For Philip Rielly and Eric Hill, the past five years have been a very different experience compared to most others in the business world during that time. While many companies were hunkering down, cutting back and fighting to stay in business, Rielly and Hill were nurturing the healthy growth of a young company.

In fact, in just the past three years they have seen their company’s employment and revenue double. Rielly and Hill are co-founders of BioRx LLC, a more than 200-employee national provider and distributor of specialty pharmaceuticals they started in 2004.

Hill, who is vice president, is located in North Carolina, while Rielly, who is president, is in Cincinnati where BioRx is headquartered. The company, now nine years old, has been exceeding expectations, and there are no signs of it slowing down anytime soon.

“Since 2010 we have continued our strong growth trajectory as we hoped that we would,” Rielly says. “We finished this past year north of $100 million in sales. We’ve been fortunate to launch a number of new semi-exclusive products with some of the different manufacturers.”

Since 2010, BioRx has become a prominent player in the Hereditary Angioedema space and a major player in the Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiencies space.

“Some of the other changes since 2010 are we announced that we were going to be a semi-exclusive distribution partner for a firm out of New Jersey called NPS Pharmaceuticals and we opened three new regional pharmacy and distribution centers,” Hill says. “Those are in Boston, Scottsdale, Ariz., and San Diego, Calif. Those are three large investments for us.”

Needless to say BioRx has been doing the right things to remain on a growth track. Now Rielly and Hill have to keep it going.

Here’s how they have grown the company through strategic planning and developing the right partnerships.

Take advantage of growth drivers

When Rielly and Hill first started BioRx, they had a different idea behind specialty pharmaceuticals than most other national companies. While others were switching to a less personalized mail order model, Rielly and Hill saw an opportunity to offer a higher care model and focus on the patient.

Since seeing that opportunity they have been aggressively pushing the company forward.

“We’ve taken a bullish approach from day one when we set the company up, and we’ve been very aggressive with respect to adding new geographies and new regions,” Rielly says. “We’ve certainly added quite a few new account managers in the field, so we really focus our market on the four P’s in the pharmaceutical space with respect to customers.

“In the physician marketplace, we’ve expanded the number of representatives calling on the physicians across the country to open new geographies to where we’re now truly a national company.”

The biggest driver for BioRx at this point has been developing relationships with the different biotech companies and manufacturers.

“They’ve entrusted us with some of their new therapies,” he says. “In many cases we are just one of a handful of companies in the world who has access to selling these drugs. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to get those relationships.”

When a company is growing at the rate BioRx has, it is often easy to focus on one big area of growth and forget about other areas. That has not been the case with BioRx.

“This hasn’t been a one-trick growth pony,” Hill says. “We’ve purposefully and carefully invested in multiple strategies that have the opportunity to provide us growth. We’ve executed pretty well on all of them, but the key thing to take away is that we haven’t put all of our eggs in one basket in terms of our strategy to provide continued and sustainable growth for the company. It’s been a measured approach across many fronts.”

Over the course of the business as it has scaled, Rielly and Hill have continued to reinvest in it.

“We’ve taken every dime of free cash that we can find and judiciously invested that into both infrastructure to allow us to grow, but most importantly into infrastructure that provides that growth such as opening new markets, hiring sales people, adding new product lines and adding infrastructure,” Hill says.

“At the same time, we have to ensure that we’re not getting ahead of the company’s ability to finance it so we can maintain a robust and strong balance sheet, which is a business killer for a lot of small companies.”

While maintaining a strong balance sheet is one challenge of a growing company, there are many other obstacles that come along with growth. One challenge is hiring.

“Even with the unemployment rate at what it is, I would say that we still have a challenge finding and recruiting some of the very best people,” Rielly says. “We set a very high bar for the quality of folks that we hire. We’ve really had very little turnover, but with the continuous growth we’ve enjoyed, it is a challenge to continue to grab those folks.”

One strategy that BioRx has implemented is hiring people for an associate-level sales position and having them train with more senior employees to learn the ropes.

“It eliminates some of the risk down the road of having a bad hire,” he says. “We’re also working closely with some of the local universities. That way we have an in on recruiting down the road, and it’s a good way for us to give back.”

Another way the company stays on top of hiring challenges is to be on the lookout for great candidates all the time.

“It may not be today, but it may be three months or six months from now that we’ll need talent,” Hill says. “When the opportunity to hire somebody comes along, we need to already have a portfolio of folks we’ve been talking to. That dialogue helps gets those jobs filled quicker and with better talent.”

Develop strategies

Most of BioRx’s growth to this point has been organic growth. However, Rielly and Hill are always looking for the next partnership that will benefit the company and its patients. Last year the company made an acquisition to help it reach new customers.

“Coagulife Pharmacy is the only acquisition that we have done to date,” Rielly says. “Our strategy from day one has always been through internal growth and continuing to reinvest in new talent and organic growth. But Coagulife presented itself. That situation was a unique opportunity for us to add a different skill set.”

Coagulife deals specifically in the hemophilia space. Many hemophilia patients have target joint bleeds and what ends up happening is many of them require an orthopedic procedure down the road. Many of those can be avoided or helped with some type of aggressive physical therapy, which is what Coagulife offers.

“So we’re rolling out a national program that is very specific to physical therapy and exercise regimens,” he says.

A large part of BioRx’s ability to find strategic partners and develop those relationships is because the company makes it a priority to plan for those kinds of things.

“You have to have a plan, but also the wherewithal to follow through on a plan without respect to different challenges that come up,” Rielly says. “Whatever the long-term plan is you have to stick with it and keep going forward even when it doesn’t feel comfortable from time to time.”

BioRx thinks of strategic planning in the two-to-five-year range.

“The easiest thing for us to plan is organic, new market openings and sales infrastructure growth by prioritizing the markets we believe have opportunity in each of our business units,” Hill says. “Then it’s just budgeting out the velocity with which we can deploy capital and money to put those people in place to enter and burst into new markets for us.”

Rielly and Hill constantly talk about the next five markets the company is going to crack into with a new therapy or a sales rep to put an operating unit in place.

“We’ve done a good job of sticking to that,” he says. “We kind of know where our next five, six, seven, or eight investments are going to be and in which business units we want to be plunking those bets down.”

During the strategic planning process you have to be willing to think about some far-fetched goals while also being reasonable about what can be achieved in your plan’s window of time.

“Dream big and shoot for the stars, but be realistic with respect to what it’s going to take to achieve those goals,” Rielly says. “Be realistic with how much capital it’s going to require to get from point A to point B. But don’t be afraid to dream big and swing for the fences.”

The key to achieving goals set forth in a strategic plan is having a great team around you.

“If we have done anything, we have hired a fantastic management team and our bench strength is pretty deep,” Hill says. “I think either one of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow and the company wouldn’t have a whole lot of issues. We have managers and operators that we turn loose to let them earn their stripes. Those guys know where our next bets need to be.”

How to reach: BioRx LLC, (866) 442-4679 or www.biorx.net

Takeaways

Determine your growth factors.

Develop strategic partnerships to help expand.

Have a planning process for the future.

 

The Rielly and Hill File

 

Philip Rielly

President and Co-founder

BioRx LLC

 

Eric Hill

Vice President and Co-founder

BioRx LLC

 

Rielly: Born in Cincinnati

Rielly: Education: Graduated from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., with a BS in business communications.

Hill: Born in Bassett, Va.

Hill: Education: Graduated from Wake Forest University with a degree in psychology.

How did you first meet each other? And why did you start BioRx?

We both met working for another national company. We saw the trend of many national companies going to a mail order model with less personalized care, and we felt that we could create a market by going with a higher care model.

What has been your favorite thing about growing BioRx?

Rielly: The most rewarding part is building a team and watching the team grow. We’re making a very positive impact on the lives of each of the patients in which we touch and there’s not a week that goes by that we don’t get a patient testimonial about the ways our team members went above and beyond. I find that extraordinarily rewarding.

Hill: It is awfully refreshing to wake up every day knowing that we get to set the direction. It’s a lot of fun being in an entrepreneurial environment and getting to spread that spirit around the organization.

What excites you both about the future of BioRx?

Hill: I’m excited about the fact that sooner than later we are going to be a $200 million company. We also have a new drug launch happening and it has the opportunity to be a significant sea change in both the lives of the patients that we’re treating and the marketplace for one of our operating units in a way that’s transformative.

Rielly: In the last few months, we’ve aggressively hired and opened new geographical territories and I’m excited to see the initial successes. We have the best team in place that we’ve ever had and I’m excited for them to achieve their personal goals.

Published in Cincinnati

This past November, Andrew Liveris went to the White House for a meeting with the president. That in and of itself is a pretty significant life event, but in Liveris’ case, it was as much about the journey as the destination.

Liveris is the chairman, president and CEO of The Dow Chemical Co. A native of Australia, he’s held numerous positions at Dow over the span of nearly 40 years — roles that have taken him to places such as Hong Kong and Thailand, before eventually moving to Dow’s Midland, Mich., corporate headquarters, where he became CEO in 2004 and chairman in 2006.

As the head of a $57 billion corporate giant, Liveris was among a group of influential CEOs invited to the White House to take part in a meeting on jumpstarting American business with President Barack Obama.

The Australian who came to America by way of Asia now sat in a room with the leader of the free world, among those tasked with helping to chart a course to rebuild key economic drivers as the country — and world — continues to recover from the recession.

“The conversation we had, with a dozen CEOs across various business sectors, it felt like a different meeting than any previous we have had,” says Liveris, who spoke as part of a presentation at the 2012 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum.

“The president has had a lot of things written and said, and he takes it pretty personally when he hears that he doesn’t know business. Frankly, the evidence over the past 3½ years is that he doesn’t work with business and doesn’t know business.

“So in this meeting, he didn’t talk all that much,” Liveris says. “He let us give it to him, and we let him know what it would take to create a growing America again.”

For Liveris, it was an opportunity to step back, reflect on where his company had been over the past few years, and where it was headed —  and what steps he and other influential business leaders would need to take to ensure that their companies, and the whole of American business, would remain strong into the future.

Understand the landscape

By his own admission, Liveris was kind of naïve in his first couple of years as a CEO, particularly when it came to the business community’s relationship with government.

“I thought I would go to Washington, talk about the things that matter to my company, then I would leave and something would happen,” Liveris says. “That clearly did not work.”

After a number of trips to Washington with little progress in developing the business-government relationship to the point that it produced results, Liveris realized that no one on either side truly had a grasp of the game they were playing.

“I remember when I was watching TV and hearing about how American manufacturing had to die, how it had to move overseas because of labor costs,” he says. “That’s when I realized that absolutely no one was getting this.

“No one understood innovation, technology, or how one invents. No one understood the business models of creation, of new wonderful things that help humanity, things that are an American right.

“We have done this for over 200 years and yet we’re saying we should no longer manufacture, and we should just be a service economy,” he says. “If you want to be a service economy, go to the U.K. and see how it worked for them.”

Liveris says Silicon Valley is a hub of innovation, in large part because it is full of big companies who try to maintain a small-company mindset. If you can marry the resources of a major corporation with the flexibility and creativity of a smaller enterprise, you can hit an innovative sweet spot. It’s a position Liveris has tried to assume at Dow.

“Silicon Valley is an intersection of incredible academic institutions and entrepreneurs inventing, innovating and allowing startups,” he says. “That’s what I do. I have $1.7 billion in R&D, and I’m doing that every day. I’m innovating and trying to scale up. That is manufacturing.”

Liveris wants Dow to set a tone for innovation throughout the country. He wants companies, both large and small, to think in terms of innovation and developing ideas.

“This country needs dozens of Silicon Valleys,” he says. “It needs innovation hubs throughout the country. That was recommendation No. 1 from the meeting with the president. The president will give legs to an advanced manufacturing partnership, within which we have identified 11 technologies that America can win on a global basis.

“We have picked the technologies where America can win, not by creating winners and losers among companies, but by designing an innovation hub so the best minds in America can participate, including entrepreneurs, big companies and some government money to stimulate creativity and scale things.”

Invest in human capital

Innovation needs fertile ground. It needs companies that invest in the resources that enable innovation. It needs executives and managers that sustain a culture capable of promoting innovation. You need programs that reward and promote innovative thinking.

But those factors alone won’t drive an innovative mindset. You need to recruit the talent to innovate.

Even if you don’t budget for R&D the way Dow does, Liveris says innovation-minded talent is a must for any organization that wants to grow and evolve.

“I am a great believer that rigor mortis sets in unless you create a burning platform,” Liveris says. “People get comfortable and complacent quickly, especially the larger you get as an organization. You have to change things.”

When Liveris was named CEO of Dow, he called up a number of successful CEOs who had succeeded in driving large-scale change throughout major enterprises, asking for advice on preventing complacency and enabling innovation.

“One of them gave me this great piece of advice,” he says. “It had to do with the phases of change that cause the human pipeline, the talent pool, to respond and be its very best.

“It’s about the moon shot, the mission. If I can be inspired by the mission, be energized by that, that’s the key. I have to create that dynamic inside the top and middle ranks of the organization, and more importantly, the front line people.”

To Liveris, leaders get elected every day. Each day is an opportunity to create buy-in throughout the organization, an opportunity to inspire employees to follow the path blazed by leadership.

“You lead change,” he says. “You build a team around change. You have to do it with the long vision in mind, but with the idea that the short-term needs have to be met. We all suffer from ADD.

“We have become an ADD society where everything is breaking news, so the dynamic around a company — particularly a public company — can kill the long vision. You have to deliver in both the short-term and the long-term, and if you live those two paradigms, you need a unique type of human talent.”

Liveris calls it “living intersections” — finding and developing talent that can achieve both short-term and long-term goals.

“No longer do we do single-lane highways,” Liveris says. “We’re living intersections all the time. The intersections between the short-term and long-term require a unique type of talent — sometimes we call that change manager a change leader but that’s too high level.”

The managers you bring in to help spur change and formulate a vision for the future while delivering short-term results have another important set of opposite-end factors to master: They must understand the business from a global level, while still grasping the effect of the vision and goals of the organization on individuals working at ground level.

“You do still have to get down to the three-foot level,” Liveris says. “What does it mean to the person on the floor? What does it mean to the R&D leader? What does it mean to the salesperson?”

And no matter what position a given person fills, that person’s talent will only reach its potential if you can tie their individual and department goals to the overall goals of the organization, and then reinforce innovation-centered values that emphasize a willingness to create, experiment and learn from mistakes.

“You can’t box people into something and say, ‘Go invent,’” Liveris says. “You have to give them a chance to fail. You have to let them be a part of the entrepreneurial activity. You need to motivate them to see how their project, their work, can change humanity.”

How to reach: The Dow Chemical Co., (989) 636-1000 or www.dow.com

The Liveris File

Liveris on Dow’s history of success: We’re actually one of nine companies that are still around from the inception of the New York Stock Exchange. There are only eight others who were there since the beginning. We’re not afraid of change. I didn’t get this gray hair easily; it came hard. We have in our DNA the willingness to face reality and take the change and bet the company. To be companies of size, that’s a lot of heavy lifting. I’d like to say we’re in the seventh inning … from a portfolio point of view. We have the technologies. We have the weapons but we’re in the second or third inning from a cultural point of view.

Culture is every person in the company, and Dow has a value proposition at the personal level. As a young chemical engineer, I had a lot of offers, but I chose to leave my great country of Australia to live in this great country, not because I think you’re greater but the company called Dow has a better value proposition to a human being. I was attracted by the people.

Liveris on sustainability: One day Dow Chemical won’t be known as Dow Chemical; it will be known as Dow. Dow sticks to the brand of the diamond (logo). The brand will stand for … our commitment to sustainability, but not sustainability as a noun, sustainable as an adjective. Sustainable business, sustainable profits, sustainable planet are the same things. How you actually marry the intersection between environment, economy, society, business, government, society.

Takeaways

Understand your industry.

Value innovation.

Find and retain great talent.

Published in Detroit

 

Interviewed by Dustin S. Klein

Dina Dwyer-Owens has led The Dwyer Group Inc. as chairwoman and CEO since 2007 and has guided service brands — including the iconic Rainbow International nameplate— to impressive growth during tough economic times.

The company, founded in 1981 by her father, Don Dwyer Sr., operates six other franchise businesses as well that provide cleaning, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, landscaping, appliance repair, glass repair, and related services through 1,600 franchises in nine countries.

Dwyer-Owens has worked for the Waco, Texas-based company since its inception. She recently talked with Smart Business about how she grew up in the company and how she has propelled The Dwyer Group’s franchises over the past six years to success in a sluggish economy.

Q. What did you do before you came into the company?

A lot of different things. Before The Dwyer Group, my father had his own car wash businesses. So at the age of 13, I was working at his car washes. I pumped gas and sold polish waxes. Then he had restaurants he was thinking of franchising. I worked in the restaurants and did a lot of catering. I worked in a full-service restaurant, and I was the hostess and a waitress. This was all in high school. There are six kids in my family, and we all worked from the time we were 12 or 13.

Q. What made you decide that this was what you were going to do, to rise through the ranks and take over the company?

I wasn’t sure when I first got out of high school. I attended Baylor University. My father wanted me to go to school for networking. He knew education was important. Going to school full-time and working for him full-time, I knew something had to give. It wasn’t fun doing both. I wasn’t getting the best out of either one of them.

I went to him one day and said something has to change. He said why don’t you just take the semester off and come work side by side with me.

I’ll never forget the day a franchisee came up to him at a convention and said, ‘I want to thank you for the opportunity you’ve given me. It has changed my life. Our family is doing things we only dreamt of doing because of this opportunity.’ I listened and thought, wow, I get what he means by his mission statement, which was very clear. Since we were kids, he always told us what his mission was, which was to teach his principles and systems of personal and business success so that all the people he touched could live happy, successful lives.

It’s not just about business success and making a lot of money. It’s what do you want out of your personal life, and how is this business going to help you with that? Working full-time with him for one semester, I learned more than I could have ever learned at school.

Q. What franchise did you work with originally?

It was Rainbow International, our flagship brand. Today it’s a restoration and cleaning company.

Q. How did you decide which opportunity to pursue?

When I worked with my father side-by-side during that semester, I was involved in the real estate division. I was doing stuff with the franchise companies. I was teaching new franchisees how to telemarket. And I traveled the world with my father being an ambassador for the company. He was doing that on purpose. He wanted me to know all of the things he knew.

Then by the mid ’80s, I was running the real estate company. I had a team of 28 people and ran about a million square feet of real estate, and still worked closely with him in the franchising part of the business.

I got involved in franchise sales. I generated a lot of leads. I was the top salesperson in ’83. My father kept me by his side and let me have the freedom to run the real estate division. At the same time, I traveled a lot with him. I loved learning and being part of that. Some of my other siblings weren’t as interested. They preferred to stay home. I spent a lot of time with him.

We went public in ’93. I was on the board of the public company. He started to have me sell off the real estate. He said, “I really need you full-time on the franchise side. Let’s get the real estate sold.” He died of a heart attack at the age of 60 in 1994, a year after taking the company public.

Q. Did you step in right away then?

Well, I was still selling the real estate division off, and we were building properties in the Cayman Islands. Seven Mile Shops was a property we owned there. I was responsible for leasing it. It was a new business we were building. I wasn’t the right person at the time to step into the CEO-president role.

A brother-in-law of mine who had been in the business since he was 16 really knew the franchise business and the development side better than I did, and he stepped into that role with the support of my sister, me, and a handful of professional management team members that my dad had surrounded himself with. He was very entrepreneurial.

After doing that for four years, I was VP of operations. The board knew it was time for a change. The president at the time was great, but he was a real franchise developer, not the best guy to do the day-to-day business.

They did a little shifting and asked if I would be willing to come in as the acting president and CEO. I was 35 at the time, and I knew there was some risk with the shareholders putting me in charge. I accepted the position of acting president, and got some push-back from some top franchisees that I wasn’t the right person for the job. I said, “Look, I get it. I’m not a plumber. But I don’t need to be. I’m the customer. Who better to run this business than the customer who understands what we should be doing for them?”

I said, “Give me six months, and if I don’t prove myself, I’ll be the first one to step aside and say find someone else.” In six months, the one guy who kind of led the bandwagon saying she’s not the best person became my biggest cheerleader.

Q. How many brands did you have?

We had six at the time. Today we have seven brands, and a software company. We have a buying group which is a wholly owned subsidiary. And we have handful of company-owned stores.

Q. How do you look for opportunities for those brands to expand?

First of all, it goes back to our mission. We’re very clear on how we can help our franchisees achieve the things they want in life, and we make the franchise the vehicle to help them do that. We attract team members who care about the franchisee’s personal success as much as their business success. It goes hand in hand. It’s organic.

Q. Can you give us some details about the investments you’ve made in training?

When you think about the business we’re in, the competency to train is a constant. You have to keep training the franchisees to create success for them. It’s such a big part of what we do. For most of our brands, it’s teaching the business side of the business. We have a lot synergies. We have seven different brands, so we can pool the best of all those brands and bring it into one training program.

We have a training facility in Waco where we do all of our core training. I teach the very first class to all the new franchisees. All of my key team members usually teach a class the first couple days of training. We pool the talent we have, and we can do the same classes for all seven brands, and they then break out to specific things.

Q. What matrixes do you use to measure performance?

The most important matrix is the net promoter score. We have a wonderful system that we have automated where we do the follow-up with the end-user customer on behalf of the franchisee. We will make the call to the customer after the service provider has been there to find out how the service was. It’s a 30-second survey. The most important question is “Would you refer us to a friend or family member?”

The scores range from negative 100 to positive 100. Our franchisees on average score a 74. This is home service. It’s kind of like paying someone to fix your car. Our franchisees are doing a great job taking care of the customer. Some companies are higher, but the average is 74.

Q. Do you put rewards or incentives in place for the franchisees?

You bet. We have what we call our Top Gun club. It represents the franchisees that not only do the most in revenue but fit a handful of criteria: profitability, leadership, and helping other franchisees grow their businesses. There are individual awards too. If you’re awesome at net promoter score or a team member, we will highlight them. The recognition from corporate headquarters means a lot to our franchisees.

How to reach: The Dwyer Group Inc., (800) 490-7501, www.dwyergroup.com

Takeaways

Learn all aspects of your business.

Pool talent to cross-train.

Use surveys to gauge performance.

The Dwyer-Owens File

Dina Dwyer-Owens

Chairwoman and CEO

The Dwyer Group Inc.

Education: Baylor University

Dwyer-Owens on communication: I’m taking communicating to a new level now. It’s called connection. It’s one thing to communicate, but it’s another to connect with your franchisees. We have a lot of methods of doing that. The most important method is we have franchise consultants who are really responsible for helping you grow your business and achieve your personal dreams.

Dwyer-Owens on training: We have lots of training events. There’s a lot of best-practice sharing. We have a leadership summit where we go away for four days every year. We bring the top folks from all seven brands. We have the best of the best, who then go back and educate the rest of the franchise family on what we’re doing, why you need to be involved in it, and how it’s going to make a difference in your business.

Dwyer-Owens on change: A couple of years ago, we found our franchise development was slipping. We weren’t keeping pace with new franchise units. We were not hitting the numbers that we were accustomed to hitting. So we totally re-engineered our franchise sales process. We brought people in from the outside who had expertise in managing complex sales, and we totally changed our process. We really had to shake it up, and we shook up the whole franchise development team. And we have already seen great results.

Dwyer-Owens on innovation: I sometimes drive people crazy, I think, because I’m so open to new ideas and innovation that sometimes they have to tell me to wait — aren’t we doing enough already? But I love the whole creative side of the business and doing things differently. It’s really my team that innovates. I may come up with an idea or two, but the team really makes things happen.

Published in Dallas

 

If there is one thing that doesn’t change much in good times or bad times, it’s alcohol consumption. Phil Terry knows that fact pretty well.

“Demographically over the years you can see that it’s pretty consistent,” says Terry, CEO of Monarch Beverage Co. Inc. “The economy affects it some, but it’s not like new car sales or home sales where a slight turn in the economy can have a devastating effect on demand. Our demand is pretty consistent; good times don’t spike and bad times don’t depress it that much.”

So why would Monarch, a beverage seller who does $275 million in business a year, step out of the box where its bread and butter lives and develop a non-alcoholic energy drink? Why bother to spend precious time and resources on something so peripheral?

The answers to those questions lie partially in a venture the company started a few years prior to the energy drink experience. A sales manager who was a real fan of exotic beers and the new trend of microbreweries suggested that the company start to focus on those products.

“He said we ought to pay some attention to these people because it is not like our mainstream brands,” Terry says. “There is not a huge demand for it. Maybe this was a way for us to distinguish ourselves from our competitors.”

That was the reason Monarch committed some resources to this, and launched its World Class Beer division.

“It has grown and worked out very well,” Terry says. “We were a little bit ahead of the wave on that. We created a network of other wholesalers that creates sales divisions focused on microbreweries and new and exciting beers.”

Meanwhile, back to the energy drink story.

“One of us had an idea that maybe we should get into the energy drink business,” Terry says. “We developed a product and spent some time and money formulating and getting it produced and putting graphics on it — and we still have a lot of that in the warehouse! It’s not doing too well.

“And the one of us who came up with that idea was me,” Terry says. “I’ve been reminded a few times that that wasn’t our finest move!”

Here is what could have gone better with the energy drink and how Terry keeps listening for whispers of innovation in an industry in which product demand is about as steady as a rock.

Try your best idea — and learn

There just isn’t a crystal ball that gives a clear picture of what’s ahead for a business. So you use your data, your gut feeling, and you try something new. As one investor is fond of saying, if you start with nothing and you fail, you haven’t lost anything. Even looking at the past doesn’t help a whole lot to explain why some things succeed and others flop.

“When I look back over the years at things that worked right or didn’t work right, many times the successes are due to serendipity rather than smart planning,” Terry says. “You try to plan, you try to have a vision for what is going to be the next thing, but the future is so unknown. It’s just a big challenge figuring out what is next and what you have to do to keep the business viable and committed and customers happy. It’s not easy.”

Focus groups and market tests are often prerequisites when a new product is launched because a great product alone isn’t enough. It has to cause excitement. Terry can attest to that about Etomic, his energy drink.

“It’s good stuff; all the blind taste tests that we did show that everybody loves it,” he says about Etomic. It was another aspect of the launch effort that caused serious problems.

“It was just the marketing,” Terry says. “Marketing means so much on how consumer products do. We just weren’t experienced with that, and we are still learning.”

Once Etomic was launched, it didn’t sell well. Nevertheless, Terry didn’t give up on the energy drink.

“We thought it would shoot off the shelf; it’s a good product,” he says. “But energy drinks are just marketed a whole lot different than alcohol is. “That’s an area, which we weren’t accustomed with. Alcohol has so many rules and regulations around it; the law prescribes what you can and can’t do.

“But with energy drinks, going in and buying shelf space is a common practice. We didn’t budget anything to buy shelf space. There are some barriers to launching a new product that we just weren’t aware of. Bigger companies pay for ideal locations.

“We haven’t given up on that drink; there may be something there, but in terms of innovation, that is one that didn’t work. We are learning, and we may get that right.”

You needn’t break the bank

Capitalizing on an innovative idea needn’t be expensive. The research and testing on the Etomic energy drink, let alone the costs of developing it, weren’t free, but when it comes to using social media, the cost is next to nothing and the benefits immeasurable.

When Monarch Beverage launched its World Class Beer division, it was a natural next step to use Twitter to help it gain a following.

“We have a free World Class Beer Craft Beer Locator iPhone app and Twitter accounts that tweet things like, ‘This account has a keg of a microbrewery’s Gumballhead and they’re going to tap it at 7 o’clock tonight,’ Terry says. “So we spread the word through social media, and people show up!”

Another low-cost idea that is bringing results at Monarch Beverage involves beverages — that’s right, alcoholic beverages.

Terry and his team saw a trend with his 650 employees having some increases in driving under the influence charges. Of course, it was off-the-job incidents, but Terry was committed to do something.

“Our creative department came up with an idea for a campaign that we run every major holiday called Have a Plan,” he says. “The campaign is to remind people that you need to plan your celebrations, you need to do it responsibly and in moderation, and as a result of that, we went from six to nine cases a year to two once we instituted this.

“We have a lot of innovations that we are proud of but that is one in which I think we can see a real impact on our fellow employees.”

Get the best rate of return

While you are looking for other innovative ways to control costs, and you plan on spending some money — to make more money — you naturally evaluate the ideas as to which would provide the highest rate of return.

Terry and his team launched a clinic that he estimates for every dollar spent returns $2.

“Our costs to insure the health of our employees were going double-digit every year,” Terry says. “We tried all the things people do to try to contain that: self-insure, use third-party providers, negotiate fees.”

He wasn’t getting the results he wanted.

“So a senior vice president came up with this idea for a health clinic,” he says. “The idea was to get more involved in the health of our employees. I thought it was the craziest thing that I had ever heard. We’re in the beer business, not the hospital business.”

The clinic started small, being staffed by a part-time physician’s assistant a few days a week. It has grown to the point now where there is a full-time doctor, full-time physician’s assistant, part-time physical therapist and a medical technician. It offers annual physicals for all employees, and an annual health plan for each that is designed by medical professionals.

“The health plan each year focuses on three behaviors: smoking, diet and exercise,” Terry says. “It focuses on those because we know that those are the three behaviors that we can affect. We can improve health and lower claims. And it’s been working.”

Employees rank the clinic as the most important benefit they have working for Monarch Beverage.

“We survey our employees every year,” he says. “We ask of them of their benefits, rank them 1 through 50, and the clinic always comes up No. 1. So it is not just that it is doing good things for our bottom line; it’s doing great things for relationships among all of us who work here.”

Even workers’ compensation claims can decrease, thanks to the efforts such as the clinic.

“Those claims have come down significantly over the years because we manage that in-house,” Terry says. “People are healthier, we are having fewer claims than with traditional health insurance and our workers’ comp costs have gone down.

“We are almost to the point of being an evangelist for the stuff. I do wring my hands about what affordable health care is going to do for us long-term, but whether this model is still going to work, but we are committed to it. The government would have to change the economics of all this pretty drastically for us to move out of this.”

How to reach: Monarch Beverage Co. Inc., www.monarch-beverage.com or (800) 382-9851.

 

Takeaways

Try your best idea — and learn.

You don’t have to spend aggressively.

Get the best rate of return you can.

 

The Terry File

Phil Terry

CEO

Monarch Beverage Co. Inc.

Born: Indianapolis.

Education: I went to undergraduate at Indiana University. I am a recovering lawyer. … I went to the law school at the IU law school. So I am a Hoosier from start to finish.

What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?

I worked at a gasoline station pumping gas in high school, a discount gasoline station called Payless. I learned the value of an education. It wasn’t physically demanding work, but I could tell it was not something I wanted to do my whole life. And that if I wanted more, I needed to be educated.

Who do you admire most in business?

I would say Steve Jobs, in terms of being an innovator and being able to help people become the most productive, to create an organization that everyone can be proud of.

What was the best business advice you ever received?

I read this in a Jim Collins book, and it was essentially, ‘Don’t bet the farm.’ The way he put it was, ‘Fire bullets before you shoot cannons.’ Don’t bet so much on an innovation or a project that you jeopardize the company. Don’t put yourself in a position where the innovation has to succeed or you create difficulties for you generally. That’s what we’ve been following. We try to be measured on what we do and not get overexuberant about trying to figure out how to find the next big thing.

What is your definition of business success?

Whatever your mission is, serve that mission, and that mission does not include making money. We don’t judge success here by how much money we are making. We believe that if we have correctly identified a valuable social function, and we’ve served that social function well, we will succeed and we will make money. Our definition of success is accomplishing the mission. Monarch Beverage’s reason for being is to sufficiently provide an ever-escalating standard of service to its customers and to responsibly enhance demand for its products. In other words, serve the customer, create demand for your product. That’s why we’re here. And if we do those things well, we will make money. If we don’t do then, well, we won’t.

 

Published in Indianapolis

June Ressler was looking over the financials of her company a few years ago that had grown past $20 million in revenue, and she was more than a little shocked. The workforce solution company that she founded in 1996, Cenergy International, didn’t have enough money to meet its payroll.

The recession hadn’t hit yet, there was no apparent theft under way, and no one had hacked into her accounts. And frankly, it wasn’t the first time the problem had occurred.

“We would absolutely run out of money,” says Ressler, president and CEO. “Our bread and butter is making our payroll and making sure that we make it every week. If any of our consultants ever thought that their paycheck wasn't going to be good, they absolutely would go join our competitor.”

It all came down to her bank’s position on her company’s line of credit. The situation was so tight that Ressler had to personally pay for the wages at times.

“There were some days, I would have to take money out of my personal savings account to be able to make payroll,” she says. “I finally was able to figure out that I needed the ability to have a relationship with a banker who you can call on Friday afternoon and say, ‘Hey, I am going to bump up against my line of credit. I’ll come in Monday, and we’ll negotiate a higher limit. And they’ll say, ‘That's fine, I am going to make sure that we take the cap off and you go for it,’ you know?

“That’s instead of a banker saying, ‘Oh, I'm not going to allow that, and you have to stop growing.’”

Ressler decided that it wasn’t the circumstances that were causing the wrinkles in her bank books but the size of the bank. She was thinking anyway of expanding overseas and that would involve money exchange and other matters. She knew she needed a larger bank — and now.

“I was originally with a regional bank,” she says. “So I found a larger bank. I just happened to find a great team that is really there for me and very supportive.”

Call it a cash flow problem, liquidity drought, temporary problem or whatever, but it has to be reckoned with because it’s just one of many growing pains companies in the energy growth center of Houston may have been experiencing.

“We just continue to grow like crazy and I guess for me, understanding what the next level is when you start to have a little bit of growing pains,” Ressler says.

Incidentally, she paid herself back.

Here’s how Ressler, a self-taught entrepreneur who has law and bachelor of fine arts degrees, handles company growing pains and drives her company beyond $250 million in annual revenue.

Give credit to the credit line

Rapid growth will almost always trigger growing pains. It may well depend on how you look at the bigger picture that influences how much those pains hurt.

Ressler started her staffing company in her own home office in New Orleans with one consultant. Some dramatic growth occurred after a series of circumstances including Hurricane Katrina when she doubled her employees from 50 to 100.

Once Ressler moved to Houston and drilled down into the foundation of standard operating procedures at her company, she understood what was going on.

“The way our business is, we get invoices from our consultants, and we pay them within five days,” she says. “We then invoice our client, and we don't get paid, in the best terms, for 30 days.”

The longer the time frame stretches the more problems it can cause.

“If there are issues with the invoice, or whatever, sometimes it becomes 45 days, sometimes 60 days — so you can see we need our line of credit,” she says.

“Even in 2009 we grew by 5 percent when everybody else was hurting. Things were hot, so we were growing all the time and when we've got these explosive years where we are growing by 30 and 40 percent, we really need that line of credit because we are paying people like crazy.”

Ressler says it is never a cash flow problem as long as your line of credit stays out in front of you. With a satisfactory line of credit from your bank, you can meet your payroll and keep your employees from deserting you.

Cenergy now has grown to 1,400 consultants, and operations are managed by an office staff of 65.

See the forest

Once a new bank starts to plug the hole in the payroll dike, the spotlight will then turn to your staff levels. Do you need more employees? More managers? Where? How many?

“I have to sit back and say, ‘OK, I think I need to hire a manager for this area,’” Ressler says. “It is just kind of sitting back and thinking about what do we need for the next couple of years, you know?”

The scent of midnight oil burning starts you thinking about workforce levels.

“I worry because when I am in my Houston office, and I see some of my staff staying until seven and eight at night, that is not alright with me either. So then I’ll say to myself, ‘OK. We have a lot of people staying late now; I think I need to hire another manager.”

Ressler anticipated a lot of growth for a couple of years and assembled her managers to discuss solutions.

“I said, ‘I need you guys to make sure all of your staff and your teams are all well-oiled machines because, hey, hold on to your hats! I think we are going to have a couple of good years of growth here, and we can't have holes — we can't have balls being dropped,’” she says.

Ressler and her team devised an equation that they use to calculate staff levels.

“We do have kind of a rule of thumb, depending on the different areas — if we have grown by so many consultants, then we know we need to add X amount of new invoice people and additional recruiters — it all depends upon the opportunities that we are getting.”

Hovering overhead, however, is the matter of profit margins. You have to take that into account because it differs from industry to industry. Those industries that operate on volume have other concerns than those that don’t when it comes to adding personnel.

“Because we are a provider of personnel to the oil folks, and there are lots of competitors out there, when we are negotiating our global contracts, our profit margin is based on volume,” Ressler says. “It is not a typical profit margin as it would be in other industries. It is a very small profit margin. So as a result, we have to run lean, very lean.”

That means no padding the payroll. Every staff addition has to be justified, even more so in a lean operation.

“What we kind of do here is, ‘Pile on the work until there is enough to hire three more people and then hire one,’” she says.

Be honest and transparent

Every company has its own take on how to hire the best people. Ressler learned early that she couldn’t be involved in the hiring process because it may be tough to deal with and understand people — and that set the pace for the process.

“I learned early on that I am not a great person to hire people because I am the type of person that ... I just love everybody I meet,” she says. “I find something great about everyone, and then I'll hire the first person.”

Ressler delegated the hiring of her office to a lot of others, specifically the HR team and managers.

“We've got now a great thing where we have different levels of interviewing to make sure that the person who is being interviewed is touched by different managers on our team,” she says. “We get feedback from all sorts of levels before we actually hire. Because you think that a person is good doesn't mean they are good.”

Transparency is of immeasurable value if you think your company differs from the average one. Ressler says candidates are told that they should be ready for something of a maverick.

“It's a very tough thing to get the right people on your team to fit our type of culture,” she says. “Our company culture is very different from a lot of companies because we've got to run lean, and we are more like a renegade company where you might be hired to do a certain job, but you're not going to get a lot of training because nobody really has time to train you.

“You are expected to come in and run with the ball. Also, you might end up having to do things that you didn't early anticipate because somebody else might have left and that portion of their work might be swinging over to be under you. That's just how we are.”

Ressler says, nevertheless, working for a maverick company in growth mode is kind of exciting.

“Our office… I love all people who work here,” she says. “We have a close-knit kind of family atmosphere. Sometimes it is hard to make a decision to let somebody go because it is not that we don't like them as a person but everybody here is so wonderful — but it has got to be business. If they are not performing the job we need them to perform; you can't keep them just because they are really nice. It is a hard lesson for me and my managers to continue to learn. But the short learning curve can give you a quick look if the person is going to work out or not.”

How to reach: Cenergy International, (713) 965-6200 or www.cenergyintl.com

Takeaways

Find a solution to banking woes.

See the forest, not just the trees.

Be honest and transparent when hiring.

The Ressler File

June Ressler

Founder, CEO and president

Cenergy International

Born: Pittsburgh.

Education: I went to the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford so I have a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. Then I went to Pitt law school so I have a JD from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

What was your first job and what might you have learned from it?

I came out of art school and was lucky enough at the time to get a job as an art teacher in Pittsburgh. I really learned a lot then. I really didn't know myself at the time. I had no idea that I was a serial entrepreneur. So I started my job as an art teacher and immediately hated it. I would find myself crying on Sunday nights because I was so bad. Then it occurred to me that it was because I was in a box. As a teacher, I knew exactly in five years how much money I was going to make, when I was going to have a lunch, what my schedule is going to be, and that was way too confining for me. But I stuck with it for four years, and learned that I need to be able to do something that allows me to have my freedom and kind of run with it. So after that, I bought a gourmet food store and ran that for a while. That was the beginning of my entrepreneurship, and I realized then that I could never work for somebody again.

What was the best business advice you ever received?

Every bit of business advice that I received has been good. I evaluate it all. I use what I can. It's pretty crazy. I really never had a mentor. It's funny because I really haven't worked for anybody. I never worked in the corporate environment. My father was a dentist. My mother ran his office, and maybe I grew up seeing how they were a well-oiled machine and it worked great for them. Maybe I inherited some of that from my mother but maybe it is being a woman; I am kind of under the radar.

Who do you admire in business?

There are a lot of very good business people out there that I admire but the thing that I get disgusted with is the competitiveness and the cutthroat nature of business. What I really admire are the business people that I run into who are more concerned about their environment and their staff and taking care of their people because I know whenever you take care of your people, the money follows anyway. I enjoy sharing stories about people that are environmentally safe, that encourage staff to be extremely safe and giving perks to staff and treating them the way they want to be treated is essential.

Ressler on what’s ahead for Houston employment:

I think a lot of our clients are getting smart and realizing that there is a lack of expertise. Clients are creating a lot of training grounds now where they are bringing people in that are just graduating and getting them out and training them so that they can learn quicker and become the types of people that they need a job, which is a great thing to see. I know a lot of our clients are just hovering over the engineering schools, waiting for these young engineers to come out and just get them started. To be graduating with an engineering degree right now is an amazing thing to be. You’re in high demand.

 

 

Published in Houston

When Bobby Harris launched an effort to bring management closer to the employees at his company BlueGrace Logistics LLC, he really wanted it to be effective. He felt the executives were getting a bit out of touch with the rank and file. So he started a “cubicle swap.” For a couple of weeks, executives moved their offices to cubicles and the dispossessed workers took over the executives’ offices. 

It worked like a charm. It provided the executive team and employees to learn about each other on a personal level, what they liked and didn’t like, and how efficiently the operations were running.

And in at least in the case of one high-profile executive (Harris) case, it got to be humorous.

“I had the IT maintenance guy take my office,” Harris says. “He loved it! It's kind of funny because he started playing the role, and he started wearing a shirt that said, ‘I am the CEO. Shut up!’ He got into character.”

While there were some funny moments, Harris was serious about the lesson he wanted to teach.

“I had been in a meeting, and I was listening to a lot of our executives talk about the things going on below them. I just thought it was interesting — the executives really didn’t know what was going on below their level. We were making policy about people who are the life of our company. We needed to make sure that someone, like their direct supervisor, knows what they were doing.”

As the cubicle swap was underway, the employees got to interact more with the executives and hear what was going on. Another thing that occurred was that the productivity level went up.

“It's kind of like if you've ever heard of the Hawthorne Effect: the more visible management is, the better the production from employees,” Harris says. “So that was a real positive. There was a lot of serendipity to whole project, and that is why we continue to do it.”

But most of all, it demonstrates how Harris is a big believer in his employees. Here’s how that concern constantly brings dividends to the $100+ million freight and logistics company with 135 employees. BlueGrace has grown by 7,378 percent in revenue from 2009-2011. And to top it off, it’s recognized as the 20th fastest growing company in the United States by Inc. magazine.

Invest at every level of employees

If you want to bat a thousand in terms of hiring and grooming the best talent, invest in your people at every level, Harris says. And there is no better time to start than at the beginning.

“When we hire people, one of the qualities we look for is if they are very sensitive and empathetic because our motto is we don't care how much you know until we know how much you care,” Harris says. “If you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers and they will also take care of people in general.”

To help support those ends, Harris and his team has set up a mentoring program for employees during their first six months with the company.

“It's for every employee, and we believe that if you are going to flatter us enough to choose your career to be here, we are going to invest in you,” he says.

The mentors are hand-picked by Harris and are people who he knows are very social, who understand the policies, are very professional, and are influential people in the company who will act as their proponent.

“It does two things,” he says. “There is serendipity to it for the people coming in. But where I've seen a lot of value is with the mentors. They love it; people like helping people. They are very flattered, they take you very seriously.

“Now I have a lot of people signing up saying, ‘Hey, I want to be a mentor.’”

While the role does not include a bonus, there is a benefit for the mentor.

“The mentors are people who want upward mobility so they see this as a way to the next level,” Harris says. “And their aspirations are well taken care of.”

Social media use reaps rewards

The more you can get inside an employee’s head, the more you can understand what motivates them. While Harris’ cubicle swap may have been a little more beneficial for executives than employees, he also uses another method that benefits both, but in a different vein, and it’s a big tool as a foundation for collaboration.

“The single best thing for us has been social media, specifically Twitter,” he says. “We have an open social media policy. For me, it is really important because again, I keep going back to making sure I offer the most for employees. It's very hard to get a job here. You have to take a lot of tests, you have to be the cream of the crop, but when you get here, I don't ever want to lose you.”

Harris feels that to keep workers motivated — and give that discretionary effort — social media such as Twitter brings big dividends.

“Once you get past 20 employees, you have the ability to know a little bit about your people in a real quick space of time,” he says. “So I can just open my phone, and in three minutes I can find out that Mary's son hit a home run last night in baseball.

“And conversely, they can see me: ‘Old Bob is not in; he's in Chicago.’ I can tell them about that restaurant I went to.”

With the knowledge about some aspects of a fellow worker’s personal life, it builds bridges on likes and dislikes, and improves the playing field for collaboration on business projects. But nevertheless, some people may think that it's unproductive.

“I would challenge them tooth and nail that the culture that we breathe makes us extremely hard-working,” Harris says. “The employees love the freedom aspect of the autonomy and the trust, and further, as far as a recruiting tool for people who have degrees or real good pedigrees, this is what they want. They love that kind of ability to do that. It has created a lot of bonds here.”

Problems with the use of social media can be avoided to a large extent if you first explain to employees how you hope they use it, Harris says.

“What I can do is let them know that we see what you are doing, and I think that for that reason alone, it really mitigates that kind of exposure to begin with. There's just so much positive going on and a lot of times, it has nothing to do with business.

“We don't dictate what they are supposed to tweet, but we do train them; we tell them how it works and how to be effective. Then we endorse and support it.”

Till the fertile ground

Once you support collaboration through a process such as social media, it behooves you to keep the ball rolling — a spinoff could grow in the fertile ground.

That’s what happened at BlueGrace. Its support of social media for employees led to an executive forum, in which employees meet with executives to have an old-fashioned “bull session.” Groups of four employees who have at least six-months’ service meet with executives once a week or every two weeks for 30-45 minutes.

“I have a group of my own and it’s composed of randomly picked employees,” Harris says. “We try to get people who aren't directly involved with the same department so it’s a mix.

“We just talk about anything,” Harris says. “It could be something really important that's going on in their life; it could be something like they had a great idea in the business place, it could be positive or negative, anything they want to talk about.

“They connect because it comes across like a little family. They feel very connected in the place. They also get a voice then. That helps us to get a lot of the best ideas that they have.”

It is a time commitment, however, but not one that can’t be worked into your schedule, Harris says.

“It is one thing for people to say it, yeah, you've got to listen to the employees, but everybody is busy,” he says. “Everybody is so busy; it is not just in my industry. You have to find an effective process and grind it out, find a way to make sure that you are touching those people.

“No matter how fast they're going, no matter how fast people are coming on, there are several ways of doing it. Those practices we found very effective, and it makes for a lot of happy people.”

How to reach: BlueGrace Logistics, (800) 697-4477 or www.bluegracelogistics.com

Takeaways

Invest in employees at every level.

Social media utilization reaps rewards.

Till the fertile ground.

The Harris File

Bobby Harris

Founder and CEO

BlueGrace Logistics

Born: I came to Florida in 1982 when I was eight years old, so I am more of a native of Florida. I was a military brat. I was born in England at a military base northwest of London. My father was in the Air Force.

Education: I have a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Florida, which I just got two years ago. I went back to school. It was a lot of fun. Industrial psychology was one of those things that kind of intrigued me enough.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

My first real job was at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Oh yes. I did various things. I worked the cookline I was like a little waiter, I would do maintenance, whatever they needed me to do. If I learned anything, I guess at any level, professionalism reigns supreme. I don't care if you're an attorney, and I guess it's a little bit of my father raising me, I always made sure that my uniform looked a little bit nicer than everybody's else's, and I think that is one of the reasons why I was able to ... It was Chuck E. Cheese’s, and I was treated well and got more hours than others. That still holds true today, and it just amazes me what a professional image does. And the other thing I would say was I learned to trust people. I've always said that from beginning the quicker you trust people, the easier your job will be and the quicker you will excel at it.

Who do you admire in business?

I admire Richard Branson. His genuineness shows through. His philanthropy matches. I think he's done everything. He has been extremely successful and innovative. He has given back so much and yet he's had so much fun doing it. This guy has a ball. He's very easy to gravitate to.

What is the best business advice you ever received?

My mentor was Keith Huggins. He told me a little knowledge is dangerous. As a CEO, you're not going to understand everything that people do — to make assumptions off a little bit of knowledge is a very, very dangerous thing. If I understand something from soup to nuts and it's like in my expertise, I will have high level of conviction. But knowing something a little bit is far worse than not knowing it at all sometimes. You have to be really careful if you know little bit. I must use that quote every three days. For myself, my personal life, you never have the whole story if you don’t understand it from inside and out.

What is your definition of business success?

My definition would be wanting to come from work every day in a bad way while making sure that all your success is shared with your team, your vendors and your customers. My biggest thing is I don't want to be this really successful person alone on top of a mountain. As I get more successful, the people with me should get more successful too. We have such strong friendships. Those are the people who will go to war with you. I've never lost anybody in my leadership team, and it's a pretty big leadership team, 14 or 15 people, so it's like the Rolling Stones — we never want to break up. We always want to have this crew because it's effective. And it's a heck of a lot of fun. Business success starts with happiness. It really does.

 

Published in Florida

Amy Schultz Clubbs pays her employees hourly wages to volunteer at least 16 hours per year as a way of giving back — and doesn't have to look far to see proof that the volunteering pays big dividends. Actually, positive signs can happen at any time, nearly anywhere.

“We had a couple of individuals who through their volunteering with the Meals on Wheels program recently were able to help save a woman’s life when they went to the home,” she says. “The individual had fallen and couldn’t answer the door; they were able to get help and likely saved her life.”

The victim was afraid help never would arrive as she was lying on the floor after the fall. She later told them she was told she had suffered a mini-stroke. She couldn’t get up, and was frustrated, crying and scared.

Two provider relations representatives with Molina Healthcare who deliver meals in the Zanesville area knew something was wrong when the resident didn’t answer the door and her dog kept barking and tugging at the front window curtains. They called 911.

A firefighter was able to gain entry through a window. The resident was hospitalized but has since recovered. She has expressed her gratitude to the two volunteers and has even invited them into her home regularly, so they all could get to know each other better.

“It’s rewarding because you give back to the community,” one of the Molina employees said.

Clubbs agrees wholeheartedly. In fact, it’s one method that she believes is particularly successful with motivating Molina employees through its rapid growth since it was founded in 2006.

When she signed on with Molina Healthcare in 2007 as its chief financial officer when the corporation was opening an Ohio division, she moved quickly through the ranks to COO and to her current role because of the rapid growth of the provider of managed care services to Ohioans on Medicare and/or Medicaid. Molina Healthcare has become Ohio’s second largest care coordination plan with 240,000 members, and now has 460 employees and more than $1 billion in revenue a year — and expects to hire 225 more next year.

Here’s Clubbs’ prescription to deal with rapid growth and keep employees engaged to the fullest.

Track the life cycle

Many companies were founded by an individual who was passionate about a particular product or service and who wanted reach as many people as possible to tell them about it and make them a customer. Just as it was with founder Dr. C. David Molina and offering affordable, quality medical care for the needy. Once that was established, it was logical step to also offer a health care plan exclusively for government-sponsored health care programs for low-income families and individuals.

So the mission was clear from the beginning for Dr. Molina and it was just as clear to Clubbs when she became CEO a few years ago. Clubbs and her team took an empirical look at the entire process, to see if Molina Healthcare of Ohio was operating true to the corporate mission.

“We kind of started looking at what is the life cycle of the member,” she says. “Where does it start? We followed that through the entire organization — what does the life cycle through our organization look like?”

By following the life cycle, they were able to make sure that the right process and infrastructure was in place every step of the way to navigate the member through the organization.

At every point in the process, it is necessary to keep the focus on the relationship that is being developed.

“Molina doesn’t spend a large amount of money on commercials and billboard advertising because we really rely on the relationships that we develop with our community partners and with their provider partners as well really to educate potential members about what their health care options are,” Clubbs says.

The examination of the life cycle showed the depth of engagement employees will need to demonstrate — and the importance of how critical it is to maintain that engagement.

“The people who work for us are really passionate about what they are doing and the individuals we are providing services to, and so you need to really look to keep that passion in employees throughout the year,” she says.

“It was just getting the right people in the right seats of the organization, and really developing people from what started out as building infrastructure to moving toward more of an operations life cycle of the company, and really keeping people engaged in the organization as you do that,” Clubbs says.

As the Ohio division of a larger corporation, the entity had a template of sorts to follow when it was first started, but there was also a provision to adapt as needed.

“A lot of it we developed from scratch, and a lot of it we were able to leverage,” Clubbs says. “With building relationships, we were definitely able to leverage best practices from our other states — and the Molina story as well. The company has been around for more than 30 years.”

“We still run clinics today in many of our states, and are able to really leverage that history as we are building that relationship here locally as well,” Clubbs says.

Find the differentiator

Examining the role that employee engagement plays is critical in finding out what separates the winners from the also-rans.

“I believe it is our differentiator, and I really think it is how we have been successful in keeping our employees so engaged and keeping morale up while we have been growing so quickly over these last several years,” Clubbs says. “I definitely think it is a key. We really try to model that engagement at all levels of the organization here.”

Among the methods beyond the minimum that are frequently used by businesses to keep employee engagement high is the support of volunteerism. Molina Healthcare has put it in writing.

“Our volunteer time-off policy says we will pay people for a set number of hours every year when they volunteer in the community,” she says. “And once they do that, even though you are only paying for a set amount of time, people get more engaged and are more likely to go out and do it on their own as well.”

The company also has an employee activity committee that helps coordinate the volunteer opportunities for the associates. At least quarterly, the committee will have an employee appreciation event as well where the members show how much the company appreciates employees.

“We encourage people to not only volunteer their time but to give back through personal donations either monetary or things like having a personal care items drive for the food bank,” Clubbs says.

She also encourages her leadership team to contribute by being board members on community organizations as she herself serves on several boards.

“It’s another way that we kind of demonstrate our commitment to the community, that they are serving as well.”

Find a need and focus on it

If your company examines your flow life cycle, and you find a particular need that can be met that with some attention and focus, it can be a win-win for you and customers.

Clubbs and her team capitalized on what was common knowledge about the population it served: It was more vulnerable than others that may be served by a commercial plan. Members may have significant health problems as well as financial concerns.

Accordingly, if Molina could focus on care coordination, it would be a plus. Communicating with some of its members through outreach builds the relationship to a new level.

“We have community health workers who actually go out into the community,” she says. “They will go visit members in their homes to do health care assessments and things of that nature and to bring services to members in their home or other places of service, where they might not be able to get out and get those services as readily on their own.”

The company activity team and management receive sensitivity training that gives some background about common situations they may find, and it can help to solidify relationships. One of the big things they experience is the Beyond the Freeway Tour.

“They will take a group on the bus and take you around the local community, through a homeless shelter, through a food bank, through other places where the individuals that we are serving or are also receiving services, so that you can have that sensitivity to what a day in the life of one of our members is really like out there.”

Such as experience may heighten an associate to listen more closely and visualize what the member is going through as the member talks about concerns.

“I think a lot of times words are not exactly what the problem is or what the issue is, so really being able to listen and decipher between what someone is saying and what the issue really is and to make sure that you are addressing it and resolving it is really key to any success,” Clubbs says.

How to reach: Molina Healthcare of Ohio, (800) 642-4168 or www.molinahealthcare.com

Takeaways

Track the life cycle of the product or service

Find the differentiator from your competition

Look for a need and focus on it

The Clubbs File

Amy Schultz Clubbs

plant president

Molina Healthcare of Ohio

Born: Lawrence, Kansas.

Education: I went to Ohio University and received a bachelor of arts in business administration, majoring in finance.

What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?

My first job was serving soft ice cream at a Dairy Shed. I think what I learned from it was a lot of patience and customer focus. It was in Circleville, Ohio.

What was the best business advice you ever received?

The best advice I ever received was to ask for forgiveness, not permission. That honestly has helped me over the years of my career. It basically means, ‘Just do it.’ If you think it is the right thing to do, go ahead and do it. Don’t wait and ask somebody if it is OK to do. If it ends up being wrong afterward, then you can ask for forgiveness. But it is better to just go ahead and do it if you think it’s the right thing to do. That came from my regional vice president who preceded me as plant president, Kathie Mancini.

Who do you admire in business?

I mostly admire people who are really following their passion, their heart and what they do in the business world. There are a lot of women who I work with and for right now. Five of my directors are women, and if you look up verticals for whom I report to, the next three layers above me are all women. Every one of them is so passionate about what we’re doing here at Molina. They are smart and strategic thinkers. They are doers and they make things happen. So I love that. And I think that people who do follow their passion are able to have a bigger impact on an organization and still be able to make things happen. That’s what I admire. I’m just surrounded by them here.

What is your definition of business success?

I think in general, business success is really being able to grow a business profitably while achieving some sense of the greater good of the community. With Molina, our ability to improve health outcomes for the individuals to whom we are providing services to is for the greater good of the community. At Molina it is providing high-quality care to improve health outcomes in a manner that is cost-effective.

Published in Columbus

 

Mike Rotondo joined Tropical Smoothie Cafe Inc. as vice president of operations in 2008 — and climbed the corporate ladder about every two years. He became COO in 2011 and CEO in July 2012. While at Tropical Smoothie, Rotondo has focused on taking the company from the entrepreneurial enterprise created by its owners, Erich Jenrich and David Walker, to what he calls “the next level” — a more structured and systematically run organization poised for faster growth.

As a result of this transformation, when Rotondo was promoted to CEO last year, the private equity firm BIP Opportunities Fund bought a controlling interest in Tropical Smoothie Cafe. Jenrich and Walker remained on the company’s board, and BIP partner Scott Pressly became the company’s chairman.

Rotondo recently spoke with Smart Business about how he has steered the company through the transition from entrepreneurial company to mature organization with greater resources to grow.

Q. Looking back over the past few years, what do you consider the most important business leadership challenge you’ve faced?

My main challenge has been working with our company’s founders to determine the best course of action to move our brand forward.

Back around 2008, when I started with Tropical Smoothie, we were starting to see some negative signs. Obviously, it was a very tough time for the economy. Our comp sales were down about 6 percent in 2008 and down another 2 percent in 2009. The turnout at our franchisee convention was very low; we only had about 35 percent of our franchisees attend.

Some of our franchisees and area developers were starting to point a finger at us, saying ‘You’re not giving us the support we need.’

So we saw that we had to make some changes. On one hand, we wanted to keep all the good things that the founders of Tropical Smoothie had developed for the brand. But at the same time, we wanted to put systems and processes in place to mature the brand and professionalize it. It was about recognizing and celebrating all the great things the founders had done, but then taking it to the next level.

Q. What were some of the key systems you introduced to turn things around and to mature the Tropical Smoothie brand?

In 2008 and 2009, we were all about creating programs and increasing our visibility. We put out training programs; we put out marketing programs. We went out to the franchisees and met with them. My team and I made ourselves very accessible to the system.

We got rid of some people who were not meeting the culture and the needs of the business.

But the key thing was we started giving our franchisees new opportunities with training and marketing programs. This energized them, and at the same time, it made them more accountable because it put the responsibility on them to execute those programs.

Q. Did you make changes in the area of quality control?

Yes. For example, not long after I started in 2008, I was visiting our cafes with one of our key operations people, and I noticed that at every cafe they made the smoothies a little bit differently. Some put the ice in first. Some put the fruit in first. Sometimes they blended it a little differently or added something a little bit different.

What it really came down to, at that point, was that our procedure for making smoothies was about 80 percent art and 20 percent process. And I said, ‘We’re never going to get consistency if we do it that way. The average Tropical Smoothie sells about 50,000 smoothies a year. How many of those smoothies can we afford to go across the counters that are less than perfect?’ The answer is none.

So we came up with a program called One Perfect Smoothie. It was a full training kit. We broke it down and put processes in place so that you know how to properly prepare the fruit, how to build the smoothie the right way, how much of each ingredient goes in, which blender settings to use. We turned the procedure around so that it’s now 70 to 80 percent process and 20 to 30 percent art.

Our franchise community has embraced this program. They tell us it has improved the consistency of the smoothies, and it has helped them from a productivity and a food cost standpoint: ‘We’re blending our smoothies faster. We have more consistency. We’re going through fewer strawberries than we were before.’

Q. What other systems have you put in place to move the brand forward?

One process we’ve introduced is a brand audit for our cafes. At first it was just a 20-question checklist, but we expanded it into a full-blown audit. We look at the quality of the products, the hospitality level in the cafe, the cleanliness of the cafe and how well the brand is being represented in the cafe. It’s a four-hour audit and inspection.

We went from a very basic to a much more detailed and a much more mature process of evaluating the compliance in our cafes. As a result, we have cleaner, better-running cafes than we’ve had in the past. The customer surveys we do reflect that.

Another key aspect of the audit is that we use it mainly as a training tool for the franchisees. You never want this type of thing to be looked at as a hammer — ‘Uh oh, you’re having your compliance audit today.’ We look at it as a training tool. If one of our team is out there and they’re doing an audit and the franchisee is shorthanded, we’re going to put the audit down and jump in and start helping. We really believe that our main responsibility is to service our franchisees.

Q. Have you made any changes to your product mix?

We’ve streamlined our menu and, at the same time, put greater emphasis on our food offerings with a program we call our Focus On Food. We started this about two years ago. While we felt there was still some market upside with our smoothies, we felt that we had a lot more room to grow with our food offerings.

We had always joked that food is our best-kept secret — unfortunately. So we started focusing on it more. We started spotlighting some of our special menu items like our Chipotle Chicken Club Flatbread, our Chicken Pesto Flatbread and our Jamaican Jerk Chicken Wrap.

This has worked well for us. People have started to look at us as more than just a place to get a smoothie and a snack — they can also come to our cafe and have a terrific lunch. Since we started doing this, our food incidence is up 25 to 30 percent from where it was two years ago. By this, I mean the number of food items that we sell each day — how many wraps, how many sandwiches, etc. Our food transactions are up 25 percent from where they were two years ago.

The other piece that’s measurable for us is our combo incidence — the percentage of our transactions in which the customer is buying both a smoothie and a food item. As a result of our Focus On Food program, that combo figure has increased from 25 percent to 45 percent.

Q. What advice would you offer other CEOs faced with a similar challenge — the need to upgrade and mature their brand to move it forward?

The first thing I would say is protect the brand. Don’t get cute. Don’t try to change what everybody loves about the brand.

The second thing is, as you start to take on some of these challenges, you’ve got to have the right team in place. And sometimes you have to change the makeup of the team. You can’t be afraid to make those changes. You have to surround yourself with smart people, give them their marching orders, and then do the best you can to stay out of their way.

The third thing is communication. To mature and grow the brand, you’ve got to communicate. You’ve got to keep people informed at all the different levels — franchisees, support staff, investors — about what’s going on. You have to keep everybody on the same page: the process of taking an entrepreneurial business, maturing it, then getting acquired by a private equity firm and how to manage through that has been a learning experience.

The private equity firm is allowing us to do our thing, and while ultimately our brand hasn’t really changed that much, we’re much stronger than we were because we now have the processes and structure in place that a private equity firm will hold you to.

That has been huge for the Tropical Smoothie brand in terms of the resources that we have and the ability to bring in the people we need to keep moving forward. That transition has been incredible for this brand.

How to reach: Tropical Smoothie Cafe Inc., (770) 821-1900, www.tropicalsmoothie.com

Takeaways

Introduce systems and structure.

Make processes consistent.

Evaluate compliance through audits.

The Rotondo File

Mike Rotondo

CEO

Tropical Smoothie Cafe Inc.

Born: Chicago

Education: Illinois State University

Looking back over your years in school, what business leadership lessons did you learn that you use in your work today?

My major was criminal justice, so I took a lot of classes in psychology, sociology and counseling. I learned how to communicate with people on many levels, how to have tough conversations, how to listen and how to make sure they know you’re listening.

Tell me about an early job you had and the business lessons you learned from it.

In high school and college, I helped manage a store for a Baskin-Robbins ice cream franchise. This was back in 1982-83. I did payroll. I ordered inventory. I hired. I trained. Working at that Baskin-Robbins really got me going in this industry.

Do you have a main business philosophy that you use to guide you?

As a franchisor, I think the most important things are communication, driving the economics for your franchisees, and showing people that you care. Basically, everything we do is geared toward improving our people, our sales, and our profits.

What trait do you think is most important for an executive to have to be a successful leader?

If you want people to follow you, you have to be willing to get into the trenches. You have to educate yourself. It’s very important to be educated and informed about all the different disciplines your business is involved in.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

To ask open-ended questions — in other words, questions that have multiple parts and that make people have to think. You can really uncover a lot of important things by doing this. That advice was given to me by Chuck Bengochea. He was vice president of operations when I worked at Honey Baked Ham.

Published in Atlanta

When Gary Shamis, Bob Littman and Mark Goldfarb created the accounting and business consulting firm SS&G Inc. in 1987, the trio had a vision that defied the traditional accounting world.

Their radical idea: Focus on people.

“It was a real sweatshop kind of mentality for the profession,” Goldfarb says. “You worked 3,000 hours a year [eight hours a day, every day of the year]. We opened it up and created opportunities for people who worked part-time.”

That was the genesis of the partners’ philosophy that today continues to define how SS&G differentiates itself from the competition: Growth, client service and an employee-centric culture.

“All three work together harmoniously,” says Shamis, senior managing director. “If you have them all going and you focus on it, the results can be very positive.”

You’ll notice that absent among the three is the notion of operating with a generous supply of black ink.

“We always felt that partner profitability and things like that were going to be a byproduct of doing all the other things right, so we didn’t focus our business on enhancing the bottom line of the owners,” Shamis says. “We focused our business on cultural aspects that we thought would be good for our people, good for our clients and, in the end, what we thought would be good for us. It has really worked out that way.”

Today, SS&G provides various client service initiatives. Each of them is intended to make an impression.

“We publish stories about client service going above and beyond in terms of, say, driving through a snowstorm to deliver a tax return,” says Goldfarb, senior managing director. “We really try to make that part of the culture, so that when somebody calls, everyone knows here, you had better call that client back; if not immediately, certainly within the next business day.”

This mentality has helped the partners and their teams spark significant growth over the past few decades. From a small firm with about 10 employees, SS&G has grown to more than 500 employees at 12 offices in eight cities in four states, including new offices in Chicago. With annual revenue of $70 million, SS&G ranks among the top 100 independent accounting firms in the U.S., including being named the 41st largest U.S. accounting firm by Accounting Today.

Here’s how Shamis, Goldfarb and Littman grew the firm by emphasizing its differentiation and is taking steps to ensure SS&G continues long into the future.

Get the talent

Some professions attract more men than women; in others, it is the opposite case. Accounting had been a traditionally male-dominated industry until the 1980s, when it reached parity. In recent years, however, women have been rapidly joining the ranks. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2012 reports that 61 percent of all accountants and auditors were females.

So with an eye on whom and where the talent was coming from, SS&G years ago established a plan that fit lifestyle concerns and issues into the firm’s culture.

“Most of our offices are suburban,” Shamis says. “Many other large accounting firms are downtown. Suburban locations make it a lot easier for somebody who is female and raising a family to be more accessible to what she needs access to — school for conferences; and if she has a sick child she can get home sooner rather than if

[her office were] downtown — and it really became a focus on being able to try to hire these professionals who were women in their family-raising years.

“We have been able to get this incredible, top-notch talent, but we had to create an environment that was slightly different,” he says.

And this has opened the door to groom a lot of great female professionals

“We probably have one of the largest percentages of female partners in the accounting profession because of that,” Goldfarb says.

And, Goldfarb says, this has contributed to such a positive work environment at SS&G that it has become genetic.

“We are told all the time from people we hire that this is such a great, warm environment here compared to where they worked in a previous life,” he says. “It’s something that is really part of our DNA.”

With a powerful corporate DNA in place, you can then develop a culture that attracts talent by which you can grow a company.

“It’s important that everybody here understands the culture; it’s important that we follow it, we preach it,” says Littman, SS&G’s CEO. “Our organization is obviously about people. And to attract key people, you have to grow. If you don’t grow, you can’t find the talent and you can’t keep the talent. Growth has been important, and that is why we have been a Weatherhead 100 company more than 10 times.”

Be creative in your growth

Creativity comes in many forms. In business, you can as creative as you want to be when it comes to determining how to differentiate your company from the competition. SS&G looked at the kind of organic growth it had achieved over the years and took the entrepreneurial path.

First, the partners began to develop specialized divisions.

“We formed a wealth management business almost 20 years ago,” Goldfarb says. “Health care consulting, probably 15 years ago, payroll, 30 years ago [and] SS&G Parkland, which is our consulting division, was created last year.”

In an effort to strengthen this differentiation, SS&G opted to mold itself as a one-stop shop for clients and their financial service needs.

“Rather than referring to different service providers, where we had no ability to control the outcome, we created these businesses, which have been very successful and have grown dramatically over the years,” Goldfarb says. “But these businesses share the same culture of being employee-centric. All share the same client service culture and growth for the purpose of creating opportunities for employees.”

“Being entrepreneurial was really part of the vision of our firm for years,” Littman says. “We had an outlook that we could provide these other services that would fit for many of our clients. And it has been very, very successful.”

In addition to creating new divisions, SS&G also played a large part in creating an association of accounting firms. Shamis led the formation of the Leading Edge Alliance, of which SS&G has been a member for 10 years.

Leading Edge firms share best practices. Goldfarb says it has been an invaluable asset – not just to SS&G but to all the organizations and their respective clients.

“We like to think that that gives us a lot of credibility when we sit down across the table from a prospective client,” he says. “We can certainly be a better adviser, given all the things that we have done on our own.”

Develop a succession plan

While your company may have established a name for itself through differentiation, all the years of building that reputation can be lost in a flash if, for example, a new leadership team comes in with different ideas.

Enter the succession plan.

SS&G recently completed a reorganization of the firm’s leadership, and then spent more than a year preparing the company for the transition.

“It was announced some 16 months ago,” Littman says. “We have been planning for this over that time frame, and we will continue to plan and transition even after the target date.”

The plan signaled to SS&G employees that Littman, Shamis and Goldfarb were focused on the long-term future of the firm and intended to protect it from the confusion and disorder that often happens whenever there is a shakeup of any size.

Doing so also allowed the trio to help boost morale, motivation and satisfaction among employees since more than likely there will be other changes, such as promotions and movement across positions.

“This can be a real pivotal place (in time),” Shamis says. “(People wonder), How is this going to work? Is it going to be the same place?”

Also, by establishing a clear succession plan, it helps clients reduce any fears that the team they’re used to working with will still be there for them. Shamis says it preserves their trust and confidence that you will continue to provide the solutions you have promised — without interruption — and that you have your ear to the ground.

“The three of us, although we have executive roles, all have client relationships and all touch clients in one way or another,” Littman says. “So it’s not like we are that disconnected to the practice. We know what is going on.”

Under SS&G’s succession plan, Littman assumes the managing director role. Shamis and Goldfarb take on lesser roles, but remain very involved with the firm.

“I have been the managing partner for close to 30 years, and I’ve had a great run,” Shamis says. “It is a lot to give up, but I am starting to realize that there is a lot to look forward to in terms of Bob running this organization.”

And that optimism extends to how SS&G will continue to differentiate itself from the competition.

“I am really excited to see what this place is going to look like down the road,” Shamis says. “I think it is even going to exceed where it is today.”

How to reach: SS&G Inc., (440) 248-8787 or www.ssandg.com

Takeaways

Getting the talent is a priority.

Be creative in finding growth options.

Draw up a succession plan and live by it.

The file

Mark Goldfarb, senior managing director

Bob Littman, managing director

Gary Shamis, senior managing director

SS&G Inc.

Born: All in Greater Cleveland/Akron

What was your very first job and what did you learn from it?

Gary: My first job was in a place called Mr. Junior’s on Cedar Road in University Heights. I sold boys clothes. I think I learned if you work hard, and make the commitment, then good things will happen.

Mark: A caddy at Fairlawn Country Club. Certainly you learned etiquette and you learned service.

Bob: I was a tennis instructor. What I really learned from that was dealing with people, trying to help people.

What is the best business advice you ever received?

Gary: Try to work on your business instead of in your business. That was a big change for me and for our firm years ago. The firm allowed me to begin working on the business. And in that time frame, I think our firm has grown probably 600 or 700 percent.

Mark: People do business with people they like. Relationships are very important in the business world. That was from my father, Bernard Goldfarb.

Bob: I don’t want to copy off Mark, but relationships are really important to me as is taking time to get to know people and build meaningful relationships.

What is your definition of business success?

Mark: If you do a great job for your clients, and you treat your employees well, success will follow.

Bob: I certainly think similar to what Mark has said and that’s building relationships, creating an opportunity for other people in this organization so they can do the same and also being able to go to work, personally anyways, and have fun and enjoy it. It’s not a job; it’s a career.

Gary: I have a really narrow view of this and people know that. For more than 32 years, I have always felt that if you can be a little bit better next year than you were last year then that is going to drive success. I think constant improvement, the ability to continually try to get better, to not be satisfied with the status quo, has really been a huge driver for me.

Mark on the succession plan: It’s just been a tremendous ride for all of us the last 26 years. I will continue to be responsible for managing the firm’s Akron office, serve on the firm’s executive committee, chair the firm’s finance committee, act as the liaison to SS&G Healthcare and SS&G Parkland, develop larger business opportunities and continue as a client service partner

Bob on the succession plan: Mark and Gary are not retiring. This is part of the succession plan and they still have very, very important roles here with the firm to help execute certain growth strategies and still be involved in the management of the organization. We have viewed the succession as an evolution and not an event from the beginning. Gary will be actively involved in leading the firm’s growth strategy, including geographic and existing office. He will also focus on a restaurant initiative and other large opportunities.

Gary on the succession plan: I really think Bob has the abilities to drive this firm to even more successful and higher levels than we’ve operated at in the past. I just think that this firm happens to be incredibly lucky, blessed, or whatever you want to call it, to have Bob Littman take over the practice.

Published in Akron/Canton

Since January 2006, when Jim Weddle first took over the managing partner position at Edward Jones, he has kept a keen focus on growing the investment firm to new heights. In 2007 he and his team laid out a five-year plan that they updated in 2010, but that was a mere steppingstone to the vision the firm rolled out last year.

In January 2012, Weddle unleashed what Edward Jones is calling its Vision for 2020. Focusing on growing the firm in three key areas — financial advisers, assets under care and households deeply served — Weddle’s vision won’t just have Edward Jones reaching new heights, it might just be soaring.

“Today, in a lot of markets, we are not the top-of-mind choice,” Weddle says. “We don’t have the presence that we need. It’s going to take us several years to get there, but we think we’ve got the way to do so.”

Edward Jones is a leader in the financial services industry that serves nearly 7 million clients with the help of 12,500 financial advisers and more than 34,000 total employees. The firm reported 2012 revenue of $4.96 billion, a mere fraction of what is planned for the years ahead.

“There is a huge demographic opportunity, and we need to better position ourselves,” Weddle says. “We’ve put a lot of tools in place. We’ve put additional products and services in place to enhance the client’s experience and to enable us and position us to do an even better job for them.”

Here is how Weddle formulated Edward Jones’ long-term vision and is beginning to make it a reality.

 

Create your strategy

In January 2012, Weddle made a big deal of explaining the long-term vision to the team at Edward Jones, not just what the vision was but why it was needed.

“Laying out a long-term vision provides the opportunity and the potential to get everybody aligned,” Weddle says.

The early success Edward Jones has seen with its plan is due to a thorough self-analysis the company performed when it first decided to create this vision.

“When we worked on our five-year plan we did so with the guidance and assistance of two gentlemen, one being Jim Collins who wrote, ‘From Good to Great,’” Weddle says. “One of the things that he suggests is that you ask yourself three questions.

“The first one is, ‘What do you do better than anybody else?’ The second is, ‘What are you most passionate about?, And third is, ‘What’s your economic driver?’”

Weddle says that Edward Jones’ business model makes the firm the better than anybody else in the investment process.

The firm is most passionate about helping its current and potential individual investors live a better life.

And lastly, its economic driver is its financial advisers.

“It’s not easy to get your arms around the answers to those questions,” Weddle says. “We had a lot of answers before we got it right.”

The second adviser that Edward Jones used in its planning process is Michael Porter, a world renowned expert on strategy, who preaches that strategy is all about a sustainable difference.

“It’s about doing things differently or doing different things than your competition and making trade-offs,” Weddle says. “It’s about making decisions as to what you’re going to offer and what you’re not. Who you’re going to serve and who you’re not. How you run your business comes down to the choices that you make.”

Those two things, the three questions and the tradeoffs, are the core of Edward Jones’ long-term plan.

“If you haven’t gone through the process of thinking those things through, good luck,” he says. “I don’t think you understand who you are or what business you’re in, which means it’s going to be very hard to optimize your results. That’s the value of the planning process for us. Yes, it does bring alignment, but it also brings focus.”

 

Identify your objectives

In order to better serve existing clients as well as to land many more clients by the year 2020, Weddle needed to set reachable goals for the staff.

“We have identified three peaks, three objectives related to that vision,” Weddle says. “First is growth of financial advisers, the number and our presence in the marketplace.”

Edward Jones currently has more than 7 million client accounts and 4 million households. However, the firm has identified about 40 million U.S. and Canada households that look like Edward Jones’ best clients.

“There’s no way that we can possibly serve even a fraction of that number of folks without increasing our presence in the market,” he says. “You might think, ‘Holy cow, how can you possibly to do that?’ Well, by growing 5-6 percent a year gets you there.”

Edward Jones has grown by more than that rate in the past, and Weddle believes the firm can reach this goal with the help of a new talent acquisition organization that was put in place, revamped FA compensation and significantly updated training and support programs.

“We anticipate supporting a good number of new folks that will be joining us each year,” Weddle says. “We’ve got amazingly strong pipelines right now. We think we’ll grow this year by 700 financial advisers in the U.S. and 80 in Canada and that will be a good start on that 2020 vision.”

The second objective of the 2020 vision is the firm’s assets under care. When the vision was first laid out, the firm had about $600 billion. In 2012 it had about $660 billion-$670 billion.

“By the end of 2020 we’d like to see those assets under care be $1 trillion,” he says. “You get there by growing 10 percent a year. We added about $34 billion of net new assets last year, which exceeded our objective of $30 billion.”

The third objective for the firm surrounds its deeply served households. Of those 4 million households Edward Jones currently serves, it identified 1 million households that the firm has a current deep relationship with. The firm wants to increase this number.

“We want to drive our deeply served households from the 1 million we had a year ago when we rolled out our vision to 4 million deeply served households in 2020. That’s a 15 percent compound annual increase and we’re ahead of where we need to be on that. I know 15 percent sounds high when we’re growing our FA’s by 5 percent and our assets by 10 percent.

“The reason we have set it at that level is because so many of our existing households can be moved to what we have defined as deeply served. It’s not just new households, but it’s going deeper with the folks that we already have a relationship with.”

 

Drive your plan forward

Now that Edward Jones had gone through the self-analysis and identified its objectives, the next step was to begin to roll out the vision and communicate how the business’ various departments and segments are going to have to contribute to meet those goals.

“One of the outcomes of the roll out of the long-term vision was to then say to every division of the firm, ‘We need you to look at the work you do and bring a critical eye to it and identify those things that need to be increased or put in place that will help us to achieve the 2020 vision. We also need you to identify the legacy work that we’re real comfortable with and we do really well, but maybe doesn’t add the value that it used to,’” Weddle says.

“You outgrow some things. You can’t just add on and add on and add on. You’ve got to also abandon things that no longer deliver value to your chosen client.

Every division of the company has got to come up with its business plan for reaching goals of the vision.

“We challenge each other, but it also allows me, if I’m in operations, to understand what the service side is doing,” he says. “It creates alignment and synergies and often times opportunities for working in a highly coordinated way that eliminates some cost and enhances productivity all driven by the vision.”

The No. 1 key to making a strategy implementation successful is having the right people driving results.

“Your results will be no better than the quality of the individuals who make up your organization,” he says. “You have to be brutally honest. At times you will outgrow some individuals.”

Sharing the business plans, challenging each other and making sure that everyone is working on the same priorities and holding people accountable is crucial to success.

“One area is dependent upon progress being made in another,” Weddle says. “We just need to make sure that we’re doing an absolutely terrific job for each one of those individual investors that we help to reach their financial goals. If we can stay focused on that we’re going to have a lot of success.” 


Takeaways:

  • Answer important questions about your business and its future.
  • Develop objectives to reach in a long-term plan.
  • Implement your plan with the right people and measures.

 

The Weddle File

Name: Jim Weddle

Title: Managing partner

Company: Edward Jones

Born: Elgin, Ill. He grew up in Naperville, Ill.

Education: Attended DePauw University and received a double major in psychology and business. He also got a MBA with a major in finance from Washington University in St. Louis.

What was your very first job, and what did you learn from it? I had a summer job in 7th grade where I worked Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until noon for a gentleman who was a retired banker. He had a large property and I drove a tractor, cut the grass, pulled the weeds, painted the house and the barn and worked every day doing that. I learned that you make your own luck if you aspire to do or to have, there’s a way that you can go about making that a reality.

What is the best business advice someone has given you? I had interned here at Edward Jones, and I went out to Indiana where I established a new office and built it up. I had a mentor who was a very senior individual in our firm at the time named Jack. I remember confiding in Jack and he said, ‘What is your concern?’ And I said, ‘Jack, my concern is I’m 23 years old, and I look even younger. I’m afraid people won’t take me seriously.’ He said, ‘People will treat you the way that you act. If you act like a professional, they will treat you like a professional. If you act like you’re 23, they will treat you like you’re 23.’ He also said, ‘Prepare for every day, but do it the day before.’

Who is someone that you’ve admired? One was an accounting professor who had a huge impact on me. For his class he said, ‘You need to show up to class prepared or I suggest you don’t show up at all.’ He was teaching us how to be ready for the rest of our lives.

The second guy was a business adviser named Peter Drucker. We worked with Peter for 20 years. He helped us to understand very clearly who our customer was, what our value is, and the purpose of our work.

HOW TO REACH: Edward Jones, (314) 515-2000 or www.edwardjones.com

Published in St. Louis