Brian Horn

Sunday, 25 November 2007 19:00

Stating his case

When Thomas L. VanKirk accepted a promotion from chief operating officer to chairman and CEO of Buchanan Ingersoll &Rooney PC in 2003, he sensed the firm needed some fine-tuning.

The law firm had grown rapidly in the 1980s, but by 2001, business was on a downturn, and VanKirk decided it needed to getback to basics and make its core values mean more than justwords on a piece of paper. He wanted make sure everyone was onthe same page when it came to culture and values.

The firm had added so many people — including 130 attorneyswhen it merged with Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling in 2006 —from so many firms over the years that VanKirk wasn’t sure therewas really a common culture anymore. So to move the firm in theright direction, he held a retreat and gathered input from employees on where they wanted to see Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney goin the future.

Employees met for one day, then the shareholders gathered foran additional day and a half. Those attending broke out into smaller groups and addressed some very specific topics relating togrowth and compensation matters, which got everyone talking.

To address the core values, VanKirk put together a committee,which presented what it believed the firm’s values should be.

“We used a very interactive, computerized method of getting asmuch buy-in as possible,” VanKirk says. “But it was all madepossible because we also had the breakout groups that werehaving everybody getting to know each other a little bit better.”

Everyone had handsets at the interactive program, allowing all ofthem to give their opinions about what kind of firm they wanted tobe by pushing ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ buttons to answer questions. The resultswere then displayed on a computer screen for everyone to see, giving VanKirk real-time feedback.

“We could really get people involved,” he says. “That way theyaren’t being lectured to, and that way they don’t have to sit thereand be forced to raise their hand and be afraid of saying the wrongthing. Rather, they can register their opinion, and we achievedquite a bit of unanimity.”

After the retreat, the firm adopted core values and operating principles, then built the rest of its strategic plan aroundthose.

Dealing with change

With the plan established, the next step was to make sure everyone understood it and bought in to it.

“It was easy to get people to say they had bought in,” VanKirksays. “It is more difficult to constantly reinforce it and constantlyget people thinking about it. The only way you can really do it is tomake everybody part of the team and effectively always communicate what it is.

“Constantly preach the core values, use it in recruiting, emphasize it to new people you are bringing in at every step of the way,emphasize it at every level of the organization and then, as you donew strategic plans, communicate to everybody what is in thatplan.”

Most people bought in to the plan, but not everyone did, and VanKirk says one of the most difficult tasks was cutting ties withthose who weren’t on board. He made decisions on two or threepeople within about a month.

“I was fairly well aware of a couple of people who behaviorallyhad shown they were never going to buy in to this kind of concept,” he says. “Others you really see evolve over the course oftime just by what their actions are.

“We also have a peer review system in our firm that all shareholders go through. I am not part of the committee that does thepeer review. But, you also ascertain from that peer review systemwho the people are that just don’t want to go along. There are others who then end up knowing what is being expected and do startlooking elsewhere, and that is fine with us. If there are people thatdon’t want to buy in to it and are going to be happier elsewhere, farbe it from me to delay their exit.”

As part of the process, VanKirk says Buchanan Ingersoll &Rooney worked with employees on how they were fitting in to theculture and provided them feedback as a development tool.

“We ascertain exactly what we believe their weaknesses to be,where they are going wrong,” he says. “We sit down — and,many times, it’s me personally — sit down with the individual,usually with the practice group leader in which that individualis, and tell them, here are the things they have to improve. Somereadily jump in. We have some tremendous success stories. Youinvest so much money in developing people, it is well worth theeffort.

“But, there are a given number of people who just are not ableeither to accept the fact they have those weaknesses or deliberately choose not to, and either don’t correct them, in which casewe have to make the decision, or say it’s not worth it to them to tryto correct it, in which case they make the decision to leave. Youhave to make sure you communicate to them exactly what theweaknesses are in fairness to them and give them a chance, in myopinion, to try to correct it.”

VanKirk says it’s different for each person, but in most cases,employees were given at least six months to change their behavior.

“I don’t think you can expect miracles in changing human behavior in much less than six months,” he says.

VanKirk says it wasn’t just one factor but many across the boardthat showed him that some employees would not be heading in thenew direction with the firm.

“For the most part, it was a total inability to put the firm’s interest ahead of their own, and it would be manifested by not complying with different things in the area of billing, paying attentionto collections, following firm procedures on intake and taking intoo much bad or unprofitable work,” he says.

There were also attorneys who were not organizing themselvesto practice law and deliver quality legal services or who had complaints filed by clients as to what they were doing. And althoughthe process weeded out some bad seeds, VanKirk says that therewere people who were considered good attorneys and big business producers who were let go, as well.

“It is difficult because, clearly, there can be the argument that ithas a bottom-line effect,” he says. “But what the goal of theorganization should be, in my view, is to become strong enoughfinancially that you do have the ability to make those difficultdecisions and let people who are merely producing revenue, butotherwise are failing their partners, that you do have the abilityto let them go. When you are strong financially, it makes the decision a lot easier.”

Hiring for the team approach

Once the people resisting change were gone, VanKirk was able tofocus on finding new employees who fit in to the culture, and thefirm immediately started recruiting attorneys based on its strategicplan and core values.

VanKirk compares compiling the members of his team to a professional sports team finding the right players.

“It’s a little bit like the NFL or MLB or NBA,” he says. “You areout recruiting, and what you are trying to do is to pick the bestathletes available in hopes you can develop them so they becomevery good partners.”

To find those people, VanKirk uses the interview process to weedout those who are just telling him what they think he wants to hear.

“You can ask them what is important to them,” he says. “You canask them in their prior job, what did they like about their prior job,or what didn’t they like about their prior job, even before you tellthem a lot about yourself.

“The secret is finding out how many people are bei ng totallytruthful with you, or how many people have read your Web site,see what is important to you and are just feeding back to youwhat you want to hear. But, that is really just asking the questions, trying to get the people relaxed and then making your bestjudgment. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, andeveryone is going to make mistakes in the hiring process, but ifyou really pay attention and get them talking and have them saywhat is important to them, it usually comes out. We have a prettygood track record of making correct hires in that regard.”

VanKirk says making the change to a team approach andbringing in employees who exemplified that approach has benefited the firm through growth, as well as in recruiting, building client relationships and getting involved in the community.

“There are a number of people we have found out in the marketplace who want to come to us because they like the approach weare taking,” he says. “Our corporate clients take note of the factthat we, as a law firm, view ourselves as important members of thecommunity who do give back to the community. It keeps therespect level up.

“The team approach has been very well-received. I visited anumber of CEOs and general counsel of corporations who foundit somewhat unique that we, as a law firm, would come out andtry to understand what their needs were. Not that we were outthere trying to sell them whatever we had but that we wanted toknow what their needs are.”

With this approach, clients get better, more targeted service, andthe firm grows as a result. And growth allows the firm to add moretalent, which further increases the level of service.

“It has enabled us to recruit other very outstanding practitioners,and the more practitioners we can have to serve the various needsof the clients is always going to be a benefit to them,” he says.

VanKirk says that if the changes hadn’t been made, the firm stillwould be functioning but maybe not growing the way it has recently. Revenue in 2004 was $153 million, but by 2006, that hadincreased to $272 million. In the last four years, the number ofattorneys has grown from 330 to 550.

“I don’t think people would have enjoyed practicing law as much,if it had been as it was as they do now,” VanKirk says. “Talent canonly take you so far. Even though you have the talent, you don’thave the ability to add the additional talent that you need to unlessyou have the kind of culture people want to join.”

HOW TO REACH: Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, www.buchananingersoll.com

Sunday, 25 November 2007 19:00

Coupon king

Mike Gauthier wants his employees to set high goals for themselves, even if their aim is so high it means they will leave his company.

Gauthier, founder and president of SAVE On Everything, explores the goals of his estimated 150 employees by asking direct questions.

“I believe in the walk-around theory, but not just walking around and saying, ‘How are you doing today?’ But to ask specific questions directed toward their division and what is working and not working, and get some opinions from them,” says the leader of the direct-mail coupon magazine company, which posted 2006 revenue of about $30 million.

Smart Business spoke with Gauthier about how he makes employees comfortable with change at a growing company and why you shouldn’t get into an unrelated business just for the sake of growth.

Q: What are the keys to being a good leader?

One of the things we struggle with as I continue to grow the company is for (employees) not to forget that their job is the second most important thing in their life, and family comes first. We try to make time for them to do family stuff.

What that shows is that we care as a company. We take vacations, like the Fourth of July, we give extra days off, paid. Between Christmas and New Year’s, we always take that time off, and give it to them paid and not a vacation. Making sure they understand we care about what happens to them.

Q: How do you make employees comfortable with change?

The biggest thing you can have is clear communication. I used to think clear communication was verbalizing it, but that is not communication at all.

You need to have that person that can communicate, all the way around the ranks, the purpose of the change — a clear definition of what the change is and how it is going to affect them. If you can show what the advantages are and how it’s going to affect them and what they need to actually change in the day-to-day world, and it’s clearly outlined, they will do the best they can with change.

Most people resist change. One of the things I tell people when they are hired is if you don’t like change, then this isn’t a good

company for you. My belief system is you have to grow and stay in front of the competition.

Q: How do you handle failure?

I don’t look at failure as failure. As a salesperson, failure and rejection is part of your daily life, and that’s really where I came from. Someone said, ‘You only have to be right 51 percent of the time to be a success,’ and I think that is probably true.

I see failure more as a learning experience. I see failure as an opportunity to practice what I do and perfect my performances. It’s sort of like the Babe Ruth story. People don’t think of him as the strike-out king but the home-run king.

You aren’t judged by the number of times you fail, but you are judged by the number of times you succeed. That’s sort of in direct proportion to the number of times you actually fail and can keep trying.

People ask me what is the key to success, and I say perseverance. If you can keep going and learning, you can probably get there.

Q: What advice would you give business leaders trying to grow their companies?

Stay with your core competency. One of the worst things, and I see this, and I’ve done it, is a company — their core competency is advertising and they want to get into another unrelated type of business just because what we like to do is grow.

I have a friend who has a window film company, for example, and he starts a company that replaces glass. You might think, ‘Jeez, he puts window film on glass, and he’s got glass; it’s the same thing.’

But, it’s another whole set of rules. It’s another whole set of customers. It’s something totally different. What happens is, it’s not that he couldn’t be successful with that, but he diverts his attention away from what he is supposed to be doing.

For example, we opened a magazine, and we have a direct-mail product. And we opened a magazine with editorial, and I said, ‘It’s still advertisers; it’s printing and subscriptions.’ A $2.5 million loss later, I said, ‘Maybe I don’t know what I am doing here so much.’

Not only did I lose the money there, but I lost the opportunity; I should have had another city open. The city we started in, Detroit, it hurt that whole market because our attention was diverted away.

So stay with the core competency. Figure out what you are the best at, and do that.

HOW TO REACH: SAVE On Everything, (248) 362-9119 or www.saveoneverything.com

Friday, 26 October 2007 20:00

Rx for change

Growth has been a constant companion in the 10 years MikeFencel has led Brandon Regional Hospital.

And that’s just fine with him.

He realizes that in order to succeed, you have to constantly stayahead of the competition.

When Fencel became CEO of the hospital in late 1997, it had 255beds. Now it has 367, and there are plans to add 40 more by thefourth quarter of 2008.

The growth has been a steady but crucial necessity at the hospital, which posted about $300 million in revenue last year.

“If we didn’t grow, that could encourage other competitors towant to seek a location somewhere in my primary service area,” hesays. “I think the fact that we have been able to expand so muchand commit so much in resources over those 10 years makes it aharder argument for others to say we aren’t meeting communityneeds. It would have opened the door for others to come in. That,we feel, is not necessary because we are doing a fine job ofaddressing those needs.”

In order to lead the hospital through growth, Fencel needed todeal with the challenges that came along with it. He had to formthe right management team, delegate authority and get buy-in fromhis more than 1,600 employees.

Form a strong team

When Fencel became CEO, there was already a senior management team in place, but within several years, many of them wouldbe retiring. That meant he would have to make sure the transitionwas smooth while finding members who would fit in to the culture.

Fencel also noticed there was beginning to be some resistanceto change from the employees. Having been in existence since1977, the hospital grew to a point where not all the employeesknew each other, and some were uncomfortable with the growth.Because of that, Fencel needed a management team that couldgenerate excitement about growth and help everyone understandthat it was for the best.

“You lost that sense of family that once existed, but that isjust the nature of the organization as it’s grown,” he says. “I hadto have people who could help me articulate and carry out reasons why continued change needed to take place. As we haveevolved and grown, the dynamics and the need to have a really well-organized, well-structured senior team have come tothe forefront to me.”

When first sitting down with a candidate for his team, Fencellooked at the interviewee’s past work history. More importantly, he looked for concrete examples of change-related situations, why there was need for change, what they did about itand how he or she succeeded in executing it.

He also wanted someone who did his or her homeworkbefore the interview, and wasn’t going to sit there and let himdo all the talking.

“I like to see people who have gone to the Web site, have donetheir part to try to evaluate and understand the organization thebest they can, and they are prepared to ask me as many questionsas I ask them, so they are fully aware of what those opportunitiesand challenges for that position will be,” he says. “If you come in,look great and have a nice resume but don’t know anything aboutour organization, that doesn’t show me a whole lot.”

After other members of the management team also interviewedthe candidate, the group got together, discussed all the informationand made a decision.

None of the senior management team, which is composed of sixmembers including Fencel, was promoted from within the hospital, but each member came from HCA Inc., the parent organizationof Brandon Regional Hospital.

“One other thing that is critical is having the right fit,” Fencelsays. “Someone may be extremely successful in a certain role inanother organization within HCA or outside, but their culture isdifferent from mine. That was another lesson learned. We’ve hadto make some changes because it wasn’t the right fit for the individual, the team or the organization. It actually turned out thatsome of the people on their own recognized that and sought otheropportunities, and got those in HCA, where it was a better fit forthem.

“If I feel the leadership team understands my approach and philosophy and will support me and are committed to do the things Ineed done, then I want to keep them here.”

Though he wants people who will follow his lead, Fencel alsorealizes it’s important to have diversity on a team.

“I’ve got a wide variety of years of experience from differentmembers, attitudes, enthusiasm, personalities, and you blendthem all together,” he says.

Delegate authority

After Fencel’s team was in place, he knew he needed to delegateauthority because the growth of the hospital meant he could notoperate it by himself.

Fencel says his primary role is to develop, maintain and modifythe strategic plan and growth initiative and to be a liaison with theparties that will help move the organization forward.

He and his team developed their delegation process by readingbooks and looking at the ways different organizations handle delegation. They identified areas or activities that certain team members were more comfortable at doing than others were and cameup with certain types of philosophies they were comfortable withand could lead by.

When the senior team began to take more responsibility, Fencelintentionally stayed out of the spotlight, which led some to believehe no longer cared about the organization. If he could do it all overagain, he wishes he would have communicated the change betterto employees and let them know he would still be in contact withhis management team and be kept in the loop.

“The way we’ve grown no longer allows me to have as much timeas I’d like to be available and in contact with all the employees, butI am still going to be in touch,” he says. “I know what is going to goon, and I am counting on these individuals to be my point peopleon a day-in, day-out basis. If and when the time requires me to beback out there, then I will. But, to try to continue and meet theemployees’ expectations and visibility is hard.”

By the time Fencel realized the impact the change had, it was toolate to try to go back and communicate it.

“But that’s one of those lessons learned,” he says. “If someonehas been in their role for a long time in a high-growth organizationand decided to make some fairly significant changes in their structure of management style, then I would certainly encourage themto try to communicate those things so people know that upfront.

“If someone has been in their leadership role for a long time andtries to change approaches, you really have to make sure youunderstand the impact that change will have on the organizationand be able to communicate if those changes are taking place andwhy they are taking place. In retrospect, I could have done a better job in that regard with the employees as a whole.”

While he could have communicated the change better, Fencelsays delegation is necessary to keep yourself fresh and on top ofyour game.

“It’s improved my quality of life,” he says. “If you have a better,happy, well-rounded, quality of life, professionally and personally,that just makes you more effective in your role as a leader. Overtime, (work) just absorbs you. It’s all-consuming. You’re not able toseparate and think strategically like you need to do.

“If you don’t have a way to break away from that, I don’t see howyou can possibly continue to be fresh with your ideas, objective inyour viewpoint and energized to help drive the organization forward.”

Build buy-in

While building the right management team and delegating authority to them was important, he also needed to get buy-in from theemployees on the many growth-related changes the hospital wasgoing through.

One example was the move to create a cardiac surgery program.Before getting started on the project, Fencel needed to make sureeveryone understood why the hospital needed the service and whygoing through the process was worth it. Even if it was communicating the message through something as simple as e-mail or in meetings, the results would outweigh the simplicity of the method.

In addition, because previous attempts to start the program failedprior to Fencel’s tenure, it was important from the start he showedconviction in making the program become a reality, no matter whathurdles got in his way.

“Some of the people who had been here at the time those firstefforts were made probably had some doubts it could be done,” hesays. “It took us three attempts. I think if I had given up after thatfirst effort or second effort, I would have validated for some that itwasn’t beneficial for our hospital to go through all that. But, I wasn’tgoing to give up and a lot of other people weren’t either. Those people that doubted, we proved them wrong. That wasn’t our intent, butit helped validate that if you put your mind to it, work hard and worktogether, there is a lot that can be accomplished. Here is an examplewhere we went to a great degree to bring a much-needed serviceinto this community for the benefit of everyone.”

Fencel says leaders need to get buy-in to make a change happenbecause everyone in the organization will eventually have a part init.

“What I have to do in my role is to provide a vision and communicate the vision and what our strategic initiatives are and why,” hesays. “At the end of the day, I’m not the one making that happen. It’smy staff nurse, it’s our environmental service worker, and it’s theplumber or electrician in our plant operations department. All ofthem have a role directly or indirectly in making things occur. If theydon’t buy in and believe it, then we are less likely to be able toachieve the goals and vision that I think are so critical to our success. Communicating the vision, communicating the reason why weare doing it, communicating the challenges, allowing them an opportunity to ask questions in different forms, whether it’s with me orthrough their immediate leadership, we try to do it. Are we completely successful 100 percent of the time? No. That’s a process younever stop working on.”

Keeping employees informed not only creates buy-in, but it alsoserves as a great marketing tool for your company.

“At the end of the day, I have over 1,600 employees, and they can bemy best form of advertising,” he says. “You have newspapers, youhave direct e-mail pieces and TV spots, and you can do all sorts ofthings. But, the amount of people employees come into contact withat the ball field, in their church or a civic organization, and being ableto speak intelligently and with pride in what we are doing, that goesa lot of further than any other type of advertising.”

HOW TO REACH: Brandon Regional Hospital, (813) 681-5551 or www.brandonregionalhospital.com

Friday, 26 October 2007 20:00

MaryAnn Rivers

In her first six months on the job, MaryAnn Rivers not only had to familiarize herself with the operations of Entertainment Publications Inc. and transition through tenuous business decisions, she also had to develop a management team essentially from scratch. In September 2006, when Rivers was named president and CEO of the $196.8 million company that produces the Entertainment coupon book and handles other merchant promotions, only one person remained from the previous management team. While many would try to fill the open positions in a hurry, creating opportunities to make mistakes, Rivers instead took her time to find a team that was diverse but had the same common value system. Smart Business spoke with Rivers about how she drove change at Entertainment Publications Inc.

Get employee input. When I first came to the company, I spent the first two or three months on the road with salespeople and in the field just sitting down and giving every salesperson a half an hour to share what their challenges were, what they thought should change, and what were the problems and opportunities they saw.

I took all of that information, boiled it all down, and gave an overview to the folks back here and to the sales organization, and then we made decisions off those things. The turning point was when we did what we said we were going to do. We actually put ideas into action, as opposed to just paying lip service.

We put some key goals out and, for example, said, ‘By this date, you will have a new compensation plan or key goals for the upcoming year, three months earlier than you did previously,’ then delivering on it.

It comes down to, ‘We heard what you said. We can’t fix everything today, but here are the things we are going to do.’ When you say you are going to do something, you make darn sure you do it, regardless of what obstacles get in the way. That develops trust, and the more trust you develop, the more they open up and talk.

Know your shortcomings. I spontaneously quiz people when I’m out talking to them about, ‘Tell me about the vision of the company, and what are the three key goals?’ I can almost tell immediately what is getting through and what’s not.

When they can’t articulate back a certain part of the vision or the goals or strategy, I know we missed there, and we need to go back to the drawing board and either reposition in a way they do understand it or communicate by a different means. It’s sort of a test period to see that they are picking up on it.

I will go into a new-employee orientation session, in which they may have heard through the interview process or their first couple of days in training on what the vision is and what the strategies are. By that time, they may have heard a few things or maybe they haven’t heard much at all, but through the process, they should have been in touch with vision and where we are headed.

I will address maybe a room of 30 people and say, ‘Here’s the vision, but can you tell me what that means or what the three goals are for the year?’ When they can’t say that, I’ll often turn that back around and say, ‘I really missed on that and didn’t communicate it clearly enough.’

That’s really the only reason it’s done. It’s not to catch them not knowing. The onus is on myself and the leadership team to make sure that it is inspiring enough that they understand it. If we can’t get our employees to understand it, and the people that are in our organization living and breathing it every day, how are we going to change externally?

Reward excitement. You are dealing with short-term challenges and with the long-term challenges and balancing those two things. Sometimes, the day isn’t long enough to handle the world we are living in today and create and dream about the world we want to live in tomorrow.

It really comes down to keeping people excited about it and energized enough. That’s one of the things in change leadership is to determine which people are really excited and have the extra energy. A lot of times, it comes down to employees thinking about tomorrow at their kitchen table or while on a run and in off time. That needs to happen to have enough people excited to generate that excitement all the time.

You need to make sure you are recognizing those achievements every day that people do.

Make sure they know that, even if it is a scenario where they made a mistake or where they failed at something, you want to try to encourage and reward people who are trying new things and taking risks.

Changing is about a lot of risks, and some go well and some don’t. In those cases, where there are huge wins, make sure those people get rewarded and recognized, and open up those lines of communication. Make sure they are hearing about the vision and focus in the here and now but also thinking about tomorrow.

Encourage different opinions. People are generally fearful when there are times of change to bring up that they don’t agree or don’t buy in. We try to encourage people to express their opinions.

I like to hear contradictory evidence and debates because what makes an organization healthy is that constant challenge and internal debate that makes us all smarter and allows us to continue to learn. It’s not about expressing an opinion that is counter to what the thought is.

It’s more about attitude. Can you have that debate in the room, and, at the end of the day, can that team make a decision and move forward even if everyone doesn’t agree?

Here, it is people who have been here for a long period of time, who are passionate and enthusiastic and have the right attitude, integrated with people that have been here with external perspective. They are both equally important, and make sure people understand that. You say it again and again that everyone is valued as long as they take the right attitude, approach, openness, and willingness to try and make mistakes, and respect each other’s opinions, and get in alignment where we need to go.

HOW TO REACH: Entertainment Publications Inc., (888) 231-SAVE or www.entertainment.com

Tuesday, 25 September 2007 20:00

Rebranding FrankCrum for growth

You’d think that with more than a billion dollars in revenue, everyone, especially the CEO, would be all smiles. But complacency is a dangerous thing, and even after posting $1.2 billion in revenue in 2006, there were changes CEO Frank Crum Jr. needed to make at his company if it was going to continue to grow and gain national recognition.

The professional employer organization — which Crum started in 1981 with his father, the late Frank Crum Sr. — was looked upon favorably by clients, but nonclients weren’t familiar with the company. The main problem was that the organization was operating under multiple company names, each with its own identity and procedures, leading to divided company loyalties.

“We have two buildings here and six floors,” says Crum. “It was divided because on floor three of building two, the payroll and billing department for what used to be Ameristaff Inc. sat. On floor two, the payroll and billing department for what used to be called Great American [Employee Services Inc.] sat. You have different managers on different floors, doing different things and almost competing. Ameristaff thought they did things right, and Great American, because they all had slight variances, thought they did things right. I said, ‘We need to bring all our companies together under one umbrella and make one family with one identity, one cause, one goal and one mission.’”

He wanted consistency and a unified brand, so he made the decision to unite everything under the FrankCrum name, creating the streamlined organization he needed to continue to compete.

“When you see Starbucks, no matter where you go, you know exactly what the product is,” he says. “As we get larger and larger in other states, people will learn what to expect from FrankCrum.”

He knew if he didn’t make the change, the competition would have taken advantage of the inefficient structure and passed him by.

“We would have been, as the years go on, an also-ran,” he says.“We posture ourselves to be a great PEO [professional employer organization]. I believe we are a very good PEO now.”

But change never comes easy. Rebranding under one name was a major challenge that created other hurdles along the way.

Here’s how Crum guided one change successfully and tripped on another, yet recovered to learn a valuable lesson.

Rebranding

It was late in 2005 when Crum and his team began researching how to rebrand the organization and become more recognizable around the country. A marketing company they were working with suggested they brand under the name FrankCrum.

At first, Crum was a little put off by the name because it sounded like he was running for governor or that it was an ego-driven thing.

“But then it came to mind really what Senior and I had talked about,” he says. “Because we owned the company, we had to stand behind the company. I took it a step further and said, ‘If we put our name on the company, then we couldn’t run from it.’ It would be hard to change names, and it would be hard to run from bad service. We have to stand behind our company regardless. It would lift our customer service and our company identity to anew level.”

On the surface, a name change would show a unified company,but internally, employees would have to buy in to the changes and band together as one company or else one of the main gains from the rebranding would be lost. The name would change but not the attitudes.

In order to get buy-in for the changes, Crum involved others in the rebranding process and asked what they would like to see happen.

“We manage by committee, and it was a committee that chose,”he says. “I’ve always believed if I let them be the biggest part of the decision that you already have the buy-in. Frank Crum didn’t make the choice and have to sell you, they made the choice and all I have to do is put my stamp on it. It may be a cop-out management style, but it’s the management style that works for me.

“I’ve always believed in hiring good people and delegating.They know what the goals are, they help set them, and all I do is monitor. ‘Are we heading toward the target?’”

The company has more than 250 employees, making it difficult for Crum to meet with every new employee and spend time talking to existing ones about the changes in the company. In order to build a bridge between him and the employees, as well as to improve the culture, Crum increased extracurricular activities.He’s now doing things like recognizing birthdays and anniversaries individually instead of lumping all the birthdays in one month and sending out a group recognition.

“We try to do things that make it feel like family,” he says. “We have a facilities manager, and she plans stuff all the time. We have book fairs, blood drives and ice cream socials all the time.There are always refreshments, and I try to be there.”

Crum also discusses suggestions made by his employees with them in their office or cube to improve communication.

“Right now, I am on a campaign that if you send a suggestion, I am going to come talk to you personally about it,” he says. “I try to let them know FrankCrum is nothing without them. There is no way Frank Crum Jr. can take care of 3,000 clients. They are the front line. If we are going to be successful, they are the ones that have got to do it. I’m trying to push that message out there that the smallest detail is important to me. I am encouraging them to e-mail me directly so I can respond.”

As he was focusing on getting employees to come together as one cohesive family working toward common goals, he also had to make sure clients were kept in the loop about the rebranding effort.

The company educated its clients early on in the process and put emphasis on the positives before the clients could start questioning the changes. The company’s marketing team sent out cards and letters, along with big gift boxes with the name “FrankCrum” on them to customers notifying them of the change. Inside the boxes were personalized mugs and mouse pads.

“I believe we did a very good job of communicating it ahead of time,” he says. “I can honestly sit here and tell you that I haven’t always done the best job of communicating things, but I believe in this case, we did an excellent job.”

Overall, Crum says the rebranding put them in a great position to move forward.

“We defined who we were, defined where we wanted to go and defined our objectives, and we found out where we were lacking as far as tools,” he says.

Software woes

While rebranding the company and getting everyone working together was a major part of the process, gaining efficiencies from the newly united companies was the other part. And those efficiencies were only going to happen if people were using the same software systems, and that meant a major conversion project.

But what made the rebranding effort such a smooth process was exactly what made the software conversion a disaster: communication, or lack thereof in this case.

The need for the software change came about after the company realized its software for its different departments was inferior compared to the industry’s best.

Outside experts told Crum he needed to make the software changes all at once, but his management team was telling him to take it slow.

“I believed they were the experts, and my management team was shaking their heads no,” he says. “It was probably one of the poorest jobs I’ve ever did in managing anything.”

The results were disastrous. “It caused our employees to be stressed out because what used to take our employees 35 hours a week to do their job, they were working 45, 50 or 55 hours in the month of January to deliver the same product,” he says. “Even though they were getting paid for it,it was very stressful to work that many hours. We had no anticipation it would be like that. All at once, we became slower and less efficient for about a four- to six-week period. If you’re a client or an employee and everything takes you longer, everything is harder and your reports are coming slower, then everything we do for you is slower. (Clients) come to us to solve problems, not to add problems.

“You really are chiseling away at the good will you developed for25 years. Now, I’ve spent the last four months trying to rebuild the good will. It’s been a tough and painful process. There’s never a day that some client doesn’t bring up January, and I have to write them a letter of apology to assure them that things are good now. They’ll call and complain about something that happened in January, and I’ll say, ‘But how is it today?’ It’s excellent today, but they are still remembering their problems in January.”

To make up for his blunder to employees, Crum did little things to show them he appreciated their extra work through the difficult change.

“We would have our chef here make hot cookies and juice and milk,” he says. “I would go around the floors to every employee one or two afternoons a week and deliver hot cookies to them with something to drink, and thank them for their effort, and tell them I realize I put them in a hard spot and do appreciate them going the extra mile. Just any corny thing you can think of just to let them know I cared and I realized I put them in a hard place.”

Crum says, if he had to do it all over again, he would do the software conversion in parts and wouldn’t start the next step without the first step running smoothly.

“I was told if you do it all at once, they’ll all be linked together,and you’ll bite the bullet all at once and you’ll be over this painful process faster,” he says. “But, in looking back, to have every area of your business in a learning phase all at the same time is not a good thing.”

He also says he would have trained every employee on the new software and certified him or her before putting the software to use.

Then, during the employee training, Crum would have gotten client feedback on the new system, including bill and report layouts, so the company could customize it.

“With clients, they got reports, and the reports, even though they were more detailed, they looked different and the columns may have been in a different order and the headings may have been slightly different,” he says. “As people are, we don’t like change unless we buy in to the change and understand. Even if it would have taken me another six months to turn the green light on, it would have been good to do it.”

Crum says for both the rebranding and especially the software conversion, it was key to get people involved early to help fend off any problems in the future.

“Communication is everything, and I had to learn it the hard way,” Crum says.

He also says you have to be careful about where you get your advice.

“Dance with the one that brung ya,” he says. “In other words,never forget who brought you to the dance. It was my management team that brought me to the dance and helped me learn to dance. If I should have been listening to anybody, it should have been my management team. Instead I listened to the experts.”

How to reach: FrankCrum, (800) 393-0815 or www.frankcrum.com

Tuesday, 25 September 2007 20:00

Dr. John C. Ruckdeschel

Sometimes on your way to the top, you can become disconnected from those below you. Dr. John C. Ruckdeschel had seen former colleagues who became leaders step away from the work that got them to the top and lose touch with the pulse of the institution, and he didn’t want that to happen to him. So when he took over the $200 million Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute as its president and CEO, he says it was vital that he continued to see patients in order to stay in touch with the organization and his 1,000 employees. Smart Business spoke with Ruckdeschel about how to be straightforward and how to find out if a prospective employee is the right fit for the company.

Be honest. I do see patients, and there are times when the brutal honesty about what is going to happen to them with their disease is not what they are ready to hear. But, I never lie to them about their disease or say everything is fine.

It’s the same thing here. If I was going to let someone go, but we haven’t quite figured out all the pieces of it yet, and I was being asked about it, I would say, ‘We have a problem here. No decision has been made yet, but here’s the problem we are dealing with,’ and then let it roll out later as opposed to, ‘Three days from now, we are going to fire you,’ which would not work.

It depends where we are in the process. I would say, ‘We have a problem, and you need to tell me how we can solve this problem.’ If they say, ‘I’ll change and be good,’ then I have to make a decision whether I believe that or not. I wouldn’t say everything is off the table. I would say, ‘I will put that in the equation, work on it, and I’ll get back to you.’

It’s so much easier to lie or to shave the truth on a regular basis. I think that’s one of the hard things about leadership.

Look deep into potential employees. I need to look in their eyes and see if there is a light on in the back of their eyes — the people who are enthusiastic, who understand their business, can talk about it and tell me how we might solve some of the problems we’re having. It isn’t, ‘Give me $10 million, and I’ll solve your problem.’ It’s, ‘This is how we’ve done it where I was, and this is how I think it applies to you.’ Then I can see a light on and see a passion for what they do.

It’s like we are betting on horses. I look at their trainer and look at their breeding. It depends on where they did their training and who have been their mentors to date.

I also ask all of my key people who are doing the interviewing to look for the light on. Their approach is going to be somewhat different than mine. People do tend to shine up their behavior for the boss and think they can slack off for someone else.

Act fast on problems. Every three months, I go to all of our sites and give about a 10- to 15-minute discussion about where things are, throw it open for questions and give people gifts who ask questions. I am out in front of everyone, every quarter telling them where we are going, the good, bad and the ugly. The vice presidents responsible are right there. We hear a complaint, I turn to them, and they are on it. We don’t need a committee meeting or a memorandum and all the other nonsense. It is direct.

When we announce something, we send out a correspondence out to all our employees before it hits the press and say, ‘If you have questions, ask.’

Relax. I’m very careful to separate out my private life, and I am very careful to preserve free time. I don’t permit dinner meetings unless they are truly unavoidable. However, every time a candidate comes through, I don’t go to dinner with them.

My feeling is if it’s work-related, I’ll do it during work hours. I’ll get up early and have breakfast with them or have lunch if a meal is required, but I am not going to routine dinners all the time. I would spend six nights a week out to dinner.

You can overanalyze, overworry and overfret about a problem. There are some things that need to be stepped back from. If it’s meant to be, it will come back to you. If you are in a stalemate in a negotiation, step back from it. You shouldn’t be in a negotiation unless you could give it up.

Pay attention to employees when a change occurs. I watch their faces. If you are experienced and watch people instead of reading from your notes, you notice whether people are avoiding eye contact, their body language, etc. If I get a sense that people are uncomfortable or the tone of the question is negative, then, instead of giving the answer, try to get at the cause.

You just make yourself available. People stop me in the hall all the time and will ask a question. Just keep talking to people and never stop when things are tough.

Your key people have to be on board. If your vice president for that area is not on board, then you either need to rethink the plan or rethink the vice president, and that goes down to the director level, as well. That forces the issue.

HOW TO REACH: Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, (800) 527-6266 or www.karmanos.org

Sunday, 26 August 2007 20:00

Labor of love

Mel Klinghoffer solved some of his biggest problems long beforethey ever happened.

In 2004, several major hurricanes hit Florida, leaving large partsof the state heavily damaged and reducing the efficiency of thebusinesses located there.

“When you operate basically nationwide ... the client in Dallasdoesn’t necessarily want to deal with weather conditions inTampa,” says Klinghoffer, president and CEO of A-1 ContractStaffing Inc. “It’s not his problem. What is his problem is makingsure the employee gets the check on time and everything else thatgoes with it.”

What allowed Klinghoffer to get through the hurricanes’ aftermath and other serious challenges was the ability to recruit andretain a staff that could deliver when times were tough.

“We had phenomenal employees operating out of their houses tokeep everything going,” Klinghoffer says.

When you have a staff that can work together to get through majorhurricanes, the day-to-day challenges are easily overcome. Byrecruiting the right employees, retaining them with special programsand delegating authority to them, Klinghoffer has been able to takeA-1 Contract Staffing, which provides contract employees to itsclients, from start-up in 1999 to about $300 million today.

“It’s the entire circle,” he says. “It’s not one thing. It’s everythingand the attitude behind it. They can see the attitude of the company is, employees are important. They are important, and we aregoing to back them up, give them the tools they need and take careof them. They made me. I didn’t make them.”

Recruit the right people

If Klinghoffer finds the right employees to begin with, that willlead to better client relations. If an employee isn’t happy, thenthere is a good chance the client will not be satisfied, which leadsto problems.

“If we don’t have satisfaction within the client group, then whatit affects is your referral and repeat business,” he says.

And repeat business is what really brings money to the bottomline.

“Turnover is horrendous,” he says “Turnover is very costly within any company. Anytime your marketing department doesn’t haveto sell the same apple over and over again, you are ahead of thegame.”

For his executive team, Klinghoffer turned to experienced people in the industry he knew prior to founding A-1.

“That gave me the ability and the tools I needed to go forward andgrow this company and handle the challenges of 9/11, hurricanesand the strategic planning,” he says.

Finding the rest of the employees to help him grow required traditional methods, but past experience was a solid starting point.Most employees in the company have partial to extensive experience in the industry, but you need more than just that.

“We are looking for people who have a history of a really goodwork ethic and don’t mind staying an hour later when necessary,”he says.

During the interview process, you should get a good feel if someone is the type who will show up early if there is an emergency orstay late if needed. Klinghoffer also spends time selling otheraspects of the company other than the salary.

“When you are in an interview and talking about salary, when youtell someone they are making $500 a week, they are looking at $500a week,” he says. “We go right down the line and let them know theother costs as well, and try to get them involved in the overalldetail of what you are really doing for them in addition to all theincentives and things like that. People get a lot more value out ofjobs than just the salary. Too many times, they just focus on thesalary. I try to point out the other things we do and how we are different. You need to be different. Otherwise, what difference doesit make what door they knock on?”

Retain your talent

Finding the right employees is the first step, keeping them is thesecond.

“We try to do things other company’s don’t do,” he says. “Everywhich way you can reward and give that employee the chance tohave success, then he’s going to pay it back. He’s going to makesure the company is growing.”

Aside from competitive salaries and benefits, Klinghoffer tries topromote loyalty through a family environment. The company doesa number of things to show appreciation and to develop that family environment.

“We have picnics every year and lunches every month for theemployees,” he says. “We pick a day, a Monday afternoon or Fridayafternoon, and we feed all employees, and they can sit around fora couple of hours, socialize and get rewarded for the hard workthey do.”

On Thanksgiving, the company gives employees gift certificatesfor a turkey, and occasionally, Klinghoffer will give out movie tickets, gas cards or even advances in pay if someone needs it.

Thank you cards written by employees and requests to work atA-1 show Klinghoffer there is appreciation for the gestures and theenvironment. Although, as much as word might spread about theculture and attract people to the company, Klinghoffer says it helpsmore with retention than recruiting.

The management style he uses also helps keep both executivesand employees. He says running a dictatorship in this day and agewill have people running for the exits.

“I can’t say that there aren’t people that are successful that rulewith an iron fist,” he says.

“I don’t believe in that management style for retention. If youlook deep into a company like that, you are going to see some heftyturnover, and turnover costs a lot of money, and turnover costsgrowth.”

Higher retention rates also make his job easier. “What it allows me to do, in addition to running an effective operation and controlling growth, it’s allowed me to take some of the focusand do various other things,” he says. “If I didn’t have this type ofmanagement team with this experience and have the confidence thatthey are going to run the business without a glitch, then I couldn’t dothat.

“It’s really allowed me the freedom to expand out in the otherareas, and that helps the company, as well. It seems the more I getout there and the more other areas I am involved in, the more people I meet that need our services. We’ve gotten a lot of clients thatway, and vendors as well.”

Delegate authority

Klinghoffer says if you can’t find the management team andemployees who are going to help carry your words to the rest ofthe people in the manner you want it carried, then success will suffer.

“I learned a long time ago, you can only handle so much,” he says.“If you are hands-on and want to be the only show in town, theneventually the company and you are going to suffer.”

Klinghoffer learned about delegation from experience at a priorcompany he owned. Someone wanted to buy it, but he realizedthat without him, the company wouldn’t be able to operate effectively, so he made changes to make sure the company could go onwithout him.

“You don’t have to sell a company to make it operate like a company you are going to sell,” he says. “If it looks that good, then itprobably is that good, and it should be operated that way anyway.I was going to operate so if that opportunity came up again, Iwould be able to walk away.”

It took more than a year for Klinghoffer to delegate everythingthroughout the company to the management staff.

“Although it was difficult for me to let go of the responsibilities, Iknew if I didn’t , I would not be able to sell the company and leave,which was my goal at the time.”

Klinghoffer continued that mindset going into A-1. “I started with the idea that I would get the experienced executives who could sit around the table and run the company andallow me to give them some leadership and direction, but alsoallow me to seek other opportunities for the company and for myfamily,” he says.

“Over the years, I have learned the strengths and weaknesses ofeach executive and the individual expertise and delegate based onthat knowledge of my staff. All my responsibilities, with the exception of final insurance negotiations and business and banking relationships are delegated. Various reports, financial statements,notes of management meetings and other requirements based onthese reports are transmitted to me on a daily basis.

“This form of management is essential for the growth and futureof the company.”

HOW TO REACH: A-1 Contract Staffing Inc. (813) 620-1661 or www.a-1contractstaffing.com

Sunday, 26 August 2007 20:00

Face to face

Everything was fine with a product line at AddisonMcKee Inc. until Joe Eramo decided to add more bells and whistles to it to make it more high-tech.

“It was the absolute wrong decision,” says Eramo, president and COO of the company’s North American operations.

Eramo knew he had to own up to the mistake, and then quickly get people back on track. He visited with customers and looked at what the competition was doing, and then he updated employees.

“I had to motivate by the fact that this is where the marketplace is going, and if we don’t move fast, we are going to lose market share,” he says.

The company, which designs, manufactures and supplies technologies for automotive, aviation, truck and shipbuilding requirements, posted North American revenue of about $30 million in 2006.

Smart Business spoke with Eramo about how to communicate with employees.

Q: How did you establish your company’s culture?

We relocated a year ago, and during that relocation, I started a lunch with the president [program], where I would meet and have lunch every two weeks with a group of five to 10 employees. It started with the relocation, but then we would get into other business topics.

We’ve resurrected those meetings, and every other month, I’m meeting with a group of five to 10 employees, discussing any topic they want to talk about. I’ll give them an update of what is going on from my perspective, but I want to know what’s important to them and what they think I need to know.

In the months I’m not doing it, one of the VPs of the company is meeting with a group of five to eight employees and is trying to do the same thing.

We do casual days on Friday. We do have people who work from remote locations. It’s something we wouldn’t have done five years ago, but now we accept we have to be more flexible.

Q: How do you get employees to let their guard down?

I’m on the floor almost every day. I’ve changed my leadership style from maybe being hands-on to being close to the action. When I was hands-on, I was probably too involved in running the business and not involved enough in improving or growing the business.

I need to be close to the action, and I need to know what is important with our customers and employees and know what is going on in the marketplace, but I can’t be so hands-on that I’m not spending my time improving and growing the business.

Because I am close to the action, they know me. I stop and ask questions and encourage it’s OK to say we are doing something wrong and to face up to certain things. I tell them there isn’t a single question they can’t ask.

Q: How did you learn to be less hands-on?

It was a change of mindset. We all recognize that’s the problem, and it’s something we may have risen to where we are today because we were good at running the business, and it’s hard to let go. By bringing in good people, those good people are only going to stick around if you empower them to run the business. I certainly recognize that. If you need me to make a decision, then I don’t need you.

Q: How do you find good employees?

We set it as a goal three or four years ago that we wanted the dream team in our industry. We felt if we had the best players, then we would win the game. We set out to find the dream team, some of which was industry-related people with industry experience.

Then we went outside the industry. We wanted people who didn’t know anything about us. For example, our global marketing director did not come from this industry, and that was a specific goal. We wanted somebody to market this company completely different than this industry has ever seen.

There are certain positions in here where we want the best from this industry, and there are certain positions in this business where we specifically wanted someone without any industry knowledge and with a clear, fresh, new look on how we market ourselves.

Q: How do you know if a potential employee will fit with your company?

That gets into the skill set of reading that person. Have we been fooled before? Sure. Everybody goes through that and has been fooled.

We have a number of rounds and a number people involved in the interview process and are looking for different things, but sometimes asking the same questions. Do we get the same sort of responses, and is it consistent? Is this person true to what they are saying across the board?

HOW TO REACH: AddisonMckee Inc., (513) 228-7000 or www.addisonmckee.com

Thursday, 26 July 2007 20:00

Solid foundation

After separating from his business partner in 1999, Bernd “Bernie” Ronnisch found he had underestimated the effort and knowledge it took to manage people. Ronnisch Construction Group, with 2006 revenue of more than $50 million, was experiencing a lot of turnover, so Ronnisch began to hire people based strictly on the skills on their resumes, “thinking, if they can build a building, I’ll work along with the quirks of their personality,” says the company’s president. “That never worked.”

Then about four years ago, the company established core values and began making decisions that reflected those values.

“We hire and fire based on those core values,” Ronnisch says. “We’ve hired the right people. We don’t have the turnover we had.”

Smart Business spoke with Ronnisch about how establishing core values and making decisions that reflect those has helped his company succeed.

Q: How do you handle problems?

As a leader, it’s my duty to look at the company from 30,000 feet above, look down on it and think to myself, ‘What are my goals as a company? When people say Ronnisch Construction Group, what do you want people to think?’

We have a core value, and it’s called, ‘United we stand.’ There were many companies I worked for where everybody toed the company line until they got out in the parking lot. Then it is this cancerous conversation that took place that undermined everything that we just sat through in a meeting. There were just under-currents and a cancer running through the organization. The management didn’t even know about it, so they couldn’t react to it.

So, we try to have open and honest communication. If someone has an issue with something, let’s air it out. Let’s sit in a conference room and fix it. We leave the room saying, ‘That’s resolved. Now I don’t have to speak badly.’

We ended up getting rid of an individual that would call up and tell everyone what his bonus was and how they were going to get laid off or just stir bad karma. We warned him once. He was a great employee in one way, really performed on the job, but the cancer was terrible. We warned him once. The next time I had a cab waiting for him.

He found another job, called me up five months later and told me it was the best thing anybody had ever done for him. It made him realize that he actually did that.

Q: How do you know if potential employees will fit in?

You have to take a leap of faith, but you are putting it on the table for them to show. One of our core values is, ‘Family comes first.’ If a guy is a philanderer and doesn’t do well with his family, then he’ll probably second-guess about the position.

If accountability is an issue, and he knows he’s a procrastinator, and he doesn’t get things done when he’s supposed to, he may not accept the position.

What you are doing is putting it out there from Day One. You aren’t trying to scare them with it. You are just saying, ‘Hey, I’m sure you can do your job, but you just may not fit in here. If you can’t fit in, you’re not going to stay here.’

Q: How do you handle failure?

You don’t ever want to chastise somebody for making a mistake if the decision was well thought out, and they took the initiative to make the decision. If you chastise and criticize, you will contaminate that person forever.

If they have confidence, then you destroy some of the confidence in their ability to make decisions in the future. You can sit them down and say, ‘What were you thinking?’

But, on the same token, you have to give some positive reinforcement to that mistake. Mistakes are made in our business every day. Some of them cost nothing, and some of them cost a lot. If the decision was well thought out, and you can understand the logical nature of that decision, then there are no issues. If the decision made was off the cuff and more made on emotion than thought, then I have an issue. That’s where you have to sit down with them and say, ‘I think this is where you went astray.’ Maybe bring them back down to basics and try to build them back up that way.

Q: What’s one thing a leader should never do?

Adopt a management style that doesn’t fit your personality. It will always be trying, unnatural, and people pick up on it, and I don’t think you can excel.

You read all these management books, and everybody has a way to manage people. I think you can take bits and pieces to help establish who you are and how you manage. To try to fit the square peg into the round hole does not work.

HOW TO REACH: Ronnisch Construction Group, (248) 549-1800 or www.ronnisch.com

Monday, 25 June 2007 20:00

Gail Torreano

When Gail Torreano became president of AT&T Michigan, the company was dealing with service issues and new owners, and Torreano had a big challenge in front of her. By meeting the challenge, Torreano — who leads about 12,000 employees — learned to reach out to people she had not worked with before to leverage the company’s strengths.

Smart Business spoke with Torreano about how to express appreciation to employees and how to build a team approach to business.

Communicate. It’s important to communicate often and well. That, in turn, will bring more communication in whatever organization you are working in.

You communicate in every manner you can. Whether that be e-mails, meetings, voice mails, any way that you can because, No. 1, people sometimes need to hear the message more than once.

Secondly, we all hear and learn things in different ways. It’s important to use every avenue you can to communicate.

The other way of communicating is modeling. That is not as direct, but I think it’s really important to model whatever you are saying. You can’t have inconsistency with your actions and your words. You use a team approach, and that’s how you get to all the people. You obviously aren’t going to get face to face with everyone.

That is where a team comes in. It’s important to leverage the team so everyone is communicating in the same way and the same messages at the same time. No one person can do it all. That’s why it’s important to leverage other people, so everyone is swimming in the same direction.

Sometimes I wonder, ‘Are they tired of hearing me?’ But, nevertheless, I continue anyway.

Find employees who understand and appreciate the team structure. Someone who has high standards and can demonstrate they have high standards. Someone who is a ‘can-do’ kind of person. Someone who believes in figuring out how to do something rather than giving reasons why one can’t. The issue of knowing how to work in a team. To be comfortable in that kind of setting.

There’s always a bit of risk with anyone you hire because you really don’t know what they are going to be like. You don’t get it right all the time. Not that the person isn’t good, but maybe it’s not the right fit at that particular time. I believe in my gut.

There is risk in it. That’s life. There is risk in anything.

Praise employees whenever you can. Obviously, I’m not going to work with 12,000 people each day. I believe the people who are working for me have excellent skills and gifts that they bring to the table.

I like to hold up someone on my team, and it’s at different times. You have to be comfortable as a leader to let others shine. That’s my style. I don’t have to be in the forefront all the time. It’s important to let others be in the forefront and let them shine. That develops a team.

I always have said we are like a jigsaw puzzle. Everyone has to fit in, each in their own way. Without each one as part of that puzzle, there is a hole in that puzzle. So we give strength to one another. Without one another, the entire group isn’t as strong.

You express appreciation, and you can express that appreciation in a number of ways. Not only verbally, not only in your actions, but also in compensation. Compensation is an important way to communicate to employees that you value them.

I also believe that giving them opportunities to shine, to succeed and to lead is another way. Most successful employees appreciate those opportunities.

You’ve got to tell an employee when they are doing a great job.

Maintain a balance. Have some kind of physical activity that you are involved in. You need to be well-rounded. You need to have a family life. You need to give back to your community. It helps one to stay balanced and refreshed.

Learn from mistakes. There will always be times in our lives when you make a mistake. You take and look at it and learn from it, so it is not wasted. Life is a process. My work here is a process, not an event.

There will be mistakes made. That is an OK thing. It’s OK to make a mistake if you learn from it.

If I make the mistake two, three, four times, then there is a problem. If you make a mistake, you learn from it. That doesn’t mean I am a failure or whoever makes the mistake is a failure.

Reward employees in different ways. The reward has to match the behavior or accomplishment. Sometimes it is mentioning their name in a letter to employees. Sometimes we have internal contests.

We will give gift cards or something they can personally enjoy. We’ve given away DVRs for big contests. Different people are motivated by different kinds of gifts.

So, you’ve got to have different structures. In a large organization, you have to be diverse in the way you communicate, and diverse in the ways you let others shine and hold people up. Just like with your customers — you have a diverse customer base, so you are diverse in the way that you reach out.

HOW TO REACH: AT&T Michigan, www.att.com