching, or vice versa, if you don’t have talent represented across the board, you’re not going to win a lot of games.

Contact executive editor Dustin S. Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com.

Monday, 23 February 2009 19:00

Face in the crowd

Generally speaking, people fall into two camps — those who want to be visible and those who want to be invisible.

The latter group represents that segment of people who keep a low profile, aren’t very social at work and tend to eschew anything that draws attention to him or her. Those people are usually the minority.

Most people tend to identify with the other group, and while they’re not all looking for the bright spotlight to shine down upon them, they do want to be noticed.

Nowhere is this truer than in the workplace, where employees desperately want to be more than just a number on a ledger or a run-of-the-mill cog in the machine.

They want to be seen, heard and, most of all, valued for their contributions.

With the carnage continuing to rain down and around us like macabre hellfire, now is a good time to take a few moments away from your survival tactics to show your employees just how much each of them means to your organization.

One of the first lessons that Walt Bettinger, president and CEO of The Charles Schwab Corp. and this month’s cover story subject, learned was that you need to value each person within an organization, no matter what his or her job.

That simple tenet was incorporated into Bettinger’s management philosophy and underscores his belief that how you treat your employees portends your own managerial success.

“If we fail as leaders of people, we will fail as business executives,” he says.

A pat on the back or a “Good job” goes a long way, and it will linger long after this maelstrom has subsided and life begins resembling something a bit more normal.

Today, there is little doubt that hard decisions must be made in order to ensure the future. Sometimes that means letting people go. When that happens, put yourself in those people’s shoes and handle the layoffs as humanely as possible.

Then, for those people who remain, make that extra effort to notice them. It will prove invaluable to helping your organization survive tough times.

Let’s face it: It’s a scary time out there for everyone. Wanting to be seen, heard, appreciated and even comforted is only natural. For the moment that it takes to do so, the payoff is immeasurable.

Contact Editor Dustin Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com

Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Roll of the dice

How do you measure success?

Depending on whom you ask, the answer can vary widely. For entrepreneurs, the answer might just be a bit simpler — overcoming risk.

Risk-taking is one of the most common traits entrepreneurs share. The mere fact that they put it on the line every day reveals their iron-clad stomachs; albeit sometimes those stomachs are marred by a few ulcers here and there.

This is a trait you just have to admire, especially since many of the rest of us, including highly successful professional managers, see nothing but terror when it comes to personally guaranteeing everything we’ve ever worked for in order to build a business that provides not just for our family but for the families of every single person we employ.

That’s why this issue of Smart Business is so significant. We’re proud to share the stories of the 2008 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year final-ists and honorees in a special cover story report. This is the 12th year that Smart Business has been the media sponsor of this event, and when you’re finished reading these amazing entrepreneurs’ stories and the risks they’ve overcome, you’ll understand why we’re so honored to work with Ernst & Young each year to present such a prestigious program.

Additionally, in this month’s Smart Leaders feature you’ll read about Stahls’ Transfer Express CEO Ted Stahl and his thoughts on how to drive complacency out of the workplace. Associate Editor Mike Cottrill explores Stahl’s own risk-taking, which involves encouraging the presence of rebels among his 100-employee team. Stahl says these rebels’ contrarian personalities allows the manufacturing firm to constantly self-challenge its relevance in the marketplace and remain innovative in the face of growing competition.

Finally, we sent Associate Editor Matt McClellan out to speak with Richard Bowen, who runs a 90-person architecture and engineering firm. Bowen has managed to keep the firm’s culture open-ended as it has grown because he treats everyone as equals. It’s an interesting perspective that has proved successful because of Bowen’s development of regular employee performance reviews and constant communication.

So how do you measure success in your own organizations? Drop me a line and let me know.

Contact Editor Dustin Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com

Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Roll of the dice

How do you measure success?

Depending on whom you ask the answer can vary widely — from personal wealth accumulation to family, health and happiness, and everything in between. For entrepreneurs, the answer might just be a bit simpler — overcoming risk.

Risk-taking is one of the most common traits entrepreneurs share. The mere fact that they put it on the line every day reveals their iron-clad stomachs; albeit sometimes those stomachs are marred by a few ulcers here and there.

This is a trait you just have to admire, especially since many of the rest of us, including highly successful professional managers, see nothing but terror when it comes to personally guaranteeing everything we’ve ever worked for in order to build a business that provides not just for our family but the families of every single person we employ.

That’s why this issue of Smart Business is so significant. We’re proud to share the stories of the 2008 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year finalists and honorees in a special cover story report. This is the 12th year that Smart Business has been the media sponsor of this event, and when you’re finished reading these amazing entrepreneurs’ stories and the risks they’ve overcome, you’ll understand why we’re so honored to work with Ernst & Young each year to present such a prestigious program.

Additionally, in this month’s Smart Leaders feature you’ll read about Don Padgett III, executive director of the World Golf Championships — Bridgestone Invitational, and how he manages to put on an event that draws 75 of the world’s top golfers and more than 80,000 guests. On the course, taking risks is just part of the job. Off the links, you take calculated risks when presenting and promoting such a world-class event, especially when you must remain innovative in the face of growing competition.

Finally, we sent Associate Editor Abby Cymerman out to speak with Clyde Shetler, who runs a 67-person custom steel fabricator and large machine shop. Shetler faces risk every day in an industry that must adapt to survive. He’s tackled that challenge by diversifying his customer base and focusing on customization rather than commoditizing his products.

So how do you measure success in your own organizations? Drop me a line and let me know.

Contact Editor Dustin Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com

Friday, 25 April 2008 20:00

A fresh look

An interesting survey summary hit my desk in early April: Despite mixed economic reports, nearly half of law firms and corporate legal departments nationwide expect to hire additional lawyers in the next 12 months.

That information arrived the same morning as the U.S. Department of Labor’s report that 80,000 jobs were cut in March. Talk about mixed news.

At first, I thought at least there’s one industry anticipating job growth. But then I read deeper into the survey results and my outlook changed.

According to the survey by Robert Half Legal, the legal profession is expecting to add attorneys to its ranks specifically because the economy is doing poorly. Three practice areas are expecting growth —bankruptcy, litigation, and ethics and corporate governance.

When you sit down and think about it, that makes a lot of sense. Job losses have been widespread across all sectors. Credit is tightening. Businesses and consumers, alike, are feeling the pinch. Next stop: your friendly, neighborhood law firm in search of assistance.

So what will it take for this region to spur job growth and change its stars from shooting to shining? Innovation.

It’s no longer prudent to simply build a fort during the down cycles and wait for the economy to turn around. Rather, if Northeast Ohio is to rise up and stake its claim, business leaders must identify new areas within existing industry sectors — or create new ones — that are designed to solve the pain consumers and businesses face on a daily basis.

Many of America’s periods of true innovation occurred during recessionary times, most recently when the iPod was introduced in the aftermath of the dot-com collapse. Why shouldn’t this time period offer the same opportunities? Rising energy costs have people talking about green initiatives. Tightening credit has people thinking about creative financing mechanisms. And the housing market collapse has forced a new look at real estate.

It almost seems inevitable that if we focus our energies on taking a fresh look at everything instead of staring bug-eyed at our books, we should land on solutions that solve everyday problems in a new way, thereby creating new jobs to deliver those products and services and drag us out of the regional economy quagmire.

Besides, what other choice do we have?

Contact Editor Dustin Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com

Tuesday, 29 January 2008 19:00

Substance over style

Iheard a disturbing comment on the radio last month. It was the morning of the Iowa caucuses, and while describing the U.S. presidential election season a caller said it really didn’t matter who garnered either political party’s nomination because most of what the politicians say they’ll do is nothing more than lip service.

When asked why, the gentleman chucked and said, “Well, there’s an old saying: ‘If given a choice between doing a good job and being perceived as doing a good job, I’ll take being perceived of doing a good job any day.’ That pretty much sums up U.S. elections these days.”

Clearly, the comment was made in jest as a poke at politics, where lip service rules. But it unfortunately rings far too true and applies to more than just politics. Today, perhaps more than ever, perception has become reality. If you think something is true, it is, whether that’s the case or not.

Consider your workplace. Do your employees care more about doing a good job or being recognized by management for doing a good job? If it’s the latter, perhaps it’s time for a change. Try including some sort of recognition that comes from peers, which often have better insight about who’s actually doing a good job rather than appearing to do so.

So that is why this issue of Smart Business, which you hold in your hands, is a tribute to more doing and less talking. Beyond our head-to-toe redesign, which you can read more about in CEO Fred Koury’s column, our two Northeast Ohio editions feature profiles of a group of manufacturing companies that have done more than create the perception of change.

Our 2008 eVolution of Manufacturing honorees have actually done a good job adapting their organizations to compete — and win — in the modern global economy, where action rules.

Our cover story on The Timken Co. Chairman Ward J. “Tim” Timken Jr. describes how even a 108-year-old company can’t allow itself to get by on what it says. It actually has to back up the claims because beyond performance there’s a reputation to uphold. As Timken says, “Don’t ever put your name on something you’d ever have cause to be ashamed of.” <<

Contact Editor Dustin Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com

Friday, 26 October 2007 20:00

Informative actions

How much do you really know about your business?

That may sound like an odd question to ask the president, owner or CEO — a person whom you’d think would have his or her finger on the pulse of the company — but when it comes to evaluating your company, it is clearly a valid query.

Unless you’re an absentee owner, you surely know the basics of your business — revenue, costs, number of employees, looming large-scale problems. But beyond those, do you have a more detailed snapshot you can provide your banker, an investor or a partner?

Consider the following group of questions: Are you growing your most profitable product division or service? Are you rewarding your best salespeople? Do you know which projects are profitable and which managers are responsible for them? How many paid-on-time accounts do you have? Do you know your fuel costs for delivery trucks?

Odds are you do not know the answers to those questions. Further, you might not even collect it. But without it, you probably don’t have enough data to run your business efficiently and effectively. And the answers to those questions are just a small sample of the nonfundamental information that the savviest CEOs develop mechanisms to track.

Don’t get me wrong. If you don’t have that information, you’re not necessarily in the midst of a downward spiral. However, when times get rough, the more data you can analyze, the better off you’ll be.

One of the most captivating types of stories our writers tackle is the turnaround piece. The turnaround story usually chronicles how a president or CEO identified a problem, stopped the bleeding and fixed the company. A common theme in these stories is that the CEO didn’t have accurate data on the company to ensure proper decisions were being made, and therefore, the company faltered.

So how do you determine if you have the information you need at your fingertips? That’s the tough part. What can be considered valuable information differs slightly from company to company, depending on the industry, product or service. But fundamentals are fundamentals, and the more sound financial data you have, the more informed you are about the top- and bottom-line results.

And, the more ways you’re able to slice that information — department, product line, division — the more apt you’ll be to identify your profit and loss centers and see the yellow flags before they become red ones.

Contact Editor Dustin Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com

Tuesday, 25 September 2007 20:00

A good spoiler

It happens, probably more often than CEOs would care to admit, but it happens. You arrive at the office one day expecting the litany of the usual brush fires to deal with, but instead, find a real blazer — one of your key employees has submitted his or her resignation, and you were caught by surprise.

When that occurs, it’s most likely because you thought you knew your employee’s mindset, but you didn’t. You incorrectly assumed the person was happy with his or her job and committed to it, but sometime between the last time you checked and now, the situation changed. Suddenly, you and your company are unprepared to fill in the gap left behind, and you’re facing serious headaches or, in some cases, minor panic.

So what can you do to ensure you don’t find yourself in this scenario?

Plenty. Not only can you develop a plan that allows you and your team to step in seamlessly when a key employee or member of your senior management team leaves, but you can also take steps that let you accurately predict whether or not you’ve got someone on the precipice of walking out the door.

The contingency plan is probably the easiest. For that, simply determine who among your team will absorb specific tasks that allow you to meet short-term goals. But to become a great prognosticator — or at least appear like one — when it comes to employee actions, you’ll need to think a bit more strategically.

First, increase the frequency of how often you or your senior managers meet, as well as how often they meet with staff members for reviews or regular updates. If you’re like a growing number of executives nationwide, the annual performance review has morphed from a once-a-year occasion to something a bit more regular — quarterly or twice annual meetings. Departmentally, many managers now meet weekly or twice monthly with key staff members to gauge what’s going on beyond whether production schedules are being met.

These regular meetings not only provide an opportunity to let members of the team know where they stand — something they truly appreciate — but they also offer insight to employees’ perspectives of their jobs.

If that proactive mentality becomes ingrained in your corporate culture, then everybody wins. Nobody should be left unaware of a brewing employee resignation, and your company will always be prepared to move forward without the slightest hesitation.

Contact Editor Dustin Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com

Sunday, 26 August 2007 20:00

Winning attitude

Back in the dot-com boom of the late ’90s, everyone talked about a new economy, in which can-do attitudes and creative solutions to everyday problems would change the world.

Despite the subsequent economic bust, much of that promise has been fulfilled. We live in a digital world where connectivity is ubiquitous, and those businesses that embraced the technological revolution are better off than those that didn’t.

Today, innovation continues to be a critical component of competition. At its core, innovation means making improvements by introducing something new, be it a product, process or service. Change is the only constant, and it can be either gradual or radical.

CEOs who embrace innovation as a core principle and take on the associated risk can do tremendous things for their organizations. All because they refuse to operate with a business-as-usual mentality.

We are honored to present three such leaders at the ninth annual Smart Business Innovation in Business Conference, presented by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Ohio. The combined companies of these three executives employ more than 60,000 people and generate more than $70 billion in annual revenue.

Angela Braly is president and CEO of WellPoint Inc., the largest health care company in the nation and Anthem’s parent company.

WellPoint’s success is due, in part, to its focus on developing innovative health care solutions by analyzing comprehensive health care data and creating new solutions through unique plans and products. With health-related issues on every CEO’s mind these days, people hang on Braly’s every word.

As chairman and CEO of diversified chemical company Ashland Inc., Jim O’Brien is a leader who isn’t afraid to tackle change. When he took over in 2002, he faced a weak energy market, a falling stock price and a business in need of a facelift. He reorganized the company into more strategic divisions, implemented new processes and procedures, and re-energized Ashland, whose brands include Valvoline, into a leaner organization.

Four years ago, Steven Demetriou’s company, Aleris International, didn’t exist. He formed it in 2004 through the purchase and merger of two independent aluminum companies and with the recognition that there was a niche market to be conquered. In a short period of time, he’s built an industry leader with more than $5 billion in revenue.

If you’re looking to innovate, please join us later this month at the conference to hear what these leaders have to say.

Contact Editor Dustin Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com

Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Purple promises

When an automotive supplier in Canada was desperately behind on its production schedule, it contacted FedEx Custom Critical for help.

The Akron-based subsidiary of global giant FedEx committed as many vehicles as it could to make round-trip runs from Canada to two production facilities in the U.S. FedEx Custom Critical CEO Jack Pickard also sent team members to Canada to manage the FedEx loads and manage shipments being handled by additional carriers.

The customer, says Pickard, was thrilled to get back on schedule.

As an organization whose mission is to provide freight shipping solutions throughout the U.S. and internationally, that example is all in a day’s work. The very nature of FedEx Custom Critical’s business emphasizes service over price. And the company’s “Purple Promise” says, “I will make every FedEx experience outstanding,” setting the tone for a high level of customer service.

Each month, the company conducts 150 customer satisfaction surveys through an independent third party. Scores from these surveys determine bonus pay, and comments are made available to all team members so that they can see exactly what customers say about the company’s services.

Among the systems Pickard has in place to ensure the company delivers on its promises is a rigorous screening process for new hires, combined with a detailed training program. And a 15-month leadership development program helps aspiring leaders to gain knowledge through experience.

Part of FedEx Custom Critical’s Purple Promise is Pickard’s dedication to empowering every member of his team to “do the right thing for the customer every time.”

And, when extra efforts provide an outstanding experience, the company shares the story with all employees so that customer service remains a key component of its lifeblood.

HOW TO REACH: FedEx Custom Critical, (800) 762-3787 or www.customcritical.fedex.com