One of the biggest lessons that Jenniffer Deckard has learned throughout her career is that she had to develop the patience and recognition that she really needed to listen to other people’s ideas, opinions and evaluations of her ideas.

“There’s a power of collective experiences in such that one person, whether that’s me or anyone else, can never have as many ideas as two people or even three or even four,” she says.

As president of Fairmount Minerals, one of the largest producers of industrial sand in the country, this lesson she’s learned is put into daily practice. Throughout her career, Fairmount has had an environment that fosters collaboration, and that has, in turn, helped her develop this skill in herself and in others.

“I hope to lead by example more and more, but [it’s] letting other people speak first — truly listening as opposed to waiting for your opportunity to jump in,” she says. “If you were to ask me what have I been able to do that has allowed me to succeed, I still have work in that area, and I’m developing in that area, but what has allowed the most success for me is … engaging collaboration.”

Sometimes it’s easy to talk about fostering collaboration and much harder to actually do it. Deckard says that coming up on the finance side — she previously served as chief financial officer — has allowed her to touch every facet of the business, so it’s helped her connect with people, so they, in turn, see her as a team player.

“Then, as others view me as a teammate, as [person] A views me as a teammate and [person] B views me as a teammate, it’s helped to foster A and B’s collaboration, as well,” she says.

But you can’t force people to view you as a teammate; that comes through years of patience and practice.

“[It’s] always working toward the same objectives — putting aside divisional objectives, functional objectives and putting the greater objectives for the whole first,” Deckard says.”

The outlook she takes and portrays to employees is one of transparency in a commitment to the success of the organization over all else.

“If we create a stronger, better business, that’s better for everyone, and that’s better for our communities, and that’s better for our employees, and that’s better for everyone in our stakeholder group,” she says.

Deckard says that employees and other constituents see that as her ultimate goal, and it helps create that collaboration, as well.

“Even if you’re digging into something that may be proprietary or sensitive to a group or a person, it’s always done with, ‘What can we do best for the organization, and how can we work together?’ because a successful organization is what can elevate the success of all individuals,” she says.

As she looks to move the business forward, she’s keenly aware of the many opportunities. As those opportunities present themselves, she also looks to other people for their input in assessing them.

“Don’t look at opportunities in a vacuum,” she says. “I get feedback from people on opportunities, usually because opportunities are collaborative. It’s not, ‘This opportunity comes up for Jenniffer.’ It’s, ‘There’s an opportunity, and usually there’s more than one self involved.’”

It also depends on what the opportunity is. Sometimes, she says you just have to decide and move forward, which is how she tends to make decisions if it affects just her.

“If you think too much about it, you can talk yourself out of anything,” she says.

She’s more inclined to jump, especially when it’s her resources, but when it comes to other people’s resources, that’s when she comes back to collaboration.

“That’s when I’ll take a much more analytical approach to an opportunity,” she says.

It’s important to make sure you’re looking at other people when you make decisions and not just looking at how it impacts you. If you can’t take this approach, you’ll be hard-pressed to find success as a leader in business.

“Often, when you try to squeeze out the very last shred of benefit for yourself, you risk losing much bigger future opportunities,” Deckard says. “But when you take an approach that everyone shares in the success, the overall success for you and for everyone else is infinitely greater.”

How to reach: Fairmount Minerals Ltd., (800) 237-4986 or www.fairmountminerals.com

Published in Cleveland

When Elizabeth Barry came into Delta Systems Inc. as president and CEO, the company was in good shape. The business, which designs and manufactures switches, electronics and wireless control systems and provides turnkey contract manufacturing/EMS solutions, was doing well and had no reason to change. But Barry saw so much more in the company than what it was doing and knew that if it could change, it could grow and become better.

Barry started the process with changing some of the senior staff members in the organization.

“That kind of change kind of brought more change, because once they came into their own departments, then they started making changes,” she says.

But when you’re bringing in new senior team members, what should you be looking for? In Barry’s case, because she wanted to grow, she needed people who also wanted to grow.

“Companies grow and get bigger, and management styles change,” she says. “Some people are better in smaller companies, and others are better in bigger companies. I was looking for those who were ready to work and help us grow to the next level.”

She looked for people who had skill sets that would enable change — both in terms of revenue and culture. That meant looking for people who had worked at a larger company and understood the barriers and the gates and would work to break down the silos. Additionally, if someone had led an organization through a complicated or discouraging change, such as a bankruptcy, and moved it forward and made it better, that was encouraging, as well.

Whatever it is, she says you have to look at your senior team and determine if they’re the right person to move your company to the next level.

“You have to get to the point where you feel a department might be better served with a change with a new person in there,” Barry says. “The days of someone staying at a company for 20-plus years are kind of over. They need to have different experiences and different situations, and staying with the same company might not afford you to see what’s out there — state-of-the-art approaches or different approaches — that someone who’s stayed at a company too long may not be able to see and adjust to. They might not have had the growth that is needed to move the company to the next level.”

One of the other keys to leading change at Delta was for Barry to get buy-in.

“You just have to get it started and show them that it’s going to work and everything is going to be fine,” she says. “Then once the change starts happening and it isn’t too disruptive or they get used to the disruption, then it feeds upon itself.”

She says it’s also important to listen to the naysayers.

“You’ve got to hear both sides of the argument,” she says. “As much as you want everyone to follow you and do everything that you feel is right, you need the voices of reason to say, ‘But have you considered?’”

She says she wouldn’t be properly doing her job if she didn’t at least hear the opponents out in the process.

“As much as you don’t want to listen to it and you don’t want to hear it and you don’t have time for it, you’ve got to do it because you’re probably being negligent if you don’t listen to the other side,” Barry says. “Putting the blinders on never served anyone too well. You can be lucky and make it through a few situations, but there are those situations where if you didn’t listen to them, you might be blindly going into something and regret not paying attention to the voices that you’re hearing — the naysayers that are out there.”

Most of the time, people will come around, and if they don’t, then that’s OK too. Barry recognizes that some people will choose to leave because they don’t like the new company, and that’s OK too, because she knows that where the company is going is the best place to be.

She says, “If you truly believe that these are changes that are needed, then you just have to stick with it.”

How to reach: Delta Systems Inc., (330) 626-2811 or www.deltasystemsinc.com

Published in Cleveland
Thursday, 31 March 2011 20:01

People are watching

I can recall being on a dais at a national conference, not really engaged in the act of listening to the speaker. In fact, my facial expressions and my body language screamed that I was very disinterested. I did not realize how this was coming across, until one of my loyal staff members in the audience managed to catch my eye, and with one blunt stare and tilt of her head, she mouthed the words, “People are watching you.”

I understood how important it was for a leader to project confidence and interest, even if they are simply in a “listening mode.” This is one of those great soft skills that is often misunderstood and far too many times underutilized. Honestly, how hard would it have been for me to at least look interested and engaged? The lack of focus on my part not only reflected badly on me but was simultaneously a bad reflection on my organization. This lesson taught me that leaders have influence, even if they aren’t uttering a word. As a leader, people are watching you at all times. In fact, people are watching that you may not even know about. This is one reason why the soft skills are so important in leadership.

One of the leaders I really admire is the former chairman of PepsiCo, Roger Enrico. Roger was asked about how an organization could drive accountability and results by improving effectiveness in a few key overlooked areas. Expecting an answer that would be along the lines of productivity, managing to the bottom line, growing net revenue etc., Roger quickly focused on another area. He stated, “The soft stuff is the hard stuff.”

A value-centered leader, I believe, will recognize that the soft stuff really matters. Respect, integrity, teamwork and excellence really do have a place in the everyday functioning of leaders. At my organization, we refer to those as the R.I.T.E. way to work. Let’s explore what those four things really mean.

Respect is having compassion or empathy for others and valuing others’ expertise and perspectives, while also holding oneself to a high level of integrity.

Integrity means that we are personally and professionally responsible to each other, our donors and volunteers and that we are fostering an environment of trust and setting the standard for accountability in our industry.

Teamwork means that through collaboration with internal and external partners, we generate the greatest impact on health and human service needs in our communities.

Then, lastly, excellence refers to striving to excel in all areas of performance, improving our workplace through continuous learning, providing world-class customer service and creating an atmosphere of growth, allowing everyone to reach their full potential.

I view people as our greatest asset. The gesture of speaking to the staff, asking questions and showing interest is more than the nice thing to do. It is a vital business strategy that far too often goes unattended in today’s workplace. I like to walk around our office, and ask people if they know our mission, vision and business goals. It gives me a chance to engage them in conversation, first at the organization level, then at a personal level. It is vitally important that you know your team. Not just the ones at the top, but, all of them. Each is a vital and key link in the success of the organization. Ignoring this will ultimately bring an organization to its knees. Those that see a genuine leader, who really cares about them, will go the extra mile. Call it “soft stuff,” if you wish. I call it vital and necessary for overall success. People are watching, and I hope you are paying attention.

Gary G. Godsey is CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. He has more than 30 years of experience at the CEO level, managing nonprofit organizations around the United States. Godsey is an accomplish speaker and leader in the nonprofit sector.

Published in Dallas

When a client called on a Saturday asking about the capital gains tax rate to know whether to take an offer on a piece of property that had been for sale for years, he was surprised when Mark Lloyd called him back 10 minutes later with the answer. But it’s that kind of service that has allowed his financial and estate planning business, The Lloyd Group Inc., to grow from the basement of his home about 20 years ago to more than 2,100 clients and $150 million in money under management today.

“We’ve just watched our business grow even during these tough times,” the principal says. “It’s just been continuing to grow leaps and bounds each year.”

Smart Business spoke with Lloyd about how he’s grown the company despite the tough economy.

What’s the key to growing business even during tough times?

It is so easy to get depressed when you’ve got double-digit unemployment and you have a lot of uncertainty about taxes coming up down the road. A lot of people have chosen to be stagnant. We looked at that as opportunities. We’ve been focused on growth.

One of the main reasons why we do that is because we are educators first. We have always gone out to the community and talked to the people. Our focus has always been, ‘Can we make something better for our clients? Can we educate our clients in a better way? Can we offer something different then everybody else out here that we’re competing against?’ There are so many financial planners. They’re a dime a dozen on every street corner with every major firm that’s out there. What makes us different than them? That’s been our focus. If we can give the best customer service — not only promise the best customer service but deliver the best customer service — our business will flourish. If we fail to do that, we’ll be like everybody else.

How do you deliver the best customer service?

We listened to our clients. We said, OK, what is your risk tolerance? How do you feel about the future? How do you feel about the markets? We can be as disciplined as we can be, but if you’re not comfortable and you’re not sleeping at night, we don’t want you there. We want you to be happy.

Another thing that we do is we stay in contact with our clients all the time. Not only are we sending out monthly newsletters to our clients, but we do client appreciation events. We just care for them and they know that we’re here for them all the time.

Where we feel our biggest values come is when their life situation changes, we want to be there for them. Whether it be helping them filing a claim with long-term care insurance — instead of just passing it on to the insurance company. Let us help them with that.

[We have] customer service to the point that on the weekends, our company phones get forwarded to one of our assistant’s cell or my cell phone. We get a surprised voice on the other end of the phone that says, ‘I didn’t realize that you were working today,’ or, ‘Why are you working today?’ and we answer back — ‘We’re not working but we’re taking the calls.’

A lot of it is just staying with good customer service, taking care of clients but, more importantly, educating them. We want to listen to our clients and do what’s right for them.

What’s the key to effective listening?

Don’t do anything in a hurry. I may visit with people three or four times before they ever become a client. I don’t have a time frame. I have a strategy that the first interview I have with a client is just get-to-know-them time. I get a snapshot of what their situation is.

I know what questions to ask, and I listen to what their responses are. That directs me on how to proceed with them. Basically it’s taking good notes, hearing what their concerns are, hearing what their goals are and helping them with a budget — that’s critical.

People want honesty. They don’t want someone to make them feel good. They want to know, ‘Here’s where you’re at and here’s how you can get there.’ They want a solution. That’s where we come back with a solution. Then, at that point, we let them filter out and absorb all the information we shared. Then we come back and say, ‘Now, it’s time to act. Do you want to proceed with what our recommendations are? You let us know.’ And because we’re educators first, people respect that. They make the decision whether they become a client of ours or not.

How to reach: The Lloyd Group Inc., (770) 932-0387 or www.thelloydgroupinc.com

Published in Atlanta

In any endeavor, before anything can be successful, the people involved need to know what it is they are trying to achieve and what efforts and resources are directed toward achieving it.

The company vision is the manifestation of its purpose and its values. From it emanates the strategy by which its goals will be attained, the leadership approach of its executives, the motivation for its members and the inspiration for its customers. A clear, well-thought-out, inspirational and easily communicated vision is the wellspring from which everything else flows.

And yet for the vast majority of companies, their vision is created in isolation by the marketing department and relegated to become mere corporate wallpaper in employee manuals and annual reports.

Even when it is well thought out and inspirational and communicated to employees and customers, all too often the direction of the company and the values demonstrated by its leadership are at odds with the company’s vision that it renders the vision meaningless. For the vision to resonate, company leaders must be seen working toward fulfilling it and genuinely conducting themselves in accordance with the stated ethics of the company.

But before the vision can be bought in to, it has to be developed. Ideally, that should be a managed process throughout which the staff is consulted, instilling a sense of ownership — although that is a luxury that many companies, particularly larger companies, do not have. At the very least, the heads of departments and senior management should set aside enough time together to discuss the strategic vision of their company, to create one if they’re running a new company, or in light of changing markets and products, to assess the relevance of the vision they already have.

Inevitably, many will see this as a waste of their time. They’re good at their job, they know what needs to be achieved, and they resent the implication that any touchy-feely, marketing-gobbledygook corporate retreat is going to make them better at it. But it is often the skeptical ones who stand to benefit the most from the exercise.

To make it work, it therefore needs the wholehearted support from the very top of the company. Ideally, it should be conducted by an experienced third party who can bring a dispassionate objectivity to the process. Money is well spent on hiring a training or consultancy firm for this. Putting all the senior executives in the same place — those who by nature of their positions are likely to be strong characters — and giving them free rein to voice and defend their opinions almost guarantees a relevant and important exchange of ideas. Even people who have worked together at the same company for a long time and who might be expected to have a similar vision will discover that they all have differing views of what the company is all about, where it is going, how it should get there and what it will look like when it does.

Julian K. Hutton is president of Merlin Hospitality Management, where he oversees the company’s hotel management and distressed asset management operations, drawing on 20 years experience in the worldwide travel and hospitality industry.

Published in Philadelphia

Back in the day, Michael Fisher saw companies spend millions understanding consumer opinions, hoping to position brands for mass appeal. But in today’s interactive social environment, one-way broadcasts won’t cut it.

“Today, I have a whole new way of collecting that feedback,” says Fisher, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the American operations of Alterian Inc., which has 130 employees and accounts for 40 percent of worldwide revenue. “The company doesn’t have to ask the consumer what they think; they’re quite active in telling you. You just have to be in the position to listen.”

Consumers are already discussing their experiences on Twitter and Facebook. Brands just need to be there to engage personally. Alterian, an integrated marketing firm, helps clients do just that.

Do more than listen. Social media monitoring applications allow you to go out and understand what people are saying across many social networks. Organizations can listen. The real challenge is that today’s consumer expects you to be doing more than listening.

Today’s consumer expects the kind of personalization and the kind of precision that they’re used to seeing, that may have manifested as a personalized direct mail component or a very structured and personalized e-mail or a phone call. Consumers are expecting that precision in the social communities.

Organizations should think long and hard about moving beyond listening and develop a way to respond to what it is they’re hearing — but in a way that is very analytical and very disciplined and very open and transparent.

If you want to engage the consumer, it can’t only be about stimulation. You have to take the monologue and turn it into a dialogue. You have to not only speak, but you have to respond and talk back. It’s a send-and-receive world that we live in today, and consumers expect it. When they don’t get it, they transact elsewhere.

Know when to engage. If a consumer says on Twitter that they don’t like this company or they don’t like this product, the onus then falls to that brand to respond appropriately. You should engage.

In some instances, somebody may say, ‘I don’t like Payless Shoes,’ and you may find the people that love Payless Shoes will come on and say, ‘Shut up, because we do.’ So there’s the whole notion of self-correction. Then you don’t need to respond because your fan base will do it.

You’ve got to have the analytical chops to measure this and to allow it to happen and to respond to it when appropriate and to allow for self-correction when appropriate.

Open the dialogue. Look at Vail Resorts. They’re not out telling you, ‘Come spend your money.’ They’re out telling you, ‘Track your improvement,’ or, ‘Measure how much fun you’ve had at one resort over another. Track how well you do against people that are skiing in the areas that you’re skiing. Build competitive communities. Engage with us.’ It’s a pretty powerful message.

Encourage people to give feedback not just on what they’ve bought from me but what other things are they doing with other products.

The consumer responds to not being sold when you just open the dialogue. Don’t promote when the consumer is looking for you to engage. Consumers sometimes will tell you, ‘Sell me this. I’m ready to buy this.’ And then you do, because they’re looking to make that transaction. But in the social world, make sure that you’re taking advantage of engagement as your strategy, not strictly selling. There’s a time and a place for it.

Integrate social strategy. If you listen to the conversation and people are completely agitated with you and you’re British Petroleum, it might not be a good time to try to sell them (gasoline). It might be a great time to tell them [about] the Save the Whales donations that you’re giving.

The data will tell you that. That data can come from all of the channels you choose to interact with consumers in. Don’t only look at what you’re hearing socially, but look at it in terms of people buying at the pump, the transaction volume decreases, people not going into your convenience mart. There’s all kinds of ways for you to see how the consumer feels — beyond social — that should indicate what you should or should not say, what you should or should not be selling (and) when you should or should not be doing it.

How to reach: Alterian Inc., (312) 704-1700 or www.alterian.com.

Published in Chicago

No one who lives in southeast Michigan needs a reminder that the region has been one of the epicenters of a massive economic recession. But it might help to remember that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, and you can reach that tunnel in better shape if you are prudent in how you lead your business. You can take steps to become more opportunistic, managing your spending and focusing your employees on the vision and mission of your company.

Over the past couple of years, Smart Business Detroit has spoken with a number of Detroit-area business leaders about the steps they’re taking to help their companies weather the economic storm. Below is a sampling of what three of them had to say.

“Employees are smart, and many of our employees have been here a long time. They can see when we are going after the real problems, not just the appearance of problems. That’s one way we convinced them of our intentions through actions instead of words.”

Marty Kahn, CEO, ProQuest LLC

“Take all of the other distractions away. Get rid of ancillary businesses, ancillary and unimportant initiatives, things that are taking away from the core, uniform strategy that you’re trying to deploy. It’s an ongoing effort. It’s an evolution, and you keep working through it. You keep building momentum over time, and eventually it does pick up."

MaryAnn Rivers, president and CEO, Entertainment Publications LLC

“As you think about the future of your organization, you have to do scenario planning. You need to come up with best-case, most-probable-case and worst-case scenarios. You need to be able to anticipate and stay ahead of the curve. Leaders need to do that all the time.”

Patricia Maryland, president and CEO, St. John Health System

Summary:

Employees know when you're addressing the real problems

Get rid of factors that take away from your core businesses

Plan for many possible situations

Published in Detroit

Joe Gingo doesn’t remember how he stumbled upon his pattern years ago. What matters is it works.

During his more than 40 years of moving up the ranks of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and now as chairman, president and CEO of A. Schulman Inc. (Nasdaq: SHLM), the pattern he uses when it comes to tackling the challenge of a new position has withstood time.

“Every one of the moves I made, whether they were in Goodyear or when I came to Schulman, has been different and has represented its own challenge,” Gingo says. “The challenges are different, but I think how you overcome them is relatively the same. What you have to do is you have to develop a vision of the future state that you would like to have, a strategy of how to get there, clearly communicate that vision and strategy to your associates, and then empower them to execute the strategy.

“As I moved up to a bunch of different positions, each one became a little bit bigger, a little bit wider. But I always employed the same technique in how I overcame them.”

When you’re faced with challenges, you need to rely on past experiences — wins and mistakes — and let the information guide you.

When Gingo arrived at A. Schulman at the beginning of 2008, the supplier of high-performance plastic compounds and resins was being sold and it was losing money in the United States, while its overseas operations were doing well.

Here is how Gingo created a strategy that included turning around A. Schulman’s U.S. operations.

Ask and listen

Gingo’s background in manufacturing served him well when he arrived at A. Schulman. He quickly noticed the company’s U.S. focus needed to shift, and the profitable overseas operations could have the answers. His discovery came from asking, listening and observing.

“Any business or staff position I’ve ever gone into, I generally ask from the start for reviews with each of my division heads and their key people,” Gingo says. “I would ask them what their activities were. It would be a presentation on their part, but it was informal in the sense that we would talk about what they were doing, what their goals were, how they had been established.”

When you’re stepping into a new role, you really need to get a handle on how the company is being operated and where the top managers see their division or department headed. You can’t do that from behind a desk.

So when Gingo arrived at A. Schulman, he did what he’s always done. He met with the division heads and their top reports. He started in the United States and repeated the process in Europe, Mexico and Asia.

To get a complete understanding of each division or operation, you can’t rely solely on the information you gather from the team calling the shots.

“Whenever I’m in an office, no matter where it is, I make an effort to go out and introduce myself to people and just talk to them,” Gingo says. “They have a lot of good insight into what’s really going on. As a leader, you sort of get a colored picture of the situation. You really have to check the points that (management) give you with the people that are living the points.”

When you’re striking up a conversation with employees, you don’t need in-depth details. You’re mainly looking for trends in repetitive answers.

“You say hello to them, and then you say, ‘What do you like about this job?’” Gingo says. “The second question is, ‘What don’t you like about this job?’ Some people are hesitant, but some people are quite open and talkative. You begin to hear patterns. Patterns are things like several people say, ‘This is what I like.’ That gives you an overall view of what’s going on in that division or in that office.”

If employees aren’t warming up to your questions, ask them about what they do and what their day is like. Through the conversation, you should get some indication of what about their job or the company is important to them.

Remember, you’re asking, listening and observing venture is to get an overall understanding of the entire company so you can later strategize for the future. You can learn a lot from engaging people like your customers and suppliers. By asking the right questions, you can get a better indication of what your company’s strengths and weaknesses are.

“One of the ways is talking to customers, visiting customers and finding out what the customer likes about the company, what the customer doesn’t like about the company,” Gingo says. “You can talk to suppliers. Suppliers sometimes give you, ‘Well, here’s your company’s reputation. Here’s what we hear about your company.’”

Analyze the information

The ultimate goal of every business is to make a profit and to grow. Clearly, there are other aspirations to strive for, but fundamentally, that’s what every business has in common.

“The strategy has to be developed around what can you do to make yourself more profitable and what can you do to grow,” Gingo says. “Then you come back to core skills. You start out with, ‘Well, what am I good at, what do I do well?”

That question can be answered with the culmination of your information gathering and analyzing.

“You take all of those things and you say, ‘What do we do well? What is our core skill? What can we build on?’” Gingo says. “One of the ways to really do that is to look at your profitable divisions and say, ‘Well, what do they do that makes them profitable?’”

Gingo tends to look for an anomaly in all of his information and data to start his focus.

“Data that sticks out either bad or good,” he says. “You think: Why is that occurring? What’s interesting about that?”

One of Gingo’s objectives was to return A. Schulman’s U.S. operations back to profitability. So he looked at the overseas operations that were doing well and asked a logical step of questions to figure out a new strategy.

“If I can do that well, for example, in Europe and I can do that well in Mexico, why can’t I do that well in the United States?” he says. “You begin to say, ‘Who are my competitors? Are my competitors different in the United States and Mexico?’ If the answer to that question is, ‘No, they’re not,’ that’s a clue to you that, ‘Hey, maybe I can do it.’ Second, ‘Do I make the same product that I’m making in Mexico and Europe in the United States?’ If the answer is no, ‘Well, what do I have to do to make those products? What kind of equipment do I have to bring in? What kind of technical skills? What new product support do I have to get? What kind of new products do I have to introduce?’

“Fundamentally, you look around, you see what you’re doing good and then look where you’re doing bad and try to figure out why am I doing bad there.”

Engage your team

Once Gingo has a better understanding of the bigger picture, he jots down bullet points and takes them to his team for input.

You generally don’t want a large group. That’s why Gingo sits down with only his direct reports.

“If you have somebody, even in a short period of time, that you begin to believe you have some trust with, you might even see them before that meeting and say, ‘Here is what I’m thinking. What do you think about that?’”

Either way, sit down with your direct reports and present your ideas in a written format. Writing your points not only makes them clearer but will provoke more of a response.

“There’s more reaction if I have words on a page than just talking, because your message sometimes doesn’t get across,” Gingo says. “You have your bullet points up, and you say, ‘Here’s the five points. Here is what I’m thinking about.’ Then you get reaction.”

One of Gingo’s mantras, which he learned from a former chairman at Goodyear, comes into play when he’s asking for feedback.

“The first time I came into meet with him he said, ‘Joe, it’s your opinion versus my opinion. We’re going to make a deal. My opinion will usually win,’” Gingo says. “He used the word usually. ‘But your facts versus my opinion, your facts will always win.’”

The facts have to be put on the table. Even though you’ve put in time and research to understand where you think the company should be headed, you need to listen to your direct reports and be willing to admit when your proposed direction might need to be shifted.

“It’s really important when you’re having a conversation about these little bullets, you let them know, ‘Tell me I’m wrong,’” Gingo says. “‘It’s OK. If you tell me I’m wrong and you have the facts that show me I’m wrong, then I’m going to accept the facts.’”

At the same time, you need to be considerate about your employees own ideas and opinions.

“You can’t shoot the messenger,” Gingo says. “Let’s say you’re in this meeting and somebody says something that is totally wrong, you know it’s wrong. Well, if you want to keep the meeting open and communication to go on, don’t shoot them down. You don’t show them how dumb he or she was.

“You try to diffuse it without embarrassing them because everybody around that room is listening. What is very key for me is when I think somebody is just totally off-base, I do not display it at all. Somehow say, ‘Well, that’s a good thought, but have you thought about this?’ You can in essence diffuse their own argument by the questions you ask them.”

When you’re having a serious meeting to strategize about the company’s future, you need to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to speak to the bullet points you presented. And not only that they have the opportunity, but they take advantage of it.

“No matter what the group is, certain people are going to say something,” Gingo says. “What you have to worry about are the ones who don’t say anything. Literally, you don’t leave that room until everybody has had a chance for input. If somebody says, ‘Yeah, everything is OK,’ then you challenge that but not in a negative way. You say, ‘What do you like? Did I miss something? Is that part good?’”

By listening to the reactions, you should be able to gauge whether or not you’re on the right track. If you get push back from a lot of your sources, you probably want to rethink the direction you plan on heading.

The main point is you need to be open and respect other’s ideas.

Gingo knew when he arrived some of his plants were running at less than 50 percent capacity. While A. Schulman was doing decent business, it was taking it at a loss. Someone in manufacturing presented him a program — a program based on facts — that would shut eight plans. It made sense. They shut them.

Two years after Gingo took over, the company’s U.S. operations turned around by nearly $18 million and was breaking even. The company’s revenue for fiscal 2010 was $1.59 billion.

His experience combined with his time spent with employees trying to understand the company contributed to that accomplishment.

“You have to get out,” Gingo says. “You have to have your pulse on your company and what’s going on good and what’s going on bad. That’s awfully hard from a CEO position because, for one thing, you have a lot on your agenda, so you just have to find time to do it. But truthfully, one of the most boring things to me is having to sit all day in my office.”

How to reach: A. Schulman Inc., (330) 666-3751 or www.aschulman.com

The Gingo File

Joe Gingo

chairman, president and CEO

A. Schulman Inc.

Born: Akron

Education: Bachelor’s in chemical engineering, Case Western Reserve University; J.D. University of Akron; master’s in business management, Sloan Fellowship program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

What is the best business advice you’ve received?

It was a quote that I got in a training course, and it’s my No. 1 principle. It said, ‘The first job of a leader is to define reality. The second job of a leader is to provide guidance and support. The last job of a leader is to say thank you.’

Gingo on empowering employees: I always tell people who work directly with me, ‘Look, if I have to do your job for you, I have a tremendous cost-cutting program in mind and it doesn’t involve me.’ You really send a message. That doesn’t mean you can’t come talk to me, that doesn’t mean you can’t ask advice from me. But in the end, I’m not going to make your decision for you.

I remember some boss saying, ‘Here’s what I want you to do.’ The employee would come back and, fundamentally if you listened real close, what they said to the boss was, ‘Your plan failed, what would you like me to do next?’

They were never accountable; they always just did what the boss said. I won’t allow it.

I’ll tell people, 'In this situation, here are some of the things I’ve done in the past. But, in the end, it’s your decision. I’m not going to make this decision for you.'

Published in Akron/Canton

Darla King founded King Business Interiors Inc. in 1998 on the principle of delivering customer service that exceeds clients’ expectations.

As a woman-owned commercial furnishings and flooring company serving Greater Central Ohio, King, the company’s president and CEO, is also a big believer in sustainability and developed an entire line of “green” workspace solutions for its clients. She also created an environmentally friendly program called “Connecting the Dots,” which collects reusable furniture from clients and distributes them to nonprofit and charitable organizations in need.

King was named one of 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and Blue Technologies. We asked her how she overcomes challenges, innovates and gives back to the community.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

Our big challenge was … getting rid of used furniture … how to sell it, move it or donate it so it will not take up space in our warehouse/distribution center. This is very common for furniture dealers, I have found, from our industry association friends. Do we start a separate retail operation? It did not fit our daily business model working business to business for our furniture sales.

We were dealing with bulk amounts — 50 used private offices, 100 stack chairs, 90 tables, 450 task chair, etc. … They take up space and don’t all stack well. When trying to sell them through an outlet store, it was time-consuming, personal expense waiting for traffic, and customers just needed one or two — not 50 or 100 units.

After having the opportunity to serve on a local nonprofit board, I realized the less than desirable office environments they were working within and saw a solution to both problems. We have an abundance of furnishings, and they need better furnishings. We started the ‘Connecting the Dots’ Program — we simply connect the needy organizations with the excess furnishings we have and make all parties happy. Our contribution is to understand their needs, design the space, deliver the product and make it happen. We have made so many organizations look more professional, become more productive and feel much better about their surroundings.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

An innovative leader, for me, it is putting myself in our employees’ shoes and think what they would need and what can I offer. Sometimes I feel my role is the hostess or problem solver.

We have several young people starting families as they are a part of our company family, and this is so important to us and to them. Kids grow up fast, and we like to say, ‘Don’t miss a ballgame; … get out of work at whatever time you need to.’ They won’t rewind the tape. Our parents are very active with their kids including coaching their teams. Kids come first around here. … We love to watch them grow and are very family-focused. We are after all, a family business, our son, Chris, and our daughter, Chelsea, work with my husband and I here at King. Several of our kids come to work during breaks or if they are slightly ill and need to stay home. Most of our employees have access from their home computers as if they were sitting at their desk at work … so they can be present if they need to be for the children. Is that innovative? I don’t know — but it is part of our culture here.

How to reach: King Business Interiors Inc., www.kbiinc.com. Read more at www.sbnonline.com/king.

The Smart Leaders class of 2010

In August, 2010, Smart Business and Blue Technologies recognized 14 business leaders for their commitment to business excellence and the impact their organizations make on the regional community. Treated to a keynote address by TechColumbus CEO Ted Ford, these 14 leaders comprised the honor roll:

  • Michelle Adams, president, Prism Marketing
  • Jeff Brock, general manager, Loth Inc.
  • Tom Dailey, president, 2Checkout.com
  • Jennifer Griffith, president, Commerce National Bank
  • Darla King, owner, King Business Interiors
  • Elizabeth Lessner, CEO, Betty’s Family of Restaurants
  • Rick Milenthal, president, Engauge
  • Michelle Mills, CEO, St. Stephen’s Community House
  • Janis Mitchell, founder, Precise Resource
  • Neil Mortine, president & CEO, Fahlgren Inc.
  • Debra Penzone, president, Charles Penzone Family of Salons
  • Joel Pizzuti, president, The Pizzuti Companies
  • Bea Wolper, partner, Emens & Wolper
  • Eric Zimmer, CEO, Tipping Point Renewable Energy

Nominate someone for the 2011 Smart Leaders today by contacting Dustin S. Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com. Honorees will be recognized during the summer 2011.

Published in Columbus
Wednesday, 02 March 2011 12:42

Listen up

You’ve probably heard it countless times, to the point that it’s become something of a cliché: a good leader is a good listener.

But if those words are going in one ear and out the other, you’re doing exactly what you’re not supposed to do. You’re not listening. A good listener is an active listener who does more than prop open the office door and wait for employees to walk in. A good listener recognizes the cascading effect that internal communication has on client and customer relationships. And a good listener recognizes that inconsistent communication from the top can have damaging effects on morale and confidence throughout the organization.

Below is a sampling of three business leaders previously featured on the cover of Smart Business Philadelphia and what they believe it means to be a good listener and communicator.

“I decided to be a good listener. I’ve communicated that openness to our partnership, and there has been a largely positive response. To have meaningful client relationships in business, you have to realize that this is too big of a job for yourself alone. In this business, the key for me is, ‘Will my partners come through for me and treat my clients like their own in terms of giving them the most outstanding service they can?’"

John Soroko

chairman and CEO

Duane Morris LLP

“If you just dictate to people, they’re not going to feel good about it. Mostly, they’re just going to feel the pressure to get something done. If you create that kind of atmosphere, you’re not going to get the most thought-provoking responses. You’re going to get what they think they need to tell you, what they think you want to hear.”

Michael Carbone

regional president, metro Philadelphia

TD Bank

“People see through whether you are BSing or not. It’s a lesson I learned from my mom. She told me that there are some people in life who are two-faced. When things are going well, they act one way, but when things aren’t going well, they’re going to act a different way. People are looking for that honesty and consistency from you as a person. An effective leader is someone who is respected not just for their title but is respected as a person.”

Vince Donnelly

president and CEO

PMA Capital Corp.

Published in Philadelphia