Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:00

Stephan Liozu; The next 50 years of business

The world is changing faster than ever. We now face megatrends of monumental proportions: a global population of 7 billion, greater disparity between rich and poor, increasing numbers of cataclysmic events, the rise of emerging countries, increased consumerism, increased social and technological complexity, increased globalization trends, and so forth.

As leader of a business, how do you face these trends and events?

Can you survive by conducting “business as usual,” or do you embrace, adapt and leverage their potential? Fundamentally, can a firm and its leaders operate without facing these trends and transforming their business to play a productive role in society?

For many decades now, economics and management scholars and behavioral scientists have studied and debated the role of the firm in society.

Why does the firm exist, and what is its role? From these discussions, the theory of the firm has evolved over the years from concepts of profit maximization (neoclassical economics) to customer satisfaction (customer-value theory of the firm) through the management of resources to create competitive advantage (resource-based view of the firm) and the organization of agents and actors to make choices and decisions (behavioral theory of the firm).

Among the vast array of derivative theories and multiple schools of thought surrounding the theory of the firm, none of them actually captures the fundamental question facing our businesses today: Why do firms exist in society, and what will their role be during the next 50 years?

More recently, the concept of sustainable value has emerged at the nexus of discussions about sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Based on Chris Laszlo’s work, this concept proposes that just “doing good” is no longer enough. Firms need to think strategically about their long-lasting value to all stakeholders and make it part of their strategic orientation.

This is a holistic approach that requires vision, action, support and resources. The following quote captures this concept well:

“Companies that are breaking the mold are moving beyond corporate social responsibility … to social innovation. They view community needs as opportunities to develop ideas and demonstrate technologies, to find and serve new markets and to solve long-standing business problems.” — Rosabeth Moss Kantor

So, you might ask, what does this mean for me? It means that you cannot ignore the megatrends. You and your firm can make a difference in society. The question then becomes how to get started.

The following are some recommendations for starting your journey.

Start small, but do it fully.

Select a few programs and partnerships to work on, and fully engage your firm and your staff. Less is better. At Ardex, we work closely with Habitat for Humanity and the local food bank, and we support veterans in need every holiday season. It starts at the top: Business leaders and owners are the organizational champions.

Capture the energy of your employees.

You will surprised by the amount of employee support you receive, as well as the positive impact on the organizational climate. You might not reach everyone, but many of your employees will be motivated and enthusiastic.

Leverage the power of social innovation.

Study the trends and capture their innovation potential without trying to make additional profit. Make it part of your regular business model and be realistic.

Include it as part of your DNA.

Sustainable value is not short term. It is a journey for the long term, and programs cannot be cut at every downturn. It is a transformational journey toward becoming a better corporate citizen and leading with compassion at the organizational level.

Whether you work for a small business or a large corporation, you can make a difference and create lasting value. Everything counts. The role of business is changing, and the best-in-class companies have emerged. Do not sit on the sidelines. Your community, your customers and your employees are watching. The world is watching. ?

Stephan Liozu ( is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors. He specializes in disruptive approaches in strategy, innovation, pricing and value management. He earned his PhD in Management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at

Published in Pittsburgh
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:00

Mike Berlin; Planning for the unexpected

In 2000, I founded Briteskies LLC, a Northeast Ohio technology company. While we’ve had our share of challenges, we had experienced steady growth and success for more than a decade, and I felt significant pride in my leadership role in the organization.

However, on Easter Sunday 2011, with little warning, I experienced a sudden, serious side effect of my Crohn’s disease. I woke up with a 106-degree fever that we ultimately found out was caused by e-coli in my bloodstream. Diagnosis and a subsequent nine-plus hour surgery to replumb my “insides” left me hospitalized for the next 30 days. All told, with the addition of another surgery, my recovery took over five months.

So for five months and without any time to plan, I was unable to return to work. The company I had founded, built and helped run day-to-day needed to go on without me. There was no certainty regarding when — and in what condition — I’d return.

Having suffered from Crohn’s disease since my 20s, I should have seen it coming. I had been told about the warning signs. Of course, as humans, and especially as entrepreneurs, we believe that it won’t happen to us. Additionally, as successful leaders, we feel that we are bulletproof. Otherwise we wouldn’t take the kinds of risks necessary to build a successful business or demonstrate the dogged persistence it takes to overcome obstacles in pursuit of a vision.

Those factors combine to make us a group of people who are less likely than most to consider, and plan for, the fact that one day the buck really may stop here.

Plan for ‘getting hit by the bus’

Now that it happened to me, I would like to let you know that there are several ways you can plan.

First, talk about the what-if scenarios with your team. By sheer chance, my co-founder and I had that very discussion four days before I got sick. We verbally agreed to a pay structure should anything happen to either of us.

Although verbal agreements are nice and worked out for me, I would still recommend that everything is put in writing. Meet with advisers or attorneys to determine what you need in place should you become incapacitated.

Next, ask yourself, ‘Can my company run without me? If I didn’t show up tomorrow, does someone know how to pay the bills? Sign paychecks? Are client projects being documented in a way that they can be easily handed off? Does my management team know where long-term projects stand?’

It is hard to carve out time to ask these questions, but if we as leaders build them into every aspect of our business, time will ensure the answers to these questions become part of how we operate.

What I wish I had known

I learned a lot of life lessons from this experience, but one tactical lesson sticks with me now more than a year later: While it’s important to plan the exit, it’s even more important to carefully plan your return.

Five months is a long time to be away. I didn’t take calls or respond to emails, and to be honest, I didn’t care. My goal was getting back on my feet and spending time with my family. In turn, the team at Briteskies rallied to make sure that our clients got the same level of stellar service they had come to expect.

I finally arrived back at the office with a mentality of, “I’m here, I’m back, let’s get to it.” But the company’s success in my absence meant that things had changed. There were different ways of doing things, conversations I had missed and judgment calls that had to be made and, consequently, were made.

It’s important for both sides to be patient and to communicate openly about the challenges of re-integrating back into the business. While it’s not possible to rewind and plug in exactly where you left off, it is possible to ensure a smoother transition.

Please don’t wait until you get hit by the bus. At times, we may forget how many people depend on us. Go above and beyond as a business leader and consider that it may happen to you and plan for what it will mean for your business, your clients, your employees and even their families. ?

About: Michael Berlin is the founder of Briteskies LLC. He can be reached at or (216) 369-3600.

Published in Cleveland
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:00

Tom Nies; The sales Rubik’s Cube

The Rubik’s Cube — you may have seen this toy as a child and either solved it or became frustrated with and discarded it, never to think of it again. However, I ask that you recall this strategic puzzle now, as it is more relevant than ever in your business life.

There are more than 43 quintillion different combinations in which a Rubik’s Cube can be exhibited — that’s 18 zeros. That huge number makes it seem as though it would be impossible to solve the cube and have a solid color on each of the six sides, but it’s not.

In fact, speed-cubing competitions are often held and people try to break Australian Feliks Zemdegs’ world record time of 5.66 seconds to solve the cube. Michal Pleskowicz of Poland even holds the record of solving a Rubik’s Cube with one hand in less than 13 seconds.

Sales cycles, or buy cycles as I like to call them, are growing increasingly complex like a Rubik’s Cube. Information is readily available on the Internet and sales representatives — while still crucial to a sale — are brought in at later and later stages.

In fact, some reports say that a customer can know up to 80 percent of the information they will need to know before making a purchasing decision prior to speaking with any sales representatives.

As all this occurs, the Rubik’s Cube of that sale becomes more and more scrambled.

The analogy of the cube

Not only does the complexity of the Rubik’s Cube contribute to this analogy, but the sides of a Rubik’s Cube adeptly describe a sale.

Each of the six sides represents a person or department a sales representative will interact with in a cycle.

The salesperson never knows which combination he will be given in the Rubik’s Cube each time he calls on a customer. Things change on a daily and even hourly basis as customers deal with situations in their business, staff changes, budget requirements and every other critical detail of sales cycles.

It takes a very adept salesperson to understand how to solve each of these new combinations of colors by working with the situation to finesse the colors into the solved puzzle and — in a buy cycle — close the sale.

An untrained salesperson may find a sale daunting, but like those who train to compete in speed-cubing, a salesperson who trains in the best practices of selling, a complex sale can seem relatively simple.

Just like with a Rubik’s Cube, there are salespeople of varying capabilities. Some can solve the cube in six seconds, some in three minutes, others in a couple of days, and still others take months. It all depends on how much time they devote to the practice of turning those blocks and learning the intricacies of the cube.

Make an assessment

I am not advocating that you go out and purchase your own Rubik’s Cube to practice your sales — though they are a fun puzzle to play with. Instead, making an assessment of your strengths as a seller and then working to improve those areas where you’ve been lacking would be a better use of your time.

Even bad salespeople will close a sale every once in a while. But just like a person might solve a Rubik’s Cube by turning the sides without a plan, luck is not repeatable. You must know, as in any science — and selling is definitely a science — what you’re doing if you want to be able to repeat the action.

Over time, discipline in how you approach sales can speed up the process. I’m not saying that practicing selling will lead to a very quick sale as customers set their own parameters on their schedule, but if you know what you’re doing, you can speed up your portions of the sales process.

Practice will also help you better anticipate the twists and turns of the Rubik’s Cube that the sale will present to you. ?

Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, health care and insurance. Go to

Published in Cincinnati

Just because someone holds a position of leadership doesn’t mean he or she is an effective leader. Although there are many analytic evaluations and theoretical assessments that offer insight into leadership ability, many ineffectual “leaders” maintain their positions. Why? Leadership change is hard on everyone. Maintaining status quo is often the easier route.

Here are a few ways to identify real leaders.

?  Leaders need vision, character and integrity. Those who do not have these qualities cannot inspire teams or performance or generate sustainable value.

?  Performance talks louder than promises. Someone who has consistently experienced success in leadership roles has a much better chance of success than someone who has not.

?  The best leaders are keenly aware of how much they don’t know. One of the hallmarks of great leaders is their insatiable curiosity, especially as it relates to their organization.

?  Great leaders communicate well, both up and down the ranks.

?  Real leaders bear the blame and bestow the credit, not the other way around.

?  True leaders also develop, mentor and prepare talent for the future.

For a true test of leadership, give someone some responsibility and see what that person does with it and test their organizational skills.

Develop your inside talent

Do you have someone leading “inside talent development” within your company? If not, you should and for several important reasons.

Companies that build a reputation for aggressively developing their talent keep motivated, effective individuals from looking outside the company for their next promotion. That keeps your organization moving forward, helps prevent employee stagnation and saves money, since bringing new people on board is much more expensive than you may realize.

Someone whom you trust should be spending at least one day per week thinking about, tracking, scheduling, sourcing and driving talent development within your firm.

In growth times, the smartest leaders will look beyond hiring and focus on making the most of their existing talent.

The skinny on meetings

True leaders also hold organized meetings.

I’ve been consistent about my feelings about meetings for as long as I can remember. Simply put, I detest them. Why? Let me make this short, because I have to go to a meeting.

1. No clear agenda. Every meeting should have a clear agenda and a few simple objectives. When you leave the meeting, everyone should know his or her responsibilities.

2. Most meetings delay decisions. You meet, you mull things over, you kick the big decision down the road or, worse, await buy-in. Ridiculous. If you are that afraid to make a decision, you shouldn’t be in management.

3. Too many people. Most don’t need to be there: The evidence? The folks checking their messages and responding to emails.

4. PowerPoint presentations: A waste of time and resources. Almost always a way for someone to show off his/her knowledge. And always too long.

5. Too long. Come together, bring up what’s relevant and decide what works and what doesn’t. Move forward. In most cases, you don’t even need to sit down.

Is there a place for meetings? You bet, provided the result of any meeting is to make your business better.

Are your meetings doing that? ?

David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at For more information, go to


Published in Indianapolis

Having the best ideas in the world does not do you any good unless you execute them. Execution gives life to ideas and makes them a reality. Execution of significant initiatives is particularly challenging because it often involves many moving parts and multiple teams inside and outside the organization. Collaboration and coordination are the infrastructure, the engine you need to execute successfully. Without them, you will be limited in what you can accomplish.


For successful collaboration, expectations management is critical. Often, things break down because the teams involved have different expectations. They assign different levels of importance to the project and, hence, assign different priorities. That affects the amount of resources allocated and influences the commitment to timelines.

Avoid the train wreck and align expectations. Set the right context so all teams understand which aspects of the project are absolutely necessary for its success.

For some projects, meeting deadlines is most important, while for others, the quality of work may be the single most important criteria. Knowing which attributes constitute the definition of success guarantees better coordination.

Respect and trust

The foundation of collaboration is mutual respect and the spirit of cooperation. To cooperate is to have the right attitude of helpfulness and openness.

Often, different teams, whether they belong to different organizations or the same company, find it difficult to collaborate because they do not trust each other. It is not clear to everyone how success or failure will be shared. The fear is that others will take credit for success and deflect blame and fault for failure.

For effective collaboration, roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined and accountabilities be clearly and openly assigned. Nothing helps as much as creating a spirit and culture of collaboration by enforcing the right conduct and behavior.

Effective communication

The foundation of collaboration and coordination is communication, not the quantity of communication but the effectiveness.

Effective communication is not just about disseminating information. It is making sure others receive the information, process it, interpret it correctly and understand what is expected of them. Then the process is complete.

If information is communicated with the hope that the recipients will have the time to duly process and act on it, then you are putting the project at risk. It is the job of the communicator to ensure that the message is received and understood. Doesn’t that put an extra burden on the communicator? Shouldn’t you expect that people who receive the communication act on it judiciously? Yes and yes.

However, in this day and age where people are overcommitted and work on multiple projects simultaneously, taking extra care to follow up on critical communication items goes a long away to ensure flawless execution.

One problem with communication is overcommunication. People are often copied on emails, invited to meetings or involved in discussions where they have a marginal contribution to make and little to gain.

When we communicate, we must appreciate that we are making demands on the other’s time and attention. When we communicate incessantly, superfluously or profusely, we run the risk of being tuned out.

Collaboration and coordination need a constant vigil. Things can break down quickly. Ensuring the right expectations, respect and communication will help you execute effectively.

Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and WorldNews, Ravi Kathuria is a recognized thought leader. Featured on the “BusinessMakers” show, CBS Radio, and “Nightly Business Report,” he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “How Cohesive is Your Company?: A Leadership Parable.” Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corporation, a management consulting, executive and sales coaching firm, and president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Reach him at (281) 403-0250 or

Published in Houston

Company culture is an amazing thing. It shapes the way your organization is perceived. It sets the pace of work and the way decisions are made. It impacts the people you are able to recruit. It is the responsibility of everyone and no one at the same time.

How can it be no one’s responsibility? That may be an overly simplistic statement, but the point is that no single person can declare, change or be held responsible for the corporate culture. The culture does start at the top, because how the leaders treat their co-workers and their employees will resonate throughout the organization.

An individual treated with respect and trust is more likely to treat others with respect and trust. An individual berated by their boss is far more likely to turn around and do the same thing to others. But a single person can’t stand up and declare that a new culture will begin like they could with a new budget or product strategy.

So how do we impact and shape our corporate culture?

Assess your culture.

What is your culture now? How do people treat each other? How quickly do they respond? What is the pace of work? How willing are people to set deadlines? Are deadlines met? How do employees describe the company?

Evaluate the value of the current culture.

What parts of the current culture are productive? What parts of the culture appear to be creating problems? This is the delicate part. Beware of quick assumptions. Ask questions until you have the real answers to what is working or creating pain.

Reward the right behaviors.

When you recognize and reward behaviors, you will get more of that same behavior. Do you want speed? Reward the fastest producers. Do you want teamwork? Reward team players for helping others. Do you want innovation? Announce innovations that are added to the products or services you provide and innovations that help the company run better.

Communicate carefully but authentically.

Plaques and posters that don’t ring true to the team will destroy your efforts. But when you see a good thing happening repeatedly, promote it as part of the culture. Tie the stories of those successes to the culture of the business that helps make them happen. Tie the elements of the lore of the organization to the desired elements of the culture. This will reinforce the positive.

Hire for culture.

It often takes more effort to assess someone’s cultural fit in the organization than it does to test their skills, but the effort is worth it. Seldom do you hear stories about someone quitting or being terminated because they just didn’t have the right skill. It is almost always about their approach to dealing with others or the pace and style they use. If you can assess an individual’s ability to meet the cultural expectations of the organization, the result will be a more successful hire.

Trickle the good stuff into everything.

Unless the positive elements of the culture are widely agreed on and articulated, you are not ready to put a description of it on your coffee cups. But you can infuse the desired traits through all your areas of business. If speed is your need, then shorten your meetings and push the comfort zone to speed up the delivery of information. If innovation is spotlighted, then continually allow for new ways of doing things while applauding the risk-takers for even their small leaps of faith.

When a concerted effort is made to enhance the best parts of the culture, you will be rewarded with a stronger culture. ?

Lois Melbourne is co-founder and CEO of Aquire, a workforce planning and analytic solution company based in Irving, Texas. Visit for more information.

Published in Dallas


As the economy slowly recovers, you need to adapt to the times when marketing your products and services. What worked in 2008 no longer applies in 2013. It’s a new game, and the few businesses doing it right are driving conversation, engagement and loyalty — and winning new business. It is not about abandoning what worked in the past but recognizing that the rules of engagement have changed and developing new strategy.

It is no different than adapting to the marketing challenges and changes that Internet technology brought in the 1990s.

The new social movement is a force to be reckoned with, and in 2013, you need to be ready to tackle this new communication trend. To ignore it will impair survival. It is not too late to get on board, but to do so will take a companywide commitment.

The new marketing paradigm

Sure, businesses are on Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, and have blogs. But most businesses lack social strategy and an understanding of why they need those things. It’s time to understand how to become a social business, and shift the thinking of leadership and marketing to social conversation instead of the traditional push marketing.

The biggest shift is in pushing away from unwanted messaging filled with sales-centered value propositions to engaging in a way that mimics publishers — creating content that answers questions, adds value toward reaching objectives and encourages referral of your company as a credible reference. We need to feed the intense appetite for information by providing something great to talk about and share.

Creating a foundation

Being a social business takes a village. Engaging the entire organization is a cultural shift, and the directive for this level of change must come from the top. The CEO must lay the foundation for a social culture that encourages transparency and empowerment.

Communication used to be channeled through sales and marketing. Now we need everyone from the CEO to engineers and human resource teams contributing to the social conversation, each creating their personal brands and centers of influence.

The new game is peer-influenced community marketing. The challenge of marketing is to develop a social strategy, identifying social ambassadors within the organization at all levels, orchestrating the creation of great content companywide, educating ambassadors on the importance of their role and monitoring the conversation and results.

Mobility is a factor

According to, 2013 will mark the first time online access is greater from mobile devices than desktop or laptop computers. An estimated 90 million consumers in the U.S. will own a tablet by 2014.

Mobility is changing the way we need to market. Communication needs to be mobile-friendly content. Companies need to shift to mobile sites and mobile advertising. Smartphone users expect to be able to do it all from their mobile device. If we cannot provide this experience, they become frustrated and disengaged.


It’s time to move forward

A 2012 Forrester survey of executives and IT decision makers indicated 49 percent expected to make investments in social networking solutions in 2012, and of those, 19 percent described their investment as “implemented, not expanding.”

The early adopters are in the game. The rest are asking, “How far behind are we?” That is the question you should be asking yourself.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 22-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921,, @brandpro or visit


Published in Columbus

The old management adage “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is probably more apropos in today’s workplace than ever before. At a time when customers, board members, partners and other key stakeholders expect and demand quantifiable results, senior leaders are required to set measurable goals that aim high but, at the same time, are executable because they are backed by realistic, understandable strategies and tactics.

Although goal setting for most organizations is an ongoing process, the start of the new year — and for many, the start of the budgeting cycle — presents most organizations with a key opportunity to take a step back, examine what has worked and recalibrate the areas that need adjustment.

Transcend the boardroom

One of the key tenets in CorFire’s planning process is to think of goal setting as a team sport. In other words, involve key members of the organization to brainstorm and set long-term, short-term and immediate goals.

While one person within a department may have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that these goals are met, securing buy-in from multiple team members helps create an atmosphere in which people are informed, engaged and passionate about doing their respective part to make sure goals are achieved.

More recently, this beyond-the-boardroom approach at CorFire has expanded to include partners and customers. While not specifically asking for their specific ideas on what our company’s goals should be, CorFire wants partners and customers to be an integral part of our broader community and, as such, to participate in ongoing discussions about what we are doing right and areas in which we can improve.

This feedback helps us set goals that are meaningful to internal and external audiences. It also leads to stronger connections across vertical markets, thus helping the company achieve success.

 Execute the plan

Once a clear plan is in place, organizations may want to aim big while starting small. A “begin with the basics” approach is often better from a strategic standpoint than a full-blown launch.

For example, when our customers are executing a mobile payment rollout, we recommend they start with basic technology with which their customers are familiar. In some cases, we recommend that these customers start out at a few locations, rather than many, to see what needs resetting.

Another key for setting measurable goals is to expect and plan for potential obstacles. Organizations may overlook this step or forego it because of concerns that it could show their goals are too lofty and thus set them back a few steps. In reality, this broader, realistic view of goal setting and execution gives everybody in the organization the latitude to view bumps in the road as navigable rather than insurmountable roadblocks.

Lastly, we look forward to a year in which we set and meet goals, but, as important, we celebrate these goals. For CorFire, this ongoing recognition of meeting goals in this exciting time in the mobile commerce arena will help us continue moving the needle in our space and give us the desire to set the bar higher in subsequent years. ?

Sang Yook is chief strategy officer of CorFire, the mobile commerce business unit of SK C&C USA. You can reach him at (770) 670-4700.

Published in Atlanta
Thursday, 03 January 2013 15:38

Bruce Rosenthal: Taking over a family business

In traditional companies, management passes from one individual to the next based on professional qualifications. In family-run businesses, however, leadership positions often pass to close relatives irrespective of qualifications for the job.

In many ways, family businesses are better than traditional companies. The employees have been there through thick and thin, and there is a strong sense of pride throughout the organization. Still, over time, even the strongest organizations can falter if the leadership isn’t up to par. Mismanagement is the source of most business failures, and by the time the company realizes it needs outside help, it’s often too late.

Take, for example, a company that my private equity firm acquired in 2009. We made the mistake of leaving the management team — established by the second generation of family leadership — in place until 2010. When we decided to overhaul the company, there were several key steps.

Address staff issues. In mid-2010, faced with mounting operating deficits, I stepped in and assumed the CEO position. I eliminated redundant and ineffective staff members and streamlined reporting responsibilities, eliminating entire layers of management. Not only did this result in immediate cost savings, but it also enhanced staff performance and created accountability. Do not be afraid to let people go if they are not helping the business succeed.

The company is your first priority.

Get new perspectives. If management needs to be replaced, be wary about hiring existing staff members to fill those vacancies. Poor or insecure leaders tend to surround themselves with advisers whose critical thinking skills are weak. When incumbent management indicates that the status quo must remain, more often than not, this is indicative of management lacking in expertise and vision. A third-party expert might be needed.

Don’t overhire. Hiring several people at once is a classic leadership mistake. It’s easy to assume that one new hire will generate a certain amount of growth, which will, in turn, create a need for additional employees. Avoid this pitfall. Hiring before you have actual need or before free cash flow supports hiring a bigger staff is the first step on the path to failure. My rule of thumb is to wait until the existing staff has a heavy enough workload to necessitate three new employees, and then hire one.

Keep the peace. While trying to revamp any family-owned company, you will inevitably face challenges from people who have been there for years and who expect things to be done a certain way. Change is unavoidable, but you can gain your employees’ trust by retaining the best qualities of the business as you restructure. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Your staff will recognize that you have the company’s best interests in mind and will trust your judgment as you implement changes.

Know your customers. Understand the choice your customers are making between you and your competitors. For example, at the company acquired by my private equity firm, I knew our products were outstanding, but our marketing strategy was ineffective and customers weren’t fully aware of our product range. Overhauling the marketing strategy has helped us expand our market share. This is a continuously evolving process. To perform better, you must exceed customer expectations on every visit. It is critical to understand your customers and the market so well that you anticipate customer needs before they know what they want. In restructuring the business, the rule of thumb should be, “Keep the best, overhaul the rest.”

Guest columnist Bruce Rosenthal is the president and CEO of Submarina California Subs. For more information about Submarina or franchising opportunities, please visit


Published in Houston
Thursday, 03 January 2013 14:22

Unity demands diversity: Tom Nies

“E Pluribus Unum” — it’s the motto of the United States of America found on our national seal and all coins currently being manufactured. Its translation from Latin means, “out of many, one.”

It’s no surprise that the United States adopted this motto in 1776 upon its founding as a nation — the forefathers took 13 separate colonies and created one United States to which we continued adding states and territories over the years.

The same is true of the American people themselves. They came from many countries but together those many became one people, one nation.

I didn’t set out to write a history lesson when I began this column, but as I was reflecting on unity, I came to understand how relevant these words were for entrepreneurs or, truly, any business leader.

Out of many, one

A company is best when its employees come together with one another to develop unity.

There must be mobilization around a central theme or an organizing unity of purpose — a mission statement, an idea or culture.

Since no one is exactly the same, unity by its very nature demands diversity. The more diverse the different members of an organization may be, the greater the need for union and harmony.

Diversity does not mean division any more than solitary means solidarity. Nor can unity tolerate division. Because of this, the important idea seems clear enough: Diversity in unity strengthens, but division from unity weakens.

A truly successful business will only develop when this idea is taken into account. You have to find the delicate balance between personalities, work styles and ideas to unify a diverse group of individuals and strengthen an organization.

Good leaders will not want to surround themselves with “yes-men,” or those who are unified with the leader on every subject possible. Diverse viewpoints and ideas will only serve to strengthen an organization.

The value of a dissenter

Great leaders can also recognize the benefit of having at least one person surrounding them who can play the devil’s advocate. That person will present a differing viewpoint to the one commonly agreed upon.

This is not to say that a person should continuously argue for argument’s sake, but a confidant who can push and needle an issue is of great importance. It forces one to dive deeper into one’s views on a subject to ensure that it is the best route to take and either defend the position or discard it in favor of another.

This devil’s advocate must not cross the line as a negativist. However, when that occurs, that person will be a division from unity and weaken the institution.

This guidance can come into being during many different times in an organization’s life. When an entrepreneur brings in business partners, they all must work together to reach the unity to become one organization.

When a start-up discusses a corporate strategy with angel investors or future buyers, they must work together to find harmony and reach an understanding that strengthens the business or brand.

When an organization puts a board of directors in place, it is seeking counsel from a diverse group of individuals who can mobilize around a central theme of bettering profits or extending a company’s reach.

But these ideas extend even deeper into an organization. A group of employees may find value in them during a meeting as they attempt to implement a social media strategy or discuss internal purchases.

The best meetings will come out of the fact that diverse employees with differing ideas can unite and strengthen an organization. ?


Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, health care and insurance. Go to

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