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If you’re like a lot of leaders, you can probably name several things off the top of your head that your business could be doing faster, more efficiently or just plain better. Continuous improvement is part of the adapt-or-die mindset that you have to take in an ultracompetitive business climate that has only been complicated by the recent economic recession. If you’re not improving, you’re committing a sin of omission and allowing your company to backslide through inaction. So how do you consistently push ahead and promote a culture of continuous improvement? Below are some thoughts from leaders who have recently appeared in the pages of Smart Business Philadelphia.

“You do need to be able to visualize the concept of what you can be as an organization,” he says. “You start really thinking about tomorrow and how it has to be inspiring for everyone. But it has to be understandable, we have to stretch for it, and we have to make sure that the messages are crisp and simple and something that becomes compelling in terms of what our purpose is and how we can rally support to achieve that vision.”

--Laurence Merlis, president and CEO, Abington Health

“There are a couple of books out there, like ‘Good to Great,’ but they won’t give you the details and development, how to actually put a plan together. You really need some support and structure and someone to take you through the process. Once they’ve gone through once or twice and shown you how, you and your team can take the ball and run with it.”

--John Scardapane, founder, chairman and CEO, Saladworks LLC

“I was asked years and years ago how I looked at a company that I was getting ready to operate, and I said, ‘I’ll look at a wall, and on that wall are all these different knobs I can turn. Every single knob can create a dynamic that would give us more opportunity and profitability, but I know that if I turn too many, we flood.’ So that whole idea of goal setting, it comes more to an understanding of what level of patience should be applied. You make sure that you’re accelerating the opportunity, but the people in the facilities are able to keep up and enjoy it at an appropriate rate.”

--Marc Graham, president and CEO, AAMCO Transmissions Inc.


Visualize what you want your company to become.

Find an experienced mentor to guide you.

Understand the consequences of your decisions.

Published in Philadelphia
Monday, 31 October 2011 20:01

Know your audience

Do you think about what your employees want to hear from you when you speak to them? Or do you worry more about what you want to say? You need to be conscious of both, but sometimes it’s easy to get so consumed with your own message that you lose sight of your audience. What are they supposed to do with your remarks? How should they respond to what you say? What if they have questions and feel uncomfortable approaching you? What should they do then?

In the past few months, Smart Business has spoken with several leaders about this very issue. Check some of their thoughts and see why they believe communicating is about more than putting your words on paper and reciting them for your employees.

“It’s probably far more important that we understand how those who work for us want to hear things and want to communicate. It’s not about my dominant style. It’s more about what that individual who works for me needs.”

-- Jean Birch, president, IHOP

“I can’t necessarily get all my employees to follow me unless I get out there and inspire them. If you’re not communicating with them, they are expending energy every day and they are expending it in different directions. … The job of a leader is to harness all of that energy and get it to move in unison like a flock of birds or a school of fish.”

-- Adam Coffey, president and CEO, WASH Multifamily Laundry Systems LLC

“You win the hearts and minds of the people. Not because of charisma or because of empty rhetoric. But because you have a substantive idea that makes sense and they see your optimism and they see your excitement.”

-- Mel Elias, president and CEO, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

Summary: Think before you speak; Harness employee energy; Develop your idea

Published in Los Angeles

Effective growth is the product of a number of factors set in motion at the same time. You need a vision for where you want to take your company, a strategy for how to get there, marketing to drum up new business and an ability to turn setbacks into something positive in the long term. While there is no one right way to grow, and while the circumstances that affect the growth of your business might not affect another business in another industry, there are some common concepts to keep in mind as you grow your business. Below, some of the leaders who recently appeared in the pages of Smart Business Orange County share some of their thoughts on how to grow a business.

“You can’t focus on 20 different things. You have to focus on a small number of things and work hard on branding that name. When we go to a dinner or to a Rotary Club meeting, we take a bunch of inexpensive hats with us, and every kid there gets a hat. A lot of people think if you give away hats, they won’t buy them in the store. We don’t care right now. We want to see every kid in Orange County, in the whole Los Angeles area, wearing an Angels hat.”

Dennis Kuhl, chairman, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

“Just remember, don’t put your eggs in one basket. As you grow, probably eight out of 10 things won’t work the first time, but the two that do work make up for the eight that don’t. If you try only one thing at a time, when that one thing doesn’t work, you’re six months behind the eight ball again. You’re in an even worse position. That’s why you need to have that multifaceted approach.”

Chad Hallock, co-founder and CEO, Budget Blinds Inc.

“When I was playing in high school, the coach told me, ‘As the quarterback, you have to try to use everybody around you to win the game. You have to use the players around you to win the game.’ My coach wasn’t going to judge me on my statistics. He was going to judge me on wins and losses. It’s the same way running a business, which is why you have to get to know the people around you and try to bring out the very best in them.”

Steve Plochocki, CEO, Quality Systems Inc.


Narrow your area of focus.

Don’t become discouraged when you encounter setbacks.

Utilize your whole team.

Published in Orange County
Friday, 30 September 2011 20:01

How to define a direction for your business

As the recession tightened the noose around the business world in 2008 and 2009, most businesses were forced into a reactionary mode. Long-range plans were scrapped in the name of evasive maneuvers and survival tactics. But even in the darkest days of the recession, you probably knew that there would be a point when the economic skies would be brighter, and you’d need to plan for the long-term future of your business again.

As the economy slowly recovers, that time is drawing closer. You are starting to gain a feel for how your business will need to operate three years and five years from now.

Over the course of the year, Smart Business has spoken with a number of Detroit-area CEOs on how to build and execute a strategic plan. Here are what three of them had to say.

“You really need to be able to understand what your checkpoints are along the way in any process or product or initiative that you are outlining. It really needs to be a candid self-assessment of what is the reality that your customers are dealing with, the reality of how you’re delivering on expectations, then making adjustments to it.”

Stephen Polk, chairman, president and CEO, R.L. Polk & Co.

“Stick to your game. Don’t let other competitors run your business. Don’t get caught in a fact-and-react loop, where they tripled their offer so you’re going to quadruple it. You have to realize that the economy might be different, but it doesn’t change the fundamentals. It just makes sense to stick to what you know is right. Be mindful of your competition, but don’t let them run your business.”

Gregg Solomon, president and CEO, MotorCity Casino Hotel

“The one-year plan is set in stone, but as much as I say it’s set in stone, you still need the ability to move and adjust. It’s just that when you move and adjust, make sure your modifications are still within some guideline of business practice, so you don’t blow your brains out on any of your particular metrics.”

Brett Healy, president and CEO, Webasto Roof Systems Inc.


Learn to do accurate self-assessments.

Don’t run your business on your competition’s terms.

Stick to your plan, but remain flexible when necessary.

Published in Detroit

You know that you need a stomach for risk as a business leader. You need to be able to make the tough call and be willing to live with the consequences of being right or wrong on your decision. But your ability to handle risk extends beyond the boardroom and strategic planning sessions to the hallways and offices where your employees work. You need to take a chance on your people, build a culture that suits them and give them the freedom to think and perform in a way that best suits their talents. Below are several thoughts on managing risk for the sake of your culture and your people, from area leaders who recently appeared in Smart Business Orange County.

“Once you’ve set the stage and created a vision for how we can change, that’s all lovely, but at that point, this is all just words. But the proof will be in the pudding. Your first series of executions have to really show benefit, not only in improving the process but maybe also improving the workplace morale, employee satisfaction, things that people can really grab onto both tangibly and emotionally.”

Barry Arbuckle, president and CEO, MemorialCare Health System

“The biggest thing is, at the top, you have to be willing to take some risks. If you’re willing to take some risks, it actually encourages stepping outside the box and entrepreneurship. If you’re only willing to play it by the game and nobody is able to add their creativity or anything outside of the norm, then that becomes a stagnant culture.”

Greg Ashlock, market manager and president, Clear Channel Radio Los Angeles

“My management style tends to be more about hiring great people and letting them run, giving them the field. I’m not smart enough to micromanage these people, honestly. The technical breadth and diversity among the different technology areas that we have to cover … is staggering. I have to hire great people and really trust them.”

David Hankin, CEO, The Alfred E. Mann Foundation for Scientific Research


Your words must become actions.

Set the example of risk-taking from the top.

Give your employees the freedom to use their talents.

Published in Orange County

The decisions that impact your company’s future might ultimately rest on your shoulders, but the process by which you arrive at those decisions can be far more collaborative.

The best leaders are the ones who solicit input from managers and employees at all levels of the organization and formulate a system by which ideas and feedback can be submitted to and considered by the company’s main decision-makers. Whether employees want to give you input on the strategic direction of the company or the new light fixtures in the restrooms, it’s all a part of keeping ideas flowing and keeping your work force engaged.

Over the past few years, Smart Business Philadelphia has talked to a number of local business leaders about how they keep their employees focused by engaging them. Here are what three of them had to say:


“What I tell my employees is to come back to me with a game plan, tell me what you would do to solve it, because you’re closer to the issue than me. Nine out of 10 times, employees solve their own problems. They understand what they have to do and end up bringing back great results.”

-- Richard Miller, president and CEO, Virtua Health

“Part of building a team-oriented culture is building consensus, seeking input. Two heads are better than one; three heads are better than two. So we encourage people to seek others’ opinions because it absolutely yields better decisions, and we develop a culture where we respect each other’s

opinions. That’s the way we operate.”

-- Bill Hankowsky, chairman, president and CEO, Liberty Property Trust

“It’s amazing how many people are doing some best practices that we don’t even know about. When people hear stuff from their peers at work and they get a live testimonial, it ignites them to go back and try that, it ignites their thought process to say, ‘What can I do to better please customers, to get a better spirit in my store?’ It creates such wonderful momentum.”

-- Judy Spires, former president, Acme Markets Inc.


Get your employees to think like problem solvers.

Always look to build consensus on decisions.

Never underestimate your employees’ ability to generate new ideas.

Published in Philadelphia

No one who lives in southeast Michigan needs a reminder that the region has been one of the epicenters of a massive economic recession. But it might help to remember that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, and you can reach that tunnel in better shape if you are prudent in how you lead your business. You can take steps to become more opportunistic, managing your spending and focusing your employees on the vision and mission of your company.

Over the past couple of years, Smart Business Detroit has spoken with a number of Detroit-area business leaders about the steps they’re taking to help their companies weather the economic storm. Below is a sampling of what three of them had to say.

“Employees are smart, and many of our employees have been here a long time. They can see when we are going after the real problems, not just the appearance of problems. That’s one way we convinced them of our intentions through actions instead of words.”

Marty Kahn, CEO, ProQuest LLC

“Take all of the other distractions away. Get rid of ancillary businesses, ancillary and unimportant initiatives, things that are taking away from the core, uniform strategy that you’re trying to deploy. It’s an ongoing effort. It’s an evolution, and you keep working through it. You keep building momentum over time, and eventually it does pick up."

MaryAnn Rivers, president and CEO, Entertainment Publications LLC

“As you think about the future of your organization, you have to do scenario planning. You need to come up with best-case, most-probable-case and worst-case scenarios. You need to be able to anticipate and stay ahead of the curve. Leaders need to do that all the time.”

Patricia Maryland, president and CEO, St. John Health System


Employees know when you're addressing the real problems

Get rid of factors that take away from your core businesses

Plan for many possible situations

Published in Detroit
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