If you ask Nicholas DeIuliis about the state of the energy industry these days, he would tell you it’s the nature of the industry that keeps it exciting and evolving.
DeIuliis is president of Consol Energy Inc., a more than $6 billion, publicly owned producer of coal and natural gas and one of the leading diversified energy companies in the U.S. He and Consol have been focused on new technologies, new energies and, above all else, keeping Consol one of the leading producers in its region.
“Energy has always been a big issue within our regional economy, national economy and now the global economy within the last number of years,” DeIuliis says. “Consol Energy still looks upon those tried and true forms of energy, but what’s really changed in the last number of years is how we’ve evolved in deploying technology in both the coal and natural gas side.”
As the industry continues to push forward, the success of companies such as Consol depend upon its ability to keep employees safe, effectively communicating and remaining innovative.
“The most important thing we do is we establish what our values are and we literally numerate them for our teams,” DeIuliis says. “We say what our top values are and which is first, second and third. For us, No. 1 is safety. Second is compliance. And third is continuous improvement and taking a long-term view.”
Here is how DeIuliis is helping to drive those values at Consol Energy that, in turn, help drive the company.
In the energy industry, there are all kinds of dangers that employees face while on the job. DeIuliis and his team take great pride in running a company that focuses on keeping its workforce safe.
“Safety has always been something that is critical to us throughout our history, and we’ve been around for about 150 years,” DeIuliis says. “So we’ve learned what works very well and also learned the hard way through those 150 years what doesn’t work very well when it comes to safety.”
DeIuliis wants to take the challenge of safety and turn it into an opportunity, which sounds simple, but it’s often very challenging.
“We first started with the philosophy of safety itself,” he says. “What is our culture going to be when it comes to safety? Is it truly going to be our top value that will not change during market swings? A value is something that is constant. So first and foremost, that is our most important top value.
“Secondly, if it’s our top value, what’s the expectation going to be? Are accidents part of the business of extracting natural gas or coal resources, or can we truly take an approach of zero accidents of any kind across the entire employee base as the expected outcome and expected goal?”
Consol has taken the latter approach and created an absolute zero program that says the only acceptable standard of performance is no accidents to the employees on any given day across the entire company.
“Anything that’s an accident no matter how small or slight is an exception to that rule and a violation to that philosophy,” he says. “So you have that philosophical change that needed to occur to turn a challenge into opportunity, and over the last three or four years, it has turned and evolved into the culture and philosophy.”
Now DeIuliis and Consol have to find the ways to further improve the company’s safety outlook.
“What are the tactical things we’re going to do to improve our performance?” he says. “How are we going to bring the science and technology to the table to get smarter about risk identification, hazardous mitigation and overall employee training? All of those things lead you to a better place on safety performance.”
Communication is king
In conjunction with safety performance, how well Consol Energy communicates its message relates to how easily and effectively it can improve the organization.
“Communication is the lifeblood of taking a concept or an opportunity and making it a reality,” DeIuliis says.
Consol Energy has nearly 10,000 employees and 6,000 to 8,000 contractors on top of that. So communication throughout the organization is critically important to furthering a concept, philosophy, a new technology or standard, and whether or not that comes to fruition — and when it comes to fruition.
“Sometimes the when part is just as challenging and just as important as whether or not it actually comes to fruition,” he says. “You can’t overemphasize the importance of communication, especially in a complex and large organization or a complex and large world such as what we’ve seen in the energy space throughout the U.S. and the globe.”
Saying that your company communicates is easy, but actually getting results from your communication is much more difficult. You have to utilize multiple communication tactics.
“We use what we call a portfolio approach to communication,” DeIuliis says. “We don’t put all our eggs in one basket, one means or one method of communication. We will utilize a range of those like you would in an investment portfolio.”
Consol uses everything from closed-circuit TVs that update employees on safety procedures, initiatives, technological breakthroughs, compliance issues and regulatory issues to training programs to make sure that employees are engaged.
“We look at that as an investment in communication that is going to get that know-how rate of return, which will be very good, not just for the shareholders of the company and stakeholders but, most importantly, for the employees themselves, because they will be in a more safe and compliant place,” he says.
“There’s a whole range of different communication tools that we use … that will put us in a better position to succeed in that communication challenge and opportunity.”
In order for communication to be most effective, especially in a company the size of Consol, there has to be someone who has ownership of the messages being spread throughout the business.
“The communication approach goes back to the messaging and the content of what you’re saying,” he says. “The ownership is across the entire company. In reality, it extends beyond the employees within the company. It extends to our partners and other stakeholders that touch or deal with the company in some, way, shape or form. It might be the customers downstream that we’re selling the coal and natural gas to; it could be our contractor partners providing services at our rig sites and coal mines or anyone in between.”
While everyone owns a part of the communication process, it’s also critically important that that communication process and the messaging behind the communication are viewed as owned by action, not just by words with the leadership of the company.
“The leadership of the company for us means many different people, not just our CEO and chairman,” DeIuliis says. “It’s our CEO and chairman all the way down to the mine foreman, all the way down to the employee working on the barge line or all the way down to someone standing on one of our rigs right now.
“It’s a group effort and everybody has a role and a responsibility. Your actions have to be consistent with what you’re saying.”
Just as important as safety and communication are within the energy industry, so too is the need to remain innovative. Recent substantial growth in natural gas drilling and advancements in clean coal technology are two areas driving energy these days.
DeIuliis and Consol look inside and outside the industry in order to bring the best innovation to the forefront of the company’s operations.
“There are two broad groups I look to over time for help and insight,” DeIuliis says. “One is the management team that we work with and around. They’re the best and brightest in the industry. Getting that comfort level and that trust level with the exchange of ideas and thoughts as time goes on is the lifeblood of any successful organization.”
The other broad group DeIuliis looks at is almost the mirror image of his leadership team. He looks toward entities and individuals with insights and experiences outside the industries Consol works within.
“It’s amazing how many already established processes, technologies and concepts are out there in entirely different industries that are being viewed as innovations and ground-breakers with the coal, natural gas and fossil fuel industry that we operate in,” he says.
“Every time we tend to look outside our box and outside our industries, we always come away with an injection of innovation that keeps us going.”
As the world of business and that of energy continue to evolve and change as time goes on, the success of a company comes back to its values.
“In the energy industry, we’ve seen a lot of volatility and a lot of peaks and cycles through the years,” DeIuliis says. “We’ve become used to a certain extent of the things that will enviably occur. But if you go back to the values, and those that are truly the values of your organization, and if you’re the safest and most compliant operator in that environment, you’re going to be the most successful or profitable whether it’s a market peak or trough.”
The key to managing through those kinds of ups and downs has been simplicity.
“The way we manage in those downturns is sticking to those values and as long as we’re pushing for better safety performance, compliance and continuous improvement, we will be fine in any market,” he says.
How to reach: Consol Energy Inc., (724) 485-4000 or www.consolenergy.com
Find ways to improve the processes of your business.
Implement communication tactics that allow your business to succeed.
Innovate through internal and external channels.
The DeIuliis File
Consol Energy Inc.
Education: Graduated with a chemical engineering degree from Penn State. He received a master’s degree in business administration and a juris doctorate from Duquesne University.
Career: DeIuliis began his career in Consol Energy’s research and development group in 1990. He became vice president of strategic planning responsible for optimizing the value of Consol Energy’s assets resulting in the creation of CNX Gas Corporation, where he served as president and CEO from its 2005 inception until early 2009. He has been the president of Consol Energy since February 2011.
DeIuliis is also director at-large of the board of directors of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, a director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Bituminous Coal Operators’ Association Inc.
Regionally, he is on the advisory boards of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and the Catholic Foundation. He is a registered professional engineer in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a member of the Pennsylvania Bar.
While many companies would be like a ship without its captain after the loss of its illustrious founder, Jess Jackson, the Jackson Family Enterprises had a very capable successor in Rick Tigner — one who would continue the family-owned winery group’s reputation and make mom and dad’s favorite chardonnay into the favorite of their millenial children too.
In April 2011, Jess Jackson died of cancer at the age of 81. He was an individual whose vision, perseverance and work ethic helped transform the wine industry.
He started the Kendall-Jackson wine business with the 1974 purchase of an 80-acre pear and walnut orchard in Lakeport, Calif., that he converted to a vineyard. Nearly 40 years later, Jackson Family Wines is among the world’s most successful family-owned winery groups, composed of more than 35 individual wineries.
Jackson Family Enterprises is the company that oversees Jackson Family Wines, its global sales organizations and the Kendall-Jackson brand. Tigner was named president of Jackson Family Enterprises a year before Jackson passed away. A 24-year veteran of the alcohol beverage industry, Tigner has held positions at Miller Brewing Co., Gallo, Louis M. Martini and nearly 20 years with Jackson Family Wines.
“When I first became in charge of Jackson Family Wines three years ago, one of my goals was to actually get one team, one dream,” Tigner says. “If I can get all 1,200 employees going in the same direction at the same time, how powerful would that be?”
The company, its 1,200 employees and its more than 30 brands of wine, was solely in Tigner’s hands, and it was now up to him to keep the operation flourishing.
“Our company mission is to be the best wine company in the world,” Tigner says.
Here’s how Rick Tigner is taking Jess Jackson’s legacy and moving Jackson Family Enterprises forward.
Connect with consumers
In any industry, it is extremely easy to be hands-off with consumers. In the wine industry, many vineyards deal with distributors or trade partners and aren’t very tight with the consumer. Tigner says that isn’t the case at Jackson Family Wines.
“Innovation comes in different forms and fashions,” he says. “In the wine business, what you get is a lot of what I call the ‘sea of sameness.’ You look at a wine magazine ad and you see a bottle and vineyard, but it can be anybody’s bottle and anybody’s vineyard. The question is how do you connect with a consumer in different ways?”
Last January, Tigner was featured on the TV show “Undercover Boss.” He saw this as a new way for a wine company, especially a family wine company, to go on television and tell people about who the business is as a family, as a company and how it produces its products. The blogosphere gave generally rave review about Tigner’s TV appearance.
“The one thing that we’re always very, very focused on is quality,” he says. “We want to make sure that consumers know that whether it’s the Kendall-Jackson brand or the La Crema brand, quality is one of the foundations of our organization.”
To tell its consumers about its products, Jackson Family Wines is putting more focus on social media. The company recently hired a digital marketing team to make sure it has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
“A lot of companies have pretty pictures,” Tigner says. “What we actually want is engaging content … versus the standard picture of a bottle in a Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast magazine.”
Being involved in social media is becoming increasingly important, but it isn’t enough to just have a Facebook page; you have to engage with your fans and potential customers.
“If you look at Facebook, a lot of brands have Facebook, but the question is do you listen to the people who are on your Facebook page?” he says. “Do you react to how they talk about you on Facebook? We listen, and we learn from that activity. These are our friends and family who actually went online and signed up on our Facebook page, because they’re looking for interaction.”
Tigner says this interaction can’t be boring or constantly the same old thing. You have to be looking for ways to keep your audience involved and engaged.
“The key for us in regard to capturing our consumer is actually listening to them,” he says. “We create content that they want to see on video or in photos. We’ve done a lot of recipes. A lot of people want to talk about food and wine pairings. We have spent hours and hours and hours putting together a recipe program for our website.”
Jackson Family Wines has a lot of pages on its website and on its social media because even if a consumer doesn’t go to them all, those pages are there and available to them. The same thing goes for YouTube.
“If you go to YouTube and capture that consumer and they see a training video or a wine education video or a food-and-wine program, the next time they go look at your YouTube, you better have new content,” he says. “It has to be ongoing engagement, intriguing and informative. If you don’t have that, then you’ll lose your consumer. Those are things we’ve done to continually engage the consumer.”
What this kind of engagement helps Jackson Family Wines do more than anything is reach a more diverse audience. Many of the company’s consumers are baby boomers and social media is helping the brand reach the younger generations.
“We want to keep the baby boomers like myself who’ve been drinking our brands for a long time,” Tigner says. “But we want to capture the millennials. Who is that 25- to 35-year-old out there who has disposable income to buy premium wine? We have to give them the messaging and the content.
“We’re going out and making it new and fresh for them so it’s not just their mom and dad’s favorite chardonnay, but it becomes their favorite chardonnay and then their favorite cabernet or pinot noir.”
Educate about your product
The wine industry can be very complex due to the sheer number of wine styles, brands and varietals that make each bottle different. For Jackson Family Wines, it is crucial that its staff and its business partners are knowledgeable about the company’s products.
“In our company, we have 1,200 employees,” Tigner says. “In our sales team, there are about 400. I would argue we have the best sales team in the world and the best fine wine team.”
Tigner makes this argument because the company has four master sommeliers on staff and nine more in training out of a total of 180 in the U.S., who help to educate the sales team.
“They educate our sales teams, our distributors and our internal staff,” Tigner says. “We want to make sure everyone who works for our company, whether in IT, marketing or finance, has knowledge about wine and a passion about wine.”
Transferring that knowledge outside of the company is the hard part. Jackson Family Wines has to work with its distributors, trade partners and, more recently, directly with consumers to educate them on the products.
“In this business, 20 years ago, manufacturers or wineries like us spent all our time selling our wine to distributors and educating our distributors who then sold to retail stores who then sold to consumers,” he says. “About 15 years ago, that was still important, but the next piece was actually us communicating with our trade partners.
“In the last five years, all that is still important, but now we’re talking directly to our consumer, whether it’s online, in our tasting rooms or our wine club program.”
One of the biggest things related to education that Tigner has to keep aligned is the messaging Jackson Family Wines spreads both internally and externally.
“We broke down our strategic initiatives into three simple buckets,” he says. “You want to keep it simple so everyone knows what the plan is. Our strategy is lands, brands and people. So that when people want to know what are we working on, you can break it down to land, brands and people, and then we have the initiatives below that.”
To aid in keeping this message aligned and helping to push the company forward, Tigner has implemented management meetings.
“In the last three years since I’ve been put in charge, I’ve had more senior management team meetings,” he says. “We really didn’t have those before.
“Every quarter, we bring in the top 50 managers of the company plus outside guests and visitors and we talk about lands, brands and people. We talk about the strategic initiatives. I want to make sure everything we put in place at the beginning of the process is still being worked on.”
While his management meetings are a new tradition, there are some things that Tigner wants to maintain, like the company’s culture.
“When I first took over being the president, we had a great training program, recruiting program and succession program,” he says. “I want to make sure we have that exact same culture. Culture doesn’t show up on a P&L, but culture is very, very important to the company.”
The culture is something Tigner wants to be identical whether it’s the IT, finance, marketing or production departments.
“I want to make sure all our employees are treated similar and fair throughout the entire organization,” he says. “I take it upon myself on a regular basis to check in with middle management, lower management, field workers and sales workers because I want to make sure everyone has the right communication and we’re all on the same page.
“I spend most of my time making sure the messaging of the organization runs wide and deep.”
Just like a generous pour of chardonnay. ?
How to reach: Jackson Family Wines, (707) 544-4000 or www.kj.com
Connect with your consumers using new channels of communication.
Keep your content engaging and new.
Educate internally and externally about your product or service.
Bernie Moreno has always had a great love for cars. They had to be in his life. So as a 25-year-old, he went to work as a general manager of Herb Chambers’ Saturn dealership in Boston. During the course of 12 years there, he became Chambers’ vice president.
Moreno’s success caught the attention of Mercedes-Benz who asked Moreno if he would move to Cleveland to run a Mercedes-Benz dealership. Moreno agreed.
“I came in to Cleveland to see what this dealership was all about before I bought it,” Moreno says. “I pulled up here with my wife, I saw a salesperson, and I told him I was thinking about either a Lexus or a Mercedes — and I’m moving to Cleveland.
“The salesperson said, ‘I don’t understand why you’d want to move to Cleveland. This is the worst place on Earth to live. The people suck, the weather sucks, the economy sucks. I was born here and I’ve been trying to leave here since I came out of the womb.’ This is what the guy said to me.
“So I said, ‘People don’t buy Mercedes here?’ He said, ‘This is a blue-collar town. If we sell 10 to 15 cars a month, that’s a great month. If we sell 20, we’re dancing on the tables.’”
Moreno could have been discouraged, but he wasn’t. The dealership had been selling 200 cars a year before Moreno took over. He came in and set the goal high for the new dealership team.
“We came in, and I said to myself, ‘We can’t live selling five cars a month,’” Moreno says. “In our first sales meeting, May 13, 2005, I said, ‘We’re going to sell 100 cars a month.’
“We knew we had to do that because if we didn’t sell 100 cars a month, I couldn’t pay me, let alone my staff. I had to succeed because if I didn’t I would be in big trouble because I just committed my entire life to this endeavor.”
Here is how Moreno, president of Collection Auto Group, took one Mercedes-Benz dealership and built it into the Collection Auto Group that we know in Cleveland today.
When Moreno was working in Boston prior to 2005, he was helping run what was the sixth-largest privately owned dealership group in America with $1.5 billion in annual sales. In early 2005, he took over a dealership that sold only 200 cars a year.
“The difference is this one is mine and that one I just worked for,” Moreno says.
At that time, Moreno’s focus was to establish the dealership in the Cleveland area and create the right culture within the company.
“What helped in that tremendously was the fact that 12 guys moved from Boston to Cleveland with me,” he says. “That was a huge help, because when you’re establishing a culture, you need a critical mass of people who feel the same way that you do philosophically.”
Moreno says his desire to create further opportunities for the business fueled the dealership group’s growth the most. This, in turn, created opportunities for his staff.
“You can’t have all these guys in one store and challenge them and keep them growing,” he says. “All of them now have their own dealership that they run or a larger position within the company, which is great.”
In 2005, the dealership sold 24 cars between Jan. 1 and May 11. From May 12 to May 31 that year, it sold 80 cars. From that point on, Moreno and his team have been hitting their goal of 100 cars a month and then some.
“Our focus right now is really managing our growth,” he says. “We started with one dealership. We took over a small 200-car-a-year Lexus building. We finished the building in September 2008 right after Lehman Brothers collapsed. We used the opportunity to grow, and that growth was somewhat tame versus what we are doing today.”
Recently, Moreno has been expanding his business almost exponentially. Within the past year alone, the company has opened a Volkswagen dealership, a second Infiniti dealership, a new Nissan dealership, is building a new Mercedes-Benz dealership in Cincinnati and has been renovating several properties.
Moreno has plenty of projects to keep him busy. He has to buy the land for the new dealerships, build the dealerships, meet the individual car company’s requirements and hire people to run the dealerships. On top of all of that, Moreno still has to look after the other dealerships he has in operation.
Today, Moreno runs a collection of 24 dealerships, which led to the name, Collection Auto Group. The company is a more than 400-employee, $350 million car dealership group that sells Acura, Aston Martin, Buick, Fisker, GMC, Infiniti, Lotus, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche, smart, Spyker, Vpg, Volkswagen and Maserati brands.
“It was never the intention to move to Cleveland to have a small little dealership,” Moreno says. “That wasn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t necessarily think I was going to have 24 dealerships in seven or eight years, but I knew it wasn’t going to be a small dealership.”
Moreno may have been worried about car sales when the dealership first started, but in 2012 alone, Collection Auto Group sold 6,500 cars companywide.
“It’s is a big change,” he says. “Managing growth is like blowing up a balloon — you want to make sure you manage it properly, because otherwise you’re going to do it too fast.”
There are several factors that have helped Moreno and Collection Auto Group in its growth trajectory, but above all else, it comes back to the fact that Moreno loves cars.
“No. 1, you have to do what you love because if you’re not doing what you love, then you’re never going to be as successful as you can be,” he says. “For me, cars have always been a passion since I was a little kid.”
Another thing Moreno says has aided in his success is that he didn’t chase money. In fact, Moreno was making more money in Boston before he moved to Cleveland, but he wanted the opportunity to be his own boss.
“The biggest mistake people make is they follow money,” he says. “They’ll take a job because it pays more or they do this business because they’ll be rich. Money follows; money doesn’t lead.”
While people may make a certain move because it means more money, people will also find excuses for reasons that they can’t do something due to a lack of capital.
“If you have a great idea and you have passion, money will find you,” Moreno says. “When I bought Mercedes-Benz North Olmsted in 2005, I bought it with every dollar I had ever saved in my life. I joke that if I could have put a mortgage on my socks, I would have. It was never a scenario where I worried about getting the money to put this together.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘How badly do you want something? How badly do you believe that it can succeed? And how much do you believe in yourself?’ If the answer to all of that is at the top level, money will find you.”
Lastly, Moreno’s success has been made possible by the team he has put together at Collection Auto Group.
“You have to give people reason to follow you and be with you,” he says. “Why would somebody leave a job if not for the opportunity for personal growth, career advancement and learning? That’s the promise you have to deliver.”
Define your business
Once Moreno and his team started to get settled in Cleveland, the focus had to shift to creating a strong culture and one that would define how the business operated.
“You have to define your business,” Moreno says. “What business are you really in? A lot of my peers would say, ‘We’re in the car business. Look around, it’s a bunch of cars that we sell and service.’
“If you define that you’re in the car business, it’s an extraordinarily narrow definition. If you ask any employee in our company, whether it’s a receptionist, a car wash kid, a technician or a salesperson, they would say, ‘We’re in the customer service business.’”
Collection Auto Group sells cars, but it’s in the customer service business, and as a result, everybody understands that nothing is more important.
“When a customer walks through that door you should treat them like (they’re) the reason I’m here today, not like an inconvenience,” Moreno says. “My door is always open. If I’m willing to do that, what does it mean to everybody else in our organization?”
Moreno’s attention to clients goes far beyond making sure he gives them his time when they need it. He wants to change the car-buying experience.
“Some people hate buying cars,” he says. “But people love to buy iPhones. What’s the difference? The difference is that car dealers have made it painful for customers to buy cars. Car dealers have made the buying process completely unenjoyable, and it should be the complete opposite.”
Before Apple, people hated buying computers too. Now, people often just go to the Apple store to hang out because they made it fun and interesting.
“In the car business, it should be the same way, and the biggest thing that gets in people’s way is this fear when you walk through the front door that you’re going to be taken advantage of,” Moreno says. “Knowing that, we try to create a culture that says, ‘Let’s get rid of that anxiety.’”
Collection Auto Group tries to be extraordinarily transparent to make the negotiation process quick and easy. That transparency helps attract customers.
“If a customer walks in and they are looking at a Mercedes-Benz C300 and the sticker price is $42,500 … and their trade-in is worth $20,000, you have to ask yourself how much effort you are willing to put into this thing,” he says.
“How much are you willing to battle and let me wear you down? How much time do you want to spend wearing me down and are you willing to invest two or three hours to make that happen? Let’s say you do. At the end of three hours of going back and forth, how much do you really enjoy your car now? You hate it.”
Moreno utilizes the fact that customers these days are well-informed about car prices and what their trade-ins are worth; transparency and honesty with the customer saves time and effort.
“You know that I’m going to sell you the car for the price that’s going to be more than fair,” he says. “That creates a customer for life because they know that we will take better care of them than anybody else.”
Today, Collection Auto Group is well-established in the Cleveland market and sells all the car brands that it wants without any brand competing against another in the portfolio.
“Now that we’ve built this thing, we can take it for a drive and really expand exponentially with the brands we have right now,” Moreno says. ?
How to reach: Collection Auto Group, (440) 716-2700 or www.collectionautogroup.com
Do what you love and believe that you can make it successful.
Create a culture that separates you from competition.
Treat customers with respect and honesty and success will come.
The Moreno File
Collection Auto Group
Born: Colómbia, South America, but he grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Education: Went to University of Michigan and received his undergraduate degree in business.
Goal: To be the chairman of the board of GM
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
At 12-years-old, I delivered newspapers at 2 a.m. in Fort Lauderdale. My mom also owned three real estate offices so after delivering newspapers I went to work for her and ran the bookkeeping at 14 or 15 years old. That taught me that family businesses are a challenge, and it wasn’t something I was interested in.
What got you into cars?
When I went to Michigan I worked for Automobile magazine.
What was your first car?
A Honda CRX. I saw it on the cover of Car & Driver.
What was your favorite car you have owned?
I had an ’89 Ford Mustang GT. That was the coolest car.
If you had to choose a car to own off one of your lots, what would you choose?
Cars are like your children — you’re not supposed to have a favorite. But for me, Mercedes are the cars that I’m most passionate about. If I had to buy one car, it would be a S63 Mercedes.
When Jean-Paul Ebanga looks up at the sky, he thinks about the more than 3 million people who fly every day on airplanes powered by CFM International engines. In fact, every 2.4 seconds an airplane departs under the power of a CFM engine.
“That means our role today is far beyond delivering engines to the industry; it is also making sure people are traveling in a very safe way at a decent price,” says Ebanga, president and CEO of CFM International, a $15 billion aircraft engine manufacturer that is a joint venture between GE here in the U.S. and Snecma in France.
CFM — which gets its name from a combination of the two parent companies’ commercial engine designations, GE’s CF6 and Snecma’s M56 — combines the resources, engineering expertise and product support of these two engine manufacturers to build engines for narrow body aircrafts.
“Today, in the air transport industry, the narrow-body segment is the main segment of the industry,” Ebanga says. “Looking forward for the next 20 years, there will be a need for roughly 30,000 new airplanes; two-thirds of those will be narrow-body airplanes and CFM is currently leading this market segment.”
If being the industry leader in engine manufacturing wasn’t enough of a challenge, Ebanga also has the challenge of leading a joint venture company where compromise and collaboration is the key to success.
“If you are taking two parent companies with two different cultures and you try to blend them, this will generate some difficulties,” Ebanga says. “But the net result, because you have to find compromise, because you have to work between different cultures, will be more sound ideas and a much more efficient organization.”
Here’s how Ebanga utilizes both GE’s and Snecma’s resources to keep CFM the industry leader in narrow-body aircraft engine manufacturing.
Compromise and collaborate
While a majority of companies are focused on streamlining themselves, CFM has to take a different approach to its business. Its joint venture means CFM has to work to find compromise above all else in order to properly function at its best.
“The problem with the JV is because you have two different constituents, you have to make compromise,” Ebanga says. “There is no one voice saying this is the way and the rest of the team just follows without asking questions. In terms of leadership, it requires some things to be a little bit different than normal leadership.”
The existence of this additional challenge makes this kind of partnership too difficult for some leaders and companies. But Ebanga sees the glass as half-full.
“If you are able to find the sweet spot between the two company cultures and then work around these difficulties, you enable a new space of opportunities and strengths,” he says. “This is the essence of joint venture success.”
CFM has been known for a long time by its superb engine family, CFM56. Now the company is looking to release its next generation of engines called LEAP, for which compromise and collaboration will be key to its success.
“This new product will be designed based upon a very detailed and comprehensive market survey,” he says. “We spend more than three years asking the customer what they are looking for in the next 20 years and understanding in a granular way how the dynamics of the market can evolve, and then we define the product, which is the answer and the solution to that.”
When you have two companies, the reading of the market dynamics will be different because each company has a different way of operating and a different culture, so they will analyze all the signals in a different way.
“Maybe the solution has some things shared, but the two won’t be exactly the same,” Ebanga says. “The whole key is how you bridge the two approaches. How can GE or how Snecma can make the necessary compromise to accept that the other guys also have a great idea and how can you work together to bridge ideas that make a great product.”
The trick is being able to step back from what you believe is the ultimate answer and being able to compromise with other ideas from another company that also thinks they have an ultimate answer.
“By bridging the two, you find out that some of what’s behind the idea of the other company you didn’t think about at first and vice versa,” Ebanga says. “At the end, the product you are putting on the market is far better than the one you could have done alone.”
Both GE and Snecma own their own technology. Snecma works on the front and back of the engine, while GE works on the middle of the engine. For LEAP, they both have been developing technologies for their respective parts of the engine, but the companies don’t unilaterally say, ‘Here’s our part of the engine.’ The other company has to accept and agree with the technology based on analysis. There are checks and balances that go into the process.
“Based on the other company’s remarks, you can improve your own part,” he says. “Snecma might make some comments about the core, which is the responsibility of GE and taking into account these remarks GE will improve its own part of the engine and vice versa. It’s a mutual cross-pollination.”
The level of compromise and collaboration that CFM has developed has been built up during more than 30 years and is now a major part of the joint venture’s culture.
“In our case, the different GE and Snecma leaders, over time, understood that CFM’s success is more important than their own success,” Ebanga says. “That is to say that if I’m trying to optimize my own interests rather than CFM’s interests, at the end of the day, I would lose the game.”
CFM and GE have been very successful at carrying out this approach even though the leaders have changed.
“One way to do that is we manage young leaders in the challenges of working in this strategic partnership environment,” he says. “If you are growing leaders in this environment, eventually when they are in the top spot, they will have the framework to deal with what makes up the success of this JV.”
A joint venture takes an investment in both people and process in order to make it work.
“In a strategic partnership, it is like being a couple — you could fall in love day one and it’s great for a couple of weeks, but if you are not investing in the relationship … it won’t be a great love story,” he says.
Plan for the future
One of the main challenges CFM has is that in the ’70s it was just a start-up company. Now it has become the leader of the aircraft engine industry, and in order to remain in that position, Ebanga and the company must be forward-thinking.
CFM has several matters it needs to focus on for the future of the company. No. 1 is executing on current commitments.
“This is a big deal because we are currently developing a new engine family called LEAP, and the start of this new program has been very successful,” Ebanga says. “We are the sole power plant for the next generation of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, one of the two engine makers of the Airbus A320 aircraft, and we are the sole power plant of the new Chinese COMAC C919 aircraft.”
Beyond making LEAP the next engine of preference, CFM also has to ensure that whatever changes the market goes through in a decade or two from now the company will be able to adapt and reinvent itself to stay in the leading position.
“When you are in this top-dog phase, it’s difficult,” he says. “It’s about working on a short-term basis and, at the same time, articulating a strategy to change the way we are running to make sure we will still have the appropriate fit 10 years from now.”
Planning for what the future has in store is not an easy task. You need to address the situation in a very humble way.
“You are already overwhelmed by the shop-time challenges and to find time and perspective to think about the long-term is rather difficult,” Ebanga says. “Being humble helps you to engage in this journey. Along the way, you will have a lot of reasons to give up for a while and stick with the short-term. I think this is a recipe for failure. You need to stay humble on one end but also stay engaged and not let things go away.”
You also need to understand your market but not in the way you understand your market for your short-term objective.
“When you are looking at the market on a short-term basis, it is to make sure you have the appropriate marketing and value proposition to get yourself up and make your numbers,” he says. “When you are looking at the long-term perspective, it’s really the ability to elaborate scenarios about the change in your industry.” ?
How to reach: CFM International, (513) 563-4180 or www.cfmaeroengines.com
Drive compromise and collaboration for best results.
Be able to reinvent your business to adapt to your market.
Develop plans for how the future of your market may unfold.
The Ebanga File
President and CEO
Born: Paris, France
Education: Graduated from École Nationale Supérieure d'Électricité et de Mécanique (ENSEM), France with a degree in engineering
What was your very first job, and what did you take away from that experience?
I was the leader of the photo club in high school. A lesson I learned from that time is that you can have some great ideas and be very fast in your head, but you have to have the ability to bring people up to speed. This is a great example of how a real organization works.
What got you into aviation?
It was the beauty and the exceptional achievement that this industry is all about. When I was in high school, I had two dreams—the first one was to be an architect and the second was to be an engineer to design great things. To imagine that I could generate some great things to enable this kind of achievement was absolutely fascinating for me. So I chose the engineering path and it still gives me great satisfaction. An aircraft engine is an absolutely amazing piece of technology, but also a piece of art.
Who is someone that you admire in business?
My first thought was the leaders and initial creators of Intel. Not only was this company able to start from nothing as CFM did and became the leading company in the microchip/microprocessor business. Initially they were the leader in the memory business and then they reached a point where they had to reinvent themselves. The reason Intel is the great company they are today is because they were able to reinvent themselves in the absolutely right way. So I admire this generation of Intel leaders.
What does Anthem do to support women in business? The same things we do to support every business leader — because women expect the same value, innovation and dedication as any other forward-thinking leader. How do we know? Our parent company was named a 2012 “Top 50 Company for Executive Women” by the National Association for Female Executives.
We also listen to the many women business leaders we serve to stay on target. Ohio is ranked No. 9 of the top 10 states for women-owned businesses. And as of 2012, there are more than 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating about $1.3 trillion in revenue and employing 7.7 million people. Clearly, women have a voice in everything we do.
At Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, that means working hard every day to improve the lives of the people we serve.
With the help of many successful women, we’ve been able to:
? Make meaningful connections with our members — from online groups to personal health coaching.
? Develop leading health plans that reflect diverse needs in a changing market.
? Teach people how their healthy choices influence the people around them.
? Inspire kids and their families to choose (and stick with) healthy habits.
? Help lower health care costs with new plans, new payment models and new technology.
Thanks to all the women who lead by example, extend helping hands to our communities and pave the way for the next generation of successful women. ?
Denise Tomechko is vice president of national account management for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Reach her at (800) 928-2902, www.anthem.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HealthJoinIn.
Click the links below to read about the 2013 Perspectives panelists and sponsors:
For Chuck Shive, coming to Mikesell’s Snack Foods Co. was an opportunity to get into a different industry and utilize his background to make a difference. He entered Mikesell’s as the executive vice president of marketing, looking to upgrade a more than 100-year-old potato chip brand.
Not long after Shive started, the company’s CEO, David Ray, retired and Shive made the leap to president and CEO in May 2012, becoming only the fourth CEO in history of the company, a 180-employee organization with annual revenues of more than $40 million.
Once he was in the top spot, he turned his attention to building on the company’s strengths while also taking the opportunity to rebrand outdated packaging and also introduced new flavors of chips.
“It was an opportunity to take the equities that the brand has and build on those,” Shive says. “We didn’t want to touch the quality of the product, because in 100 years we’ve learned how to make it pretty well over here, but we wanted to take a look at the packaging and differentiate it and emphasize our premium product.”
While Shive and his team at Mikesell’s believe they have the best chip in the marketplace, the branding and packaging didn’t reflect that. Shive set out to make some overdue changes and upgrades.
“The keys were building on the strengths that we do have, but also looking at the challenges and opportunities going forward and being willing to address those rather quickly so we could establish our new strategic direction going forward and get that in front of our employees and in front of our partners and make sure it was a dynamic transition as it was happening,” Shive says.
Here is how Shive combined company strengths with new ideas to improve a more than 100-year-old brand.
Find your direction
Undertaking a challenge such as rebranding a company, not to mention one with a rich history, is a daunting task. Shive had to make sure he did his due diligence before moving forward with ideas.
“You have to ask a lot of questions,” Shive says. “Ask a lot of questions with your team, with your employees and with your suppliers. How do they view the company? How do they see the strengths and weaknesses of the company? What are the opportunities going forward? What are the great ideas?”
Mikesell’s received a lot of ideas from its employees over the past year and especially since Shive has been in charge. The company executes on the ideas that make sense and will move the business forward.
“There’s a lot of good institutional knowledge among partners and employees that all you have to do is ask and they’re willing to share that information and ideas,” he says.
Sitting in the CEO chair, Shive had his own ideas about where he wanted to lead the company.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there and some are opportunities that make sense for you and some don’t,” he says. “You’re going to understand that as you move forward and move through the planning process and strategy development process and then the execution around that strategy.”
While Shive had his own ideas about direction, that doesn’t mean he ignored others’ input in the decision process.
“It is a balance,” he says. “You strategically have an idea of where you want to go and through asking a lot of good questions and getting a lot of good feedback and working with your executive team and others, you refine that strategy based on what is realistic to expect and execute going forward.
“At the same time if you believe in your strategy, your team and employees, and the company understands what that strategy is and you’ve communicated it well enough, then it becomes time to implement it and execute it.”
Define your brand
To execute on the direction Shive wanted to take the company moving forward, he sat down and discussed how they wanted the new branding to look and what the challenges and opportunities would be.
“We basically took an overall review of our branding as a company, our branding on our packaging and what the strong points were that we wanted to keep and what we thought we could do better with going forward,” Shive says. “Some of the key equities of the brand and packaging that we have is, No. 1, our name.
“Mikesells is an iconic brand for this region, so we didn’t want to touch that to any degree, but we wanted to refresh the small town feel that we have.”
Mikesell’s old packaging as well as some of its competitor’s old packaging was what Shive calls “old foil cartoon-looking packaging.” Mikesell’s made subtle switches such as moving from a foil bag to a matte-finish bag, which gave the product a much more premium look and feel in the marketplace.
The company also cleaned up some of its messaging that has appeared on the packaging since 1910. The slogan changed from, ‘They are delicious’ to ‘Creating delicious since 1910.’
“We went through that process and some consumer testing and reviewing with the steps along the way to make sure we were making the right moves and that consumers were delighted by the new packaging we were coming out with,” he says. “Then it just became the process of implementing that with our packaging partners to bring the new branding to life on the new bags.”
The company also took the opportunity to find what differentiates Mikesell’s from its competitors in the snack food arena.
“It’s not our packaging, it’s our product, but with our old packaging you really didn’t get a look and feel of what our product was,” Shive says. “You didn’t see the actual appetite appeal that our product has, so we wanted to emphasize that on the new packaging moving forward.”
Mikesell’s strength was its product and the rebranding of its packaging helped to emphasize how good the product really was.
“A lot of people may look at a brand change as an opportunity to correct weaknesses, but for us we look at it as an opportunity to build on the strengths that we have,” he says. “That’s a more proactive than reactive approach to take to it.”
Building on those strengths allowed Shive and Mikesell’s to develop a newer brand that will help push the company forward for many years.
“It’s about getting to an area that you’re really comfortable with that you’ve kept the soul of the brand and enhanced it to where it meets what you’re looking for going forward,” he says. “It’s not a quick fix. Our point of rebranding and upgrading our packaging was not so we could do it every couple of years.”
Add new products
Once the new branding had been put in place, Shive kept busy last summer by also adding new products to the company’s line of potato chips. Mikesell’s introduced a sweet chili and sour cream flavor and a Tuscan spice flavor.
“We wanted to put flavors in there that matched consumer wants and desires,” Shive says. “These are the first new flavors we’ve added in more than five years. We’re constantly reviewing what our offerings are and whether we see any need for new products out there.”
Mikesell’s is always consulting its employees, consumer feedback and its partners to help drive new product decisions.
“We get to try new flavors constantly,” he says. “We take them through a process where we rank them versus existing flavors or rank them on the taste qualities and expectations of a particular flavor going forward.
“If we have a particular item out there where it doesn’t seem like we made the right decision for what the consumer was looking for, then we’ll look at moving that out and replacing it with a new flavor or new offering.”
One of the reasons Mikesell’s released these two new flavors was because it had been a while since the company had new offerings out in the market.
“By the nature of the business, consumers are looking for new, different flavors and we’re making a conscious effort to be a little more responsive to that,” Shive says.
Releasing new products that make an immediate impact is a game of hit or miss.
“You want to do all of your due diligence and define what that product is going to be based on robust consumer and market research,” he says. “Then you have to follow through with it and be prepared to support it when you bring it out.
“A lot of people want every single item or product that they introduce to be a home run and that’s just not going to happen. You have to go in knowing that and expecting that. You take the learning’s from that, and you apply them to the next one.”
How to reach: Mikesell’s Snack Foods Co., (937) 228-9400 or www.mike-sells.com
Gather input for any new direction of your business.
Build on strengths, don’t correct weaknesses.
Do consumer and market research surrounding new product releases.
The Shive File
President and CEO
Mikesell’s Snack Foods Co.
Born: Vicksburg, Miss.
Education: Graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a B.S. in business administration
Sports: He was a pitcher at Southern Miss from 1987-89. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies and spent one year in their minor league system. “All I ever wanted to do was be a professional baseball player, and I got to do it for a little bit.”
What was your very first job, and what did you learn from that experience?
One of my first jobs was working in a production plant on a production line grabbing containers of pesticides and sticking them into boxes for eight hours a day. What I learned was in that line, nobody is independent from anybody else. In what is considered a basic menial job, you’re still dependent on the guy to your right and the guy to your left to make sure that the line ran correctly.
From the earliest job that you could have, even to the role I’m in now, you’re still reliant on interactions with other people.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
None of us is smarter than all of us collectively. The collective wisdom of a group outshines any individual wisdom.
What is your favorite Mikesell’s product?
It’s tough to pick among them, but I’m a big fan of the new sweet chili and sour cream chips. A close second would be our bold Bahama barbecue kettle chips. I like spice and flavor.
What are you most excited for about the future of the company?
Where we are today there’s still so many growth opportunities out there that we haven’t tapped and putting our strategy in motion to go out and attack those growth opportunities is what gets me going every day.
Nearly four years ago, when Tom Salpietra joined EYE Lighting International of North America Inc. as its president and COO, a woman approached him interested in operational development at the company.
Since Salpietra was a new leader, it was expected that he would make changes within the company to improve EYE Lighting International while keeping the best things about the company intact.
“Everybody is going to have things wrong, but if you preserve what’s right, that’s where the secret is in organizational development and implementing change,” Salpietra says. “If you screw up the things that are right, that’s where you go wrong.”
Salpietra worked with her to develop questions to interview the employees about what they liked at the company. Since this was an appreciative inquiry the study only focused on what the employees thought was sacred about EYE Lighting International, not about what needed to be fixed.
The study found that every employee was extremely engaged in the company and its business.
“This was how we developed the four basic principles around the customer,” Salpietra says. “We made the customer the center of the business and did process improvement to all the things that we do on a day-in and day-out basis.”
EYE Lighting International is a nearly $100 million U.S. division of Iwasaki Electric of Japan. The company designs and manufactures high performance lamps, luminaries and lighting-related products that serve major commercial, retail, industrial, utility and specialty application lighting markets in North and South America.
Since Salpietra’s arrival at EYE Lighting, he has been focusing on efforts to develop new technology and to keep the organization’s sights on the next big thing in the lighting industry all while maintaining employee engagement levels.
Progress your company
EYE Lighting International’s unique competitive advantage is how the company doses the arc tube of its lighting products (dosing refers to the mix of metals inside the arc tube). The market is currently producing a lot of high intensity discharge (HID) lighting but soon the market will move to LED lighting. While LED works in certain applications, it is expensive, and there are still kinks to work out in other applications where it’s not ready for prime time.
“We’re trying to shift the company from just making HID lamps to offering broader solutions in our market segment,” Salpietra says. “We’re not going to stray from our core competency, which is dosing the arc tube and making unique types of lamps. The challenge we have is if we don’t move in that direction, our years and decades of existence will start to decline.”
As a management team, EYE Lighting knew that the company didn’t have to change too much to succeed, but if it didn’t start changing and moving in a certain direction, it wouldn’t be in that same kind of comfort zone it has been three, six or 10 years from now.
“We’ve taken it very seriously that what we do today will impact the company years down the road,” Salpietra says.
With the lighting industry making a slow transition into LED, Salpietra and his team had to look for opportunities that better suited EYE Lighting’s general lighting purposes until LED is ready for the applications where the company would primarily use it.
“The merging of the two traditional technologies into ceramic metal halide gave us the ability to continue to do what we do, which is making lamps,” Salpietra says. “If that technology wasn’t there, we’d be lost and everybody would be rushing to do LED more quickly.”
What EYE Lighting has been able to do is make the regular technology much more efficient and deliver white light, which creates good color rendering and color temperatures to be able to see both in the day time and at night.
“It’s been proven that white light versus a yellow light or a blue light make a big difference in being able to see,” he says. “If you can make your light create the spectrum that matches the way the human eye wants to see the spectrum and discern it, you’ve just enhanced the way you do it.”
On top of developing new technology to enhance the company’s core offerings, EYE Lighting has been looking for broader applications to its technology and has its sights on potential partnerships that could benefit the company.
“When we do our strategic planning, we look heavily at our core competencies and what we think we can do with new technologies,” he says. “Part of every good company’s strategy has to be looking at the M&A side of things as well; you want to grow organically, but what should you do to augment that growth with outside skills and services?”
Salpietra and his team are keeping their options open for potential strategic alliances, mergers, joint ventures or buying a company outright.
“In order to grow and thrive and create jobs and create value for our customers, shareholders and employees, we’ve got to look at the overall business and determine what we can be looking at to expand our business beyond what we do day-in and day-out,” he says.
A big move that EYE Lighting made in November 2012 was the acquisition of Aphos Lighting LLC, which expedited EYE Lighting’s move into LED. The products acquired are LED-based luminaires that carry with them 14 different design patents for their optical, mechanical and thermal management performance. EYE Lighting will maintain the Aphos name for this new line that will expand its business by introducing LED luminaires to municipalities, utilities and industrial customers.
“As we’ve looked in the general lighting market space, we ask ourselves what’s our core competence and where do we want to go. We get involved in a lot of unique things that stem from our core technology.”
The other areas in which EYE Lighting participates, in addition to the general lighting market, are institutional, educational and hobby markets.
“Because we dose that arc tube differently than anybody else in the world, we’re able to recreate some spectral distributions of light,” he says. “Not just the color of light, but the intensity and what light rays are being emitted from the lamp.”
Due to this ability, EYE Lighting can make lamps that enhance plant growth, as well as lamps that can simulate solar power for use by companies or universities doing solar tests. The company also makes solar aging equipment for businesses such as Sherwin-Williams, Behr paint, automotive companies that make windshield wipers, roofing companies, and anything that’s outdoor-oriented.
“Those types of companies want to test in a lab whether or not they’re going to get a 30-year warranty, but they don’t want to test for 30 years,” Salpietra says. “The equipment nowadays has you test six to nine months to be able to project a 20- or 30-year lifespan.
“We make a machine which is called a super UV. You can put samples in the machine and within three weeks we can equate 10 to 15 years. We can also put more than just UV rays on it; we can also put water on it and chill it.”
These types of broader offerings are due to the highly engaged employees that EYE Lighting has been able to keep around the business over the years.
Keep employees engaged
With a Japanese parent company, EYE Lighting puts a lot of focus on lean manufacturing and kaizen events, and 130 employees are quick to recommend how to better the business.
“What is unique about us is that every employee on the factory floor changes positions at least once a day,” Salpietra says. “Everybody is highly cross-trained and capable of performing at least two different jobs.”
Some employees remain in the same department and move upstream in the process versus downstream. Others will go from one department that transforms the raw material, and then they go to the end of the line to do packaging.
“It allows us a tremendous amount of flexibility,” he says. “The employees love it because they don’t get bored in their daily job. Ergonomically it’s good for them because they’re not doing the same repetitive task day-in and day-out when they come here. It helps keep them alert and safe, especially when they know different jobs and how to behave around different pieces of equipment.”
One thing missing from EYE Lighting that most other manufacturers utilize is a suggestion box. Salpietra says his employees will come forward with ideas on their own, making a suggestion box unnecessary.
“Everything emanates from the floor,” he says. “When the employees change jobs by going upstream or to another department, they see the product of their work or the beginning of what comes to them to pass on to somebody else. So they inherently get together to have a kaizen event over a particular issue.”
To aid in employee’s abilities to help the company further its growth and development, Salpietra and his team implemented four core principles: customer-centric, process improvement, financial focus and talent development.
“We did this rather simplistically to make sure that it was easy for everyone to recite and keep it close to them day-in and day-out,” Salpietra says. “We keep our customer at the center of our business. We deal with process improvement, which is part of our DNA as a Japanese-owned division.
“And everyone in every organization wants to improve and enhance the skill set of employees, so we push our people to get out of their comfort zone.”
Develop your talent
To keep EYE Lighting employees on their feet and thinking about different aspects of the business, Salpietra made talent development a big part of the organization’s core principles.
“We added talent development because that captures what we do on the factory side that we want to do throughout the whole organization, which is work out of your comfort zone,” Salpietra says. “You’re going to become more knowledgeable and more valuable for yourself.”
To allow your employees to grow and develop, you have to be willing to give them the tools and resources to do so.
“You need to have an open-door policy,” he says. “The leadership, especially new leadership, has to develop two things primarily — trust as a leader and then respect comes. Then you can develop the feeling of hope. If the employees see that there’s hope in things and they become a part of that, it will help engage them.”
That engagement will also help when your company has to make a tough decision or make a change in direction.
“It’s very important that you get a lot of group interaction so that when you go to make a decision or implement a change, everybody is onboard with that,” he says. “If you engage your people and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to move in this direction and we’re going to need your help. We do not know all the answers.’
“They love to hear that because they will have questions and suggestions for the company. As much as you engage your employees, they will become engaged on their own. All of a sudden ideas and suggestions will start surfacing.”
How to reach: EYE Lighting International of North America Inc., (440) 350-7000 or www.eyelighting.com
Keep yourself in tune with your industry and where it’s going next.
Always think about ways to broaden core offerings.
Develop talent and keep employees engaged in the business.
Edward Kennedy is an experienced chief executive with a successful track record of creating value at companies in the communications equipment industry. So it’s no surprise that his ascent within Tollgrade Communications Inc., a more than $50 million, 120-employee provider of network assurance solutions for the utility and telecommunication industries, was a quick one.
Kennedy was named to the board of directors in June 2009 to help the company from a strategic standpoint. He became chairman of the board in March 2010, and just three months later, he became Tollgrade’s president and CEO. In his more than two years in the role, he has helped Tollgrade grow in several ways.
“Our customer base is the who’s who of telecom players, both here in the United States and Europe — AT&T, Verizon, Quest, Frontier, British Telephone and more,” Kennedy says. “We have a very strong footprint — roughly about 250 million lines under test — 140 million in the U.S. and 110 million in Europe.
“Because of all that, we have over the years, developed some very, very sophisticated software that allows us to maintain this leadership role in testing.”
Beyond Tollgrade’s core service of testing telephone lines, Kennedy has helped the company break into the smart-grid business with a product called LightHouse.
“As utilities globally look at how to become more efficient with their distribution of electricity and also how they manage different types of electricity generation, such as renewables and how that comes into the network, the ability to monitor your network becomes key and that’s what we do with our smart-grid product,” Kennedy says. “That’s a high-growth area for us.”
While Tollgrade’s core business and its new smart-grid business are similar technologies, they are vastly different businesses, and trying to grow a new business while maintaining the other has been Kennedy’s biggest challenge.
Here is how Kennedy is balancing Tollgrade Communications’ growth of a new business while maintaining its core service to take the company to the next level.
Create investment opportunities
Along with the challenge Kennedy has of balancing a new growth opportunity and an existing business, he also needed to find ways to invest more in the future of the company.
“One of the things we did back in May 2011 is we went off of the NASDAQ and went from being public to being private,” Kennedy says. “The motivation to do that was we saw the requirement to make larger investments in new products and larger investments in increased infrastructure inside the company.”
As a public company, you’re measured on a very tight set of parameters. All of those metrics don’t lend themselves when you want to do an investment for the future.
“In a public company it’s kind of a catch 22 — you don’t really have enough money to invest the way you want to grow the business, but if you don’t invest, the business won’t grow the way you need it to maintain increasing stock price,” he says.
Tollgrade decided it needed to look around and see what it could do to unlock some of the investment dollars. The best way for the company to do that was to go private. The company was then bought by a large private equity firm out of California called Golden Gate Capital, a $12 billion fund that invests in all sorts of technology companies.
“With that we are allowed the flexibility to make investments the way we need to grow the business,” Kennedy says. “It allows us to invest for the future, which these days is pretty challenging. Keeping one step ahead of the competition, but also having the next generation of products is going to be key to keeping your business vital.”
Strike a balance
Tollgrade’s ticket to keeping the business vital is through the growth of its LightHouse product in the smart-grid area.
“The smart-grid area has the largest potential for growth and is the one that is the most challenging because we are in so many different areas and applications,” Kennedy says. “The utility environment itself is in a period of change and the requirements for electricity are ever increasing.”
Utilities are looking at how to better manage their grid, which opens up a huge opportunity because the power grid has been the same for many decades.
“Now what’s happening is the issue of different types of power generation where it’s not just nuclear plants, coal plants, hydro plants; it’s also wind farms, cellular rays and things like that,” he says. “There’s a whole new set of demands that have to be addressed and that’s what we are going after.”
While Tollgrade is investing heavily in the smart grid and is one of the market leaders in the sensing and monitoring of that for the utility group, its telecommunications business is also still vibrant and growing. Kennedy has to make sure that Tollgrade is successful at striking a balance between both the new business and the existing business.
“Having multiple business lines in very different market areas is challenging and where it becomes challenging is you want to make sure you put enough investment in the new products to grow it, but you’ve got to make sure you’re not hurting the overall profitability of the business by investing too much,” he says.
Where companies get in trouble or get offline is they don’t sit and think about what the metrics are for success along the process.
“Everybody says, ‘I want to grow this from zero to $100 million in sales,’” he says. “But what are the major steps along the way and what are the definable milestones that you can figure out whether you’re making progress toward that? If you’re not making the progress you thought … what are the issues preventing you from hitting the milestones?
“Having that kind of environment where you’re analyzing in real-time how your business is doing makes people gloss over a little bit because they’re so busy trying to grow the business. As a CEO your primary role is to step back and think on a more strategic and global basis to understand how the company is doing.”
If you’re not keeping tabs on how all your business segments are performing, it is very easy to lose track of one or more of them.
“The core business can’t be seen as an orphan or a stepchild because all the fun and excitement is in the new products,” Kennedy says. “People have to realize that maintaining and growing the existing business is as important, or sometimes even more important, than the new initiatives because the new initiatives aren’t paying for anything if they are still in the investment mode.”
When focusing on a new business, you have to put together some milestones to get to a certain amount of revenue in a certain amount of time and highlight what needs to happen in order to get there.
“As you move forward with your plan, you need to compare that to what’s actually happening and have a feedback loop to understand if you were too aggressive or not,” Kennedy says. “You have to constantly improve your model to better predict how you’re doing moving forward.”
There is a different set of metrics that you put on a new product or a new business area because you have to take increased risks that you wouldn’t take in your existing business because you no longer need to.
“Sometimes these risks work out and sometimes they don’t,” he says. “Failure isn’t not achieving a goal. Failure is not trying hard enough to achieve the goal.
“You focus in on your core strengths and what you know and what you don’t know and by having a very clear conversation with the team that’s running the new business, you can have a view of what progress is and how you measure it and figure out if it’s doing what you think it’s doing.”
The biggest key to having successful growth of a new or existing business is the people who drive the company every day.
“It is crucial to have very motivated and smart people under you that get it,” Kennedy says. “You have to give them an environment where they want to go out and grow the business and they’re rewarded for growing the business and success is seen as management of risks and rewards versus making sure that they stay in their comfort zone.” ?
How to reach: Tollgrade Communications Inc., (724) 720-1400 or www.tollgrade.com
- Create opportunities that enable investments for the future.
- Strike a balance in how you grow a new and existing business segment.
- Set goals and create milestones to measure growth.
The Kennedy File
President and CEO
Tollgrade Communications Inc.
Education: Has a B.S. in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech
What was your very first job and what did you learn from that experience?
My first job was cutting lawns around my neighborhood. I’ve always been kind of a high-energy-driven kind of guy. I learned that you have to work hard to get ahead.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Be tenacious and thoughtful and think about what you want to do and then be relentless to get it.
What are you most excited about for the future of Tollgrade?
I’m excited about the fact that we have a huge installed base in the telecommunications side that we can continue to grow and help our customers globally to provide better service for their customers. On the smart grid side there is a huge opportunity to help the whole energy marketplace in a better and more efficient delivery of electricity. That’s going to be a major social trend and a major business trend and we can be a pretty significant player in that.
If you could speak with someone from the past or present, with whom would you want to speak with?
I would like to sit and talk to Winston Churchill. He was a man who faced incredible situations and had the weight of a lot on his shoulders, and it would have been interesting to see in his time what he was thinking.
If you had the chance to do something dangerous one time, without consequence, what would you do?
If I couldn’t get hurt, I would want to try flying around in one of those squirrel suits. As long as I land safely, that would be fun to do.
As a 20-year veteran of the insurance industry, Charlie Rosson has seen his fair share of financial uncertainty, economic downturns and business struggles. So when he was promoted to CEO of Woodruff-Sawyer & Co. on Jan. 1, 2008, Rosson recognized rather quickly that his tenure was going to coincide with all three.
“Right from the start, like everybody, we were thrown a pretty difficult set of circumstances to deal with,” says Rosson, CEO of the San Francisco-based insurance services firm. “So many businesses were impacted in terms of their sales and access to capital and their business overall. The recession impacted our clients directly, and we were challenged to respond to that by coming up with more aggressive programs for them to quickly save them money and to help a lot of them through survival mode.”
Although clients were losing revenue and facing serious financial struggles of their own, the firm still needed to find ways to keep business profitable. But many clients could also no longer afford the firm’s services and products at the same rates or prices as in the past.
Like most professional service firms, Woodruff-Sawyer needed to find ways to keep clients’ businesses afloat but also avoid losing their business.
“Obviously, we had to become more efficient in the way that we do business, and we had to recognize in a lot of cases our clients weren’t willing or didn’t have the wherewithal to pay the same type of fees or commissions that they might have before the difficult time,” Rosson says.
“The way we would structure an insurance program before the financial crisis or before things got really difficult obviously wasn’t implacable anymore. So we had to kind of come to terms and help them with declining values and property, shrinking payrolls and overall downturn.”
Finding creative ways to deliver the same types of programs for clients more affordably wouldn’t be simple, especially because each client’s business was so different.
Rosson knew that the firm needed to work much more closely with clients to figure out win-win solutions.
“We had to negotiate greatly reduced premiums for them and come up with coverages that met their needs but were at a price point that they could afford,” he says.
So as Rosson and his team began talking with clients about their changing risks and opportunities, they also asked each client for a list of must-haves.
“We really had to dig in and find out what are the things our clients truly value and what things are sort of “nice to haves” that they didn’t value as much, and frankly, weren’t willing to pay for,” Rosson says.
“We’re fortunate that the clients we serve we have a great relationship with and normally have a pretty deep dialogue with them and attempt to fully understand their business,” he says. “So we can go in and talk about the services we deliver, how they’re delivered and how the team is structured, then drill into what things are important to them. Then we ask them honest questions about what things they can live without.”
Knowing your customer’s “deal breakers” can help you pinpoint the exact value that you add for them, allowing you to identify and recommend business solutions that are cost-effective but that still meet that customer’s needs.
“What clients are looking for is value, and in our case, it’s quality of advice,” Rosson says. “It’s how do we help our clients become more successful? And oftentimes when we partner up with them and really understand their business, we can help them execute a strategy that maybe they wouldn’t be able to execute without us.”
You may see opportunities to meet the future needs of your customers as trends emerge of where their businesses are moving and as new technologies come along. For example, the recession spurred the firm’s investment in technology to help address client issues.
“The current generation of buyers has already adopted technology as a core part of the way they do business, and that curve is only going to get steeper as newer generations come into the workforce and become leaders of companies,” Rosson says. “They’re going to expect that they can interact with service providers and professionals through some sort of technology medium. They’re not going to expect the traditional back and forth model that’s defined our industry for quite a while.”
Trim the excess
Once you identify your clients’ pain points and priorities, you can begin looking for ways to serve their needs more efficiently.
Rosson realized that although Woodruff-Sawyer continued to deliver valuable services and advice for clients, the firm could save time and cost by streamlining its approach — as could its clients.
“We had to get much more efficient in terms of the way we structured our teams, and we had to use technology in ways that we hadn’t before, in terms of delivering things through the Web that may have been done before either face-to-face or through some other lower-tech way to deliver service and advice,” he says. “So we are using technology in different ways, and we’re just more careful in terms of how we assign resources to client teams.”
Rosson restructured the company’s practice teams to put the focus on having the right people in the right roles, instead of just more bodies, to cut down on unnecessary costs.
“Don’t get swept away by how much revenue you think somebody can generate or how dazzling somebody is,” Rosson says. “Really do your homework and find out what that person is all about. Are they really a fit for the organization? Do they really have the client’s best interests at heart? Can they collaborate well with others? Those are really important things.”
Another way Rosson saw to improve efficiency was integrating technologies that could make communication more user-friendly for clients. Most of the technologies Woodruff-Sawyer has deployed are collaborative, meaning they enable communication between clients and associates outside of the traditional email and face-to-face meetings. In addition to saving its clients cost and time, many changes have streamlined the firm’s processes overall.
For example, the firm now issues all of its certificates online and deployed a portal called Passport, which permits document sharing and collaboration with clients over the Web to expedite projects.
Since seeing the positive impacts, Rosson has continued to pursue a direction that involves technological innovation. Recently, the firm launched an online portal for small businesses called, BizInsure, hired a chief information officer and has made investments in online business to ramp up its overall technology component.
“I’m absolutely convinced that emerging technology is going to have a disruptive impact on our business,” he says. “And I believe it’s going to be in a positive way, and we’ll be right there to capitalize on it. The way that we’re going to interact with our clients in the future is going to be different that our traditional model.”
Enable a responsive culture
Of course, it’s difficult to devise efficient and cost-effective solutions for clients if you don’t empower employees to be creative and test their ideas. Businesses that run their organizations with a heavy-handed, top-down leadership structure can easily stifle the kind of creative, engaged culture it takes to provide the most value to clients, Rosson says.
“To be a top-tier professional services firm, by definition, you want to have professionals — and you need to treat them that way,” he says. “The way to treat them that way is to respect what they do and be there if they need advice and guidance. You have to have a certain amount of structure, but listening and not being overly prescriptive or top-down in our approach has really paid dividends.”
Rosson avoids a command and control culture at Woodruff-Sawyer by furthering the firm’s corporate vision to remain an independent brokerage firm. Being a 100 percent ESOP firm gives the company a flexible infrastructure where top people feel empowered to make decisions and operate with more freedom, he says. With no shareholders, employees are able to focus on the client and do things for clients that might be difficult under a different leadership structure.
“We’re able to do things for clients in terms of being flexible and the people who are working with clients have a lot more authority to get things done for them, deploy resources and make decisions that our competitors who might have a different ownership system can’t,” Rosson says.
“Our independence is a key part of our competitive advantage and a big part of our culture.”
The independent structure has also helped the firm attract talented employees who value autonomy and the ability to be responsible to a client’s needs. And for companies that can’t do an ESOP, leadership comes into play even more. As a CEO it’s important to set the tone for your direct reports and other employees by showing that you trust their decision-making abilities.
“I truly believe that we have the best people in the industry,” Rosson says. “These are people who have arrived at a place professionally. They don’t need me to look over their shoulder or a leader to second-guess what they are doing.”
Rosson says in the future, the firm will continue to be prudent and watching the bottom line while making investments in technology and internal perpetuation to keep the firm independent. By successfully delivering insurance services in an efficient and user-friendly way for clients, the firm has not only retained clients, it’s also been extremely successful in adding new business.
“The vast majority of our growth is organic growth through just going out and telling our story,” Rosson says. “With a lot of our competitors, and the large ones, it can be very difficult or very expensive to access very sophisticated resources. What we do is deliver those same resources or the same level of advice — or even better — but do it in a way that’s less expensive and much more user-friendly.”
As a result, Woodruff-Sawyer has grown its revenue approximately 40 percent since 2007, generating approximately $70 million in revenue in 2011.
“Like so many businesses, the downturn forced us to work smarter and more efficiently and embrace technology,” Rosson says. “As the economy has slowly improved and our clients’ businesses has improved, we’ve found that we’ve been able to leverage our technology and we haven’t had to increase our costs at the same rate that maybe we would have. So we’re actually seeing that our business is healthier now, after the downturn, than it was before.” ?
How to reach: Woodruff-Sawyer & Co.,
(415) 391-2141 or www.wsandco.com
Ask customers where your business provides the most value.
Utilize technology to cut down on time and cost in customer interactions.
Empower employees to help clients by avoiding a top-down culture.
The Rosson File
Woodruff-Sawyer & Co.
Born: San Jose, Calif.
Education: B.A. in history from UCLA
On growth: If you’ve got a very strong core business — I’m so bullish on the insurance business — you don’t need to take on too much debt or be overly grandiose in your expansion plans. Expansion and acquisitions all should be driven around acquiring people who fit into the organization, really bring something to the table and add to your organization rather than just executing a geographic growth strategy or putting pins in the map. All of your expansion should be for the right reasons, with the right people with client in mind, rather than trying to fill out (geographically) with different offices all over the place.
What is your favorite part of the business?
The best part of the business is getting out and meeting with clients and prospects. That’s why most of us got into this business and what really drives the passion for it. A lot of our relationships with clients go back 10, 15 and 30 years even. That’s the most fun part of it. I think it’s also really gratifying to successfully run the business and see the impact that you can have on employees’ lives.
What would you be doing if not for your current job?
Teaching English in Argentina
What one part of your daily routine would you never change?
Interacting with our clients and prospective clients
How do you regroup on a tough day?
I try to exercise every day.
What do you for fun?
Cooking, traveling, reading, coaching kids’ sports
All you need to do is look around to realize that the world is changing at a pace faster than anyone could have imagined. Every day, competition increases and the rules of engagement are rewritten. Keeping up with the Joneses is no longer enough to ensure survival.
Those manufacturers that understand how to remain in a state of constant adaptation have learned that this may be the only true key to thriving in the new economic realities of the global economy.
In the links below, we highlight 17 manufacturers that have taken steps to get ahead of change and forge their own paths. These award winners, honorable mentions and panelists for the 2013 Evolution of Manufacturing Conference, presented by Cuyahoga Community College, are truly setting the pace for others in this region. And we even identified a handful of companies that were engaged in initiatives “of note” to tell you about.
The conference is designed to recognize and showcase manufacturers and technology companies that have adapted to competition in a global economy through improved operations, new technologies, products or services. The 2013 program focuses on the continued evolution to advanced manufacturing with a focus on breakthrough concepts, transforming old-line manufacturers into high-tech manufacturers and what it takes to remain competitive and relevant in a new manufacturing age.
This year marks the 14th year of this annual event. This year’s honorees are culled from an extensive nomination and selection process which began in early fall and ended in early December.
Congratulations to the honorees and honorable mentions.
Click the links below to read the individual profiles for all of this year's honorees.
2013 Evolution of Manufacturing - Panalists
Tom Salpietra, president and COO, EYE Lighting International
Eric Lofquist, president and CEO, Magnus International Group
Suzy Remer, owner and CEO, Midwest Box Co.
2013 Evolution of Manufacturing - Winners
- ArtiFlex Manufacturing LLC
- R.W. Beckett Corp.
- H.C. Starck Inc.
- RBB Systems
- Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics
- Superior Products LLC
- Visual Marking Systems Inc.
- Voss Industries Inc.
2013 Evolution of Manufacturing - Honorable Mentions
2013 Evolution of Manufacturing - Manufactures "Of Note"
2013 Evolution of Manufacturing - Sponsors