Before you hand out your first business card, before you set up the most bare-bones website, and before you minimally introduce a new venture to the market, you need to have a logo.
A graphic has the power to make a quick and indelible impression, and a good logo can give a start-up an early advantage. Just ask Nike. Just ask Apple. The same is true in reverse. A poorly conceived and poorly executed logo suggests to anyone who sees it that the company just isn’t ready for prime time.
So it was pretty early on when we realized that we needed a logo. As an early-stage start-up, we at Summit Data Communications wanted to look like a professional, confident and dependable company, not a handful of rattled guys taking the biggest risk of their careers. Yet while we knew enough to know that getting our first logo right was a big deal, we still managed to fail at it spectacularly. Here’s how it happened.
We got the first part of the process right: get a good designer. Through one of our partners, we engaged a designer with a good reputation and a portfolio of previous quality work. We then shared with him the collective and unfiltered thoughts of the seven of us, including our favorite colors, shapes and typefaces. Although not one of us had any design experience or training, we provided detailed feedback through multiple iterations. The result was our company’s first logo, which came to be known as “the river of blood,” is reproduced here for the first and last time. In the end, the designer in question refused any compensation for the logo, asking only that we never, ever associate his name and good reputation with it. This was entirely fair because the problem wasn’t him — it was us. We wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
We knew we had a serious problem and we set out to solve it. Conveniently enough, another partner knew another designer, one untainted by a previous relationship with us. He initially agreed to help us out in a few weeks. When he saw the logo, he realized that our young company was a critical case and our image was in imminent danger of irreparable damage. “I’m on it stat!” he said. Just two days later, we had a new logo, pictured here for comparison. This time, only two of the partners knew the project was going on, and the result was delivered not for comment but as a fait accompli.
Our company got far more from this process than just a respectable logo. I also gained a few valuable management lessons:
- It’s not enough to hire the right people. You have to let the right people do their jobs. If you hire a pilot or a brain surgeon, you tend to afford them a fair bit of autonomy. The same should be true for engineers, writers, and yes, designers.
- We all know that too many cooks spoil the broth and that the camel is a horse designed by committee. Still, it’s easy to forget this, particularly when you are on a new team and you are building confidence and relationships. Feedback is great, but acting on every opinion isn’t.
- Lastly, everyone makes mistakes. The difference is what you do in the aftermath. Successful organizations identify errors early, correct them quickly and learn as much as they can from them. You’re going to fail sometimes, so the key is to fail fast.
Ron Seide is the president of Summit Data Communications Inc., a wireless technology company headquartered in downtown Akron. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In late 2008 and early 2009, as the recession wrapped its fingers around the collective neck of American business, Richard Phillips Jr. was in the same position as many business heads.
The CEO of Pilot Freight Services was facing a dwindling customer base, and reduced business from the customers that were still doing business with the international freight forwarder, which generated $423 million in 2010 revenue.
But Phillips still had a few cards to play. The biggest ace up his sleeve was his company’s unique position in the market.
“We are the largest privately held U.S. freight forwarder,” Phillips says. “What that means is that everyone larger than us is publicly-traded, so they are chasing their quarterly statements. Every three months, they are worried about their stock price, so they were cutting people in droves — not all that concerned with how it might impact the business 10 years down the road, or how it might impact the customers, but to show a profit regardless of what was going on in the marketplace.
“The companies that were smaller than us were very fragmented. There are a lot of mom-and-pop establishments that rely on credit to maintain their cash flow, and those guys were closing offices or closing down entirely.”
The challenge for Phillips was to leverage Pilot’s unique market position as a means of not only helping his business to survive the recession, but thrive once the recession had ended. It required him to form a game plan for attacking the conditions of the recession, and rally 2,000 global employees around the plan. All the while, continuing to show evidence of Pilot’s capabilities to the customers that remained.
“I went to my shareholders, which are members of my family, and said, ‘Look, we may not make a ton of money right now, but this is a historic opportunity to gain market share and do something for our customers that no one else is doing,” he says. “We were in a uniquely strong position to attack the recession, and that’s what we did.”
Protect your niche
Pilot was Phillips’ first experience in leading a private company. It also happened to be a company run and owned by his family. The son of the company’s chairman, Richard Phillips Sr., Phillips was general counsel for Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy before joining the family business in 2005. He was named CEO in 2007, shortly before the economy’s downturn.
“My entrance into the company was really getting dropped into a storm all at once,” Phillips says. “I was dropped into a football game and found out I was the head coach.”
Phillips needed one question answered before he could proceed any further: “Who are we?” They are three words that indicate a mountain of stated and implied meaning for any business.
To answer the question, Phillips gathered 25 of his top leaders from around the country and took them on a retreat. Over the span of days, those at the retreat deconstructed Pilot’s mission, purpose and capabilities to try and form a definition for what the company is, and what the company would be moving forward.
“It was funny, because I thought we were going to be there to figure out what we wanted to be doing five years from now and 10 years from now,” Phillips says. “But it turns out the most valuable aspect of that retreat was focusing on that question of who we are as a company. It started out very simply; people said ‘We’re a freight forwarder.’ But we also do third-party logistics. We also do value-added warehousing. We also do all this other stuff to help customers with their supply chain. So who are we, really?”
After rounds and rounds of tough questions and some heated debates, Phillips and his team were able to boil Pilot’s definition down to an essential description: The company is an extremely customer-centric supply chain expert.
Defining the company helps you define your niche in the marketplace. And defining your niche is essential to protecting your niche, which in turn was essential to helping Pilot weather the recession.
“When you are wondering whether or not to enter into a new market, you have to have the analytical tools to decide whether or not it works for you,” Phillips says. “When you are decided whether to take a risk, you have to know whether or not the risk falls within your parameters. So defining who we are helped us tremendously.”
Defining the company niche also helped Phillips to put innovation and idea generation in the hands of the local teams. The employees based in Pilot’s service stations interact with the customers in the marketplace on a daily basis, and have an inside track on generating ideas that can directly benefit Pilot’s customers.
“The best ideas very rarely come from senior management,” Phillips says. “The best ideas come up from the field. They come up from the guys driving the trucks, the forklifts, the guys working the freight, local sales reps. We encourage them and completely empower them to solve problems for customers, and we’re able to do that because we’ve already had this companywide conversation about who we are and what we do. Any individual should feel empowered to solve a problem for a customer. They shouldn’t have to come to senior management.”
If there is a lesson to take away from all of this, Phillips says you need to always come back to defining your company, and making sure that everyone in all areas of the organization understands what it is your company does.
“This is what worked for us: No. 1, get every single person involved. Whatever strategic plan you come up with, it’s going to be more about implementation than planning. If people are on board with your plan, even if the plan isn’t perfect, the plan will succeed. If your people are on board and you implement the plan well, you’re going to do well.
“Second, it really is about starting out with those simple, boring questions — ‘Who are we?’ and ‘What do we do well?’ and ‘Why are we different from the competition?’ It could be asking questions of management, like ‘Why are you here and not working for the competition? What makes us different?’ If you ask those simple questions, you’ll be amazed at the debates that ensue among the management team. It might seem like you’re creating conflict or tension, but in the end, everybody leaves having a much better idea of what the company is all about.”
Continue the conversation
Defining the company niche and mission isn’t going to do much good if you don’t demonstrate the reasoning behind why it’s all going to work in the end. That’s why, as the leader, it’s not enough to roll out a new plan. You have to promote it and make it continually accessible to your people.
In the depths of the recession, one of the most critical jobs on Phillips’ list was to keep reminding his staff that no matter how bad the recession got, it would end.
“One of biggest challenges was keeping the message out there that the recession is going to end,” he says. “If you remember when we went into it, Lehman Brothers was going out, Bear Stearns, it was disaster after disaster. It was like Armageddon. And the challenge was to say to everybody, ‘It’s a recession like every other. It’s going to end, we are going to come out of it, so let’s talk about how to come out of it stronger.’ And once we did that, it started to become a lot simpler to figure out what we needed to do in order to emerge stronger.”
Strength came in a well-defined plan, but it also came in the form of unity. And to foster unity, Phillips had to keep the companywide conversation going through all levels of the organization. The conversations helped reinforce the vision and plan, and it also gave employees throughout the organization a sense that management would support them, and do right by individual employees and the company as a whole.
“That is how you maintain confidence in the system,” Phillips says. “It requires a lot of conversations about what is going on. A number of those ongoing conversations focused on buy-in and the overall strategy, our philosophy and reminding people why we were doing what we’re doing.
“Some of those conversations were as simple as how we were going to help a particular sales rep who might have been struggling to get through the next month or two as they try to make commission. Once the management team saw that senior management was genuinely concerned with the sales reps and making sure that they were making money, I think it set a decent tone, and everybody started to get on board and get with the program.”
Developing those connections helps everyone throughout the organization learn about each other. That familiarity helps a sense of teamwork take root, and your people will be more inclined to get behind your plan for the future.
“It helps if they see senior management really being a part of their daily lives,” Phillips says. “If they see you making sure that people are doing OK and letting them know that the company won’t abandon them at the first sign of struggle.”
Strengthening the ties that bind is great for facilitating teamwork, but Phillips says you don’t necessarily have to have every person in the company thinking exactly alike regarding where the company should go, or how it should get there. You should allow for some diversity of opinion. It’s not a sign of dissent; it’s a sign of a healthy company where differing viewpoints are accepted.
However, you do need lockstep on where the company is. If you have disagreement on that, you have not accurately defined what you company is, and what it stands for.
“You do need absolutely everyone to have the same idea of who you are,” Phillips says. “Everyone needs to know what the company is, what it does well and what it stands for.”
With the company well defined, its market niche defined and team members on the same page regarding the company’s definition, Phillips thinks his company is well-positioned to take a leap forward in the freight forwarding industry as the economy recovers.
“If you take that time to bring everyone together and reach for the potential of who you are, not only will you be able to starting thinking about charting a course forward, you’ll also find that you have embedded leaders throughout the company who are making great decisions, coming up with great ideas and chart that growth themselves to a large extent. On a daily basis, I can give you example after example of local decisions that solve a problem for a customer — solutions that I never would have come up with. They are doing it because they see the customer every day. The see the customers’ needs changing, so they are better able to respond. It’s that embedded leadership that really drives the growth.”
How to reach: Pilot Freight Services, (610) 891-8100 or www.pilotdelivers.com
The Phillips file
Education: History degree from Yale University, master’s degree in international relations from University of Cambridge, juris doctor from Georgetown University.
Background: My dad actually joined the company about 11 years ago, but it existed before him. It was started in 1970. My dad assisted the company as it went through a relatively painful transition. When it emerged, he was a position to buy it. He had fallen in love with the company, so he started buying in about five years later, and within a few years after that, he owned it outright. I moved home to Philadelphia in 2005 to start running the company. I took over as CEO in 2007.
More from Phillips on weathering the recession: I remember speaking to one of our franchisees, and he called me up, and he was hurting. He was considering local layoffs. I’m not big on the big, inspirational sports metaphor, but I used one in this case.
I do long-distance triathlons. The purpose of long-distance triathlons is really to see how much pain you can endure. You will feel the pain regardless. The game is how you respond to it. If you think of pain as evidence of your body breaking down, that you’re pushing your body beyond its limit, that you are in territory you can’t maintain, you are going to respond negatively to it. You’re going to back down and go slower. If you understand that the pain you’re feeling is a symptom of success, that you’re doing something challenging, that you are doing something few other people can do, then you have the right approach to it. You are still going to feel it, but it is going to give you the mindset you need to respond to the pain in a way that leads to success, which is to say to go harder.
If you know the pain means you are winning, that you are doing something exceptional, then you can break through, and you can hopefully get to a position where you are not in pain. The goal is not to always be struggling, but you need to understand it for what it is: evidence that you are doing something extraordinary.
During my 30-plus-year entrepreneurial business career, I’ve learned that great opportunities never come at the so-called “right time.”
In 1983, I owned a successful business in Toronto when the chance to acquire the franchise rights for Molly Maid in the United States became available. My family and my wife’s family lived in Toronto, and our business was going well. The idea of selling our growing business, moving to the U.S., and betting on Molly Maid wasn’t popular with most, including my family.
Even though I knew that I could have been quite happy with the status quo, my God-given entrepreneurial instincts told me that bringing Molly Maid to the U.S. had more potential than anything I had contemplated yet. I felt I just had to do it.
With decades of experience regarding new opportunities, I look back at lessons learned and know that with any risk there’s always a price to pay. In my case, it has meant following my gut instinct and leaving something secure and predictable for something I knew had potential to be even better.
In 1984, the choice to stay in Canada and continue to grow my former company would have been easy. That choice, however, would have left me wondering what could have been, and having regrets was not the way I wanted to live. Somehow, I convinced my wife to relocate our family four hours away to Ann Arbor, Mich., and chase our dream, which has been better than anything we even imagined at that time. Looking back, I realize that move defined me as an entrepreneur and not as a businessman. An entrepreneur is a person who will take the opportunities presented, and the businessperson will stay and continue to run his or her business.
In 1998, we added 1-800-DryClean to our business holdings and then the opportunity to add the Mr. Handyman brand presented itself. We were busy and overstretched, and it seemed like the worst time to get involved in another business, though I’m thankful we did. Opportunity and timing are typically at odds with one another, and despite the many reasons not to, we brought on Mr. Handyman and it has consistently dominated the home repair and maintenance industry. Service Brands International has even added a fourth franchise business, ProTect Painters, which is growing nicely. We are still based in Ann Arbor, and have successfully launched, built and subsequently divested other brands as well.
To this day, I continue to be amazed at how an outsider — though it needs to be the right observer — can often see things that an insider doesn’t see. That’s why we use a board of advisers to help us see what we might be missing. If you are not using a board of advisers, financial advisers, nonprofit experts, etc., in your business or even in your life, I couldn’t recommend anything better for helping you create a better future than you could on your own.
As I reflect on more than 30 years as an entrepreneur, I believe the secret is that good opportunities find you, not the other way around. You can’t wake up one morning and say you’re going to go out and find an opportunity — it just doesn’t happen that way. If you are a true entrepreneur, you have to live your life, which is full with family, friends and business, but still remain willing to choose and accept the right opportunities when your gut tells you it’s good — no matter how bad you think the timing may be. That’s because good opportunities never come at what you think is the right time.
David McKinnon is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Service Brands International, an umbrella organization that oversees home services brands, including Molly Maid, Mr. Handyman, 1-800-DryClean and ProTect Painters. For more information, visit www.servicebrands.com.
Roscoe Medical, a manufacturer and distributor of home medical equipment, appointed Daniel A. Radish as chief financial officer.
In his role, Radish will responsible for the overall financial and administrative oversight of Roscoe Medical, including the management of the accounting, finance, credit, payroll and benefit administration departments. He has expertise in strategic financial planning, credit and risk management, information technology planning and management from a wide array of industries.
Radish brings more than 20 years of senior leadership and financial experience, most recently as a director with Union Partners, a private equity and performance acceleration firm. In this position, he was instrumental in generating deal flow as well as merger acquisition valuation and analysis, financial planning, fiscal policy development and leadership of the due diligence process. Early on, Radish spent seven years in public accounting and since has held leadership positions throughout his career.
Radish is active in local civic and business communities, serving on several boards. He is a certified public account and holds a B.S. in accounting from Miami University.
Wells Fargo Advisors added two people to its Chagrin Falls office: Stephen Reagh, senior PIM manager, and Gary Fishback, PIM manager. Both Reagh and Fishback hold the title of senior vice president — investment officer. They joined Wells Fargo Advisors from the Pepper Pike office of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.
promoted Kevin Campbell to senior director of marketing — wholesale business unit.
In his new role, Campbell will be responsible for leading Moen’s wholesale product marketing, trade marketing, brand management and marketing communications efforts. He will also be deeply involved in developing strategies for the business unit and implementing strategic initiatives.
Campbell has been with Moen for more than 13 years, serving in a number of roles with increasing responsibility.
He started his career with the company in 1998 as an intern and has been an integral part of the organization’s success throughout the years. He most recently served as director of marketing of Moen’s Retail Business Unit, where he was responsible for all product management and marketing communications initiatives for products sold through retail channels including The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, and more. Prior to this role, Campbell held a variety of roles in both marketing and product management across both the retail and wholesale business channels.
Campbell earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from The University of Notre Dame and his MBA from The Weatherhead School of Management.
, a law firm with offices in Akron, Cleveland and Avon, Ohio, announced that Marc B. Merklin has been elected to succeed Jeffrey T. Heintz as managing partner of the firm. Merklin’s term begins in January 2012 when Heintz steps down after eight years as managing partner of the firm.
A member of the firm’s Executive Committee, Merklin is chair of the Commercial and Bankruptcy practice group and focuses on general business counseling, commercial law and business reorganizations. He represents creditors, debtors, committees and trustees in Chapter 11 reorganizations, as well as borrowers in loan transactions and bankruptcy and commercial litigation. He also works on the sale and acquisition of financially distressed companies.
Listed in the Best Lawyers in America editions 2006-2011, Merklin is nationally board certified in business bankruptcy law by the American Board of Certification, a nonprofit organization created to recognize attorneys who are experts in the bankruptcy and creditors’ rights fields.
If you’re like a lot of leaders, you can probably name several things off the top of your head that your business could be doing faster, more efficiently or just plain better. Continuous improvement is part of the adapt-or-die mindset that you have to take in an ultracompetitive business climate that has only been complicated by the recent economic recession. If you’re not improving, you’re committing a sin of omission and allowing your company to backslide through inaction. So how do you consistently push ahead and promote a culture of continuous improvement? Below are some thoughts from leaders who have recently appeared in the pages of Smart Business Philadelphia.
“You do need to be able to visualize the concept of what you can be as an organization,” he says. “You start really thinking about tomorrow and how it has to be inspiring for everyone. But it has to be understandable, we have to stretch for it, and we have to make sure that the messages are crisp and simple and something that becomes compelling in terms of what our purpose is and how we can rally support to achieve that vision.”
--Laurence Merlis, president and CEO, Abington Health
“There are a couple of books out there, like ‘Good to Great,’ but they won’t give you the details and development, how to actually put a plan together. You really need some support and structure and someone to take you through the process. Once they’ve gone through once or twice and shown you how, you and your team can take the ball and run with it.”
--John Scardapane, founder, chairman and CEO, Saladworks LLC
“I was asked years and years ago how I looked at a company that I was getting ready to operate, and I said, ‘I’ll look at a wall, and on that wall are all these different knobs I can turn. Every single knob can create a dynamic that would give us more opportunity and profitability, but I know that if I turn too many, we flood.’ So that whole idea of goal setting, it comes more to an understanding of what level of patience should be applied. You make sure that you’re accelerating the opportunity, but the people in the facilities are able to keep up and enjoy it at an appropriate rate.”
--Marc Graham, president and CEO, AAMCO Transmissions Inc.
Visualize what you want your company to become.
Find an experienced mentor to guide you.
Understand the consequences of your decisions.
Joe Gingo, chairman, president and CEO of A. Schulman Inc., was brought in to sell the struggling company in January of 2008. But by focusing on improving processes and operational efficiencies, Gingo led A. Schulman to generate $200 million in cash by the end of that same year. Undertaking several acquisitions, the company was no longer for sale.
A. Schulman is now a leading international supplier of high-performance plastic compounds and resins, with 30 manufacturing and support centers worldwide employing approximately 3,000 people.
Gingo served as a panelist at the October Smart Business Toolbox Series presented by Hyland Software, speaking about lean manufacturing initiatives to drive success in a global economy. Below is an excerpt from the Q&A session.
What are keys for operational efficiencies?
One, you have to have a process, and two, you have to have a leadership that drives it — a leadership that actually believes in it and makes it happen.
Continuous improvement has to be driven from the top down. It has to be something that’s built into your culture, where people actually look to improve everything they do, every day of the week.
How do you look at waste reduction?
People that look at lean tend to just look at it from a manufacturing standpoint, and that’s a big mistake. Everything can be processed, and some of your biggest savings come from that type of thing.
A good example for us was working capital. We had a great deal of concern about working capital when I first came to the company, and we laid out a program and actually developed it down to a board game.
We made a tremendous reduction in working capital. Why? Because the people that actually controlled working capital learned about working capital.
What are the initial steps that need to be taken to get initiatives off the ground?
Take your time upfront to get your team behind it. I don’t believe that you can just force these things. You really need to do a lot of work up front in designing the process and getting buy in from your global team.
What I’ve learned in the past is that without this buy in upfront, without this agreement as to what the process is, implementation gets sidetracked. Things start to happen along the way and delay everything.
How do you get buy in for initiatives?
Don’t give them the solution. Give them the problem.
Communications have to go up and down in this process. From the top is, ‘Here’s what our issue is and here’s why it’s an issue. Here’s why it’s important to us. Here’s how it affects you. This is how you benefit if you do this.’ Then listening to the people when they say, ‘OK. Well, if that’s the real problem, here’s how you solve it and this is what we need. These are the tools we need.’ Then you as the leadership have to provide these tools.
What processes does A. Schulman have to maintain continuous efficiency?
What we attempt to do is, through the Lean process, not only identify the problem areas but establish a priority for them. Priority can come two ways. One way, obviously, is ‘What’s my biggest problem?’ But sometimes that’s really hard to solve.
Sometimes you actually take a little problem that you know you can resolve extremely quickly through that whole chain. Solve that problem, give people credibility that this is going to work, and then you attack each problem along the way. And my experience is you keep redefining the process.
How long should initiatives take?
I look at it as a payback within two years — two years or less — especially for a major initiative (that) is going to cost us a lot of money.
We look at ROI. It’s a very important thing. If it’s going to be over two years, it better be really strategic and it better be really critical to our long-term situation.
In today’s economic environment, we are seeing more not-for-profit organizations joining forces as they are finding alternative opportunities for survival and growth. With funding sources on the decline, creative collaboration has been key to maintaining the existence for many valued causes.
Leaders of nonprofits understand the need to efficiently provide superior services. Many organizations have come to recognize they can actually provide better services to the community jointly, instead of operating as separate organizations. These leaders are recognizing that collaboration can infuse new creativity, streamline service delivery and eliminate duplication as an added incentive. Organizations may have strengths in differing areas, but by coming together, they are able to enhance services and solidify a sound future.
Organizational collaboration happens many ways and can be used to address economic pressures, as well as the changing needs of the not-for-profit sector as it grows and matures. In some cases, relatively equal organizations come together to provide services. Other instances involve smaller organizations folding into larger ones or one organization assuming control of a second with each still remaining as separate organizations. Yet there are some organizations that share only administrative functions, and organizations that manage one or more programs jointly in order to further its own mission separately.
There are examples of recent successful collaborations right here in our own backyard.
- ParkWorks and Cleveland Public Art decided to join together to form a new organization called LAND Studio. Although the two organizations began with different missions, in recent years their missions have paralleled one another. Together, they will have a larger annual budget to work with, the ability to work on larger projects and more opportunities to attract funding.
- In 2011, E CITY programs came under the Youth Opportunities Unlimited umbrella. E CITY focused on entrepreneurship and, like YOU, was passionate about helping at-risk teens acquire valuable skills and work toward success. The union of these organizations provides a broader and deeper collective impact through more effective programming and accomplishes more together than they could have independently.
- The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is welcoming the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence to Cleveland, thereby creating jobs and statewide change. By partnering with this statewide organization, CRCC is strengthening rape crisis services throughout Ohio. Many similar programs across Ohio have had to close, leaving survivors in our state with nowhere to turn for help. CRCC signed a management services agreement with OAESV, and the CEO of CRCC became the CEO of both organizations. While the organizations will maintain separate entities, boards, missions and staff, the statewide coalition can continue to focus on its core work throughout Ohio by leveraging on the organizational infrastructure of CRCC.
- Since it was difficult to find another local organization that shared a mission with the Epilepsy Association, they creatively teamed up with the Kidney Foundation of Ohio to share certain operating costs and reduce expenses. These organizations have combined space in the same building and are saving rent, utilities, equipment costs, a receptionist and accounting personnel. This allowed each organization to save a considerable amount of operating costs, which permits allocation of needed funds toward their respective core mission.
- In the past, the Cleveland Play House could not just focus on presenting plays and theater education programs of the highest professional standards. It had to worry about maintaining its large facility with high overhead and maintenance costs. In order to concentrate on its core mission, CPH recently sold its land and building and the Power of Three: The Allen Theatre Project was formed as a cooperative venture between the Cleveland Play House, Cleveland State University and PlayhouseSquare. Through joint fundraising, three new state-of-the-art theaters were created at PlayhouseSquare, which will be home to CPH as well as CSU’s Department of Theatre and Dance. The project was divided into pieces, with each organization managing a different aspect. Without this partnership, the individual campaign needs of CPH and CSU would have been too much for the philanthropic community to support. With an influx of people to PlayhouseSquare, surrounding businesses are also benefitting.
Executives who manage nonprofits and their volunteer governing board are savvy and seasoned businesspeople. They are prepared to pursue opportunities when they identify the benefits of a potential merger or collaboration. It is often the best strategic path to preserve the services organizations deliver to the community. The end result can be that new, stronger, more vibrant organizations have been formed with a better chance of serving the community’s needs for the long term.
Susan D. Krantz, CPA is the partner in charge of the Accounting and Auditing Services Department at Zinner & Co. LLP and the firm’s Not-for-Profit Services Group Leader. Reach her at (216) 831-0733 or email@example.com.
David Rascoe, president of Thermal Industries Inc., a manufacturer of windows and doors that employs more than 400 people, has come face to face with several critical business challenges. The company has experienced a drop in sales, a lack of consumer financing and, most importantly, a lack in consumer confidence.
“To overcome these challenges, it’s been kind of an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Rascoe says. “When it comes to getting in front of the customers, all of our key managers and executives get in front of customers to understand better how we can add value to the business and find better solutions to meet their needs.”
The company continues to work aggressively with its customers to step up in its struggling areas.
Smart Business spoke to Rascoe about how he meets customers’ needs through adding value.
Meet customer needs. You’ve got to be personally committed to being in front of your customers and having a constant direct communication with your sales and marketing teams to have a grasp on the current environment. The organization needs to be flatter in these times to improve the flow and speed of communication. You’ve got to be actively engaged and driving, in our case as a manufacturer, the product-development process.
It’s a time commitment to personally being out with your rank and file in the field, talking to your large customers and, most importantly, talking to prospects as well to understand better what your organization has to do to compete more effectively, whether it is on the sales training side, the marketing development side, or product development and support.
The focus has to be on how you add value to your customers versus just selling a product. You have to find a unique solution to their business problems and have a commitment to being in the field with your sales team to best understand the challenges and, more importantly, the opportunities where many may only see problems. That fuels the engine and fuels the growth.
Add value. It’s like how real estate is location, location, location. When you’re trying to find the value-adds and be innovative, it’s people, people and people. You’ve got to have the flow of ideas and communication within your organization, and you’ve got to have the recognition to those who generate ideas. Not necessarily financial, but recognition that they get for making the kind of contributions through various methods.
We look to bring a lot of our contract customers in to our factory to do tours, and it’s less to learn about the product and, more importantly, to meet the people. Through the exchange of dialogue and communication, you gain ideas both on existing products that you have and product opportunities that they see out of their markets. Some of these things happen through discussion on the shop floors and some of them happen in the engineering area where you’re showing them how you do testing and some of them happen in your showroom where you’re walking through your product with your marketing and sales folks. When your customers truly believe you care, this breeds this kind of communication.
Communicate to find answers. Our innovation is very much a product of a 360-degree feedback loop where we have service technicians who are in consumers’ homes and are continuously getting feedback about products, and we continually mine that data. You’ve got to be talking to customers and trying to understand the pain they’re experiencing and looking for the unique solutions that can add value for them and their process. This isn’t necessarily led by executive management. It’s led by these teams at the field level. They’re the ones on the street that see these things, and they’re constantly engaged in discussing what these opportunities are. We may not all agree that these are good opportunities for the company, but they can all be opportunities.
Through this process, your people have to get very good at the art of probing and asking solid and investigative questions to gain insight to problems that your customers don’t yet recognize as their problem and provide a solution. A lot of times, people are talking about one thing that’s their problem, but it really is a symptom of another problem. So it’s going through that investigative questioning process to help determine what might be a unique solution that we can provide. That sometimes can be through something different in our manufacturing, something different in our product development or something different in a basic service we provide. It could be just for that customer or it could be for all of our customers.
You never want to stop learning from others, so it’s a great thing to keep reading and keep engaged not only within the industry but outside the industry. I get some of my best ideas and impetus to do things from reading outside of our industry and applying those ideas and strategies within the scope of our business.
HOW TO REACH: Thermal Industries Inc., (800) 245-1540 or www.thermalindustries.com
How vividly I remember learning to sail. It was at summer camp during junior high. The instructor explained the relationship of sail and wind, the rudder, and leaning with my body. He emphasized how the sailor must monitor and quickly adjust the variables, while navigating toward a specific destination.
It all seemed logical until I got into the boat and actually tried it. I remember how counterintuitive it was to tack left in order to go right. I felt overwhelmed at the need to adjust so many things simultaneously while also focusing on my destination. And the wind was so unpredictable. (I drank a lot of lake water that summer.)
As my sailing prowess improved, one thing quickly became apparent: success depended heavily upon my response to the wind — the unpredictable wind. Etched into my head was the learning: Sometimes, you need to tack left in order to head right.
I have seen this at play as I have coached executives to develop and progress in their careers. Sometimes, they need to tack left in order to head right. If you wait for the wind to pick up and fill your sails, you may find yourself sitting idle for a long time: waiting, wondering and missing the chance to advance by heading in a direction slightly different from the one they were expecting.
Many executives are finding that to move ahead they need to “tack left” and develop capabilities and career paths that differ from their expected course.
Here’s the proof: In a recent study, a colleague and I interviewed sitting CEOs of 27 Fortune 100 companies asking them, “What best prepared you for the CEO job you now hold?” The No. 1 response was not “running a bigger business unit.” Instead, No. 1 was “running a standalone business unit outside of the United States, with full P&L responsibility.”
For many, this job meant leaving a bigger business unit they were running in the U.S. — or a bigger function they were currently leading. This is not the usual sequence of career development. But the experiences gained in this slight detour taught these CEOs how to work in multiple currencies, in emerging markets, where English was not the first language. They had to know how to set up, implement, and nurture business partnerships and collaborations. They developed new sensitivities by living in another culture. Upon reflection, most of the CEOs saw this as their most valuable preparation for becoming CEO of a global company, and yet most of them did not predict it would be part of their development.
When you face a wind that stops your sails, or starts to take you in an unexpected direction, pause and ask yourself, “What do you really need to learn or demonstrate in order to be successful? And does this rerouting actually help you get there?” Remember that sometimes a lateral move or a half-step change can allow you to acquire skills and experiences you will need later on.
Whether sailing or running a business, we all know that the wind is neither predictable nor steady. It can rise and force you to act quickly, and it can die even faster, leaving you idle. The key is for executives, like sailors, to seize the wind and sometimes be prepared to tack left when you expect you will be heading right. Truly examining the equation for your success may convince you that tacking left to head right will not only enhance your capabilities toward your planned goal, but it just may unlock new opportunities you’ve never even thought about.
Leslie W. Braksick is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010), and author of Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2007). Braksick and her CLG colleagues work with executives to help them navigate the unexpected winds of business. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ash Shah cut his teeth at a large global trading company that traded in petro chemicals and plastic polymers. After four years in the industry, he decided to start his own business, Impex Group Holdings LP, a worldwide supplier of plastic films and packaging products.
Shah, founder, president and CEO of the $28 million company, now had to deal with the tough entrepreneurial world and the challenges of finding the right employees and growth opportunities. Fifteen years later, he continues to keep those challenges his top priority.
“I think we have been very fortunate of having very good people work in our company,” Shah says. “It’s always a challenge regardless of how large or small or growing or not growing a company is. People are really the key asset more than the products and more than anything else.”
Smart Business spoke to Shah about how he has been able to find the right employees and take advantage of growth opportunities.
Find and retain employees. To retain employees, you have to offer the right package and so on, but it’s also the corporate culture and whether they fit well and you fit well and working as a team. Retaining is more important than finding, especially in the current economy. With unemployment, there are quite a few good candidates out there. So finding isn’t as much of a challenge as retaining them.
You have to make sure that teamwork is very important regardless of how small or large your company is. Having that team culture and that feeling of everybody being a part of the organization … that bonding or family-type togetherness goes a long way. Money is obviously important for everybody, but over the years I think it’s actually more important that they grow to enjoy and like coming to work and working with their counterparts.
It’s like any relationship: a lot of give and take, understanding, and appreciating. For every organization it will vary. It’s difficult to say that one rule applies to everybody, but you have to see within your organization what types of people there are, what their likes are, how can you make it a cohesive unit, and as an entrepreneur, having that cohesive teamwork is really what is going to help any leader grow. People are your main assets and you have to take great care of them.
You cannot please everybody. If an employee doesn’t fit within the corporate culture, despite trying a few times, if it’s not meant to be then that is a good time for them to depart. It’s not at any given cost you have to try and make sure you retain an employee, you don’t. In a genuine situation, you try to understand what their issues are. If they’re valid and if it’s something that a company can do to address that issue and as long as it all makes sense and within reason, the employee can be retained. You have to try to do anything within reason to try and retain employees.
Stabilize growth. The key factors of success in our case have just been responsible growth, keeping our eye on the ball and the matured product that we deal in. With the economy not being good, the basic staple food product packaging products — the plastics, the paper, the foil, which are the main substrates we deal in — actually have grown because more and more people aren’t going out to restaurants and they are buying food from the grocery stores and cooking from home.
As you grow, you have to sustain the growth and not grow too fast or too slow and you have to maneuver the ship in the right direction and that’s a challenge. If you grow too fast, it can have some negative implications and same if you grow too slow. When you’re growing at a pace of 50 percent or so … and you’re growing fast, just like we have for a couple of years, if there was a period of slow down or any major recalls, and you’re growing at a fast pace, it is difficult to pull back and try to maneuver.
Growth is obviously good and important and in most cases very beneficial for the company and its employees, but a sustained growth is even more important. That continued sustainable, matured, responsible growth for any company would be very positive. It is difficult to kind of benchmark or difficult to gauge the speed of growth.
To every specific industry, the leader has to focus on the basics of the financials. You have to constantly do checks and balances whether it’s monthly or on a quarterly basis. If the owner or the CEO feels like the growth is too fast, look at sales or accounts that are not much of a profitable account and whether you really need that account. It all goes back to checks and balances and making sure the bank mandated ratios are met and those ratios are not going too much into the danger zone. For every company, every industry, every sector, the leader has to see if this is a sustainable growth or not.
HOW TO REACH: Impex Group Holdings LP, (281) 416-4449 or www.impexfilms.com