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You would likely forgive James Turley if he forgot for just a moment about the importance of individual people.

After all, as chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young, he is responsible for about 144,000 of them, a population larger than the country of Grenada.

So if he spoke about his people in terms of regions, or even in terms of countries, it would make sense. And yet to hear Turley tell it, multibillion-dollar market movement is created by thinking about individuals.

“When you think about our culture, we have a mindset of people first,” Turley says. “We actually think first in every business decision we make about the impact on our people, because the people are all we are. Every one of our assets, when they go home at night, we want to be the kind of place they want to come back to the next day.”

And what gets people back in the office each day is a sense of ownership that makes them feel like they’re an entrepreneur growing a business in their local community.

“It’s very important that we stay entrepreneurial in spite of our size,” Turley says. “When the outside world looks at Ernst & Young, they see us as being the most global, as having the best people culture, and, very importantly, they see us as being best at both serving entrepreneurs as well as being entrepreneurial ourselves.”

To keep that entrepreneurial feel, Turley has to trust that people can keep things moving without him having to sign off on every decision.

“You do that by empowering people to actually make decisions and do the right thing every day,” he says.  

Global scale, local execution

That all sounds nice, but execution is, of course, the chariot of genius. Anybody can espouse the virtue of empowerment, but letting go of the reins can be tough.

Turley was in Cleveland in April for a Boy Scouts of America luncheon. He was the guest speaker and also got to spend plenty of time with Don Misheff, Northeast Ohio managing partner for Ernst & Young.

Misheff heads the local execution of Ernst & Young’s grand designs. He leads more than 1,000 people and was the committee chairman for the charity lunch. The event was the kind of touch point that has made Ernst & Young feel like a local shop. A company that’s spent 12 straight years on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list could likely do without having two top executives spending so much time in the marketplace, but the individuals outside the company are on both Misheff’s and Turley’s minds, too.

“I think keeping an open door, staying connected with our people, being engaged with them in daily activities in the community to understand what they’re dealing with from the market side of the house, that’s important,” Misheff says of being out in the local community. “The other thing, when we talk about entrepreneurship, it gets lost sometimes because people get too focused on size instead of style or culture.”

That culture is one that sees and understands that the local marketplace is where future employees are growing up and, ultimately, where global growth will be created. To Turley, opportunity is everywhere, and focusing on individuals instead of being trapped with the 30,000-foot level mindset of such a large organization is the most important thing he can do.

“At Ernst & Young we actually look at the world outside in terms of the potential that exists — the potential in people, in the companies out there, the potential in the community,” Turley says. “And we dedicate the skills we have to try to help others achieve that potential, so it’s very much community focused, very much focused on helping others. It’s something we do all around the world.”


Motoring through the desert

When Bill Ford Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., announced several years ago that he intended to apply his lifelong commitment to sustainability to the company his grandfather founded, few thought it would work.

Today, Ford’s vision has helped the motor company weather one of the worst economic climates in modern history and positioned Ford as an industry leader in developing economically friendly vehicles.

That’s one reason why Ernst & Young LLP asked Ford to kick off the CEO invitation-only Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum 2010, which will be held Nov. 10-14 in Palm Springs, Calif.

This program convenes more than 1,500 of the nation’s top CEOs, entrepreneurs, advisers, investors and other senior business leaders and is the country’s most prestigious gathering of high-growth, market-leading companies.

The forum delivers leading business advice designed to help entrepreneurs master strategies for company growth, discuss ideas on the transaction market and available capital, learn the critical success factors of mergers, acquisitions and IPOs, hear inspiring stories from game-changing entrepreneurs, and meet potential customers, investors, partners, acquisition targets and buyers.

It concludes with the 24th national Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year awards, the largest gathering of entrepreneurs in America, hosted by Jay Leno.

Beyond Ford, this year’s speaker lineup includes a who’s who of business:

  • Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO, The Coca-Cola Co.
  • A.G. Lafley, former chairman of the board, president and CEO, Procter & Gamble
  • Deepak Chopra, co-founder, The Chopra Center for Well Being
  • Tom Adams, CEO, Rosetta Stone Inc.
  • Arthur Levitt, former chairman of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission
  • Jeffrey Joerres, chairman and CEO, Manpower Inc.
  • Rob Enslin, president, SAP North America
  • Christina Lampe-Onnerud, founder and CEO, Boston-Power Inc.
  • Debi Fine, president and CEO, Direct Brands
  • Greg Norman, professional golfer and entrepreneur

Learn more at


Motoring through the desert

When Bill Ford Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., announced several years ago that he intended to apply his lifelong commitment to sustainability to the company his grandfather founded, few thought it would work.

Today, Ford’s vision has helped the motor company weather one of the worst economic climates in modern history and positioned Ford as an industry leader in developing economically friendly vehicles.

That’s one reason why Ernst & Young LLP asked Ford to kick off the CEO invitation-only Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum 2010, which will be held Nov. 10-14 in Palm Springs, Calif.

This program convenes more than 1,500 of the nation’s top CEOs, entrepreneurs, advisers, investors and other senior business leaders and is the country’s most prestigious gathering of high-growth, market-leading companies.

The forum delivers leading business advice designed to help entrepreneurs master strategies for company growth, discuss ideas on the transaction market and available capital, learn the critical success factors of mergers, acquisitions and IPOs, hear inspiring stories from game-changing entrepreneurs, and meet potential customers, investors, partners, acquisition targets and buyers.

It concludes with the 24th national Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year awards, the largest gathering of entrepreneurs in America, hosted by Jay Leno.

Beyond Ford, this year’s speaker lineup includes a who’s who of business:

  • Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO, The Coca-Cola Co.
  • A.G. Lafley, former chairman of the board, president and CEO, Procter & Gamble
  • Deepak Chopra, co-founder, The Chopra Center for Well Being
  • Tom Adams, CEO, Rosetta Stone Inc.
  • Arthur Levitt, former chairman of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission
  • Jeffrey Joerres, chairman and CEO, Manpower Inc.
  • Rob Enslin, president, SAP North America
  • Christina Lampe-Onnerud, founder and CEO, Boston-Power Inc.
  • Debi Fine, president and CEO, Direct Brands
  • Greg Norman, professional golfer and entrepreneur

Learn more at


Published in National

When Ralph de la Vega took over leading BellSouth’s Latin America division, the division and region were both in turmoil.

Each of the 11 leaders reporting to him was operating on his or her own, which created a slew of problems from the onset.

“We had 11 countries, so we had 11 different advertising agencies, 11 different product names, nothing was common,” de la Vega says. “We were not buying equipment as 11 united countries — we were buying them as individual countries, and we were never getting the best prices.”

In addition to that, the unit was struggling financially.

“The business as a unit had never made money, because it was a company that had been set up and was still in development mode when I got there,” he says.

Aside from the internal issues he faced, that particular part of the world also presented plenty of political issues for him. Right as he took over, Argentina went into a depression that devalued the peso 4-to-1, which took the revenue in that country from $1 billion to $250 million overnight.

Then there was Venezuela, which had been the most profitable country in his region, where Hugo Chavez was run out of office for a day and a half, a new leader was elected and abolished the country’s constitution, and then Chavez came back, resulting in business strikes and a gasoline crisis.

Oh, and then there was Brazil, where the unit’s partner decided to not put up a payment that was due on some debt, so it defaulted on a $1 billion loan, and de la Vega had to try renegotiating that with 34 Brazilian banks.

And don’t forget about Colombia, where the government started a new company to compete with him, and the rebels were blowing up his towers.

“Other than that, it was an incredibly stable environment,” he jokes.

De la Vega clearly had his work cut out for him. But by creating a new strategy, holding people accountable and taking a fresh look at things, he worked toward aligning those 11 entities as one business unit.

“You’re obviously up to your neck in alligators in so many different issues that sometimes it’s difficult to think about how you set a long-term strategy and create a vision and align people, but that’s exactly what we had to do to win long term,” he says. “I knew I was fighting fires in all those countries, but I knew that unless we had a longer-term vision for the company and we aligned those 11 countries to act as one, not 11 different ways, we were not going to succeed long term.”

Listen and get buy-in

The first thing de la Vega did was issue airline tickets to Miami to each country’s CEO, where he started by listening to each leader.

“That’s part of the coming together,” he says. “You have to storm to form. That’s what we did. We let each one of them talk about their view of how we address the challenges that we faced.”

Keep your mouth shut during this initial step.

“You have to have patience to hear them out,” he says. “I always like to start with a green-light session where it’s, ‘Let me hear your ideas — I’m not going to say that’s a good one or not,’” he says. “I just want to hear them all.

“You want to create an environment that’s not threatening. Otherwise you’re not going to get somebody’s big idea because they may feel internally that it’s not a good idea but it may be a huge idea if they give it to you.”

Then he started to highlight what he had heard from them and build common ground.

“Well that’s fine, that’s a good view for one country, but how do we win against multinational corporations that are attacking us and not in one country but 11 different countries?” he asked them.

Getting people to agree to a new direction requires two things.

“The key thing is to paint a picture of the future that is going to want to make them sacrifice and do the hard work because there is a better, more promising future for them,” he says.

And the other is to just be honest and realistic.

“It’s confronting the brutal facts and realizing that the course we were on was not sustainable and we needed to change,” de la Vega says. “If you’re upfront with them and don’t pull any punches and you’re honest and eventually you give them time, they will come around.”

Getting people to agree to a new direction requires them to compromise.

“You have to give up something you consider to be a compromise or a sacrifice but you’re doing it for the better good,” de la Vega says.

For example, each country was purchasing its own headsets, but as a result, they weren’t getting the best prices. By agreeing to purchase just four different kinds of headsets for the whole region, everyone would lose some of their individuality and choice, but it would reduce costs, so they ultimately realized it would help them win.

“It’s always trying to paint this vision of the future that makes them want to follow you,” de la Vega says. “That’s what leadership is all about — people wanting to follow what you’re suggesting they do. Otherwise, it’s not leadership.”

Put a plan together

Once you have people on board with you, then you can put together a plan to move you forward, but you have to be sure not to dictate to them.

“Sometimes I felt like I just wanted to dictate: ‘We’re going to do A, B and C, and that’s it,’ and that would have been more expedient for the short term but never would have accomplished the long-term objectives of getting the buy-in and getting people engaged and getting people enthusiastic for our vision for the future when they had a part in it rather than when it was dictated to them,” de la Vega says.

Instead, he asked his people to brainstorm what the top strategies should be.

“If we were going to go that [new] way, what would be the top 10 strategies and tactics to follow that?” he asked. “What are the must-dos?”

Limiting it to just 10 things will also help get buy-in down the ranks and across your organization.

“When you have unstable environments, people look to leadership for guidance, and if you’re all over the place and your priorities change and your strategic vision changes, people get very unsettled,” de la Vega says. “It’s very important to be very clear, very crisp and very consistent in what you want them to do, and then they’ll do it exceedingly well, and in some cases, it’ll probably surprise you how well.”

You might be thinking that it could be difficult to limit yourself to 10 things and are unsure of how to do that, and that’s where data comes into play.

“No. 1, you get input from those CEOs, but then you put a process in place where you just don’t listen to opinions, but you put the facts down by a creation of a plan, and that is you have to put some rigor into the financials of, ‘If we’re going to do X, Y and Z, what are the impacts of doing each of those 10 things?’” he says.

Pull out your calculators and do the math.

“We go, ‘If we execute that well, it should increase revenues by this much, reduce expenses by this much, acquire X number of new customers,’” he says.

Having a set plan is crucial to the overall turnaround process.

“Hope isn’t a strategy,” de la Ve

ga says. “Hoping things will get better or just coming up with ideas is not good enough. You have to come up with a plan that’s executable.”

Set metrics

With people on board and strategies set, then he had to find a way to make sure things got carried out.

“The key to making those initiatives into a reality is they have to be measurable — you can’t just say, ‘I want to go from A to B.’ I want to go from A to B, and I want to have these milestones that tell me I’m on the right path, I’m on the right timetable, and that I have people who are accountable that are going to make sure it gets done.

“Sometimes people have a vision or a goal that is not measurable, and I tell my people, ‘If you can’t measure it, you’re not going to be very effective in getting it done.’”

To do that, de la Vega instituted two mechanisms to measure people by. The first is the “Four R’s.” These break down the success rate into four indicators: rate of penetration — how many customers use your services?; revenue intensity — what revenue do those customers generate?; return on operations — are you making margins or not?; and reputation — how is the customer satisfaction?

When talking to employees, progress on these four R’s is always communicated so it’s ingrained in them that these are important.

“It’s keeping the metrics simple, keeping them consistent, keeping them so that people know exactly where you stand,” de la Vega says.

Then he breaks things down even more. For each individual initiative in those categories, he uses a color-coding system: red for missing goals, yellow for near misses, green for hitting goals.

“If you’re not doing well, you’re going to have a lot of reds next to your name,” he says. “Everybody knows if you’re doing well or not and that increases the accountability. Nobody can say, ‘We don’t know how we’re doing.’ Typically, if you challenge people with a goal and you give them a good plan and good goals, they will strive to achieve them. But if they don’t know the goals or the goals are unclear and there isn’t the plan, that’s when bad things will happen.”

Having this kind of accountability system allows you to see high-achievers and celebrate successes with your people. On the other end, it also helps you see where there may be problems so you can address them.

“The first thing, when something goes in the red, that I look for is an outlier — is it some specific event in that week or that month that caused that to happen, and if that’s what it was, just a one-time event, and we don’t expect that to happen again in the future, then it’s a short conversation,” de la Vega says. “Then I’ll look the next month to see if it was a one-time event. If you see a particular thing begin to get off track consistently for several periods, you need to have a call with that leader to find out what is going on — do they know what’s going on; do they have a plan for fixing it? And that’s how you can get a pretty good read on whether the leaders you have really know what’s going on. And the good ones always know.

“The more difficult situations are when something happens and they don’t know what caused it to go wrong and they don’t have a plan to fix it and you may need to get more involved, watch that person closely, coach them or get them the help that they need to be successful.”

Eventually his BellSouth division went on to be profitable which led to a series of business transactions and career moves that landed him at AT&T. Today, de la Vega is president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, a $49 billion division of the telecommunications giant.

“The best measure of a good leader is when he or she can make people do things that they were thinking is impossible to do,” he says. “When you, as a leader, have a group of people do something they thought was impossible to do, I would say that you have reached a pinnacle of leadership.”

How to reach: AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, www.wireless.att.com

Published in Atlanta

It could be said that the fate of Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance Inc. was changed because Lyn P. Kirby is not a morning person.

A finalist for the beauty retailer’s top leadership role in late 1999, Kirby had to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Dallas to meet with the company’s chairman. She had plenty of ideas and materials to review on the flight, but again, it was early.

“And I had left all my materials at home,” says Kirby, Ulta’s president and CEO. “I was about to spend four hours with the chairman, so I needed to create on this plane something to speak to him about.”

Not giving full faith to the charm of her Australian accent, Kirby began to solidify ideas about completely overhauling the business by turning it into a retail experience superstore.

“So I actually penned what has ultimately become the mission and the vision for the company,” she says. “Which includes the four E’s, which is to provide an experience for women by providing them with entertainment, education, escape and then the last one was aesthetics, which I always used to joke was how the Australians spelled it, with an E — which they do not.”

Maybe it was that joke or maybe it was the fresh ideas for turning the company around, but the chairman stuck his hand out at day’s end and offered Kirby the job.

Of course, that was the easy part. When she accepted the position, her new charge was to convince corporate employees and people in Ulta’s roughly 70 stores that had been doing business as a discount beauty store for eight years that everybody could do an about-face and make a new company. And while she was doing that, she also had to make sure the vision she’d put so much stock in was working.

Make a strong introduction

Kirby knew that many employees would still be attached to the prior positioning of Ulta, so she went right at the issue on her first day.

“I did not believe that was a long-term winning strategy,” she says. “And my first day on the job I knew people were going to be embedded in that past, so after I got through the this is who I am, this is the vision that I want to paint for us, this is why I want to paint it, I said to them, ‘Not right now, but over the next few months, I’m going to ask you to make a decision, and the decision is, after you’ve had more time to process this and spend some time with me, whether you can share this vision with me or whether you can’t. And if you can’t share this vision, I’m going to ask you to move on to a place where you share that company’s vision, because what I cannot do is have people stay who don’t share the vision because there’s too much work to be done.’”

Over the next few months, Kirby dealt with the hard decisions at the highest levels of the company.

“A few months in, there were people who had not been able to make the decision to leave the company that clearly did not share the vision, and I needed to have some tough conversations,” she says. “And I did.”

Kirby says it’s fairly obvious who is just hanging on if you spend a good bit of time floating through departmental meetings.

“It was very clear in day-to-day meetings who was grasping the new vision and who was completely open to trying to mold the strategies around the vision versus those who were just struggling and wanted to stay in the past,” she says.

Basically, those who lack commitment to big overhauls aren’t won over. Take the merchant side of Kirby’s business as an example. She wanted a large marketing campaign around loyalty programs and newspaper inserts.

“If the merchants were not willing to do what it took to decide what was on every page of those books, what it looks like and redo that two or three times … that was a pretty good indication that they were not on board,” she says.

On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll see people throw themselves into the vision. The search word Kirby says you should be using is entrepreneurialism, as in those taking your vision to their own tasks.

“It was clear to see those people that were buying it, because they were working with me day in and day out and gained a passion to be innovative in the beauty category,” she says. “The word I use in here is actually entrepreneurial, and what I’ve always looked for in the team is to find people that are intuitive about their business, who are passionate about the business they are working on — and passion can be passion about product, but it can also be passion about the numbers if they’re on the finance team. Because out of the passion comes inventiveness, and so out of those desires, we have filled the ranks of our organization here in the corporate office with creative and/or entrepreneurial business leaders.”

As she looked for that entrepreneurial spirit, Kirby was able to deal with turnover and embrace the remaining members of her team and then begin to assess the holes she had.

Take simplicity to your front line

Still, having a bunch of executives behind an idea, believe it or not, is like having eight kings on a chessboard: You’re not going to get a lot of movement. Kirby spent 18 years at Avon Products Inc., and she learned something from her CEO.

“Jim (Preston) used to say to us, ‘Never forget who pays your salary. It’s not me; it’s the Avon lady,’” Kirby says. “It’s one of the great things that has always stayed with me. I repeat it to this organization all the time because that front line of the business, without them, we can’t execute anything.”

So Kirby had to get front-line employees behind her vision or it would die. That would take rewriting systems and expectations that were effective yet easy. First, she hired a store operations person who was behind her vision to watch over the processes.

Then, like looking for entrepreneurialism with her executives, Kirby thought it useful to go the one-word route to describe what she was looking for in front-line people so she could sum it up for anybody doing hiring. That word is approachability.

The industry was mostly composed of drugstores, which were not approachable because, Kirby says, they generally offered little help and were dirty. On the other end were department stores filled with commission-based help that most women find intimidating. But approachability gave Ulta an angle.

“So there’s this huge swath of space in the middle to offer women a nonthreatening experience where they could come and learn comfortably,” Kirby says.

Most of Ulta’s legacy employees had come from the drugstore heritage, so building that approachability required some new blood and better training.

“I put a very simple tenet in place to begin this transition to the right culture of approachability. When you’re interviewing a candidate for the store team, if they are not outgoing, if they don’t smile at you during the interview process, they’re not the right candidate for us, because they have to have that in their basic DNA,” she says.

Kirby also hit the road with her four E’s, explaining them to every store along the way. They may not seem relevant to other businesses, but there’s a wrinkle of genius to it. While the four E’s apply directl

y to Ulta, it’s the simplicity of the systems that acts as the main lesson. You don’t have to be in the beauty business to understand what customer experience means. It’s just one phrase, but it allows quick recall about everything from how customers shouldn’t have an intimidating retail experience to organizational functions like shelving products so people don’t have to look for them. Putting a vision into memorable pieces makes all the difference.

“It was a game-changing approach because they’re simple words, but I could give you six other strategies behind each,” she says. “It was really important for them to be able to remember the framework, because the execution can manifest itself in different ways. To be able to get the team to embrace the vision that we were not going to be discount beauty, that we were going to be a superstore … was a very big shift for our people on the front line. When I joined the company, the front line was only 70 stores or so. We’re now 320 stores and without that easy memory of what the vision gets translated to, day in and day out, by our front line, we would have never done it.”

Last edited by Dustin S. Klein on April 10, 2011 at 11:35 pm


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Published in Chicago

When Joseph M. Fortunato took over as CEO of General Nutrition Centers Inc. in 2005, conditions at the nutritional supplement company were not ideal. During rapid growth in the 1990s, Fortunato says everyone got a little fat and happy watching the money roll in.

Then the company took a hit in the early 2000s because of a downturn in the diet supplement and low-carb markets. Revenue starting falling, and then in early 2003, GNC instructed its stores to stop selling products containing ephedra, which resulted in $225 million in lost revenue.

“That’s really when we had to go back and just re-evaluate GNC in general — what our goals would be in the short term and the long term and then how would we accomplish those things,” Fortunato says.

On top of those troubles, the company saw five CEOs in 50 months come and go before Fortunato took over. That meant Fortunato, who was chief operating officer before becoming CEO, was essentially doing two jobs.

“We had quite a few changes at the CEO level,” he says. “A lot of what I was doing at that time was partially CEO work at times, because as CEOs came in and out, it was very hard for them to come in right away and assess the business and try to move the business forward because, once again, we are a fairly complex business for a retailer.

“So, I really had to take a point of view that there were things I was going to do to drive the business forward. As CEOs came in, obviously, I was trying to get buy-in from them, but I couldn’t wait until CEOs got up to speed with everything and decided what strategy they wanted to move forward with. Usually, they never got to the point where they were able to implement any of the strategies.”

Eventually, Fortunato became CEO and made his lone mission getting the business back on track by focusing on the core of the business and making the company’s foundation solid.

“Every business has a core component to it,” he says. “When you look and go through all the muddle of everything else that is going on around the business, there are a couple things — the core components of the business — that really, fundamentally drive the business no matter what.”

Grow your core business

When Fortunato took over, he put his sights on the present and ignored anything that wasn’t in the immediate future.

“At that point and time, I put off looking at strategies three, four, five years out,” he says. “What I said was, for the next two years, our focus was going to be on getting our core businesses shored up, playing to our strengths of brand, market penetration, vendor relations, product innovation, and revitalizing and taking advantage of those core category strengths we had, which were vitamin and sports.”

To get everyone focused on accentuating the core positives of thecompany, Fortunato had to simplify things across the board.

“When I started talking to everybody and getting people together, we basically had meetings every morning with the senior management team, and we talked about each area of the business and what needed to be focused on in each area of the business,” he says.

The company also had to simplify things for stores across thecountry by going to a one-pricing scheme.

“At that time, we were zone pricing, so we had about 25 or 30 different pricing schemes throughout the country,” he says. “One of the key things we did back then was we went to one pricing plan. Then, we were able to take advantage of our scale and market penetration and store base by advertising nationally, which we hadn’t been doing much of because the pricing strategy was different all over the country. That was a significant change in strategy that I think really was getting the business on the upswing again.”

You then have to drive that message of simplification from the top all the way down, which Fortunato did through business reviews once a month with every business unit in the company.

“So, people were not getting caught up in ... what I call the details and complexities of the business, but really digging down deep and understanding what was driving their businesses and what they needed to focus their attention on,” he says. “That has to come from the top.”

Fortunato also used the business reviews to monitor if the message was getting through.

“We would have very clear, concise direction as to where we wanted to take those businesses,” he says. “Every month, the leaders of those businesses had to come back with the progress they were making on the focus, on those core components of their business, and then we would do another review and try to keep that momentum moving along. The momentum is what is important. You’ll run into problem situations that you have to resolve as you move through those processes. But, staying very hands on at that point and time, although it’s not what you want to do as a CEO for the long term, is very important to coming through those more difficult times.”

When you are trying to focus back on fundamentals, it can be a challenge because employees naturally want to look at bigger and better things for their department. While that type of thought process is needed when growing a company, the opposite is required when focusing on the core strategies. You have to keep an eye out for employees looking at other opportunities within their department and get them focused back on the core drivers of the organization.

“People have a tendency to get scattered in their thoughts and scattered in their approaches to their business and trying to take too many things on at one time and nothing gets done right,” he says. “So, when you focus back on the core business and you set that thought process from the top that says, ‘Here is what I want you to focus on in your business for the next year. This is all you should bethinking about.’ That’s how you do it. You just take everything else off the table.”

While it may be easy to recognize this, oftentimes it’s hard to implement because you get into meetings and thoughts just start scattering before you know what’s happening.

“You have to keep reining it back in, because people’s normal mentality is, ‘Well, here’s an opportunity we should be looking at,’ and that’s great at the right time. ‘Here’s something we should be doing, and let’s try to do this and let’s try to take on this additional component for the business,’” he says.

To be successful, you have to continually reinforce that you want employees to focus on the core.

“You have to keep reining them back in and say, ‘No, here’s what you need to be focused on for the next 24 months, and that takes you away from a strategic approach at that time,’” he says. “The strategy becomes the core business, and you get more away from a visionary approach as, ‘OK, how do we grow the business three, four, five years out? The focus has to be, ‘If we’re going to get this business healthy and really get a foundation we can build upon, this is all we need to be focusing on for the next 24 months.’”

When facing a situation like Fortunato was, it’s important to start from scratch and communicate that everyone needs to focus on the core.

“We had to get a turnaround in the business, and we had to get back to fundamentals, which we did,” he says. “We had to change our marketing approach. We had to get product development kind of kicked in the behind, and that’s from our

vendors and internally. We had to grow that core business to replace that diet business that had fallen off dramatically. That, to me, was the turning point with the company.”

Make your move

By getting back to basics, GNC eventually started heading in the right direction. Halfway through 2005, the company started to show a turnaround, and 2006 ended up being a good year with the company posting revenue of $1.49 billion.

Yet, Fortunato still had to wrestle with the dilemma of when it’s time to start thinking more strategically and growing for the future. Even during the first six months of 2007, he was reluctant to divert people’s attention away from the core business.

“Now, it’s not that you’re not paying attention and thinking about what you could do to enhance the business during that time frame,” he says. “You’re getting your ducks in a row, but you don’t start executing against those strategies and take the risk of driving focus away from the core business again and then going back to a situation where you’re thrown back two years again.”

Fortunato also decided to keep the focus on the core because he didn’t feel he had the talent pool to take the company to the next level.

“That’s nothing against the people that were here,” he says.

“They’re fantastic people. They’re still here. They fill their roles very effectively at what they’re very good at. But the talent level you need, it really comes down to a decision — are you satisfied the core business is stable and a foundation is strong enough to move on and that we can grow upon this base?

“Sometimes you tend to be a little cautionary about that. Eighteen months sounds great, and looking back, (we) probably could have pulled the trigger at 18 months, but in conjunction with that, you’ve got to make sure you have the right talent.”

The talent that was responsible for the growth in the 1990s was not the same type of people GNC needed today. Back then, GNC needed people who would be able to come in and drive a fast-paced environment and who had passion and knowledge of the industry and the business.

“You’re just looking for people who take direction very well, who can think within the constraints of their area and execute,” he says. “It’s really a different mindset than somebody who comes in and you are looking for a strength in a merchandising area or a strength in marketing and a more of a creative culture and a mindset that is more visionary and strategic. That’s a different approach.”

Now, Fortunato wants people who think outside the box to complement the people who were able to drive the core.

“The talent from the outside cannot come in and replace that talent, because that talent is very specialized to this business and this industry,” he says. “But, the talent from the outside can bring new thoughts and processes into the business that that core individual does not have in regards to what else exists in the world and what else can we go after.

“We basically just beefed up our infrastructure to keep the core business momentum there and the core business talent pool there, and then bring in a new level of talent to really develop a world-class organization that would be able to deliver our objectives for the nex three or four or five years.”

GNC’s revenue has continued to grow. Its 2007 numbers were $1.55billion — a 4.4 percent increase over consolidated revenue for the same period the year before. Revenue increased in each of the company’s business segments, and Fortunato credits having that mixture of old and new leadership as a key to successful growth.

“My advice would be, look to your organization, make sure that the talent pool you’ll need to drive that organization forward is there and the senior management leadership is there as you have to back away from the core business,” he says. “Because, you can’t focus your energies on the strategic needs of the business and growing the core, adding onto those core assets the business has and still be involved as much as you were before on the core business. You need people that are going to be able to take that over, and you have a confidence level that they are going to be able to continue to drive that business because, once again, without that, you can’t do the strategic part.”

HOW TO REACH: General Nutrition Centers Inc., (412) 288-4600 or www.gnc.com

Published in Pittsburgh

When Dr. Delos “Toby” Cosgrove took the reins as president and CEO of The Cleveland Clinic four years ago, he wasn’t just a world-renowned heart surgeon stepping into a new role. He was also a leading doctor about to take a leading hospital to a whole new level of excellence.

For 14 straight years, U.S. News & World Report has recognized The Cleveland Clinic as the No. 1 heart hospital in the country, and last year, the hospital finished as the overall No. 4 hospital in the country, with 10 of its specialties being ranked in the top 10 by the report.

“We’ve had an enormous growth over the last decade, and I think the growth has been secondary to a recognition for the quality of the product that we produce,” Cosgrove says. “Unless you’re producing an excellent product, there isn’t a lot of demand for your services. The excellence that The Cleveland Clinic has been known for, both locally, nationally and internationally, has created increasing demands for our services.”

With more demand being placed on the organization, Cosgrove couldn’t simply coast by resting on the clinic’s laurels. Instead, he has pushed his executives, managers and doctors to innovate and find ways to make the things that were already great even better. His doctors have continued cutting-edge research and pioneered new procedures. He’s also expanded the clinic by establishing hospitals in Toronto and another to open in Abu Dhabi in 2011. And last fall, the clinic opened up The Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Pavilion and the Glickman Tower in Cleveland to house its Heart & Vascular Institute and the Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute.

Big ideas also require big budgets. All of these projects and expansions wouldn’t be possible if Cosgrove didn’t keep the financial side running well, which he has, as the clinic’s total 2007 operating revenue climbed to $4.8 billion from $4.4 billion the year before.

Despite everything he’s done to take the clinic to that next level of excellence, Cosgrove also wants his people and the community to know that while he has big ideas for the future, he is also grounded in reality. While the keys to successful growth have been to create a plan, lead people through the changes and track the progress, you also have to stay grounded in your core values and reasons for existence.

“I started out four years ago, when I told in my initial talk to the community, that it’s the only reason that we’re here is for patients and patients come first, and everything flows from that,” he says. “The reason that we’re building these facilities is for patients. It’s not for doctors. It’s not for administrators. It is for patients. You have to keep your core values as your anchor, and once you have those established, then everything else flows from there.”

Create a plan

Before Cosgrove could put a new plan in place, he surveyed the situation.

“We went and looked at all of our physical facilities all over Northeast Ohio,” Cosgrove says. “Then we looked at what was good of our physical facilities, what was not so good of our physical facilities, and then we began to figure out what we needed to do.”

In looking at the different facilities, Cosgrove discovered that some of them were OK, but he also realized some were getting older and needed investment in them to bring them up to current standards. He also found that some facilities were so old that it wasn’t worth investing in them anymore.

Then he began to couple the physical facility needs with those of the patients. He looked at how the clinic could better meet patient needs with the facilities it currently had, and how, going forward, it could meet the needs of the community and its patients.

“We spent a lot of time projecting out into the future what the population needs were and what the new technologies were going to be and how we could best serve those needs,” he says.

While nobody has a crystal ball to see what the future holds, Cosgrove says you can still make educated assumptions by looking at as many sources as possible.

“You have to get as many points of view and as much input as you possibly can and understand where your particular industry is going,” he says. “That includes understanding demographic changes, understanding, in our case, disease trends, but it would be trends in any industry, understanding population shifts in your particular area, and understanding what people are looking for in terms of the population’s desires and expectations.”

From looking at all the data, Cosgrove and his team created a campus plan that looked at where the clinic wanted to be five and 10 years out, and they explored options for getting there. The team created one scenario, and then would try it out with multiple people in the organization, and then it tried another and another.

“We just kept going back to it until we found a scenario that fit most people’s expectations,” he says.

When it comes down to it, you have to rely on these other people, but combine it with your own ideas.

“Obviously, you have a body of experience of things you’ve done yourself in the past, so you bring that to the table,” Cosgrove says. “Then you get a lot of input from other people.”

Once Cosgrove had an idea of where he wanted to take the hospital, he then had to create a strategic plan, which encompassed that campus plan, to get there. When you’re creating a plan, you have to be grounded in reality of what you can do.

“There’s any number of ways that you have to go and check the reality of what you’re capable of doing,” he says. “When you start down a road, it’s just constant checking — can you get to the end of that road? A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”

He knew a few things already: That the clinic’s main campus wasn’t leaving Cleveland, that it was going to be a very high-tech hospital, and that it had the highest acuity (a measure of the average severity of illness in patients) of any hospital in the country.

“Now, all of those go to form part of the plan,” Cosgrove says.

For example, he would need a lot of employees on-site, and that meant he’d have to accommodate them in terms of parking and seating and making the campus employee-friendly.

“All of those came from the fact that we made the basic decision that we were staying here in a major hospital presence,” he says. “Each one of those was sort of a cascading decision.”

He says that where you go all stems from basic decisions. “Look at where your industry is going, what your portion of the industry wants to be and what niche you want to fill,” he says. “I think every leader has multiple options and needs to decide the things we want to do and the things he doesn’t want to do.”

For example, one of the things Cosgrove decided to do was to take obstetrics off of the main campus. He saw that the suburbs were where the majority of the babies were being born, so that’s where the specialty should primarily be located. He also decided to consolidate the clinic’s psychiatric services, and it was better for those services to also be off of the main campus.

Additionally, he decided to change how care was organized. Instead of having the usual departments of medicine and surgery, he went to institutes built around organ and disease systems — a cardiovascular institute, a neurological institute and a urologic institute. This allowed the medical and surgical expertise to be in one location, and that also affected the buildings by bringing all the expertise into one physical location. In short, he made big changes.

Cosgrove says, “There’s a lot of people here, so change is still always difficult.”

Lead people through change

When it comes to change, most people aren’t too fond of it, so as Cosgrove took all 37,000 of the clinic’s people through these changes, he stuck to a couple of key principles.

“There are two things that help people through change,” he says. “One, involving them in making a plan and understanding the plan, and two, constant, constant, repetitive communication. It takes multiple communication venues in order to get that message across. The more you do it, the more people feel comfortable with it, but involvement in the planning is essential.”

Cosgrove involved hundreds of people at every level of change. For example, with the Miller Pavilion, he had nurses help him with planning the nurses’ units. He had mock-ups of the operating rooms, and then he’d have all of the surgeons come in and give their input. He did the same thing with the intensive care unit and did a mock-up of the cath labs and had the cardiologists come in and give their input.

Additionally, he traveled to what he thought to be the best facilities to get ideas and feedback. He hired top architects and landscapers. He also talked to food service people and volunteers, and he enlisted consultants and industry experts and got opinions on everything even down to the chairs and beds.

Lastly, he talked directly to the patients. He held focus groups with them to see what amenities they wanted to see in the facility and how it should feel and look.

“The more people that are involved, the more they have the buy-in, and the more they’ll help, and it’s a multiplier effect,” Cosgrove says. “The multiplier effect comes if it’s your plan — you’re going to go out and sell it.”

In addition to involving people as you make the changes, you also need to make sure you’re communicating with them.

“I talk to multiple groups every single day,” he says. “It seems like an awful lot of my time [is spent] just talking to people.”

Cosgrove communicates with his employees through various venues. He does it in large group settings, small groups, print, television, in-person and through Web sites.

“People get their information in different ways, and you have to go to multiple roots to deliver the message,” he says.

As you continue to communicate and work your way through, it’s important to also share in the success with your people.

“At the end of the success, you celebrate,” Cosgrove says. “As people see success come and they have an opportunity to celebrate success, I think they’re ready for more of it. [It’s] adrenaline. Everybody likes adrenaline, reward and recognition”

The Cleveland Clinic had a weeklong celebration in September to commemorate its new facilities, and it even invited all 3,000 of the people who worked on the new facilities and their families to attend. Cosgrove recognized that as more people and employees saw the facilities and saw the future of the organization, they got more excited about it, but again, he says to stay connected to what your core is and not lose yourself in that excitement.

“The buildings, the campus, the strategic plan, all hinge around that individual patient and the quality of the care that we deliver for that patient,” he says. “We’ve never lost sight of that, and that has been the point at which we started at.”

Track progress

Even after creating plans, it’s important to stay close to them as you move forward.

“It’s an ongoing process,” he says. “I don’t think you make a plan, put it on the shelf, and come back five years later and make another plan. It’s constantly revised and constantly updated.”

With so many updates and revisions going on for those initial plans, it could be easy for Cosgrove to lose track of things, so it’s important to have metrics to gauge progress along the way.

“You have to measure what you’re doing, and you begin to turn the art to the science,” he says. “Art is about feeling. Science is about measuring.”

Creating metrics is something that not every organization does well, but Cosgrove has put a huge emphasis on it in leading the organization.

“We have an enormous number of metrics that we put together,” he says. “That’s one of the things that health care hasn’t been good at in the past. We’ve spent a terrific amount of time now developing these metrics.”

The key to determining your metrics is to look at where you’re trying to take your organization. For example, he says if you’re a for-profit business, then your main metric is simply the dollars. But when you’re a nonprofit like The Cleveland Clinic and your whole reason for existence is to help people, you have to look at other areas.

For example, Cosgrove doesn’t simply know the number of patients in the hospital on any given day. He can tell you where the patients are, what they’re doing, what the trends are by how long they’re staying, where they’re coming from, what their demographics are, and how long it takes to turn over a bed from one patient to another.

“We have huge numbers of demographics that we look at on a regular basis,” Cosgrove says. “Some are on a daily basis, some on a weekly basis, some on a monthly basis, and some on an annual basis, and we trend those. We measure by numbers.”

He says that some metrics are just plain common sense. For example, he’d want to know every day how many people are in the hospital. But on the flip side, he can’t track employee satisfaction every day, so that’s something he’d do annually. In terms of the ones that fall in between, that comes down to how important they are.

“The ability to measure and the speed with which you can respond to these measurements is the ultimate determinant of how successful you’re going to be,” Cosgrove says. “The only real competitive advantage that you’re going to have is speed.”

The quicker you have that information, the faster you can respond and address problems. For example, if he has an infection outbreak in the hospital, the quicker he can find the reasons for it, the faster he can address it and stop it.

“You need to be able to respond quickly and have as much information as you can as fast as you can,” he says.

Out of all the measurements that Cosgrove — and any leader — utilizes, again, it’s important to keep one at the forefront more than anything — your customer.

“The main thing we are here for is patients,” he says. “The only reason that you have a hospital or doctors or anybody else who works here is for patients, so the ultimate measurement of how we do is how our patients do and how they feel about what we’ve done for them.”

HOW TO REACH: The Cleveland Clinic, (800) 223-2273 or www.clevelandclinic.org

Published in Cleveland

Angela Braly faced one of the biggest challenges of her career when she joined Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Missouri in 1999 as general counsel. The company was struggling to compete and faced litigation, but in the end, she worked with regulators to address these issues, and it resulted in creating the Missouri Foundation for Health, a $1 billion fund to address health care needs of uninsured and underserved Missouri residents.

That drive and dedication guides Braly today as president and CEO of WellPoint Inc., the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. She’s the only female CEO of a Fortune 50 company and says that passion is critical to successfully leading a company in today’s business world.

“Nothing could be more important than being passionate about your organization’s mission and values,” Braly says.

It’s important that your organization have a clear vision and set of goals for everyone to understand and work toward.

“When thinking about an organization’s vision and goals, it’s important to start with the questions, ‘Why are we here? What is our role?’” Braly says. “Answering these questions creates the road map that then leads an organization to defining its strategy and initiatives.”

Anthem’s mission is to improve the lives of the people it serves and the health of its communities. Two years ago, Anthem’s leaders went through a thorough process to create a road map for turning that mission into specific, actionable steps people can take to ultimately achieve it.

“It has been a very valuable, strategic framework for everything we have done since,” Braly says. “It was important for us to create a powerful, inspirational vision, but it was just as important to develop very specific measures to determine whether we’re meeting our expectations.”

In all, she and her team created 29 different metrics for everyone to work toward.

“That has helped us feel a sense of urgency around accomplishing our goals,” Braly says.

It’s easy to make goals and have metrics, but it’s another story getting employees to buy in to those initiatives. When Anthem created a system that tracks 20 different clinical indicators relating to the

health status of its 34 million members, it was just one initiative important to improving the company, but there had to be a way to get people to care about this and other changes.

“We have taken the additional step of tying the compensation incentives of our associates to improvements in it,” Braly says.

Taking that step shows employees that Braly and her management team are serious about the new goals and metrics, and it also makes employees more interested in succeeding because of the direct tie to their bonuses.

When rolling out a mission, vision or goals, it’s also important that

the communication is effective. Otherwise, there’s no point in communicating.

“Effective communication takes the complex and makes it simple,”

Braly says. “I believe in being straightforward, honest and transparent

at every level.”

For example, it’s easier for customers to understand a document

called “Your health statement” instead of an “Explanation of benefits.”

Things like this make communication clearer, and she wants to continue these initiatives. Since becoming CEO in June, she’s met with

hundreds of customers, associates, brokers, agents, investors and

members, and she pledges to continue these meetings to ensure communication is efficient, clear and honest.

On top of Anthem’s overall mission, she also uses personal values to

guide her decision-making, and she says that’s equally important to

succeeding in business.

“Good leaders have a very strong set of values,” Braly says. “They

know who they are and what they believe. They have a strong

sense of what ‘True North’ means to them. Every day a leader is

faced with important choices — some small and some larger —

and the best leaders always fall back on their core set of beliefs

and values in guiding them to decisions that are best.”

In addition to the company’s mission and personal values, Braly

stresses that in order to have continued success you have to constantly be improving yourself and learning.

“Good leaders are also lifelong learners,” she says. “It is important

to be curious and inquisitive about the needs of customers, businesses, organizations — their needs and interests are always evolving. A good leader recognizes this and understands that she never

has all the answers. With that awareness comes humility and a commitment to growth and process improvement.”

HOW TO REACH: WellPoint Inc., www.wellpoint.com or (317) 532-6000

Published in Akron/Canton

Every time Shelly Lazarus talks to executives who are managing through tough times, she poses a straightforward question: What is the value of a brand?

It’s a simple question that often leads to a more detailed discussion.

“Is it a revenue or a cost?” asks Lazarus, chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, an advertising firm that, over the past 60 years, has helped build some of the most recognizable brands on the planet. “I would argue a revenue driver. If you spend money during a recession, you can come out ahead. Those companies and brands that invested through this (recession) will come out stronger and ahead of their competitors.”

Lazarus shared her thoughts on brand value, managing through tough times, how to deal with Gen Y and the future of advertising at the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum 2009.

On managing through tough times

The best thing you can do is state the problem clearly but stay optimistic about the outcome. It’s not ‘rah rah’; people can see through that. But you have to get yourself to a place where you see the path. And when you’re comfortable, communicate, communicate, communicate. You have to get out with people and share what’s going on so they can assess the situation and have an understanding of where you’re heading and feel a sense of comfort.

Everybody is looking at you to see how you react to the ups and downs of the marketplace. The biggest mistake people make in communicating is that in many companies, the last group of people that the leaders communicate with is the employees. That’s a mistake — they are the most important constituency you have.

The second biggest is that you better not sugarcoat the news. You need to have a good sense that people in the company trust the leadership. And to have that trust, you need honesty and transparency.

On managing Generation Y

This is a different generation in the workplace than the previous generation. The average tenure for Generation Y employees today is 16 months. You’ve got a sea change coming toward us that we have to deal with. But there are things you can do. If there is an expectation that jobs are episodic, is there something you can do with jobs in a company? Can you make the job more satisfying? And how do you create the balance they seek? We are dealing with a population, a generation really, that doesn’t want to do things the same way you do. You need to rethink the nature of the job.

On the future of marketing

Less than 50 percent of our revenue comes from traditional advertising. There are so many new ways to communicate that we’re inventing it as we go along. But there’s a danger of fragmentation. It’s imperative to ensure your message and brand is consistent. That way, wherever people choose to find you, the brand message is the same.

No matter what you choose, a mix of media always works better than a single medium, and the more different media that you use, the better your results. But you need to know what role each effort plays and how it’s going to get to a transaction. Things are so fast that you can now move from ‘I never heard of that before’ to a transaction within 24 hours.

So, when determining where to advertise or market your message, be demanding. Find out how you’re getting from the first insertion to a sale. If that is your mindset, it becomes much easier to adapt.

How to reach: Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, www.ogilvy.com

Five keys to an economic revival

Today, business leaders are struggling to balance the near-term needs of survival with the long-term demand to find new sources of growth. Never has the need to innovate and be entrepreneurial been more urgent. Ernst & Young LLP has identified five areas where entrepreneurship and innovation are the keys to a global economic revival.

  • Entrepreneurial thinking. In a recent Ernst & Young survey, the majority of entrepreneurs said they saw the economic slowdown as the perfect time to pursue new market opportunities. In addition, economists, academics and industry leaders all agree that recessions tend to favor the naturally innovative temperament of entrepreneurs. Some of the world’s largest companies were born during a recession.
  • New market leaders. The market leaders of today are not necessarily the market leaders of tomorrow. Dominant corporations are constantly replaced by entrepreneurial-minded enterprises that grow at incredible speed and gain significant market share.
  • Innovation can — and often must — be disruptive. Industries, companies and economies all suffer initially as innovation challenges the status quo, but strong organizations embrace shake-ups and ultimately thrive.
  • Entrepreneurs are not bound by size. Large companies are often hampered by institutional structures that may view unconventional ideas or strategies as impractical, unwise or threatening. But large corporations can still innovate successfully if they build and sustain innovation-oriented cultures.
  • Government support. Government policies that encourage entrepreneurship are most likely to result in increased innovation. Governments, which are often viewed as most effective when they stay out of the business sector’s way, actually play an important role in nurturing and protecting one of their most important engines of growth: entrepreneurs.

Source: Ernst & Young LLP, www.ey.com

Published in Atlanta

Jerry S. Wilson gets paid to eat and drink his way around the world. Right now, he may be in Atlanta, but tonight, he could be in Miami. Then he’s flying off to Hong Kong tomorrow and up to Japan just a few days after that. And this is typical for the president of The Coca Cola Co.’s global McDonald’s division, which serves 56 million customers a day throughout 118 countries.

“I spend 70 percent of my time in the market with the customer and with my people,” Wilson says. “In fact, my office is my BlackBerry, if you think about it. The beauty of such a device is you’re always connected, and the sun never sets on my job.”

The problem with being on the road — or in the air — so often is that he has to figure out what’s the most important way to spend his time.

“I think the biggest leadership challenge that certainly I’ve had, and I think a lot of other executives have in this day and time, is you have finite time with infinite ways to spend or invest that time,” Wilson says.

He prefers to focus on the things that will move his division of the $28.9 billion beverage giant forward, such as balancing the art and science of business, developing his people, and setting attainable stretch goals for his employees.

“Your goal is to spend your time in the highest impact zone as often as you can, and generally speaking, that’s going to include other people.”

Here’s how he does it.

Balance art and science

In every business, there is a delicate balance behind its makeup and success.

“The reality of great leadership is it’s a combination of science and art, and knowing when to leverage the science of business with the art of leadership is the real X factor for any leader,” Wilson says.

First, tackle the easy part.

“You start with the science,” he says. “There’s plenty of data on almost any business anywhere. If you don’t have it, Google it. The outside world may be more aware of some of the issues than the inside corporation.”

Wilson enjoys spending time quietly studying different types of reports — consumer, sales, profit analysis — to get a baseline of information, but you also need the art, which is where people come in.

“Go to the point of contact and observe,” he says. “Get out there. Sometimes the data will suggest a situation that, when you observe it, it may take a different texture. Then listen to the people closest to the situation. Then investigate what they’re saying, have great discussion and make great decisions from that.”

You need to ask myriad questions when you’re interacting with your people.

“The very first thing I’m looking for is how are they doing,” he says. “How is this individual doing? How is their professional career progressing? Are they getting the kinds of resources they need to succeed? How is their personal situation? If they’re living overseas, is there any issue we need to be aware of? How is their family?”

Beyond just asking questions, you also need to actually listen to their responses.

“First and foremost, don’t listen in order to provide a rebuttal,” Wilson says. “... If you’re listening to learn, that leads to great questioning because you’re hearing something that will spark a few more questions for greater precision.”

As you listen, make sure you’re thinking like a business owner, even if you’re not. For example, instead of thinking of his business as part of The Coca-Cola Co., Wilson imagines that if his division was just simply Wilson Inc., how would he want things done? Personalizing it helps him make better decisions for Coca-Cola.

“If you think and act like an owner of the business, then you’re going to have a longer-term perspective, you’re going to be concerned about share owners, about the employee base, about quality, about consumer relevance ...” Wilson says. “It’s amazing what great solutions can come from that way of thinking.”

Lastly, you need to make your own observations, as well. Wilson likes to observe the customers in the restaurants to see what’s happening.

“The danger in business today is to take an inside-out approach,” he says. “The winning strategies are much more outside-in. Figure out what the demand or need is for your product or service and then back in to the kind of strategy that will succeed in the market.”

By doing all of these things, you’ll be able to better balance the art of leadership with the science of the hard numbers and data.

“If you look at it from that perspective, you become more of a listening leader, and then when you’re ready to make a decision, you have the science of the information, but you also have the art of the people on the front line that can help you understand any situation better than just the data.”

Develop your people

One of the other things Wilson spends his time doing is focusing on things that help create a solid reputation for his organization.

“Develop a reputation as someone who is focused on people development and leadership development,” Wilson says. “Then you meet people internally over the course of years, and you become a magnet for talent. That’s another objective for any great leader — to develop a reputation that people want to work in that division. They want to work in that company because they know they’re going to get great leadership, great mentoring, honest and fair reviews — all those things that people want from an employer.”

One of the best ways to do this is to open the lines of communication by giving people constructive feedback on their work.

“One of the most valuable things that a leader can do is provide really useful feedback to their people,” Wilson says. “In order to provide useful feedback, they need to be thinking about observing the people doing their work, being in the moment, spending time with their people and the customer talking about their business issues.”

For example, a few years ago, one of Wilson’s managers came to him and told him that one person wasn’t going to make it in their group. Wilson asked why, and he learned it was because the person had presented to a customer group and had failed to hold the group’s attention, but the presenter thought he had done a good job. The manager said he simply didn’t get it, so he wouldn’t make it.

Wilson saw a different situation and suggested he go back to that person and ask why the person thought it went well. He also suggested to ask why there weren’t any questions, then use that to segue into explaining that the audience may have drifted and show him ways he could better hold people’s attention next time.

“Great leaders know how to provide useful feedback in the moment,” Wilson says. “Imagine that individual that the manager would have told, ‘You don’t get it; you’re not going to make it.’ That manager had already written that person off versus taking five minutes and saying, ‘How do you think the meeting went?’”

In order to provide good constructive feedback, you have to have open conversations with people to build a trust with them.


ly speaking, people want to know the truth, but they want to hear the truth in a manner that is encouraging,” Wilson says. “What I have found is there are leaders that have difficulty providing feedback because they are concerned that it will be perceived as negative reinforcement. In reality, you can sit down, and once again, it’s a great questioning opportunity.”

He says to ask what’s working in their role and what’s not working. Ask what areas people have concerns in. By opening up with these questions each time you interact with people, it shows your concern for them, and they will be more likely to listen to constructive criticismin the future if they feel you understandthem and their role.

“The power in identifying a gap in performance isn’t identifying the gap,” Wilson says. “It’s identifying the solution to close the gap, but you have to baseline it around the gap and then work together to find the best way to close the gap.”

Set achievable goals

In the past 10 years, Wilson has met his numbers every single quarter, but that’s not because they were easy to meet. Instead, he takes a unique approach to setting goals that are achievable while also being a stretch for his people. He has what he calls an open-based planning model.

“Before you build your plans going forward, I set a system in place where we actually quantified all of the opportunities in the market that we currently don’t capture,” Wilson says.

That may be selling more to existing customers, expanding the customer base or even expanding brands.

“Use the idea of an opportunity approach to say, ‘What are some of the opportunities that are out there?’” he says. “If we are successful against those, how can we capture those? What are the barriers to capturing those types of growth objectives? Then you say, ‘If we can capture X percent of that goal, what would it look like?’ Then it becomes a quantitative objective that needs to be tested for reason.”

This kind of approach is very empowering to your team.

“It creates a sense of optimism in the employee base, and it allows your people to wrap their minds around going and capturing the opportunity versus comping success,” Wilson says.

He says that oftentimes leaders and their teams will psyche themselves out with the types of goals they set. For example, if you have a business that traditionally grows at 5 percent a year, and then you grow at 6 percent, there is now a goal to grow at 6 percent.

“That’s the wrong way to think,” Wilson says. “Six percent or 5 percent growth is just what you happened to get last year over the prior year, but in terms of the opportunity that’s out there, we have a tremendous ceiling of growth.”

For example, he looks at the number of consumers who go to McDonald’s and don’t order a drink.

“You have 56 million consumers coming in a day, and any percentage of that number is big,” Wilson says. “So how can we create offerings that would meet the needs of these consumers that, for whatever reason, are not buying a beverage versus saying, ‘How do we grow 3 percent?’”

Then you have to look at what are the barriers to getting there, what strategies you can use to eliminate those barriers and what quarterly targets you would need to meet to make it happen.

“Then, bang, there’s a plan,” he says.

“Then we focus on the execution of that plan, which is the other part. In my world, it’s not real unless it’s real in a restaurant. Everything that comes before that is just interesting discussion.”

The key to this entire process being successful goes back to the people and involving them in the process.

“Bring them into the goal-setting process, and you let them identify the opportunities so they can see it and discuss it,” Wilson says. “Then we determine what percentage of this is real.Then we put a stake in the ground, and we go do it. It’s really the idea of getting buy-in the entire way as you create the goals. That’s where the excitement comes in.”

HOW TO REACH: The Coca Cola Co., www.thecoca-colacompany.com

Published in Atlanta

Gregory C. Case would be the first to tell you he doesn’t make

the cut as a great leader.

“I’m not one, but I’ve seen many over my time,” he says. “Great

leaders help people succeed. The fundamental piece to that is

understanding opportunity, understanding how colleagues can

meet those opportunities and helping them be successful in a

way they never knew they could be. When you do that, you create tremendous energy in an organization.”

Of course, some people inside Aon Corp. — the global provider

of solutions in insurance and risk management, human capital

consulting and insurance underwriting — would argue that, that

is exactly what Case does.

After all, Case became Aon’s president and CEO in April 2005

and has had only one goal since then: to unite the company’s

43,000 employees under a vision for growth that will make them

all more effective. So while you wouldn’t get Case to admit he’s a

success, you can draw your own conclusions: Aon grew to $7.47

billion in 2007 after posting $6.65 billion in 2005.

“If you take a step back and say, what are the ingredients for an

organization to be successful and sustain that success, you come

back to a few things,” he says. “One is a common vision of what

we’re trying to accomplish. The second is alignment around that

view, do we understand it together, and the third is how we’re

going to serve our clients. The more effective we are in creating a

vision across our firm, the more effective we are in having alignment and collaboration. The more effective we are in collaborating, the more effective we are in trusting each other and the more

effective we are as an organization.”

To create that vision, Case created a vision structure for the company that would improve its ability to serve clients. Then, to build

that up, he went on an Aon world tour, talking with clients and

employees from the company’s more than 520 locations in 120

countries to figure out how to sharpen that view, all with the goal

of taking Aon to new levels of success.

Start with the basics

Case started fine-tuning Aon’s vision by laying out three basic

areas of focus: First, clients would be given the best and most distinctive service possible, second, there would be a high level of

operational excellence that would be driven by the employees,

and third, new clients and talent would be attracted to Aon

because of the success of the first two.

“We’re really only trying to accomplish three things globally,”

Case says. “We’ve worked on that very hard and that actually creates a framework, a basis upon which you can have a dialogue

about how we’re serving clients. It lets us talk about clients in

Shanghai the same way we talk about clients in New York, and that

helps make us a global firm.”

By having a simple starting point, you have an instant screening

process to help you filter through feedback.

“We have a pretty simple motto internally, which is, ‘We will do

about anything if it helps our clients or helps our colleagues help our

clients,’” he says. “So if you put that lens against a global firm —

does it help our clients, yes or no? — it turns out you screen out a

lot of things that are interesting but in the end extraneous because they really don’t fundamentally help our clients or help our colleagues help our clients.”

The process also helped in tying accountability to the vision.

With a clear starting point of success, measurables were more easily created.

“Everyone talks about value, but we’re typically not very crisp in

the definition,” Case says. “So for us, helping clients means one of

two things: Have we helped increase their profitability or operating

performance? That is not an ambiguous question, we’ve either done

that or we haven’t. The second question is, have we helped them

strengthen their balance sheet? If we helped a client do one of those

two things, we’ve added value. If we’ve added value, then we’ve

served them well. If we’ve served them well, we’ll do great things as

a firm.”

As a result of creating that simple starting point, Case was not

only able to spark ingenuity as he toured the company, but he was

also able to put that ingenuity into the proper context.

“We are essentially saying to our firms, ‘Everything you do is

about your leadership in local arenas, these three things we want

to do globally,’” he says. “Turns out when we do those three things

globally, there’s a tremendous step change to the amount of collaboration, the level of how we trust each other to serve clients,

and it starts to shape the firm and its effectiveness shows on the

ground with clients.”

Ask your clients for help

With simple ideas in hand, Case went out and got a few

stamps on his passport. Since taking over Aon, he’s been

around the world and home again, visiting China, New

Zealand, Europe, Dubai and many other places.

That tour cost money and time for the company, but its justification was simple for Case.

“One thing that was very clear from the beginning, it was not

about me, it really was about our clients and our colleagues,”

he says. “As such, I actually spent a great deal of time early on

spending time with those constituents, not the regulators, not

the investors, — all those are important constituents and are

critical, but it was our colleagues and our clients first.”

He focused on how Aon’s clients and colleagues thought

about the evolving world of risk, asking them to really pay

attention to what issues kept them up at night. Then he asked

them how those issues could best be handled in the context of

their business and how they thought Aon did at handling those


“When you ask the same sets of questions, it turns out you

start to see pattern recognition fairly quickly,” he says. “What

was stunning to me is a set of themes that came back from

clients that were very powerful and those themes were common across almost anywhere in the world that I traveled.”

The themes that came to the forefront were the world of risk

is getting bigger, the complexity of risk is increasing, the level

of scrutiny around risk is going up, and finally, risk is about

understanding opportunity as much as understanding any

potential downside. Those themes helped Case learn a valuable lesson in what the market wanted.

“So what you heard loud and clear was the opportunity to get

this right for companies and help them understand risk better

has never been greater,” he says.

To Case, it is the willingness to really take the time to listen

to your clients that really will make a difference in shaping a

new vision.

“It’s very much shared understanding, shared development of

what we’re trying to do with clients,” he says. “It’s about us

understanding together what we’re trying to do, this is not a

Greg Case answer. First and foremost, you have to listen and

understand to be able to summarize a very simple but specific

set of actions that we’re going to make to improve our firm.

Without talking to clients, you’re not going to get the insight

you need to be effective. So we have to take the temperature,

get understanding, get input and guidance, both about what

they’re thinking about as well as about how we’re serving


Sell it to employees

A simple starting point also helped Case more effectively go

out and get buy in for his vision by talking to his employees.

And talk he did. To date, he estimates he’s been able, in some

form or another, to speak to about 35,000 Aon employees


“Fundamentally, leadership is about helping other people

succeed,” he says. “And doing that from Chicago is not very


To Case, a leader or leadership team needs to put the time in

to get a direct dialogue going with all levels of employees. At

Aon, that’s helped build growth and attracted new talent to the


“It’s really in that context that you go out and have a conversation, and it turns out people are excited about that,” he says.

“That’s really what’s been the basis of our momentum. It’s just

hard work, caring, listening and engaging with our colleagues

on real topics.”

That communication comes in every form for which Case can

make time. He speaks to big groups, but he also meets with

area leaders during each visit and makes time to talk with

employees that approach him. He won’t ever have time to go to

dinner with all 43,000 employees, but he creates as many informal discussions as possible.

“It really is a personal set of discussions, many of them one

on one, many of them small groups,” he says. “You have to cut

across multiple layers of the organization, having the same

conversation with the same 20 people is interesting but not

very impactful. I would also say be very informal — I would

characterize myself as a very informal guy.”

To spark those informal conversations, you have to reiterate

the simple goals of the vision, then remove the hierarchy that

comes with most organizations. It doesn’t mean that you throw

titles out of the window, but you encourage people to speak up

and then you take responsibility for sorting out the chain of command later.

“The issues around hierarchy are always important, but that’s

really a function of respect and trust,” Case says. “It really draws

back to if we have a common vision. If we’ve got alignment around

it, we trust each other.

“When you have very real conversations that are tough, that

are straightforward, you battle out the issues and you walk away

as colleagues to try to achieve something, (and) there’s much

less concern around, ‘Gosh, you shouldn’t have heard that,’ or,

‘That should have come through channels.’ I go through great

pains to play that down to get input and guidance, and then

there’s trust that I’ll circle back in the right way to create movement and change.”

With all that candid feedback, Case was able to work toward

being the type of leader he admires so much. He learned the

areas where his employees needed the most help and got a leg

up on the war for talent by creating a culture that welcomes

employee input. And, with the growth, Aon was able to invest

time and a considerable amount of money into employee-recommended goals to move the company forward.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about what we want to accomplish as a firm, what are the specific areas that we want to invest

in together to make that happen,” he says. “And we have put

together — not me, by the way, but colleagues around the world

— how we’re going to accomplish that, and that’s really built a lot

of momentum in our firm.

“It’s because our firm has said, ‘Listen, we want to work

together to be operationally more efficient.’ That’s why in a

period of time when there’s been some turmoil in our industry,

it’s been a growth period for Aon. And it’s because we’ve been

able to take this global initiative to our colleagues and say,

‘This is the way we fuel growth.’”

HOW TO REACH: Aon Corp., (312) 381-1000 or www.aon.com

Published in Chicago

When Jim Weddle was hired as managing partner at Edward

Jones in January 2006, he didn’t come in with the attitude that he

had to have all the answers. Instead, he placed a great deal of

responsibility on the leaders in the company whose expertise in

specific areas exceeded his own knowledge. In his view, the way

to effective leadership is not through knowing the answer to

every question but through assembling and managing a team of

people who could provide the answers needed to move the

organization forward.

“I’m not the expert in technology, I’m not the expert in compliance, and I’m not the expert in operations,” Weddle says. “I

spent my career on the client side of the business.”

Instead of pretending to have all the answers, Weddle

embraces a culture of responsibility-based management in

which he expects people to use what they have learned to do

their job to the best of their ability.

“I want to be in the loop on big things, and I certainly want to

have the right performance measures in place so that we can see

how the different areas of the firm are doing,” Weddle says. “But

for people to be coming to me for decisions in the areas of the firm

where they are more expert than I am, that’s ridiculous.

“If you want my opinion, I’ll give you that. But you need to come

to me with your recommendation. I need to know what you as the

expert feels like we need to do. Usually, I’m going to agree.

Perhaps sometimes, I will not. But don’t come to me and ask me

to make the decision because I know less about it than you do. I

want them making the decisions and moving on.”

By promoting a culture of shared responsibility, Weddle has

enabled Edward Jones to maintain its standing as one of the best

places in the nation to work, which is evidenced in the fact that

the company has been ranked by Fortune magazine as one of the

“100 Best Companies to Work For” for eight consecutive years. The

investment firm now has about 30,000 employees working at more

than 10,000 branch offices around the world, and it generated $3.4

billion in 2006 net revenue.

Success in the future relies on Weddle’s ability to maintain a

culture in which senior leaders feel empowered to make

important decisions in far-flung offices, and employees feel

they have a means to speak openly about the way in which the

business is operating.

Talk about the past

A healthy, productive culture requires continuous reinforcement

from the leader of the organization. This is even more critical during a period of fast growth when new personnel are being added

to the organization.

“Growth is a challenge to your culture,” Weddle says. “As you

bring new people into your culture, into your firm, it’s an educational opportunity but also a necessity. You have to teach people.

You have to hire the right people, but then you have to teach them

the history and communicate the values. A lot of that has to do

with the ‘why you do things,’ not just the what. It’s not something

that you can sit them down for an hour and do an associate orientation and tell them everything they ever needed to know.”

Weddle doesn’t miss an opportunity to teach employees about the culture and history of the firm. When people take a break from

a meeting he’s in, he uses a video clip to get everyone back on time

— and to teach them something about the company in the process.

He shows a clip of Edward “Ted” Jones Jr., son of the firm’s

founder, or retired managing partner John Bachmann or another

prominent figure from the firm’s past talking about what Edward

Jones means to them.

“We’ll have a video clip that we’ll play at the end of the break

and, by golly, if you want to see it, you’ve got to get back in the

room and back in your seat,” Weddle says. “It’s a way to get the

meeting restarted, but it’s also a wonderful way for people to

hear a little bit of the history of the firm. You make it fun, and

I think people appreciate it.”

History can be an important aspect of culture as it often shapes

the decisions the company has made or will make in the future.

“You can teach people what we do or how we do things, but very

important is an understanding of why we do certain things or why

we don’t do certain things,” Weddle says. “A lot of times, history

has guided the decisions that have made us who we are today. ...

It’s all wrapped up in what we refer to as the culture of our firm.

We teach it, and we talk about it.”

Get out there

With thousands of offices, Weddle can’t just talk about culture

through e-mail or video clips. He has to take the message directly

to employees, and that means getting out of the corporate headquarters.

Weddle schedules regular visits to branch offices in the United

States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The meetings are an

opportunity for Weddle to share, face to face, what is happening in

the company, but they also provide a chance for him to hear questions and engage in dialogue.

“We’re not out there giving speeches,” Weddle says. “We’re out

there asking questions. It gives people the opportunity to provide

input, and I think they appreciate being asked.”

Members of Weddle’s management team are also part of the

process. This allows for more offices to be visited, which gives the

company’s leadership more feedback than Weddle could get on his


“We want to know how we are doing and what are your suggestions for things that we can make better,” Weddle says. “What are

your suggestions for things that we’re not doing at all but, in fact,

should? Can you provide us some input in terms of how the home

office is meeting your needs and supporting your efforts to service

the client?”

In providing opportunities for feedback, you must keep an open

mind when it comes to the responses you get.

“You have to solicit input, and you have to ask,” Weddle says.

“When they provide it to you, accept it for what it is. It’s feedback.

You may agree. You may disagree. But listen to the feedback. Don’t

criticize. Don’t argue. Some you may think is accurate and some

not, but you asked for the feedback. Be open about it.”

Post-meeting discussions are critical to connect the dots on what

was heard and to coordinate action plans to get the best ideas


The series of group meetings also provides Weddle with a natural launch point to talk with regional leaders about the importance

of teamwork.

“Let’s help each other to be successful,” Weddle says. “If we’ve

got four offices in a community, let’s do joint seminars. Let’s advertise together. Let’s attack this market opportunity as a team and

not just as four individuals. We’re far stronger. We’re looking for

people that fit and want to be part of a larger organization that has

a good reputation that they can be proud of but that they can also

contribute to.”

Give everyone a chance to talk

In order to be truly open, the culture also needs to have a forum

for lower-level employees who do not always get the chance for a

direct conversation with the boss. Weddle has found the firm’s

electronic suggestion box particularly useful. It has the advantage

of being accessible to people at all levels of the organization and is

completely anonymous, providing the opportunity for some very

frank communication.

“They can send a suggestion, and that can be a good idea or it can

be a cheap shot,” Weddle says. “Or it can be just a creative thought.

If they choose to sign their name, that’s fine. If they want to remain

anonymous, they can.”

The box was the brainchild of Bachmann, who thought employees needed a means to express themselves.

“He said, ‘You know what, you’ve got to have a way for people to

speak up. If they don’t feel comfortable speaking up one on one,

and that can be kind of intimidating, I appreciate that. So let’s create a way for them to do so.’

“It’s a release valve. If somebody gets angry, they send in a message and kind of pop off. Don’t sign it. Don’t go home and kick the

dog, and, most certainly, don’t get angry at a client. Send me a ‘sugg

box’ and blow off a little steam, and then feel better and go back

to work.”

Fortunately for Weddle, Edward Jones continues to have a

lot of positives to focus on.

“Growth creates opportunity and growth creates an excitement

and an energy in an organization with that opportunity to move

ahead,” Weddle says.

In December 2006, Edward Jones had a limited partnership offering that included 11,500 of the firm’s 30,000 employees.

“I believe it’s a strategic advantage to have one-third of our full-time associates as owners of this firm,” Weddle says. “All those are

ways of us saying, ‘Hey, we respect you as an individual, and we

appreciate the contribution that you’re making toward the success

of our firm.’”

Weddle says the limited partnership program helps ensure

the future of the firm, as well.

“If you’re a limited partner of Edward Jones, you don’t want

to bring somebody in who doesn’t work very hard or isn’t going

to treat the place with the respect that it’s due,” Weddle says.

“You’re going to bring in the best because you own a little piece

of this place. You want it to be better.”

Identify your leaders

Finding leaders who can work in this type of collaborative

culture requires a lot of effort in the interviewing process. In

addition to educational background and work history, Weddle

says he wants to know what type of management style potential executives bring to the table and how they are able to work

with others.

“You do some situational kinds of discussions,” Weddle says.

“You ask them about their leadership style. You ask them who was

the most effective person they were ever responsible to and have

them describe that individual.”

Weddle says he is looking for people who want to be part of

a team and can readily accept that they don’t always have all

the answers.

“You can almost always do it a little bit better,” Weddle says.

“You’ve got a lot of proofreaders out there. Every decision, every

bit of correspondence, every statement, every decision that you

make, there is no lack of critics. They can tell you pretty quickly,

‘Boy, you didn’t do this one very well.’ I appreciate that.”

Weddle says he looks for people who are good listeners. He also

relies on his instincts in determining who would be a good fit in

terms of their personal values and how those values match up with

those of himself and the company.

“You’ve got to sit down with those people and think, ‘Do I

want to spend 10 or 12 hours a day for the next 20 years working with this person?” Weddle says. “If the answer is no, I don’t

care how smart they are, it’s not the right fit.”

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

Published in St. Louis