Daniel G. Jacobs

Wednesday, 23 February 2005 08:23

In the know

When Dutchman Frits Goldschmeding founded Randstad in 1960, he adopted "Know Serve Trust" as his staffing company's promise to customers.

Nearly half a century later, CEO Jim Reese sees that promise as an equal obligation to the 2,230 employees of the Atlanta-based Randstad North America division and even to the nearly 200,000 temporary and contract workers the company places every year.

"When you look at our values, those are really the core of who we are, and those are one of the things that really brought me to this company," says Reese. "As I talk to people, be it a customer or an employee of ours or a flexible worker, simply knowing starts with understanding the other person."

Reese takes getting to know his personnel, well, personally.

"All of our new hires, we bring to Atlanta," he says. "And I speak to 90 percent of the new hires myself. I usually spend an hour with them. I walk through and talk about these values, what they mean to me, what they mean to our customers, what they mean to us as colleagues and what they mean to the people we put to work. So we talk about them, and we live them out.

"I think it's one of the things I'm most proud of about us as a company. They have to hear it -- that I believe it -- and then I have to walk it. If I don't walk it, then it's just words on a wall."

Practice what you preach

Randstad North America is a $1.2 billion subsidiary of The Netherlands-based Randstad Holding nv, one of Europe's biggest staffing firms. One of the U.S. unit's communication hallmarks is an annual survey of employees and employers.

The 2004 survey -- conducted by RoperASW, one of the world's top marketing research firms -- covered 2,639 employees and employers in North America to examine the relationship between the two and find the most critical gaps in perception.

Reese says the survey attempts to bridge the gap between managers and employers and to break through the misconceptions. For example, ask managers how loyal employees are, and very few think their employees have any dedication to the company. Ask the employees, and seven of 10 claim they hold a special affinity for their employer.

Two years ago, Reese decided to turn the mirror on his own company and conduct an internal employee survey. In effect, he wanted to find out how well Randstad practices what it preaches.

"We hold the mirror up to ourselves and say, 'How are we doing on that?'" Reese says. "Are we really being trusted? Are we building trust that comes back to what we do from a communications standpoint?"

With the results in hand, Reese formed teams from each region and each support center to look for ways to turn the newfound knowledge into action.

"I was proud of the results we got, but we still have room to improve," he says.

For one thing, management learned just how important the 401(k) retirement plan -- particularly a consistent company contribution -- is to employees, he says.

"We kind of continuously look at our benefits to make sure we're competitive," he says. "And I think we really understand the need of flexibility for our work force. That's what we sell every day."

The company now provides flex time for its employees, such as for those times when a parent wants to attend a child's soccer game or musical performance.

"Those days that you let somebody (leave early) creates so much loyalty for the company," he says. "People are almost all working more than 40 hours. The company has the opportunity to give some of that back, in different ways. It doesn't always have to be financially. One of the things that came out of the survey is that flexibility creates huge loyalty in the employees themselves. We really try to run our company as much as we can that way.

"What we've learned from our surveys -- and what I've believed in my whole life -- is people want to hear from you," Reese says. "(Employees) want to hear from the person who's running the company and know, 'What's this person like?'"

And they also want to know how the company is doing.

"We had a tough few years, and I was not delivering the most favorite messages to people," he says. "But by the same token, people want to be spoken to, because this is their company. I tell them I have the privilege to go to customers because of the work they do every day.

"I think that really ends up being a key thing for the success of businesses. If you're going to communicate effectively, you really need to be in front of people and talk to them. They want to feel part of it."

The survey is just one of the tools that the company uses to communicate with employees.

"I work very diligently on ensuring that I'm not only communicating, but that we also have the structures in place so that each level in the organization is effectively communicating," Reese says. "Some things we do specifically to live this out.

"Every quarter, I do a conference call with the whole company, where I'm on the phone probably 30 to 45 minutes, sharing with them our results, what we did well, what we didn't do well, and where we are as a company. And there's an opportunity for them to send questions in ahead of time to me, so that I can answer them.

"We (also) have what we call a Speak Up line. It gives people an opportunity to praise another employee, to raise a concern about something we have internally, to talk about our systems, to really speak up.

"I listen to every one of those calls. We have people, obviously, that handle the different situations, but instead of getting the piece of paper that has the words on it, I want to hear the tone. I want to hear what people are really feeling.

Another communication method is a weekly e-newsletter, the Monday Morning Update. "I can speak in that, but it also talks to where the business is," Reese says.

In addition, Reese writes one-page letters around major U.S. holidays that talk about the company, "things I'm proud of, issues we need to address, things we need to do to try and stay in touch with people."

Regardless of the form of communication, consistency is key to maintaining the trust and respect of employees, Reese says. It doesn't matter whether the company is experiencing good times or bad. Maintaining the same attitude and management approach are key.

"I think one of the most important things as a leader is that people know how you consistently manage," Reese says. "Now, I'm going to deal with different problems when the business is down than when the business is good. When business is down, I'm going to have to worry more about costs, productivity.

"And if the business is growing, am I getting resources quick enough? Am I (ensuring we have) enough capacity to grow?"

Now that the company has left difficult economic issues behind, Reese reflects on his management approach.

"I think I had to deal with different problems in each of those situations," he says. 'I think that's very important for people; they want to know who their leader is and when he shows up to work each day, and he's not swayed by (it being) a good day or a bad day."

The payoff

As Reese sees it, all of this focus on internal communication pays huge dividends because customers know when a company makes its values a part of the culture -- and not just a part of the marketing literature.

"They definitely have to see it, and you don't build trust overnight," he says. "You know it takes time; you've got to be able to deliver on it. Our ability to retain and keep customers is a strength we have as a company.

"If you really are serving them well, you do build trust. A breakdown of trust usually takes place if it's more about what you're trying to get out of it than what you're doing to try to serve someone."

"I tell our people, if you're serving with what we think somebody needs, we're self-serving, and we're not really listening to what's most important to them or the business problem they have, or what they're trying to accomplish.

"It doesn't matter whether it's a colleague that I'm working with on a team, with a company or wi th a flex worker. If I really do those things well, then I'm effectively living out our values, and you see it."

While it takes a long time to develop a trusting relationship, Reese says, a single bad encounter can destroy one.

"I think that there's no question that you can lose customers with one event," Reese says. "But if you're working on a partnership, and you've built this foundation of knowing, serving and trusting together, there is a chance that you could make mistakes with that partnership. If you have enough trust for each other, you're going to come to the table and talk about that.

"You know, there're times customers make mistakes with us, and there are times we make mistakes with customers. We're clearly not perfect. And my hope is, and what our people demonstrate is, if we have built the foundation that you really can trust us, let's come to the table and talk about it."

HOW TO REACH: Randstad, www.us.randstad.com

Monday, 24 January 2005 08:38

The Forsythe file

Born: 1941, Chicago

Education: B.S. in economics, Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), where he has endowed the Richard A. Forsythe Chair in Entrepreneurship. Graduated at 19 years old.

First job: "Peddler" for IBM; went to work for IBM before I could buy a drink.

Boards: Wilmer Ophthalmology Center at Johns Hopkins; Prentiss Women's Hospital, Northwestern University; Thomas C. Page Center for Entrepreneurship, Miami University

Residence: Winnetka

What is the greatest business lesson you've learned?

Surround yourself with good people.

What is the greatest business challenge you've faced, and how did you overcome it?

Giving up power; giving up authority, delegating. Trying not to be a control freak. I'm not sure I'm past it yet.

You have to be willing to let people make a mistake. You cannot put so many rules in place that you take away the opportunity to succeed. Thomas Watson at IBM had a great saying that I've always remembered. He said, 'Better to shoot for success and fail than to shoot for failure and succeed.'

I give people an opportunity and I say, 'Go do it.' If they make a mistake, I say, 'It's OK, don't make it again. Make a different mistake.' Don't walk around on eggshells.

Whom do you admire most in business and why?

The person I admire the most is dead now. His name was Ken Pontikes. He started and ran a company called Comdisco Inc., which recently went broke. He was the brightest man I ever met and the most humble man I ever met and the most loyal man I ever met.

He made a ton of money, and we went and bought him a pair of golf shoes one year because he wore the same old pair of golf shoes. He loved to make it, but he'd hate to spend it -- he'd give it away.

He had the ability to take a tough, complex situation and reduce it to very simple terms that everybody could understand. I think that takes great intelligence to be able to do that. He made a difficult problem into a simple problem. I strive to do that; I can't do it as well as he could.

Tuesday, 21 December 2004 10:33

Hot off the grill

It was a lesson well learned.

Leonhard Dreimann, CEO and co-founder of Salton Inc., learned the importance of good marketing working with Dunlop Sleepmaker, a bedding company in Australia.

"We had a bed that was endorsed by the Australian Chiropractic Association that had about a one-tenth of a percent market share," Dreimann says. "But it was probably the best bed (the company) made."

To sell the product, the company found a celebrity who had a lot of credibility in the Australian market who was also a chiropractor.

"He was a movie actor as well as a successful TV series star in Australia, and we made him the spokesperson," Dreimann says. "(We) turned that bed from a product that no one ever knew and finished with a 28 percent market share of all beds and quadrupled the profit of the company."

Dreimann figured that what worked once could work again -- this time in the United States with a retired former heavyweight boxing champion.

"I don't see all that much difference from what we've done here with George Foreman Grills," he says. "We found we had a product that was really very good, that consumers would really love and appreciate how it worked and what it could do for them, and managed to find the right celebrity with credibility. Once they (consumers) tried it, the rest became history. Word of mouth and the strength of the product took it from there."

The George Foreman Grill is just one item in Salton Inc.'s portfolio of products, which comprise some of the most popular brands in home products and small electric appliances -- Breadman, Juiceman, Ingraham, Farberware and Toastmaster, among many others. It's Dreimann's job -- and that of his team -- to ensure the marketing stays fresh and the brands popular.

And he's succeeded. Since leading a leveraged buyout of Salton Housewares Inc. from SEVKO Inc. with a partner in 1987, when sales for what was then a division of a larger company were $8 million a year, Dreimann has built the company into a $1.1 billion branding powerhouse. And although it posted a net loss for fiscal year 2004 and for the first quarter of 2005 ($3.2 million on sales of $274.1 million), the loss was expected due to a corporate restructuring. The restructuring, which included the elimination of 200 U.S.-based jobs, was designed to make the company more like its George Foreman Grill -- lean and mean.

"Our domestic restructuring efforts are yielding results," Dreimann says. "During the first quarter (of 2005), we demonstrated that we could maintain sales activity in the U.S. with a lower cost base, allowing us to improve our domestic performance without increasing sales. Were it not for rising product-related costs, our earnings per share would have been positive in the quarter. We remain on plan to realize a minimum of $40 million in cost reductions during fiscal 2005."

Innovative thinker

Although he has a marketing degree from the Melbourne University in Australia, Driemann's practical experience came from a weekly poker game with members of Gillette's Aussie division, which at the time was the company's best-performing division worldwide.

"I've learned from Gillette, which has developed many innovations and new products in a very profitable way and marketed them to be dominant in many of the categories they are in," Dreimann says. "From Papermate Pens to Braun shavers to Gillette razor blades to Foamy shaving cream to Right Guard deodorant, all these various brands have done extremely well in the marketplace, and many times and in many cases have been leaders for a long time.

"Gillette has given me a very wonderful background to take into consumer goods such as small electrical appliances and housewares this company is in," he says. "Many of the things we do, we try to parallel the successful methods that Gillette has always had."

But Dreimann's work has been successful on its own, garnering numerous recognitions over the years. Among them, he is a 1999 winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year for Illinois/North West Indiana. He chalks his success up to being constantly on the lookout for new ideas and creative ways to market the existing portfolio.

"We don't stop looking at new products," says Dreimann, a native of Riga, Latvia. "There isn't a day that goes by where we don't have meetings with somebody about new ideas or new approaches to marketing existing products or prototypes of new ideas for products. That's the lifeblood of this company."

And Dreimann says there is no hard and fast rule for determining which new products to bring into the fold.

"We have a group of very experienced marketing people and salespeople," he says. "We look at something and, if we think it's a good idea, we will expose it to a larger number of executives in sales, marketing and even finance to see how everybody reacts. We usually find if there is common excitement that there's a much better chance (the product) will be successful."

Dreimann says he leads the company with the belief that getting employees motivated and behind a project is the surest way to succeed. So far, it's worked. Much of Salton's portfolio boasts successful track records, and Dreimann has acquired eight new brands over the past five years. Salton also acquired three companies, including Pifco Holdings, a United Kingdom enterprise, and AMAP in South Africa.

All told, Salton has operations in about 30 countries ad sells its products worldwide.

Growth driver

Under Dreimann, Salton's growth has primarily been through acquisitions and new product launches. He has worked tirelessly to grow the company quickly and, despite the restructuring, sees no reason to slow down.

"I see us five years from now probably double the size we are today," he says. "In 1987, when we were doing $8 million in sales, I did an interview and said that by 1997, we would like to reach $500 million in sales. That sounded like a pipedream to the person writing the article. We reached that target, then set a target to pass $1 billion. We reached that target as well."

Looking back, Dreimann isn't amazed at what he's accomplished in the 17 years since he and David Sabin, chairman and secretary of the company, agreed to undertake the leveraged buyout on a handshake and turn the Salton brand from simply being a brand manufactured by an injection molding company and sold by various distributors worldwide into a full-fledged business of its own.

"Over the years, different owners all over the world ran their businesses and used the product that Salton was initially made famous for -- the Salton Hot Tray," Dreimann says. "So when latest owners in 1987 acquired the Salton Co. here in the United States and discovered there were other Salton companies around the world, they wanted to meet them and see if there were things that could be done on a joint worldwide basis for the benefit of all in terms of product development and individual growth."

Dreimann, who at the time served as managing director of Salton Australia Pty. Ltd., a distributor of Salton brand kitchen appliances in Australia, was the only person who accepted the invitation to the United States to attend a housewares show.

"(I) met my partner David Sabin," he says. "We shook hands, formed a partnership, and he asked me to (move) to the United States and help grow the Salton Co., which we did with an LBO in 1987."

Four years later, in 1991, Dreimann and Sabin took the company public and it became Salton Inc.

"It had a little amount of capital because it was a small company that was growing rapidly," Dreimann says. "It was felt that going public would give it a vehicle to continue raising more capital for expansion and growth and to provide a vehicle for potential acquisitions or mergers when and if the opportunities would arise."

Dreimann has been able to do that, but with the money he raised came a price.

"If you're a public company, you really have to evaluate your risks," he says. "You may not be able to take (a risk) because you are responsible for a group of shareholders and ar e the face of the company that they have put their money into."

That's caused him to take a more calculated approach than he did in the company's first few years.

"If I would have stayed private, I may have taken risks with some things and made some investments in advertising and products to a larger degree than I have in being responsible for a public company," Dreimann says. "But that's not necessarily a bad thing. I think those checks and balances that we have -- if you question yourself and say, 'Is this decision really so risky that I could have a disgruntled number of shareholders for me having taken that risk?' then it's probably the wrong risk to take in the first place."

The current iteration of Salton may only be 18 years old, but the company owns brands with ties that go back to 1831, the year the Ingraham clock brand was introduced. Salton acquired the brand when it completed the purchase of Toastmaster in 1999.

Its most recent introduction is a collection of next-generation products sold under the Beyond brand name.

No matter how technologically advanced Salton's products become, Dreimann says they still follow the same food chain as every other product the company manufactures. That means marketing each brand the same way the 173-year-old analog clock brand is marketed.

"It's been received very well," Dreimann says of the Beyond brand. "But we have little distribution at the moment because it's such a new category. Only now are (retailers) creating departments that are in this particular area of the future, this area of electronics -- wireless access and computer controlled.

"The traditional retailer that we do business with has not really been in that area. But they certainly are very much aware of what Beyond products are. They're aware that they are definitely the product of the future."

Piece by piece, brand by brand, Dreimann is growing Salton's presence in consumers' homes.

"It's a slow process," he says. "But there is no doubt in my mind that these are the types of products that will be very common in most homes (in the future) and seen as a great benefit."

Even so, Dreimann doesn't recommend replacing your George Foreman Grill anytime soon.

HOW TO REACH: Salton Inc., www.saltoninc.com or (847) 803-4600

Tuesday, 30 November 2004 06:41

The Shearer file

Born: 1963, York, Pa.

Education: Bachelor of arts degree, business management, New Hampshire College

First job: In the shipping and receiving department of our family business (Shearer Industrial Supply) when I was 12 years old. The first job they gave me to do was to sweep the entire warehouse, and the second job was to wash the outside of the building. The building itself was an historic landmark; it was used as a hospital during the Civil War, and I'm not sure the floors had been swept or the building had been washed before I was asked to do it.

Career moves: I joined Shearer Industrial right out of college, and within five years became president. That was in 1990. Seven years later is when we did IDG, and then four years (after that) is when I became the CEO of IDG.

Residence: Alpharetta

What is the greatest business lesson you've learned?

There are a lot of extremely intelligent people, whether in this business or in this world, that are willing to share their thoughts and wisdom with you. And whether those are your associates or customers, whether they're your peers or part of your board of directors, the key is being able to listen and learn from those people, and then take from that their wisdom and make a difference in your own business.

What is the greatest business challenge you've faced, and how did you overcome it?

Certainly three years ago when I assumed the responsibilities as the CEO of IDG, the organization was in turmoil. What I did to overcome that is I surrounded myself with the best possible people and leaders and tried to create an environment that would allow each of them to feel free in sharing their ideas and knowledge.

I listened to that feedback and information, but also, once we, as a team, made a decision, we were fully committed to that resolve.

Whom do you admire most in business?

I'd have to say my father. Shearer Industrial Supply was a third-generation business. I entered the business at a very young age and had a number of crazy ideas and changes that I wanted to make to the organization.

Knowing that that was my father's business that he had managed for 25 years prior to that, instead of being resistant to those ideas, he was extremely receptive. He allowed me to make some mistakes that I learned from, but he was also willing to take a different look and approach to a business that he had been in his entire career.

In a short period of time, I was able to demonstrate my capabilities, and I was 28 or 29 years old when I became president of that company. I respect him and admire him for his ability to mentor me and allow me to make mistakes, learn from the mistakes, and ultimately, be successful.

Tuesday, 23 November 2004 08:50

Flower power

Michael Soenen is FTD's green thumb. He runs the 94-year-old flower delivery company with the care of a weekend gardener doting over prize azaleas before a county fair, and he's helped turn the once-wilting flower into a rejuvenated, blossoming enterprise.

Despite its place in business history, with one of the most recognized brands in the world -- the gold, wing-footed Mercury -- FTD represents different things to different generations.

"It was a brand my grandma loved, my mom liked but my sister hated," says Soenen, who became president and CEO in May. "The company had been mismanaged and hadn't really been leveraged to the extent possible. Its brand had become a bit outdated. We kind of joke around here that it was really a bunch of carnations stuffed in a coffee cup."

Despite the company's well-known name, its brand had become stale. Originally known as Florists Telegraph Delivery and later Florists Transworld Delivery -- reflecting its reach of approximately 150 countries -- FTD began as a nonprofit co-operative owned by the florists it serviced. The company was purchased from the florists in 1994, then taken public. The IPO gave FTD's management team the opportunity to make several changes.

"We were able to embark on a revolution of the brand, a significant updating to target a new generation of customer that previously wasn't part of FTD," Soenen says. "We spent a lot of marketing dollars on (an extensive) marketing campaign. We took the brand and updated it.

"We attracted a younger customer crowd, an Internet crowd, and were also able to take up purchasing frequency as a result of the Internet. We were able to push an average order value from $45 to almost $62."

Throughout its history, FTD has existed to serve its 20,000 U.S.-based and 53,000 worldwide partner florists, and in 1999, it launched FTD.com to provide services directly to consumers. The results of that expansion are visible in the company's bottom line -- double-digit revenue increases in the consumer portion of the business since 2000 and in the florist business the past two quarters, reversing a trend that had dragged down the main part of the business over recent years.

Following an acquisition by Green Equity Investors IV LP, an affiliate of Leonard Green & Partners LP, FTD was taken private and FTD.com was rolled up back into the parent company. Soenen, who joined FTD in 1997 and later served as CEO of FTD.com, left the business in February 2004 after two years as president and COO, following the October 2002 reintegration of the Internet-based division into the main entity.

"They had two CEOs," Soenen says. "When Green Equity did the transaction, the opportunity for me to remain president and COO wasn't that interesting because I was going to be a No. 2 for the next five years. I really wanted the opportunity to be a No. 1, so I left the company."

Soenen's self-imposed sabbatical, which he spent traveling to places including Africa, where he climbed Mt. Kilamanjaro, didn't last long.

As FTD continued to struggle with changing marketplaces, the aftermath of the dot-com crash and an increasingly fickle customer base, chairman and CEO Robert L. Norton decided to call it quits and announced his retirement.

Soon after, Soenen's phone rang.

"They said, 'Would you be interested in coming back if the position was available?'" he says. "I said yes. It took about an hour to work it out, and I was back at work."

Blossoming into leadership

Prior to his arrival at FTD in 1997, Soenen held a comfortable position with Perry Corp., a private equity investment operation, which at the time had a large investment in FTD. Not one to sit back and let others run an enterprise, Soenen left his job to join the struggling flower company in the marketing department as vice president of marketing and sales promotion.

"I've been very fortunate," he says. "I've never really had a fear of failing, a fear of taking on a really hard assignment. If you think back to 1994, FTD really wasn't considered a blue chip place to work.

"Most of my friends were going to work at McKinsey and other blue chip-type places, where they wanted to launch their careers. I actually left Wall Street, where I was doing well, to go work in a situation that nobody wanted to work in."

And as any entrepreneur knows, you can't succeed without taking some risk.

"The real opportunity was, if you could fix it, you could end up running it some day," he says. "That was what we did. I've always been more interested in the more difficult challenges in life, and this was certainly more difficult than what I'd been doing."

Soenen's opportunity to put his leadership skills into practice came in May 1999, when he was offered the top job at FTD.com.

"At the time, the prevailing thinking in the market was to spin off your Internet companies into separate entities, take them public and let them raise the funds that they were going to need to help them grow their own business," he says. "That's what we did. As we grew and grew and grew, we got big enough to stand on our own. And, at $200 million, we were getting big enough that it was becoming clear that we really had one brand, not two."

That created another problem -- two companies with the same brand meant two CEOs running two separate entities. By late 2002, it was clear to Soenen, as well as to others, that the two-headed approach was hindering FTD's ability to best leverage its assets for growth.

"We had one group kind of going in one direction and one group that was doing something else," Soenen says. "By putting the two companies back together, we were able to take that Internet thinking -- the young and fresh attitude that we were bringing into the company -- and spread it through the entire organization. That's really allowed us to integrate the brand, really tie us together, start to launch into new channels, really push into places we hadn't before to go after customers we hadn't before."

The results of the integration are measured in the number of new customers, the average age of those customers (now under 40) and the income average for those customers, which exceeds $70,000 a year. The florist side of the business has grown as well, moving from 13,000 to nearly 20,000 traditional florists. But Soenen's not ready to settle.

"We're also in over 2,500 grocery stores," he says. "And we're testing in several big box locations as we speak, several new channel expansion opportunities. Now that we have a (unified) brand, that is much more relevant."

Soenen's work at the company led one commentator to compare him to New York Yankees superstar shortstop Derek Jeter saying, "He never complains, he never talks back, he just goes out and does his job perfectly."

Soenen demurs.

"I am far from perfect," he says. "But much like Derek Jeter, I've got a lot of great players on the field, and even if I'm having a bad day, they can make me look good. From my standpoint, if you look at it over the long term, I have a long track record of achieving goals.

"If you look at our financials, we've grown and have continued to grow the company double-digit, both top line and bottom line, over the last five years. And it's really a function of the people I've been fortunate enough to work with."

Not surprisingly, Soenen credits his team with the smooth reintegration of the two companies.

"The team that we had at FTD.com was probably the best e-commerce team in the space," he says. "We had $200 million in revenue generating over $20 million of profit, which is pretty rare. It was a combination of Internet thinking with a profitability mindset.

"Bringing that into FTD, many of those managers simply took over many of the key management responsibilities in the new company. We kind of did it all in one day. Everybody knew it was a good idea. It was really welcome; people wanted it. It was just a matter of executing it."

Cultivating the company

Today, the combined FTD is a $400 million operation. Soenen's goal is to surpass $1 billion.

"We b egan to focus on our customers in a big way when we put the two entities together," he says. "You're starting to see the double-digit growth now for our florist business. The other opportunity is expanding into new channels."

That means finding new places and new ways to service florists and consumers, such as opening storefronts in places like Home Depot.

"Flowers for everyday are often a convenience purchase," he says. "The opportunity to allow our florists to expand their store fronts by servicing third-party locations is another opportunity for our florists to profit. We're also launching a variety of new products, which we're doing all the time -- new bouquets that we're bringing on; whether it's going after the lower-end market with the value-priced programs, the gifts, which are now over 25 percent of our sales. We were never a gift company before at all.

"We've really freshened up and taken a new look at the company. Integrating the two and spreading that throughout, I think we've been able to get into new channels and get new customers, in a way, people who wouldn't have (considered) us before."

Soenen isn't content with simply increasing the number of outlets through which florists can provide flowers. He also wants to increase the offerings they provide.

"We have an inherent demand that isn't dependent on the economy," he says. "By giving florists new products and services -- whether it's gifts, whether it's the Internet capability -- they're able to grow their business on top of that inherent demand."

Those gifts don't cost the florists that offer them any cash outlay -- packages are drop-shipped from the myriad partners the company works with.

"They don't actually inventory any of these items," he says. "For them, that's a great business. As I think longer term, five years down the road, wouldn't it be great if they did inventory some products -- FTD with the same-day delivery of flowers and specialty gifts. You can inventory those products that are nonperishable and allow same-day delivery.

"At Christmas, you can get gift basket delivered same day. That's an area that we're currently testing. Longer term, that will allow our florists to continue to generate more profits for themselves."

And if things continue to grow, both the company's florists and its owners may be sending Soenen a bouquet.

How to reach: FTD www.FTD.com or (800) 788-9000

Friday, 29 October 2004 05:20

The Nation file

Born: 1947, Spartanburg, S.C.

Education: Bachelor of arts degree, elementary education, Florida Atlantic University

First job: In a car wash

Career moves: While in college, worked for a Richards Department Store (a division of City Stores) in Miami in the warehouse, became a truck driver, supervisor in marking room (where price tags were attached). Became warehouse manager at age 23, assistant furniture buyer, mattress buyer, then branch store manager.

Went to work for the Spring Air licensee in Florida, a company later bought by Bassett Furniture Industries. Held a number of management positions over 13 years. Moved to Chicago to work for the Sealy Mattress Co. handling Sears. Moved to Spring Air in 1990 to head up the national account sales; in 1995, became president and CEO.

Resides: Burr Ridge

What is the greatest business lesson you've learned?
If you tell customers what truly is the best thing for them to do and what is in their best interest, you will get more than your fair share of the business. It's an honest values question.

If you treat people fairly and you tell them what you honestly believe is in their best interest, you will get rewarded for it.

What is the greatest business challenge you've faced and how did you overcome it?
As a very young guy, working for Richards Department Store, I was instrumental in defeating an effort by the Teamsters Union to organize the truck drivers, which was a pretty difficult task for a kid 23 years old. I was successful doing that.

Certainly, I was successful in positioning Spring Air as a major supplier to large retail customers. They were challenges that became very great opportunities.

Whom do you admire most in business and why?
Warren Buffett. The admirable thing he does is buy good businesses that are relatively simple businesses, but he focuses on a very small number of them; he doesn't spread himself too thin.

His ability to focus on a few winners is commendable; he's not about how many companies he can own. (Spring Air is not in his portfolio, but) I'm open if he wants to talk about it.

Wednesday, 20 October 2004 17:43

The Gerberding file

Born: 1955

Education: B.A. magna cum laude (chemistry/biology) Case Western Reserve University, 1977; M.D., Case Western Reserve University, 1981; master's of public health., University of California, Berkeley 1990

First job: Intern in medicine, University of California, San Francisco

Career moves: Clinical instructor, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, 1984-1985; assistant professor in-residence, Department of Medicine (infectious diseases) UC, San Francisco, 1988-1995; affiliate, California Primate Research Center, UC, Davis, 1989-1993; hospital epidemiologist, director, Epidemiology and Prevention Interventions Center, San Francisco General Hospital, 1990-1998 Assistant professor in-residence, Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, UC, San Francisco, 1991-1995; associate professor, Departments of Medicine (infectious diseases) and Epidemiology & Biostatistics, UC, San Francisco, 1995-present; director, Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1998-present Associate clinical professor, Department of Medicine (infectious diseases), Emory University, 2000-present; acting deputy director, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2001-2002; acting principal deputy director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2002; director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, administrator, Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry, 2002-present

Boards: Editorial Board, Journal of Bioterrorism and Biosecurity; associate editor, American Journal of Medicine

Resides: Atlanta

What is the greatest business lesson you have learned?
The greatest business lesson to me is also the greatest lesson in life, and that is it is imperative to stay in learning mode. I'm an infectious disease doctor, and if you know anything about bacteria, you know bacteria start out growing very slowly, and all of a sudden they explode into what we would call logarithmic growth where they are multiplying exponentially until they start to plateau and level off.

My personal challenge is to always stay in that logarithmic growth place and to keep (this) organization constantly in growth phase. You're alive, you're proactive, you're learning, your work force is excited, your pipelines of workers are open and new ideas can take hold and bring the agency further along in the shortest period of time. I think that's a lesson I've learned personally, but also one with direct relevance to my role as a leader of CDC.

What is the biggest business challenge you've faced, and how did you overcome it?
The most challenging business issue for me personally really has been initiating the implementation of the strategic transformation at CDC. And I say that because it's a governmental agency. Change is always challenging for large organizations. This agency hasn't really had a strategic planning process of this scope for more than 20 years, and it hasn't undergone any significant reorganization in that amount of time. It's not an environment that has learned the importance of this kind of investment. So, rationalizing why we are initiating a new strategy and helping people recognize the value of learning within an organization and growing, even though we are already a very fine organization, is something I find personally very challenging but also extremely rewarding, because I do feel we have generated a critical mass of very excited, energetic people who are the future of CDC and also the future of public health in our nation. The challenges can be overcome, but it's important to be strategic as we go about trying to address them.

Whom do you admire most in business and why?
The person I admire most in business is probably Oz Nelson, the former CEO of UPS. I say that because, obviously, he was an extremely successful CEO, but he also recognized the value of putting customers first and really looking to the outside of the business to get information to help the organization learn as it goes forward to conquer challenges.

But I also admire him because since he left his role as CEO, he has continued to utilize his leadership skills to support health. He's been the head of the CDC Foundation board. He's contributed his leadership to the United Way. He's a community servant. And he does everything that he commits to with the same degree of excellence and passion that he brought to bear in his role at UPS. I think he is an extraordinary man in that regard.

Thursday, 14 October 2004 05:13

The pulse of the nation's health

The first 10 days on the job were pretty much what Dr. Julie Gerberding expected. On Day 11, however, the world changed.

Gerberding had been working at the National Center for Infectious Diseases, an agency of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when she was asked to fill in as acting deputy director while a search progressed for a permanent replacement.

That was Sept. 1, 2001. With quiet understatement, Gerberding explains what happened less than two weeks later.

"I was not expecting to be involved in terrorism," she says. "When I came to CDC, I came here on a five-year plan to serve my country and to do everything I could to try to protect patients. I was very interested in patient safety and anamicrobial resistance and infections associated with health care. It was only somewhat a surprising coincidence that I started the role as the deputy (director) of the center on Sept. 1, and 10 days later we were in the middle of terrorist attacks."

But unexpected doesn't mean unprepared. Gerberding's expertise and experience helped her lead the NCIS through a uniquely difficult time.

"I found myself, very quickly, bringing my infectious disease knowledge base to play in an environment where my previous experience working in an emergency room served me very well," she says. "It was an environment that required rapid assessment of changing events and adaptive decision-making so that we could make a decision, get more information and then move forward. I think that characterized pretty much the whole CDC operation during those difficult months of the fall and winter of the post-9/11 season."

Gerberding placed her stamp on the NCIS, and in July 2002 was named the director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry. Her original five-year plan suddenly underwent a dramatic rewrite.

"The clock on the five-year plan has definitely been reset since 9/11," Gerberding says. "I was coming here prepared to serve in a particular role, and after I was appointed to be the CDC director, that role has definitely changed. So now, I'm looking to the future with a completely different outlook."

Part of that outlook includes how Gerberding manages CDC, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services with more than 10,000 people -- 5,600 in the Atlanta area -- deployed worldwide.

"CDC's primary responsibility is protecting the health of Americans," she says. "We do that through preparedness for terrorism, infectious diseases or environmental threats. But we also do that through health promotion and prevention of disease, injury and disability."

CDC has the lead responsibility for protecting health and giving people the tools, information and support they need to make healthy choices. To ensure that's done in the most effective manner, Gerberding is spearheading a massive transformation project. When she's finished, CDC will look drastically different than it does today.

Currently, CDC employs workers across the country, including 47 state health departments, and around the world (about 120 are assigned overseas in 45 countries). Also included under Gerberding's direction are 12 centers, institutes and offices.

"It's very important to recognize we are a strong agency, and we are also a deep agency," she says. "We have a work force of more than 10,000 people, and so we have enormous treasures of knowledge and capability focus across our agency."

A more effective organization

Gerberding says the strategic process is designed to "identify priority areas where we feel not only can we make a difference, but also that we are the logical agency to take on the responsibility and the accountability for leading that particular activity. That strategic process is one that has identified for us what are the goals for health across the lifespan of people in this country."

One area in which Gerberding hopes CDC will engage new partners is its drive to improve the health and safety of the nation.

"While CDC's traditional customer has been the public health system, the business sector is really our most important new set of partners and stakeholders because of the important health problems (facing the country) and the fact that most adults work, and employers and employees really have to engage in health protection in the workplace, both because of the value of having a healthy work force but also in the way that it affects the corporate bottom line," she says.

CDC, she says, has been involved with a national business group on health to analyze how her organization can better provide evidence and tools to support health promotion and protection programs in the workplace.

"This year, we took our extramural research dollars and targeted them specifically to identify the evidence base to help employers have the science behind the decisions they are making about wellness and health protection programs in the workplace," Gerberding says. "We are really reaching out in an aggressive way to business as, hopefully, a useful source of information and evidence around best practices."

CDC's transformation project is aptly named the Futures Initiative, and Gerberding views it as an opportunity to strengthen an already healthy and vibrant organization as it moves forward.

"The concept of the Futures Initiative was really to go outside of CDC and spend a long time, almost a year, getting input not just from our usual partners and customers but people we think we ought to be working with more effectively to leverage our investments more strategically," she says. "We've learned a great deal, and that's helped us formulate some very specific strategic imperatives."

One of those initiatives is to draw upon the outside world, such as the business community and other groups that have not been part of CDC's traditional information base, and bring those perspectives into CDC's planning process.

"I spend a lot of my time brokering meaningful input and networking with new partners and stakeholders in what we do," she says. "For example, if I am going to a public health meeting to present a CDC perspective, I very typically will try to meet with the local health agency while I'm there so I can ask them three questions: What is CDC doing well for you? What are we not doing as well as you would like? And what specifically can we do to help you do your job better?"

Gerberding makes it quite clear that the transformation is not about reworking a dysfunctional organization.

"There's not something broken here that we're in desperate need to fix," she says. "We are really operating from an agency that's just evolved a very capable set of actions in response to some pretty major league outbreaks, like SARS. It was exactly at that point that we realized this is the new normal, and we really do need to ensure that the entire agency can function efficiently and effectively with whatever new challenges are in front of us."

And in this atmosphere of change, Gerberding says she is able to thrive as a leader.

"In a sense," she says, "we're really modernizing many of our activities and capabilities to stay ahead of the curve."

Sticking to the basics

While Gerberding's CDC may be changing its approach to doing business, she has no intentions of abandoning the organization's core functions -- one of which is to work with the Congress on developing a health policy for the country.

"We are part of the administration, the executive branch of government," she says. "In that role, we have responsibility for assessing the health of our nation. We monitor health status, we measure diversity and inequities in the way health is distributed. We certainly take every opportunity to inform the executive branch, Congress and people -- our key customers and partners -- about problems, because the first step toward a solution is really recognition and awareness."

One thing CDC is trying to make people aware of is that the most serious health threats facing Americans today are tobacco and obesity.

"It is very difficult to point to a health factor because it depends in part on who you are, where you are and how old you are, but across all of the life stages, the two most important risks for health are tobacco and obesity," Gerberding says. "Those two health threats affect every age group and certainly are problems that we have not yet solved.

"We've made some limited progress on the tobacco front, and we have some successes to celebrate, but we have a long way to go before we have conquered that health threat," she says. "And obesity is moving toward the front of the classroom, so to speak, with considerable speed in most parts of the country and in most age groups. These are very, very serious threats. We definitely, as a nation, have to come to grips with both of these problems. We cannot afford, for the sake of our children's lives but also for the sake of our economy, to continue is this direction."

It would be easy for Gerberding to get lost in the details of running such a large government agency, but the doctor makes sure she doesn't stray too far from her roots or from the reason she got involved in the first place.

"I'm an internist as well as an infectious disease expert," she says. 'Internal medicine is actually a very holistic approach to health, which recognizes the whole compendium of health threats, whether they are through chronic diseases or injury or disabilities or infectious diseases or environmental threats."

For Gerberding, this has special meaning.

"What I bring to CDC is the fact that I'm a doctor," she says. "I spend a great deal of my time bridging the gap between the health care delivery system and the public health system because I feel very strongly that there should be no dividing line between public health and the health care delivery system.

"I do go back to San Francisco General Hospital for a couple of weeks every year and take care of patients just to remind me of all of the health consequences of the diseases that we here at CDC are trying to prevent," Gerberding says. "What I bring to my role here is not my technical knowledge of any particular category of disease but rather my philosophy that we all want the same thing, and there really is no difference between the health of a community and the health of the individuals in that community."

HOW TO REACH: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 800-311-3435 or www.cdc.gov

Friday, 20 August 2004 09:48

The Bell file

Born: 1940, Gloucester, Mass.

Education: Bachelor's degree in history, Yale; master's degree in public affairs, Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton

First job: Training associate, the Ford Foundation, Rio de Janeiro

Career moves: Increasing responsibility within Ford Foundation's Latin American Program, including four years in Brazil and nearly four years in Chile, 1964-1974; program officer for Public Policy and Social Organization, Ford Foundation, New York City, 1974-1977; special assistant to the secretary, then deputy undersecretary, U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Washington, D.C., 1977-1979; special guest, Bookings Institution, Washington, D.C., 1980; president, Inter-American Foundation, Rosslyn, Va., 1980-1983; senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, D.C., 1984-1986; president, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, New York City, 1986-1995; president, CARE USA, Atlanta, 1995-present

Boards: Co-chair, board of directors, Inter-American Dialogue, Washington, D.C.; member, board of governors, Bernard Van Leer Group Foundation, Amsterdam, Netherlands; member, board of trustees, World Peace Foundation, Boston

Residence: Atlanta

What is the greatest business lesson you've learned? The most important lesson I've learned is that you and your organization cannot stand still. We must keep learning, adapting and growing, while always remaining principled -- and fixed on our long-term vision and purpose.

What is the greatest business challenge you've faced? Within CARE, we've faced tremendous challenges in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and then the war in Iraq. First, as Americans turned inward to care for their own after the attacks, our fund-raising became problematic -- at the very time it was most needed.

Second, CARE has always worked in difficult and sometimes dangerous settings around the world, but today, we face risks to the security of staff as never before. Despite these challenges, we've stayed very much on mission and continue to grow, thanks mainly to a dedicated and energized staff. We've also been fortunate to have the support of a wonderfully engaged board of directors.

Whom do you admire most in business? The person I most admired in CARE's line of work was Patrick Carey, a 30-year CARE veteran who died on May 28 from multiple sclerosis. His last assignment was as our senior vice president for program. Pat had a razor-sharp mind and a heart so big that it encompassed the whole world.

He was a man who lived by his principles and who was not afraid to make hard decisions. Pat had a great sense of humor and a rollicking laugh that nearly shook the building. He was absolutely dedicated to advancing our shared vision of a better world, and was prepared to go to the ends of the earth to do so.

Friday, 20 August 2004 09:28

The Feldman File

Born: 1952, Chicago

 

Resides: Hinsdale, Ill.

 

Education: B.A. and MBA, University of Illinois

 

First job: Retail department manager (age 16)

 

Career moves: Cidair Structures -- "I had the opportunity to manage this little $2 million business shortly after I got out of graduate school, which was a terrific opportunity for me to really understand many facets of running a small business. I had to make payroll every Friday. I had to hire and fire people. I had to negotiate international deals at the age of 22 and 23. I think all of that gave me a great perspective, certainly for franchisees, because they run small businesses and have all the challenges that I had early in my career."

A.T. Kearney -- management consultants, seven years

PepsiCo -- From 1983 to 1994, served in financial and operations posts at Frito-Lay and Pizza Hut. At Pizza Hut, named senior vice president of operations, 1990, and senior vice president, business strategy and chief financial officer, 1993

McDonald's -- president, McDonald's USA, 1998; president and chief operating officer, McDonald's Americas, 2001

 

Boards: Past member of the boards of Goodwill, United Way and the Goodman Theater

 

What is the greatest business lesson you've learned?

 

There are five things to me that are really important that I try to live by as I lead. First is to serve those who serve the customer. The ethic and the culture that we have to have is to make sure we're doing everything we can to take care of the customer.

Second, recognize people and progress on the way to perfection. It's always easy to continue to push ahead and try to get to the goal line. But what's really important in leading people and organizations is to stop and pat people on the back and make sure you enjoy the moments when you have them. Part of that is to make sure you don't confuse effort with results --that would be a third thing. At the end of the day, particularly in a franchise business, we can do a lot of things, but if it doesn't improve the sales and profitability and customer service at our franchise locations, maybe we haven't been working in the right things.

Fourth is to make the future arrive ahead of schedule. Business changes very fast in today's world, and you can't wait for the future to happen; you have to make it happen, and the sooner you can get there, the better you are. And the last thing that I try to do every day is to maintain a relentless positive attitude about our business, about where we're going and about the people in it.

 

What is the biggest business challenge you've faced and how did you overcome it?

 

I'd have to say it was Midas 2003, honestly. When I walked in here at the beginning of last year, we had a financial crisis, our loan was expiring, we were over-leveraged. We had a business crisis -- our sales had been declining for over two years. The profits of our franchisees and the company had been declining.

We had a relationship crisis with our franchisees and their willingness to trust and follow the leadership of the company. We had many things going on, not many of which were good that I faced, Day 1, when I walked in here.

Eighteen months later, I feel terrific about where we are as a company, as a system. We're not where we want to be because we haven't achieved 4-3-2-1 yet. But we have a mission, we have a vision that our franchisees, our suppliers all understand, all embrace. We have a plan that supports that, that our people are working against, that they talk about, that they are enthusiastic about, and I think we've provided the leadership, the communication and the conviction that we mean it because it comes back to promises made, promises kept.

 

Whom do you admire most in business and why?

 

There are two guys I admire -- Michael Dell and Howard Schultz. They're entrepreneurs in every sense of the word. They've built great businesses and great brands. They've kept their companies on edge through what might have been opportunities for them to lose their competitiveness or get off focus.

But I think most importantly, they have a clear line of sight to their customers, and they have never lost sight of who their customer is and how to take care of their customer better than anybody else in their business. I think those are great qualities.