A client called me in a heightened state of frustration. Her business group recently made major decisions regarding strategy and future direction. While she was enthusiastic about what lay ahead, her team members weren’t. They were exhibiting signs of dissatisfaction and sowing the seeds of subversion. She needed to act quickly, but she didn’t know how.
Without knowing anything more, I could already guess the root of the problem: the team hadn’t felt included in the strategy-level decision-making. As I dug deeper, my suspicions were confirmed. Leadership had a history of asking for input and then stifling open and honest dialogue.
Another client recently went through a major restructuring. In the process, the company left employees in the dark by failing to communicate what was happening and why. By the time the client called Bright Side, it was facing a debilitating backlash.
Whether it’s leadership consistently disregarding (or failing to solicit) employee feedback or neglecting to communicate significant changes — the result is always the same: Employees end up feeling disrespected and devalued. Resentment simmers and eventually boils over.
Don’t misunderstand me. I know that not every decision can be subject to employee feedback. But, all too often, leadership loses sight of the organization’s most valued asset: its people. With a single-minded focus on the bottom line, leaders make the mistake of treating employees like automatons rather than people.
In the rush of getting the job done, leaders must remember these core truths: All people want to feel valued and respected for the work they do, to know that their contributions matter and to feel heard. When we overlook these principles, employees become disheartened, discouraged and disengaged. One way or another, the discontent manifests itself and everyone suffers.
The solution is to stay connected. Stay connected to your employees daily by cultivating honest person-to-person (rather than person-to-object) relationships, where respect and communication are the cornerstones. Demonstrate through your words and your actions that you value their work, that their input matters and that you believe in transparency. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you won’t at times make decisions that they don’t agree with. It means that the conversation will have happened — they’ll have spoken, you’ll have listened, and no one will be in the dark.
Create opportunities daily to demonstrate that employee feedback is valued. How? For starters, listen more and talk less. A good way to do that is to ask more questions. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t get defensive. A defensive reaction will only shut the conversation down and signal that you aren’t really interested in what others have to say. Instead, ask more questions to clarify and don’t take disagreement personally.
Intentionally seek out viewpoints that are different than your own. If you only talk to people who agree with you or tell you what you want to hear, then you’ll create a false sense of reality.
Lastly, be transparent. I can’t emphasize this enough. So many problems arise when leaders fail to be transparent in their decision-making. Don’t leave people guessing about important matters that impact them.
Resolve to actively practice these behaviors in meetings and routine interactions. Ask team members to follow suit. By doing so, you’ll demonstrate your willingness to learn and to be engaged. Morale will improve and you’ll head off unnecessary revolts and insurrections. <<
Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at email@example.com
On Oct. 30-31, more than 700 advanced energy industry leaders will convene at the Greater Columbus Convention Center for Ohio’s first statewide Advanced Energy B2B Conference & Expo. The event, produced by NorTech and presented by Advanced Energy Economy Ohio, is the largest conference and exhibition focused on the companies, technologies and researchers driving progress in Ohio’s advanced energy industry.
The business-to-business expo is also geared toward companies interested in entering the industry, supply chain manufacturers with an interest in advanced energy opportunities, national collaborators and value chain partners interested in doing business in Ohio or with Ohio partners.
“We are at a critical point in the growth and evolution of Ohio’s advanced energy economy,” says Dave Karpinski, vice president of NorTech. “The Advanced Energy B2B Conference & Expo provides a critical platform to share ideas for developing new, innovative advanced energy technologies, network with leading industry decision-makers and capitalize on common synergies for future business opportunities.”
Advanced Energy B2B 2012 builds on the success of Advanced Energy B2B 2011, which was geographically focused in Northeast Ohio and attracted more than 450 attendees. As a result, the footprint for Advanced Energy B2B 2012 has been expanded to bring together advanced energy stakeholders from across Ohio. Developing connections that will accelerate the growth of the state’s advanced energy industry is a key priority of the event.
“It is important advanced energy companies, researchers and investors convene to discuss opportunities and challenges in the industry, as well as solutions to foster innovation and economic growth,” said Michelle Murcia, executive director of Advanced Energy Economy Ohio. “We have assembled industry-leading experts from across Ohio and the nation to share their insight and knowledge with conference attendees as they formulate their own business strategies for the advanced energy market.”
The program, which includes a slate of state, national advanced energy experts and thought leaders, will highlight Ohio’s strengths in several major sectors of advanced energy as well as policy, business and regulatory issues that could impact the industry in Ohio. Compelling examples of success stories and best practices in several sectors or projects will also be featured.
Ohio’s shale play will be featured as part of the B2B program. Utica Shale in Ohio is believed to hold a significant amount of “wet gas,” which contains natural gas liquids that are used by makers of plastics and chemicals. Experts will explore downstream opportunities for the polymer and chemical industries as a result of the shale gas boom, the economic effects of shale gas and if it will be revolutionary or evolutionary in nature.
Energy efficiency is also another important topic that will be covered. Given Ohio’s strengths in manufacturing, the energy-efficiency industry could be a significant economic opportunity for the state. Up until now, there has been very little focus on how Ohio manufacturers will play in the energy efficiency industry and the impact it can have on the economy. Advanced Energy Economy Ohio (AEE Ohio) will share the results of a statewide energy-efficiency road map that will highlight the energy-efficiency products and services being provided by Ohio manufacturers, the specific players and areas of critical mass they represent, and priorities for the state and its regions to target for growth.
Energy policy experts will preview what is on the horizon for innovative state policy approaches, the short- and long-term scenario for federal initiatives and opportunities for the Buckeye State. Attendees will gain an understanding of the policies needed to continue to build Ohio’s advanced energy industry.
Companies that have deployed some of the most significant advanced energy projects in Ohio will share their experiences with getting advanced energy projects launched, as well the challenges, successes and the outlook for initiating similar projects in Ohio.
The conference program will be complemented with a robust exposition hall, showcasing innovative companies, researchers and technologies in Ohio. More than 120 companies and organizations are expected to exhibit. A new addition to this year’s event is the Technology Showcase, which will feature short presentations by companies and researchers who are seeking collaborators, project/demonstration resources and partnerships for funding.
An exclusive online social networking tool, called “B2B Connections,” will be used to facilitate networking among conference participants. This online tool provides attendees, exhibitors, sponsors and speakers the opportunity to connect based on matching interests, enabling them to communicate and schedule one-on-one business meetings with targeted prospective individuals and companies. Attendees are encouraged to register in advance at www.advancedenergyexpo.com.
“You’ve got to be daring! You’ve got to be first! You’ve got to be different!”
Ray Kroc, the man who made McDonald’s what it is today, once said that to an audience of entrepreneurs. It can be considered one of the unique value propositions of McDonald’s. Kroc took a small chain of drive-in restaurants and exploded the business into a highly successful national icon. Using his own quote as a road map, you can see his path to success.
Kroc’s McDonald’s began with hamburgers, then added french fries and a beverage to turn it into a meal. When imitators began to gain traction in the marketplace, McDonald’s introduced the sesame seed bun to differentiate its burger. In the 1980s, it dared its competitors to keep up by introducing the Egg McMuffin. McDonald’s also captured the children’s audience with Ronald McDonald, play places in stores and the Happy Meal with a toy.
In short, the 1.5-oz. hamburger that McDonald’s began with demanded a lot of superb marketing to generate preference and brand development.
A new competitor enters the market
McDonald’s isn’t the only fast-food brand specializing in hamburgers that can be first, daring and different, however. In 1969, 15 years after Kroc joined McDonald’s and began to position it as the market leader in the industry, Dave Thomas founded Wendy’s.
While similar to other fast-food restaurants in the market, Wendy’s dared to be different by offering a 4-oz. square hamburger patty instead of the standard 1.5-oz. round burger offered by McDonald’s and some other competitors.
Wendy’s also offered 11 different choices of toppings and sides instead of the standard french fries. It customized each hamburger as requested, with all additions — including the meat — being fresh daily.
It all came together beautifully and the upstart Wendy’s grew rapidly against much larger and already very well-entrenched competitors.
Why does it matter?
While the story of two fast-food giants seems irrelevant to many businesses outside the food industry, all of this information is 100 percent applicable to any industry.
Every entrepreneur strives to be first, daring and different with his or her business. Not all of us can be the first in an industry, but with a little creative thinking, we can all add a new first to an industry.
Reposition competitors so they work for you
Challengers in a marketplace can reposition dominant market leaders, but we must understand what we are trying to do. We must have a unique value proposition that is compelling, and we must do those things well if we are to be successful.
If Dave Thomas had decided to offer the same experience and choices as McDonald’s, Wendy’s might never have left Dublin, Ohio. Instead, he creatively repositioned Kroc’s offerings from the most popular burger to a small amount of meat with one phrase in an advertisement. Entrepreneurs need to always be thinking of how they can ask, “Where’s the beef?” of their competitors.
Focus on the customer
The Achilles ’ heel of most dominant providers is that with success, they inevitably move from an emphasis on trying to sell what the customer wants to buy to using their marketing muscle to try to sell the customer what they want to offer.
The fast-food world can try to throw its weight around when introducing a new product, but it seldom lasts if it is not something a consumer wants to buy. This is dangerous because customers have so many fast-food options that if a certain provider isn’t focused on what they want, someone else will be. <<
Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and insurance. Reach him at tomnies.cincom.com/about/
Everybody knows that men and women think differently. But do those differences matter when it comes to working remotely and managing remote teams? In my opinion, they matter a lot. Managers who don’t understand and embrace these differences do themselves, their companies and their employees a disservice.
In my new book, “You Can Have It All, Just Not All At Once,” I cite scientific studies that show how women’s and men’s brains function differently from one another. These differences are important because managers who are unaware of these conflicting world views might assign values to behaviors that don’t get the desired results.
Break it down
A major difference in how the sexes’ brains function is that women tend to be skilled multitaskers, while men are able to concentrate on one task for longer periods. Neuroscientific research confirms this, and women often take pride in their ability to handle several things at once.
This is a plus and a minus, both for women and for those who manage them. I believe it’s a core reason that women tend to overcommit. Those who manage women remotely can benefit from understanding this, especially since excessive multitasking can inhibit creative thought and lead to burnout.
On the flip side, a man’s ability to focus on one thing for a long time can be seen as beneficial, but it can also lead to tunnel vision and insensitivity to people and any behavior not seen as mission-critical. There’s also a tendency to believe that the amount of time spent on something equals better results, which is not always true. Often, short bursts of concentration bear better fruit than agonizing over tasks for extended periods.
A major difference between the sexes that impacts managers is that women are generally more likely to speak up if they’re unhappy about their circumstances, while men tend to suffer in silence. Normally, men will tolerate a negative situation longer than women will. This doesn’t mean that a woman’s complaints are without merit, or that men don’t experience the same misery.
But if a woman mentions that something is wrong, she might be seen as a complainer by a male manager. Conversely, a female manager might take a man’s stoicism as being uncommunicative or not proactively trying to improve a situation. Such value judgments can harm a working relationship.
Without the daily contact and familiarity of working in the same location, it can be difficult for managers to understand what’s going on with their team. One person’s laserlike focus is another’s antisocial moping. A willingness to abide short-term discomfort for long-term goals needs to be balanced with a willingness to change and improve the current situation.
Understanding how gender impacts behavior is a key reason why good leaders take the time to get to know their people and look at results, not at specific behavior that can be misinterpreted.
Gender Difference No. 1: Typically, men communicate in bullet-point style and strive to get to the point quickly, while women are more prone to tell a story or paint a picture. Women share experiences to show commonality and build on other people’s discussion points, whereas men focus on statistics and rankings and relate by sharing stories to “one-up” each other.
Solution Strategy: Women need to get to the bottom line quickly and succinctly. Men need to understand that when a woman tells a story, she is building common ground.
Gender Difference No. 2: Women like to talk about a problem, to emphasize their feelings, and to process thoughts aloud as a way to include others. Men like to move to problem-solving right away, alone. They place high value on achieving results and prefer activity over discussion.
Solution Strategy: Women should not try to get men to talk if they’re not ready; they should observe and listen rather than processing out loud. Men need to understand that processing is a way for women to include others and build relationships.
It is my belief that men and women can become one through understanding, value and honor. We all need each other, and even when we don’t agree on everything, we can learn to disagree while still showing respect for each other’s differences.
Sherri Elliott-Yeary is the CEO of human resources consulting companies Optimance Workforce Strategies and Gen InsYght, as well as the author of “Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage.” She has more than 15 years of experience as a trusted adviser and human resources consultant to companies ranging from small startups to large international corporations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At some point in the past few years, it hit Rick Dawson: He had hundreds of experts working in his business, but no one was really working on the business.
The president and CEO of Bal Seal Engineering Inc. had 450 employees around the world. Just about all of them were performing at a high level, helping to vault the industrial solutions company into an era of growth, while most businesses were dealing with the effects of the recession.
“That has been the good news for us,” Dawson says. “A lot of businesses have been struggling, but we have been growing at a rate of just over 15 percent per year.”
Last year, the company generated $75 million in revenue, up from $64 million in 2010. The sailing was smooth, there were no alarm bells ringing at the company’s headquarters. Bal Seal was in a rare place of peace amid tumultuous economic circumstance.
Yet, Dawson sensed trouble forthcoming if he let the company continue to ride on its own momentum. Specifically, he saw a company that could strain itself by growing too fast, and growing without a well-defined strategic plan.
“We have been expanding into new markets and new regions,” Dawson says. “That definitely puts a strain on your capacity and resources. So, working with our leadership team, it has been important to establish clear goals and objectives of what our on-time delivery expectations are, what our product development requirements are, what our sales goals are. Then, make sure everybody clearly understands the direction and measures those results.”
Dawson has worked with the leadership team at Bal Seal to formulate a strategic plan that could help the company better manage growth, but that is only part of the equation. He and his team have also needed to work tirelessly to create alignment on plan throughout the company’s associates, spread among offices in Colorado, The Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong and Japan, in addition to the company headquarters in Foothill Ranch.
Start at the top
Like many businesses, Bal Seal organizes yearly strategic planning meetings. In those meetings, Dawson and his management team plot out the umbrella goals and objectives for the coming year. The companywide goals are then used to formulate goals for each division and team within the organization.
“We develop functional goals and objectives for our operations team, sales team, health and safety team, and so forth,” Dawson says. “Those are then put into even more specific goals and objectives.”
The goals and objectives are what Dawson terms “smart goals” — specific, measurable, achievable and realistic. Dawson wants his employees to stretch beyond their comfort zone at times, but not so far that they’re reaching beyond the realistic capabilities of themselves or the company at that point in time. Goals need to be ambitious, but still realistically achievable.
Dawson and his team monitor the progress of the departments in implementing the cascaded goals through a series of stoplight meetings, which got their name from the three-color system assigned to the progress level of each objective.
“It’s a two to 2½ hour meeting each month, and each department manager is responsible for reporting the progress on their goals,” Dawson says. “Green means there are no problems and there is nothing to really talk about. Yellow means you have a problem, but you have worked within your own departmental team to come up with a solution. Red means you have a problem and haven’t been able to come up with a solution. If you have an objective that you have classified as “red,” we can then schedule a separate meeting to assist in dealing with that problem.”
Though Dawson likes to limit the number of meetings throughout the company, he has found value in the monthly stoplight meetings, which have helped to identify and address problems before they become major issues that compromise the pursuit of a department’s goals.
“The operations team was working on an on-time delivery objective, and what they found was that they were struggling to get a specific order out on time,” Dawson says. “It was an aerospace customer, and we had lead time issues with getting materials in on time. Then on top of that, we were having capacity issues.
“But by communicating with the sales team, those of us on the management team were able to identify exactly what they were struggling with, and the history of the customer that were impacted.
“Once we did that, the sales team was able to step in and get some relief from the customer. We were able to explain the delay, which was resulting from raw materials that were delayed offshore. Once the customer understood, it provided relief to the operations team, which helped us get the orders ready on time.
“Because we were able to get together and talk about it, we were able to identify the customer and the problem, and the problem was resolved before the product was late to the customer.”
As the layers and locations within your company increase, creating and maintaining alignment on organizational objectives becomes a more difficult and more involved task to accomplish. With 450 employees, Bal Seal doesn’t face the communication challenges of companies that employ many thousands. But with locations around the world, the management team still had its work cut out.
To help strengthen alignment, Dawson does what a lot of CEOs do: he logs air miles, visiting each of Bal Seal’s facilities twice a year, and having in-depth meetings with the facility directors at each stop.
“It’s important that you’re promoting the message to everyone, from the machinists to the managers,” Dawson says. “I also want to reinforce the messages laid out in our plan at the start of the year. We know at the beginning of the year what the schedule is for Europe, for Asia, but it is a constant challenge to make sure the staff remains aware of it, and is kept up to date on what is going on.”
There is a limit to how far down in an organization a CEO can, and should, reach. If the company is large enough, your place is not managing the factory floor. But you still have to construct a system that allows you to connect with everyone in the organization, from the top to the bottom.
If you can keep your finger on the pulse of the mood and attitude of your lowest-rung employees, you are in a much better position to determine whether your messages are permeating every layer of the company. You are also in a much better position to cut off the rumor mill, should issues arise.
“For example, we’re currently building a second facility in Colorado Springs,” Dawson says. “When I said we were building a new facility there, what everyone in the company heard was,‘We’re moving the company to Colorado Springs.’ That wasn’t the case. We’re expanding there. That’s where having a means of staying connected to everyone in the organization is so important. I had to reaffirm that we’re continuing our growth and expansion, not relocating.”
Dawson didn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time he presented the message to a new audience, but he did have to tweak it in a manner that addressed the questions and concerns of whichever group within Bal Seal was receiving the message.
“It’s important that you’re promoting the message to everyone, from the machinists to the managers,” Dawson says. “To the machinists, you’re promoting the idea that the expansion allows for more job security. You’re soliciting input from the managers, and on the executive level you’re promoting the vision for the overall corporate goals, and the deliverables in order to achieve those goals.
“The communication and interaction is something constant, something that you can’t push into the background.”
Another aspect of alignment centers on the widely-held business truism, “What gets measured, gets managed.” If you want to create alignment around organizational goals, you need to create universally-understood methods of measuring them. Usually, that means measuring the statistical categories most important to the success of your business.
“I measure cash, I measure sales, I measure on-time delivery, and I measure safety, which is my number one category,” Dawson says. “So you’re monitoring those on a regular basis, and talking with your managers about it.
“You are going to view your management team as something of a mouthpiece, since you can’t be everywhere at once. So you have to help them stay aligned on the plan, and monitor what they’re saying to their teams. You just continue to provide guidance.
“If you manage the relationships with your managers, you can better manage the flow of communication throughout the company. You oversee those relationships with your managers by ensuring that you are comfortable, and they are comfortable with the vision and direction, and thoroughly understand it.”
Build your team
Consistency is one of the biggest keys to maintaining a message for a large audiences over an extended period of time. That means consistency in how you communicate, when and where you communicate, but it also means maintaining consistency in the structure of your management team.
Turnover will occur. If a member of your team is talented and driven enough, and has reached a ceiling in your organization, that person will likely leave when a better opportunity comes along. So it’s prudent to develop new leaders from within.
When the time comes to fill a space on his management team, Dawson prefers to promote internally, looking outside the organization only when he believes there is a need. Internal candidates have proven that they can help promote and execute the strategic plan. But even when promoting from within, it’s not an exact science when looking for those who have the right competencies and right attitude.
“You break your people into quadrants,” Dawson says. “There is willing and able, willing and unable, unwilling and able, and unwilling and unable. Obviously, you’re looking for willing and able. If you have someone who is willing and unable, you have a performance issue. If you have someone who is unwilling and able, you have to see if you can educate them in the process. If you have unwilling and unable, you’re probably not keeping them.”
To hit for the highest possible willing-and-able average, Dawson wants to see prior evidence of accomplishment, creativity and integrity in the work experience of job candidates.
“A lot of people will come into an interview and say ‘I’ve been the manager of sales,’ but when you ask them how they ran their sales organization, when you ask them about their vision and direction, they can’t get down to specifics. If that’s the case, they’re probably not the right fit for the organization.
“After you hire someone, you’re continuing to assess them. You’re working with the person to set goals and objectives, and if they’re complying and conforming, you’re doing great.
“If you are seeing a continuous pattern of not meeting goals and objectives, then you have to be willing to be very honest and candid with the person, explain to them what the issues are, and from there, you can assess the next level of whether they’ll be a fit for your organization moving forward.
“But it is important to continue to work with the person to help them succeed. Building a team is a continuous process of communication and direction.”
How to reach: Bal Seal Engineering Inc., (949) 460-2100 or www.balseal.com
The Dawson file
President and CEO
Bal Seal Engineering Inc.
Education: Mechanical engineering degree, California State University, Long Beach; MBA, Pepperdine University
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?
The No. 1 rule I’ve learned is that you can never run out of cash. You need to have liquidity in the business. You also need to have an ability to make strategic and tactical changes. If you have a strategic plan, implement it and then measure it.
What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?
I think the No. 1 thing is communication. On top of that, you need perseverance, because things don’t always work out the first time. It is also important that as a leader you are willing to take the time to understand your people and communicate with them.
What is your definition of success?
To meet the plan you set out to accomplish. If you want to grow the business at a certain percentage, success is meeting that number.
Robin Raina acknowledges that the last four years provided a stern test to his prudent leadership throughout the last 13 years as he turned Ebix Inc. into a highly profitable, efficient company designed to weather tough times.
The recession hit the insurance industry hard, putting many insurers out of business and forcing many others to tighten their belts drastically. As a result, companies that supply goods and services to the insurance industry felt the pinch too.
The Atlanta-based supplier of software and e-commerce services to insurers, weathered the storm better than most. Ebix made it through — not unscathed but a stronger, wiser company whose leaders have grown and learned a lot in the process.
“The insurance industry wasn’t prepared for the economic downturn,” says Raina, chairman, president and CEO. “When people are not able to pay their mortgage, insurance becomes a luxury, so insurance companies were suddenly having a hard time. As a result, they tightened their purses and started spending less money on new projects, new initiatives, new distribution media.”
At the same time that the recession forced insurers to start curtailing their spending, a handful of other developments made life tougher still for Ebix. The health reform movement put even more downward pressure on the insurance industry. Some insurance companies declared bankruptcy. Many insurers started getting acquired by other companies, shrinking Ebix’s pool of potential customers even further.
“The health reform movement created a lot of inertia in the insurance industry,” Raina says. “Around the same time, a lot of acquisitions started happening. A lot companies in the financial world — the banks who were our clients, the insurance companies who were our clients — got acquired. And some of them went into bankruptcy mode. They had lots of difficulties.”
A large part of Ebix’s business comes from setting up exchanges to streamline insurance transactions. Thus, insurance transactions are the lifeblood of Ebix’s business.
“The more policies that get written, the more transactions we do and the more money we make,” Raina says. “It’s as simple as that. And when the insurance industry shrinks, less policies are written, less prospects are offered insurance, and Ebix’s exchanges are utilized less. So you have a direct impact — an inhibiting factor in terms of your revenue growth.
“That was the biggest challenge we faced. In spite of the state of the economy, and at a time when the insurance market was shrinking, we had to somehow keep the company growing and still report profitable results.”
Lay the groundwork
To a great extent, Raina had been preparing Ebix from the day he became CEO in 1999 for the economic storm that hit in 2008.
“We didn’t just sit down and create a plan on how to respond when this thing happened in ’08,” he says. “To me, that’s a mistake. Companies have to be ready. Companies that are designed to be run when the economy is strong are not good companies, in my view. You have to have systems in place and the fundamental strength to still do well if the economy goes south.
“For us, this journey of still being able to do well in spite of the economy didn’t happen because we put our heads together when the crisis hit and said, ‘Let’s figure this out.’ We were always prepared for it.”
How did Raina and his leadership team members build Ebix to weather the recession? The ways were many. They made prudent, careful investments. They avoided growth for growth’s sake. They went after new business when it made sense to do so, and had the restraint to pull back when it didn’t. They streamlined and centralized many of Ebix’s business processes. They converted the company to paperless operations, and taught its customers to do the same.
“It’s a series of things you have to be doing,” Raina says. “The fundamental strength of Ebix has always been that we created the systems so that our business scales up as our revenue scales up. And we run a very common-sense kind of business where anything we do has to come up with a particular model operating margin.”
Fiscal restraint, careful investing and caution in executing big transactions have been key elements in Ebix’s leaders’ ability to build resilience into the company’s design.
“Many people underestimate the value of financial discipline,” Raina says. “If you have a business model where you say you want 40 percent operating margins out of everything you do, and you run into a situation where you’re offered a big revenue deal but it will take your margin down quite a bit, then don’t do it.
“Focus on what you evolved as your business model. Have the courage and the financial discipline to be able to say no to such opportunities.”
In many ways, efficiency has been built into Ebix’s model for years. This played a big part in the company’s staying power when it ran into tough times.
“We had centralized and streamlined our business operations,” Raina says. “We had converted Ebix into a paperless company, where very little paper is transacted, and taught our customers to do the same. What did that all result in? It resulted in a highly efficient company.”
That efficiency served Ebix well when the recession struck in 2008. Not that it made the ride entirely smooth, but it served as a base of strength, a stabilizer to enable Ebix to traverse the rough road without breaking down.
“We were well prepared, but that’s not to say it was easy,” Raina says. “We were able keep our head high and make it through, keep growing, stay profitable and maintain our operating margins.
“Obviously, the revenue growth becomes lesser when you go through times like these,” he says. “It might not have been as good as it would have been if the economy was in good shape, but we were still able to show revenue growth.”
As Ebix moved through the storm, its leaders had to make many modifications to keep the company on course. They had to make sure the company’s existing revenue sources were secure. As Ebix’s clients were being snapped up by acquirers, they had to convince the new owners of the value of the company’s products and services. Some of Ebix’s customers’ budgets were cut, so there were issues of price sensitivity that had to be dealt with sensitively.
“The last four years have been an issue of doing small adjustments here and there, and restructuring certain things,” Raina says. “You become more controlled than you ever were. You focus back on making sure you don’t lose a single client because you know in a time like this there’s a possibility that some clients might get price-sensitive, so you have to form a different plan.
“Overall, we didn’t run into a lot of price sensitivity, fortunately. Our bigger issues had to do with the extent of overall budgets, and whether the clients had budgets that were sanctioned or not. We had a few exceptional cases where we had to come up with a solution for them because they had a lesser budget, and we had to somehow help them through that. So we did.”
Ebix managed to find ways to retain most of its customers who were hurting financially by working within their smaller budgets for temporary periods.
“You have to look at the client, and you have a choice to make at that point,” he says. “One choice is you can basically say, ‘Well, I’m not going to change anything that I do.’ The second way to look at it is you look at the client and say, ‘Are they genuine? Do they genuinely have an issue?’
“You look at how long they’ve been your client, and if you think they’ve been a sincere client, you make a decision that this is a time for you to show that you’re a true partner. You tell them, ‘I’m going to work with your present budget, with a basic assurance that as you get into better times, you’re going to come back to the normal level.’
“If they’re willing to do that, you give them a break. That’s what we did with a few of our clients because they had shown that they were true partners to us by staying with us for many years.”
Diversify your business
Asked what advice he would give other CEOs facing a similar challenge, Raina says he believes it’s critical to keep your business diversified and maintain your customer concentration as low as possible.
“It’s important to understand that you can’t have a business that is too heavily focused in any one business area or with any one client,” Raina says. “This was a key learning point for us. If you step back a few years, Ebix had a fair amount of customer concentration. If you go back to 2003, 2004, we had a situation where one client accounted for 40 percent of our revenue. Today, our customer concentration is minimal. We deal with hundreds of thousands of users, and our largest client accounts for less than 2½ percent of our revenue.
“I see publicly traded companies today who are doing extremely well — at least in the stock market they’re doing very well — and they have customers accounting for 52 percent of their revenue. To me, that’s a bad business model. It’s too risky. If one customer moves out, their entire business could be at risk. You have to diversify your business.”
Raina recommends keeping your company’s structural elements simple — your vision, your business model, your financial model — especially when the going gets rough.
“That’s the biggest mistake I see companies make: They get carried away by their own vision,” Raina says. “It’s very important to have a simplified vision, a vision you can explain in a few words, in a few sentences. If it takes longer than that to explain your business model, it means it’s not a good business model. I’m a firm believer in that.”
It’s equally important to have a straightforward financial model, according to Raina.
“You’ve got to have a very simple financial vision and a simplified way of making money,” he says. “It really comes down to this: If you can figure out that your selling price has to be a lot higher than your cost price — if you can figure out that basic fact — then you’ve arrived, in my book. Many people laugh at that statement, but too many companies ignore this. You’ve got to get down to the basics of the business.”
Lastly, Raina says that being able to learn continually and to adapt to constant change are crucial survival strategies for CEOs faced with guiding their companies through harsh economic times.
“You must keep learning all through this process,” Raina says. “Lots of managers are very proud about saying, ‘I came up with a vision a decade back, and that vision has worked very well.’ And they stick to their vision too long sometimes.
“It’s a real-time world we live in, so you have to be dynamic,” he says. “You have to be ready and willing to learn, to change, to keep evolving: the way you sell, the way you deploy, the way you market, the way you host, the way you implement services.
“To me, the key issues are simplification of your vision, simplification of your business plan, being able to spell it out to your employees and your partners, and being ready to change all the time and learn from everything you do.”
HOW TO REACH: Ebix Inc., (678) 281-2020 or www.ebix.com
THE RAINA FILE
Chairman, President and CEO
Born: Kashmir, India
Education: Bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, Thapar University, Punjab, India
What important business lesson did you learn during your time in school?
Engineering doesn’t necessarily teach you everything you’re going to need in terms of technical skills because times keep changing. But what engineering does teach you is an aptitude to learn. It gives you an aptitude of knowing that everything can be understood as long as you’re willing to apply yourself. You don’t get overawed by things because you learn how to analytically think everything through.
Do you have an overriding business philosophy that you use to guide you?
Be sincere, transparent and truthful to your customers. You have to be able to talk to your clients in a very open manner through thick and thin. If you’re running into a problem, you’ve got to be able to tell them what it is. Today, in the new world that we live in, all the companies are trying to create recurring sources of revenue. We’re trying to create annuity sources of revenue. What does that mean? That means you’ve got to have clients who really want to stay with you, because that’s the only way you will get recurring revenue.
What traits do you think are most important for a CEO to have in order to be a successful leader?
Conviction and the ability to listen. These are key, because we’re not perfect, we make mistakes every day, and people have to be able to relate to you, to talk to you, and you have to be able to listen to them. Ultimately, you make the final decisions, but you have to have the ability to listen and to digest in your mind, am I doing this wrong? Maybe they’re correcting me in the right fashion. So that becomes a key.
Going into 2008, Chip Conley was concerned about the future, and not just for the obvious reasons. Yes, there was the looming possibility of another economic downturn. And with his company launching 15 hotels in a 21-month period, he wondered like many business leaders what impact a recession would have on his organization and its 3,000-plus employees. The difference was Conley’s personal life was also in turmoil.
“We were growing as fast as we ever had at a difficult time,” says Conley, the founder of the San Francisco-based hotel group, Joie de Vivre Hotels. “I also had a family member who was going to San Quentin prison wrongfully. … I had a long-term relationship end. I had five friends commit suicide during that time.”
Soon, the CEO faced the repercussions trying to juggle so many emotions.
“I had my own flat-line experience,” he says.
After finishing up a speech in St. Louis, Conley fell unconscious. In the five to 10 minutes that it took the paramedics to arrive, his heart stopped.
While Conley fully recovered from the heart attack, his experience sent him through a search for meaning, a way to make sense of all the things happening in his life.
“CEOs — you sort of think that they’re above all the emotions and the difficulties and no one should be pitying any CEOs,” Conley says. “You know — ‘Don’t cry for me, Argentina.’ But the bottom line is that I was really confused by all of the emotions I was feeling — a lot of things were falling apart in my life at once.”
As the leader of a $250 million business, Conley knew that he couldn’t be the only one facing this challenge. To empower himself as well as other leaders he did extensive research on the psychology behind emotions and how this translates in business, writing “Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness+Success.” The book focuses on how business leaders and individuals can become more emotionally fluent, and subsequently, improve their organizations. To date, his transformational leadership practices have been featured in publications from Time to Fortune and The Wall Street Journal.
“In business, what we want to do is influence things,” Conley says. “We want to have an impact. And usually it’s very external: how can I have an impact or influence the world? What I’m saying is if you can influence and impact your emotions, you can actually be more impactful as a leader in the world.”
Become a CEO (Chief Emotions Officer)
Conley’s research on emotions led him to the work of author Daniel Goleman and an interesting finding that the author made in his book “Emotional Intelligence” 16 years ago: that two-thirds of the success of business leaders comes from their EQ — emotional intelligence quotient — while just one-third is due to IQ level or experience. This statistic struck a powerful chord with Conley.
What it means for a CEO is that the best leaders have more influence and control over their emotions. The most effective CEOs are “chief emotions officers.”
“First of all, the more that you’re emotionally fluent and emotionally intelligent about what’s going on inside of you, the more effectively you’ll be as a leader and the happier you’ll be,” Conley says.
The first step in becoming a chief emotions officer isn’t an easy one for all, however. It begins with becoming more attuned to what’s going on inside of you by taking your ego out of the equation.
Conley notices that many young leaders tend to use talking to motivate people. They have a tendency to think that if they give a good speech or make a proclamation that that the emotion will get people excited. While this works sometimes, he’s learned over the years that trying to motivate people without good information can also backfire.
Frequently when people want to get things done, their ambition in tandem with success can lead employees to interpret it as narcissism, Conley says.
“What happens sometimes is a leader of an organization wants to get people fired up and people think that he or she is really out of touch with what they are seeing,” he says. “So it’s a fine line, because you do want to be a visionary as a leader and help people see things that aren’t as obvious, but you also have to keep your feet on the ground.”
Practicing empathetic leadership starts with becoming a better listener.
Conley uses the example of commercial airlines. When jet fuel prices went up and they started adding new charges for items such as amenities, luggage and so on. The exception was Southwest Airlines, which considered the impact on employees when it decided to maintain many of its pre-recession policies.
“The airlines teed off us — the customers — for charging for bags and for food and no longer handing out peanuts, except on Southwest,” Conley says. “So they upset us, but more importantly, they also upset the flight attendants. Because they were going to start charging us for bags, we brought all of our bags on the plane. You turn flight attendants into baggage handlers and the level of the satisfaction of the flight attendants went way down. And guess what? Customer satisfaction plummeted, except at places like Southwest.”
Understanding people’s feelings takes a two-way conversation. So instead of giving a speech about how it’s going to be, Conley now asks his people how they want it to be. As CEO, he frequently had dinners with different groups of employees, taught classes for team members and maintained an open door policy to encourage people to share their emotions and ensure they felt heard.
“When you can understand the subtleties and the nuances of what this person in front of you is looking for in their life, it allows you to deliver on those needs a lot better,” Conley says.
Identify the variables
The challenge in learning to control emotions for most people is becoming more responsive to them. Because people tend to react quickly when something happens to us, they often don’t take time to think about the root cause of emotions or worse, push them off, Conley says.
Due to the stresses of day-to-day business dealings, it might take CEOs days or weeks to realize that something has been eating at them because they were too busy to deal with it at the time.
“Sometimes efficiency takes us away from our emotions and we just ignore them, and then they come out in other ways,” Conley says. “We wonder, ‘Why am I so angry about this?’ and you don’t realize that yesterday this person sort of blew you off when you were supposed to have a meeting with them. And you just had other things to do so you didn’t focus on it.
“So something happens and we react. The lifespan of an emotion physically in your body is usually 90 seconds long, but we actually hold on to it a lot longer than that. It gets stale, but it’s still that emotion that you’re holding onto. Learning how to be more responsive and less reactive is a good thing.”
In a business culture, emotions are contagious, from smiling to yawning and frustration, to fear and anxiety. So not addressing the fear or anxiety of one person — or yourself — can quickly turn into the emotional neglect of many, causing creativity and innovation to suffer.
When Conley researched “Emotional Equations,” he found that although emotions seem fleeting and uncontrollable, they are actually quite predictable. Once you identify the emotion that you or your people are feeling, you need to examine ingredients that created it. Most can be broken down into simple math.
In a study done several years ago, participants were given two choices: get an electric shock now or get an electric shock randomly in the next 24 hours, but it would be half as painful. The vast majority of people in the study chose the option to get the shock immediately.
Why? They had more control over the situation by knowing when the shock would happen, lowering their anxiety.
“Anxiety has two different ingredients: uncertainty and powerlessness, or what you don’t know and what you can’t control,” Conley says. “Once you start to realize this you can actually influence the ingredients and then may influence the emotion.”
Other examples include (Disappointment = Expectations - Reality) and (Workaholism = What Are You Running From?/What Are You Living For?)
By dissecting emotions into variables, leaders can influence the variables to better control the emotions themselves. Take anxiety, for example.
If employees in a company harbor anxiety, they will eventually become distracted and less productive. So when leaders find out that people are anxious about their jobs and finances, they should look for ways to deplete some of the powerlessness and uncertainty they may be feeling.
“If we know that uncertainty and powerless is what creates anxiety, and we know that anxiety makes people less creative, less innovative, less engaged, less productive, then when we have bad news, we better figure out how to package it quickly and get it out to people,” Conley says.
“When people are just stewing about what they think will happen, it becomes a big distraction from what they really should be doing in their work.”
While reassurance with words is always helpful, you also need to take action. Set tangible goals. Provide comprehensive feedback. Get employees more engaged in innovation.
The same goes for anxiety of a CEO. By creating more certainty in your life and taking power over the areas that you can control, you reduce the anxiety that can paralyze you and your organization.
“Even in a time when people are worried about things like layoffs, they can feel like ‘Ah, I have some power or some influence in terms of my effectiveness if I do the following three things,’” Conley says.
Make it a commitment
CEOs who use empathy in their decision-making processes can create cultures with happier employees, who in turn, provide better service.
“What we saw is the more employees felt engaged, the happier they were and the more likely they were to give a great experience to our customers,” Conley says. “So our employee satisfaction went up and then our customer satisfaction went up as well.
“When you get more engaged employees in a service environment, you’re able to put an environment together that allows the customers to get solutions faster. And the employees are going to feel not just engaged but they feel like their fingerprints are all over the business.”
Seeing the power of emotional equations, Conley began teaching them to leaders at Joie de Vivre to help them better identify with their emotions and empathize with the emotions of others. And so far, the impact on organizationwide morale has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Initially people thought, ‘Oh God. Here’s Chip with his New Age stuff again,’” he says. “But honestly, the last few years have been an emotionally trying time for people in the business world. So the fact that I was being vulnerable and authentic about my own fears and frustrations and concerns about life meant that people felt like, ‘OK, I can breathe. I don’t have to be Superman.’”
Giving more voice to emotions doesn’t mean productivity has to suffer either. In fact, it should be the opposite. When people have the safety to express their emotions, they’ll be more empowered to make decisions because the fear of making a mistake or anxiety about their job security won’t be distracting them.
“If you have a problem in a hotel or any kind of business, you want the person right in front of you to solve it,” Conley says. “You don’t want to have them say, ‘OK, well, I’ll talk to my manager.”
While he’s transitioned from the role of CEO, Conley continues to promote the equations at Joie de Vivre as a strategic adviser. Today he focuses on creating one emotion in particular: joy (Joy=Love-Fear), which is also the company’s mission statement.
“Our company name is Joie de Vivre, which means joy of life,” Conley says. “The fact that we have an underlying message and many of us wear these wristbands that say “create joy” is a reminder that that’s what we’re in business to do.”
How to reach: Joie de Vivre Hotels, (800) 738-7477 or www.jdvhotels.com
The Conley File
Founder, former CEO and strategic adviser
Joie de Vivre Hotels
Born: Long Beach
Education: BA and MBA from Stanford University
What was your first job?
The fries and shake station at McDonald’s
What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?
Compensation is a right and recognition is a gift so I try to provide two honest and detailed forms of personal recognition to people I work with daily. If I slack off one day, then I add those to the next day.
What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?
I’m not sure that many people know that I have a 35-year-old stepson, a six-week old baby and three grandchildren, with the oldest being 17 and 3 inches taller than me. As much as Joie de Vivre and our various hotels were sort of like my children and family, I feel fortunate to have these kids and grandkids in my life as they remind me of what’s truly important at the end of the day.
If you could have dinner with one person you’ve never met, who would it be and why?
Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines who was in that position for 37 years. He created a compelling culture that walked its talk around the customer coming second and the employee coming first. The airline industry is brutal — cyclical, high fixed costs, lots of unions, big risks — so I’d want to learn more about how he dealt with the emotional roller coaster that came with being CEO for three dozen years. He outdid me by a dozen years since I was CEO of JdV for two dozen years.
Most companies start with outstanding customer value propositions. But as time passes, and customers change, the once-upon-a-time on-target value propositions become out of date. Soon customers become dissatisfied because vendors don’t seem to understand their current needs. They begin to believe they’ve outgrown their vendors and start to look for new answers to their problems.
This isn’t true of every company. Some companies make staying close to their customers and understanding their changing needs a top priority. These companies use a process to check themselves and ensure that they’re constantly staying on top of changing customer priorities. The process starts by asking several questions:
1. Who is your customer? What do they do? What are their challenges?
2. Have your clients aged? Have their needs changed?
3. What is your customers’ cost structure in this economy? Do your bells and whistles deliver the value they did in boom times?
4. Is your customer using technology to do some of your core offerings?
5. How well do you truly know your customers? How often do you visit your customers?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, then it’s time to get back to basics. Here are a few steps to get you going.
Step 1: Get to know your customer again.
Recently, our company found that many of the people with closest ties to our clients were starting to retire. We put together a customer visit “blitz” to visit all our existing customers and prospects within our existing accounts. We made sure they knew who we were and what we did, but most of all, we listened. We inquired about new challenges and took time to learn how we could understand the root of their problems.
The point is, if you want to understand your customer’s changing needs, don’t just visit the people you are familiar with — get out on the front lines with the people doing the core work and buying new products or services. Find out what your customer’s requirements are for timing, cost and quality. Really listen to your customers so that you can understand their goals and the obstacles that prevent them from reaching those goals.
Step 2: Re-center yourself in your customer’s new world.
After listening to your customer, develop a new value proposition. We realized that our customer’s budget constraints were far more severe than we originally thought. Our customer had no choice — they had to do more for less. We had to figure out a way to whittle down what wasn’t essential and find ways to add real value through technology, resourcing, and efficiencies.
Step 3: Change.
Ouch, yes — change. Your staff will be entrenched in the way they do things, or the products you offer, but change will be imperative. Without it, you risk losing your business over time.
Put your staff in a room and present your “new” client’s needs to them. Ask them, “If we had to start over today, how would we support this type of a client?” You may need to develop high-level processes, add resources or create a realistic profit-loss statement. Then, ask your management team to look at how that differs from where you are today. Create strategies that will allow you to execute and deliver your new value proposition.
Present your customer’s “new” need. Create a new value proposition. Go back to answering your customer’s requirements of time, cost, quality, and peace of mind. The result will be a path to change that’s been developed by your people in a non-threatening, problem-solving way. And best of all, it will be in sync with your client’s needs.
Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at email@example.com. Clinical Research Management Director of Business Development, Lori Gipp, assisted in the writing of this article.
Social media gives people a much closer connection to your business, which can be very good. But when customers use the forum to criticize, you may find it hard to resist the urge to fire back with an emotional response. And that can be very bad.
“People are constantly getting in trouble for tweeting something they shouldn’t have and then somebody responds with a more emotional tweet,” says Kevin McCarney, founder of the $15 million Poquito Más restaurant chain. “Digital communication is great for information, but not really good for communication.”
McCarney has written a book based on the interactions he has each day in his restaurants. “The Secrets of Successful Communication” offers insight on how to avoid saying things you’ll later regret.
What is the difference between the big brain and the little brain?
I’ve been in the people business all my life, literally since I was about 14. I have been studying people’s reactions and their overreactions as well through all different kinds of circumstances.
I distilled a lot of the things that are happening inside the head into two simple concepts. The big brain gives you that smart, diplomatic, positive, thoughtful response you’re going to get in any situation. The little brain, which I put right next to your mouth, is going to spit out the impulsive, overreacting, sarcastic comment that gets us in trouble once in a while. We all have a big brain and we all have a little brain.
How can the little brain get me in trouble as a leader?
My responses to things will be mimicked by my employees. If you’re in a leadership position or in a management position, your words are far more powerful than a front-line worker. And they’ll have an impact on the front-line worker and the people working underneath and around them.
If I as the owner of a company get upset and angry every time something goes wrong, people aren’t going to tell me anything that is going wrong. They’re going to hide everything from me. So it’s important that my responses are measured, that I’m under control and that employees feel like they can talk to me about anything. Otherwise, I’ll lose control of what’s really going on.
How do I keep my cool during tough situations with my employees?
The key that we describe in the book is there are several different traps you can fall in to. If you identify the traps in your life and the things that may push you into little brain, then you can work to not overreact to it.
More importantly, you can teach others. If you’ve got other people in little brain mode, you can know how to handle them. You don’t follow them. If somebody is uptoning in the conversation, they are getting more angry and their tone is going up and escalating, you don’t follow them as a leader.
You realize if their tone is going up, there is something else going on here. Let me just bring that tone back to where it should be, and they will eventually come back.
Is it ever too late to apologize for losing your cool?
There’s no expiration date on an apology. You can go back and if you said something to a co-worker or about a co-worker and they found out, you can just go, ‘I don’t know what I was thinking. I apologize and I didn’t mean to say that.’ And you kind of reset after you apologize.
Your good reputation is your company’s most significant piece of equity. Are you monitoring and protecting its value?
Most brand detractors won’t go to your corporate website, Facebook page or Twitter account to complain. Instead, if aggravated enough, they’re going to tell anyone willing to listen why they should stop doing business with you. Word of your brand’s perceived inadequacies can travel at the speed of light and can destroy your good reputation within nanoseconds.
One in every five people is likely to speak their mind and bash brands through online channels. Research shows that people do not practice as much self-control in their online behavior as they would in person, or through other channels.
One negative social media comment can cost your company 30 customers. Conversely, a positive social media review could lead to 30 new customers.
A study by Convergys cited bad reviews or comments on a social network sites reach an average of 45 people. Of these, two out of every three never rebroadcast or play into the discussion. Instead, they silently commit to avoiding the brand being slammed. It is estimated that companies are losing about 12 percent of their customers that way. This can spell the difference between a company’s success and failure.
Cherry Tree also did research that found that while 22 percent receive a poor experience, only 2 percent actually complain, 98 percent of dissatisfied customers never complain with 55 percent of those customers at risk and 45 percent actually defecting.
The Convergys research focused on the impact between pre-purchase informational browsing by prospective customers, and its correlation to lost business. The study reinforced that the consumer experience now begins when the consumer logs on.
Don’t kid yourself into thinking that poor service, defective products or manufacturing glitches aren’t dissected in the social space. Tens of thousands of social sites with review mechanisms exist and more launch each day. Check them to see what’s being said about your company.
Think about it: One bad tweet can equal 30 customers lost. That means, with social media, great customer service is essential to the preservation of a company’s reputation.
Each second a dissatisfied customer is bashing a brand online, are they bashing yours?
If someone posts bad news or misinformation about your brand, how many of the people reading the post will then share it with their contacts? How many people reading the re-posting will then rebroadcast it themselves? The reposting or retweeting possibilities are both frightening and endless.
Think about the impact all that broadcast reposting and retweeting has on your company’s bottom line.
How much is your average sale? Multiply that number by 30 to determine revenues lost by each negative review you receive. How many times have you Googled a company, brand or individual prior to your doing business with them? How many times has your search influenced your purchasing decision?
Before doing business with you, potential business partners and customers are going to want to learn as much as possible about you. In the eyes of the potential customer, what appears in the search results on Google, Yahoo and Bing define your company. False, erroneous or misleading postings found in search engine results cost corporations hundreds of thousands of dollars each day.
It doesn’t matter whether the negative comments are from a competitor, a news site, a message board, a blogger or disgruntled employee – their impact can lead to devastating financial challenges. What will they find when they search?
Perhaps it’s time for you to begin formulating a plan to protect your good reputation.
Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria Social Media Marketing and Online Reputation Management, Shazaaam PR and Marketing Communications, and Promo Marketing Team, which conducts product sampling, mobile tours and events. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.