Last month’s column featured my ideas on how and why salespeople should not think they are involved in “sales cycles,” but rather to approach them from the needs of their customers who are involved in a “buying cycle.”
Seek not to sell
Prospective customers are seeking to buy but they are not seeking — and often resist and resent — efforts to be sold. I like to phrase a sales person’s job as that of an “assistant purchasing agent” rather than a sales agent and use the term “servant sellers” to convey this role at Cincom. The emphasis is on the idea of a servant seeking to help prospects buy what they value, want and need rather than focusing on what the seller wants to sell.
Seek to help buy
To further emphasize my point, I have begun to think of this buy cycle metaphorically as a “bicycle.” I offered a few analogies last month as to how a bicycle and a buy cycle were similar, such as: The importance of the wheels on a bicycle — the front wheel provides direction and represents the strategy and vision for a buy cycle. At the same time, the rear wheel is the source of power or fuel that energizes the cycle. Strategy and direction have to be present along with energy and action in a corporation if a sale is to be made.
I’d like to expand upon my metaphor now to help others better understand the idea of a bicycle and the importance of this servant selling idea by breaking it down into the various parts of a bike.
A bicycle uses ball bearings to reduce friction. Grease makes the bearings smoother and less resistant. In order to grease the buy cycle, you must be proficient at both the technical evaluation cycle as well as the economic and emotional aspect of the evaluation.
Like a bicycle, if a business stops moving forward it will fall over. Unlike a bicycle, a business does not have a kickstand that can preempt the gravitational pull, so a business must be constantly moving forward or it will fall over.
The front fork of a bicycle holds the front wheel that allows the rider to maneuver and balance the bicycle. Maneuverability is very important for those who are looking to optimally be servant sellers to a prospect. Maneuvering is typically of competition during the early and developing stages of a market. Almost every great company establishes themselves by maneuvering themselves into a position where it is considered the best choice for a specific customer’s desires, needs and interests.
There is a certain skill that comes with braking. Knowing when to use the front or back brake, when to brake on curves and when to brake for animals is not only a control means but a safety aid, as well. Braking in a race or when riding in a group is also a commitment because of your effect on other riders. Know when to pull back and when to lay off the brake.
Cranks and pedals
These are the tools that are used to move the bicycle forward. These are the receivers and transmitters of the power and energy of the biker. Emotions and feelings are powerful motivators. They influence why we buy and who we buy from. When sales reps are not focused on being servant sellers and are unmindful of these powerful and often overriding emotional factors, or are unable to skillfully anticipate and advantageously use these forces, they seldom succeed in a buy cycle. Emotions and motives are the cranks and pedals of the buy cycle, a relationship that is built on trust will power the sales cycle. Then, when mixed with emotion it will propel the buy cycle forward.
Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and insurance. http://tomnies.cincom.com/about/
Dr. Lee Ponsky could not stand by and do nothing. He had just returned from a trip to Nigeria and watched as doctors used empty bread bags for surgical gloves and fishing line for stitches, putting patients at great risk during otherwise routine surgical procedures.
Ponsky discovered hospitals discard more than 2 million tons of medical surplus every year, including a whole lot of medical supplies and equipment that can’t be used due to strict regulations in the United States. These items would be of great benefit, however, to the people of Nigeria and other places where clean supplies are so scarce. He just needed a way to redirect the surplus to these people whose lives could be saved.
MedWish International was founded by Ponsky in 1993 to do just that. His goal was to create a non-profit organization that could facilitate the recovery and repurposing of otherwise wasted medical supplies and equipment. He founded MedWish in his parents’ garage just prior to beginning medical school at Case Western Reserve University.
The organization, which Ponsky leads as president, has grown quite a bit from those humble beginnings. MedWish now has a 38,000 square-foot home and is saving lives around the world. Over the past five years, it has recovered over 2.2 million pounds of lifesaving medical supplies and equipment from over 50 U.S. hospitals and has shipped aid overseas to 90 countries since its inception.
Ponsky’s drive and determination is fueled by the opportunity to help people who really need it. He is confident that he can do even more and continue growing MedWish International’s reach to help more and more countries. His efforts have saved lives and at the same time, lessened the load on the landfills where these tools were destined to end up.
HOW TO REACH: MedWish International, (216) 692-1685 or www.medwish.org
As he looked around at his executive leadership team, Alain Couder saw no clear disorder or conflict. The reason that his company’s leadership was not effective had nothing to do with a particular leadership style or group dynamic. But then again, the issue wasn’t really what people weren’t doing at all. It was that they didn’t realize what they needed to do.
“They didn’t know what they didn’t know,” says Couder, the chairman and CEO of Oclaro Inc.
Oclaro — the product of two startup companies worth more than $200 million apiece — had quickly emerged as a tier-one company with potential to reach No. 1 in its core optical and high-powered laser markets. After completing three more acquisitions, it had risen to third in its industry and become an employer of thousands of people around the globe. Yet, that meant many of the $393 million company’s employees, who had come from smaller companies, now lacked the skill set required to operate in a larger, global company.
“To get all of those startup people and turn them into a company that can be operating at $500 million in revenue and get to $1 billion was my biggest challenge,” Couder says.
Choose the right people
With a career that included working at both large corporations and small startups, Couder knew from experience that Oclaro was not prepared to scale for the next phase of growth.
“Because of my background working in companies like IBM or HP or others that are really well-structured and well-organized, it was clear to me that Oclaro was not that way,” he says.
So he began the process of putting in place a new leadership structure — one that that made sense for Oclaro’s new size and objectives. He hired an external consultant to go into the company and take stock of its operations, people and processes. By using an outside consultant to evaluate his team, he was able to eliminate partiality and really find out who would be able to help scale the company.
“Specifically what you learn is that they go into the company and see how you operate,” Couder says. “They see what information systems you are doing. They speak to your managers and then they tell you, ‘This guy knows what he is doing and this guy needs to learn or needs to be replaced.’”
After getting this feedback, the first decision Couder made was to replace three of his key executives. While these personnel decisions can be difficult to make, a CEO has to be confident that the leadership team he or she has in place will be able to lead effectively when moving to the next stage.
“I choose an executive team that is appropriate for the size of the company,” he says.
“I make sure that I treat the people who are leaving well, but that I put in place people who are stronger and can help me scale the company to the next level.”
When you are growing a company significantly, you want to bring on executives who have experience and past success in their area of expertise. They also need to have the right personality and values to be a good cultural fit at the company.
“[It’s] are they going to be able to work in a constructive fashion with the rest of the team?” Couder says. “If you bring in someone who has a very different set of values than the ones that you have in place for the company now, then it just doesn’t work well.”
How do you identify the people who can scale successfully?
“It’s talking about what you want to achieve,” Couder says. “You create a dream of what can be achieved and then you explain what it takes to do it.”
When you start doing that, you’ll have some people who are enthusiastic and some people who start to resist change.
“I work with them and coach them and try to help them improve, but at some point in time when the company scales, some people are going to scale with the company and some people are not,” Couder says.
Once you’ve explained the vision, it’s more worthwhile to focus your time and resources on the people who seem energized about the vision for growth rather than on to trying to convince the opposition.
“You need to spend the time with the people who are enthusiastic and forget about the other ones,” Couder says. “Otherwise, you spend all of your time with people who are resisting and then do nothing in the end.”
Eventually anyone who has a “wait and see” attitude will either leave the company or decide to be part of the change and move with the enthusiastic people. The best thing to do is respect people’s motives and then focus on who can help you grow. While two of the executives that Couder replaced remained within the company, the third one left.
“They are able to drive their own lives and their own convictions,” Couder says. “And that’s fine. That’s part of change management. Not everybody is happy in a larger company. Some people are much happier working in startups and they should go work in startups.”
Empower your people
Leading an organization with more than 3,000 employees meant Couder and his executive team needed to start shifting their attention to more of the big-picture goals and high-level decisions of the company.
“You always need to shoot for the No. 1 position,” he says.
That means people lower in your organization need to shift to take over new responsibilities and decisions, as well.
“When you scale a company, you want to be able to move the decisions lower in the organization,” he says. “So this is the notion of empowerment.
“In a startup, the CEO is at the center of everything, is aware of all the decisions being made, in touch with every customer — he is involved in all of that. As you scale the company, if the CEO continues to do that then the CEO becomes a bottleneck.”
When you take a set of people with a startup mentality and ask them to manage in a larger, more structured corporate environment, you need to give them the right tools and support to be successful in that culture.
“It’s then helping the people you choose succeed in what they are doing,” Couder says.
“And as a result of that, the CEO becomes increasingly in charge of setting the right direction.”
To empower his managers as decision-makers, Couder implemented a global management training program for leadership teams all across the company. The three-day training program included approximately 80 managers and included twice daily training on leadership best practices.
“We coached them on leadership, how to make decisions, how to coach your team, how to train them, how to make them go, how to make them passionate about what they do, how you can create a team that is going to win together and all those kinds of things which are so important to success,” Couder says.
You and your people both want to feel comfortable with them making decisions independently. So first, you need to spend time giving them context of how to make those decisions and their impact on company.
“This is a part of the delegation and control,” Couder says. “As the company gets larger, I delegate more and more, but I want to make sure that we still have the proper controls in place and make sure that everything is moving the way that it should.”
By giving managers leadership best practices and skills that they can pass on to their teams, you push those practices out and the organization itself can become more nimble in decision-making for growth. Moving forward, a good measure of your team’s empowerment is how many decisions get pushed up in the organization. If it seems like too many, sometimes giving yourself some distance to think and reevaluate your own decision-making process can help you gain perspective. It also gives management a chance to brainstorm new ideas independently.
“One of the pitfalls is to always be acting and acting,” Couder says. “In fact, if I take a week of vacation, the team always comes back with new ideas and new things to be done.
“As you have a larger company, the best ideas are in the company. The CEO doesn’t need to have any ideas. He just has to listen.”
Dance to the same music
Lastly, when you are talking about scaling a global, multicultural organization such as Oclaro, which has operations in Europe, R&D in North America and manufacturing in China, to more than $1 billion in revenue, everyone in the organization needs to be working toward the same goal if you are to have any chance of success.
“You need to get the whole team and the whole company to be pushing and pulling in the same direction,” Couder says.
“So it’s also to encourage people to talk to each other and to learn from each other.”
That is where internal communication becomes incredibly important.
“There are three dimensions to the flow of information, top down, bottom up and also networking at the company level,” Couder says.
For a company that is growing very quickly, it’s vital to have good communication so that everyone’s expectation is clear and employees can work in harmony across different departments, divisions or operations.
“We need to make sure that we learn the same dance and that this dance fits the music,” Couder says. “Before in the company, you had different music and different sides and different dances, and therefore, the cooperation inside was a lot more difficult.”
To get everyone on the same page, Couder created a cross-functional task force to simplify and streamline some of the company’s key processes such as product life cycle, and train everyone — executive team included — on a set of leadership best practices. Part of that training included learning a standard vocabulary for operations that would be used by everyone in the company worldwide.
“You create a common language and that helps to have everybody dance to the same music across the company,” Couder says.
“When we talk between different geographies between China and the U.K. or California, we have the same terms and the same words,” Couder says. “We know exactly what we are talking about. There is now no ambiguity in what we want to do.”
When it comes to top-down communication, Couder believes that there is no replacement for meeting with your team in person.
“Through the questions, I get a pretty good understanding of what they know, what they don’t know and what kind of progress they are making,” he says. “That is one measure I use, and unfortunately I can’t find any replacement for travel. Video conference is great, but it doesn’t work for that. …You need to feel and communicate your actions with the people.”
Couder schedules a half hour with each of his direct reports three times a month to talk about their progress and maintain alignment on the organization’s goals. Whenever he travels, he also meets with his leadership teams during brown bag lunch sessions to find out what is working, what isn’t and offer his support to meet any challenges.
With a strong, empowered team that has everyone pulling in the same direction, Oclaro is no longer a bunch of pieces, but one united company that can scale successfully for growth.
“If you want to be able to be organized as a company, you can be empowered but within a certain context, within a certain set of processes and methodologies and tools that are common to everybody in such a way that it boosts harmony in the way we work,” Couder says.
“We know that we now have the best practices and the tools, and the means and the people involved to be able to compete in a much more effective way.”
How to reach: Oclaro Inc., (408) 383-1400 or www.oclaro.com
The Couder File
Chairman and CEO
Education: Paris, Ecole Superieure D’Electricite
First job: Teaching in Africa at the Abidjan University
What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?
I have raised six kids and have nine grandchildren.
What do you to regroup on a tough day?
Hiking in the mountains is my favorite getaway.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Do you have an innovation tip?
You always need to invent a better way of doing what you do, a better way of communicating, a better way of writing a memo, a better way of making a presentation. It’s not only about product innovation. It’s about finding ways of doing things better in a smarter way. It’s about working smarter, not only harder.
Couder on choosing the company’s name: Oclaro is the new name that we choose to merge Avanex and Bookham. We are big believers that when you merge two companies of similar size and you have one which is acquired and the other which is the dominant … by adding a new name and a new set of values, that helps in fact create a new company. Oclaro stands for optical and clarity, which is how we created the name.
Thom Stork was walking through The Florida Aquarium one day when he passed by the shark exhibits. As he watched the divers swimming in the tanks, his curiosity led him to begin posing questions to a nearby employee: ‘How many people go in the tank? How often? Has anyone ever been bitten?’ And before long, he asked the kicker: ‘Can we put our guest in there?’
“He looked at me like I was crazy, ran away and came back a few days later,” says Stork, who became president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium Inc. in 2002. “Then he said, ‘OK. Listen, we can do this.’”
Before heading up Tampa’s not-for profit aquarium, Stork worked as a marketing executive for Busch Entertainment Corp. for nearly three decades. When he retired, he was approached by the aquarium’s chairman with a proposal to bring his marketing expertise to running the organization.
“I said, ‘I’m not a scientist. I’m not a biologist. I’m not an oceanographer. I’m a marketing, business guy,’” Stork says. “And he said, ‘That’s what we need.’”
Since the aquarium implemented its “Dive with the sharks” program, the exhibit has been extremely profitable and remains sold out. It’s these kinds of unique and memorable experiences that connect people to the organization Stork aims to create every day. To accomplish that, he encourages his people to run with their ideas, even when they seem a bit nuts.
“They come to my office,” Stork says. “They grab me in the hallway or they grab me over in the restaurant and say, ‘Have you ever thought about doing this?’ Every time you hear that you go ‘Yeah! Let’s think about that.’”
In addition to offering encouragement, when you ask people to be proactive in trying new things you’ve also got to be able to demonstrate follow through and constructive feedback once they do. Otherwise, people may get discouraged.
“They have got to understand that it failed,” Stork says. “It failed. This did not work, and here is the reason why. Or ask them, ‘Why did it fail?’ Just have that dialogue.
“They know they are not going to be criticized for wacky-ass ideas.”
When a dive master presented his idea for a “Biologist for the day” program to the senior management team, Stork gave him kudos but also asked him to think bigger picture than the proposed $300 annual profit. The employee was able to rework the program, which today brings the organization thousands in revenue.
“I went, ‘Michael, you did an incredible piece of work here, but here is my challenge for you,’” he says. “‘I want you to go back and I want you to figure out how we can make $30,000.’ He was thinking in a not-for-profit mindset.”
Whether it’s creating new education programs or adding unique events and exhibits — the aquarium recently developed a one-of-a-kind penguin attraction — Stork challenges his 159 employees to explore the boundless possibilities for growth while staying committed to the mission of the organization.
“I believe strongly in the adage that there is not an original idea,” he says. “So I constantly look at what other facilities of our type are doing. I read extensively about new products that are out there for zoos and aquariums and theme parks, trying to determine what works in terms of bringing people through the front door. But then I also do put on my mission hat and say is it good for our business, does it further our mission, does it further our culture?
“So today I say, when I do retire, my legacy will be that I was able to take a bunch of scientists, biologists, teachers and environmentalists and turn them into entrepreneurs, to think about how to make the business work.”
How to reach: The Florida Aquarium Inc., (813) 273-4000 or www.flaquarium.org
Thom Stork, president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium Inc., is always asking guests what they want to see at the aquarium, whether it’s dolphins, sea lions or what he and his team affectionately call “big-ass sharks.” Yet now that the organization is in a position to look comfortably into its financial future, prioritizing what people want versus what the business needs has become more important.
“In the analysis of everything, you have to look at the things you need to do to further round out this facility and this business,” Stork says. “So we’ve spent a lot of time over the last 18 months looking at what we need to do.”
This year, Stork spearheaded a $15 million capital campaign to address the needs of the organization’s 700,000 annual visitors and 100,000 school kids who visit for its education programs. The project, which broke ground in September, will incorporate lobby renovations, expand classrooms — there are currently two — and add much-needed event and exhibit space, including a ballroom to seat 500 people.
“The priority is ‘What do we need?’” Stork says. “All of those things have a return on investment. They will produce revenues for the aquarium which will further grow the aquarium.”
In late August, Smart Business sponsored the third installment of its Power Players luncheon series, which featured David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.
In the almost 12 years that the commission has been around, it has been responsible for bringing in 104 events to town, with an economic impact of more than $310 million.
“Most of them are the U.S. Jump Rope World Team Trials, the U.S. Taekwondo Junior Championship — not sexy events, but the common denominator in every one of those is they bring people to town,” he says.
And that’s the key. Bringing people to town means more people spending money in the region. The commission strives to bring as many events as it can to town, but to also run them better than the rest of the competition.
“Really, it’s no different than any other business,” Gilbert says. “How do you try to find out what a customer’s needs are and do what you can to make your business better.
“Where we’ve set the mark in the community is the ability to service these events better than anybody else in the country.”
Out of about 250 sports commissions across the country, the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission is one of the largest with 14 full-time employees and has become one of the top three or four sports commissions as a result of its service excellence.
This level of excellence has allowed it to secure two major events for the region — the 2013 National Senior Games and the 2014 Gay Games, which combined should bring more than 30,000 people to the region. Additionally, the organization has hosted several major Olympic qualifying events and expects to see more of these major events in the future.
“It’s very much about building a reputation,” he says. “More often than not, now our leads come directly. Instead of us going out and begging people – it certainly still happens — regularly — but we get calls saying, ‘Hey you hosted [this] and did a great job, would you consider hosting [that]?’ That’s helped a great deal. It’s developing relationships with individual organizations.”
How to reach: Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, (216) 621-0600 or www.clevelandsports.org
Northeast Ohio’s first-of-its kind Advanced Energy B2B Conference & Expo was packed with companies, technologies and researchers driving progress in advanced energy in the region. The two-day event drew nearly 500 participants during the course of the event, which took place Sept.14-15 at the John S. Knight Center in Akron. The conference and expo showcased the region’s assets in advanced energy and provided a venue to explore commercial opportunities to stimulate regional growth. The exhibition hall was sold out with more than 50 companies featured.
The event was co-produced by NorTech, a regional nonprofit technology-based economic development organization, and the Summit County Mayors Association.
“The future of advanced energy is business to business, and this conference made that happen,” says Norma Powell Byron, president, Ashlawn Energy LLC. “We were able to talk over coffee with potential suppliers, forge customer relationships, and we even got an understanding of the federal government’s perspective. This type of comprehensive opportunity is where NorTech excels.”
The event was geared to companies and researchers engaged in the advanced energy industry, supply chain manufacturers interested in new opportunities, and regional, national and international collaborators seeking to do business in Northeast Ohio. The conference and expo highlighted competitive advantages in major sectors of the advanced energy industry, including biomass/waste to energy, energy storage, fuel cells, nuclear, shale gas, smart grid, solar photovoltaic, transportation electrification and wind energy.
“As a supplier of controls and solutions that cut across renewable and
traditional generation systems and sustainable manufacturing, this
conference afforded Rockwell Automation an excellent venue to highlight our
capabilities, while creating a climate that epitomizes the spirit of a clustering effort and business to business conference,” says Dave Mayewski of Rockwell
Automation. “The partner environment in this venue spanned the entrepreneur striving to commercialize an offering to the established manufacturer scaling to meet new demands and challenges.”
Presentations by industry experts
The conference offered a full slate of regional, national and international speakers and advanced energy experts. Arun Majumdar, director of the Advanced Energy Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) and senior adviser to the U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, presented strategies for seizing advanced energy opportunities focusing on innovation, manufacturing and the marketing of technologies created in the U.S. and sold internationally.
Dennis McGinn, retired vice admiral and president of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) spoke on the close link between energy, climate and the national security. Stephen Crolius, senior director of the Clinton Climate Initiative provided a global perspective on how clean renewable energy technologies are impacting regional economies worldwide.
“The quality of the speakers was excellent. The director from ARPA-E gave an excellent overview of what the federal government is doing in some breakthrough advanced energy technologies,” says Julian Norley of GrafTech International.
Statewide partnership established
During the conference and expo, a new statewide network was announced between NorTech and seven of Ohio’s energy focused business organizations. This new organization, Advanced Energy Economy Ohio (AEE Ohio), will seek to drive the development of advanced energy to boost the state’s economy and competitiveness. Composed of CincyTech, Dayton Development Coalition, EWI, NorTech, Ohio Business Council for a Clean Economy, Rocket Ventures, TechColumbus, and TechGROWTH, the group represents one of the first regional energy organizations in an emerging, national coalition of advanced energy regional business organizations.
About the co-producers
NorTech is a regional nonprofit technology-based economic development organization serving 21 counties in Northeast Ohio. As a catalyst for growing Northeast Ohio’s emerging technology industries, NorTech is leading efforts to develop regional innovation clusters that create jobs, attract capital and have a long-term, positive impact on the region.
The Summit County Mayors Association is a nonpartisan organization composed of the leaders of the 22 cities and villages in Summit County. The organization focuses on economic development, regional planning, emergency management, infrastructure improvements and community development block grants.
Ted Teele left his job as CEO of one of the largest sales organizations in the gift and home décor industry for an opportunity he saw as new and different. He saw the growth and potential of social media and how that platform could be used in the industry. His idea formed a company called SnapRetail LLC, a 55-employee wholesale supplier of marketing solutions.
“We were looking around and we could see how social media was in an uptick,” says Teele, CEO. “We saw this big opportunity because in our market were these 100,000 independent retailers selling gift products and furniture and home accent products and they all know marketing was changing but they needed somebody to help get them there.”
Teele capitalized on discovering an opportunity in his industry and began to focus on helping independent retailers evolve and adapt to new marketing strategies.
Smart Business spoke to Teele about how to recognize and grow new opportunities.
How do you form partnerships?
When you are working on a partnership arrangement, it’s very important to be able to model the arrangement financially from the perspective of the partner; what is the benefit to them? The way you do that is you ask really good questions and understand what the partner needs.
You should come up with a list of at least five companies that you most want to partner with and then come up with a value proposition. The first meeting should be all about understanding them. You may have some ideas about the value you can provide and you should talk about them, but you’re probably not going to have a complete proposal. You don’t want to come to somebody with a complete proposal when it comes to partnerships because you don’t understand what they need. Once you understand what a partner needs then you can come back to them with some ideas on how you could help meet those needs. If you are able to show value, then they will look at you as an equal.
How do you find the right partnerships for your company?
You have to learn who would be the best partners and who would get value. The first thing is to identify who the companies are that you want to go after. You have to be important to them too. You have to find people that have similar goals. Part of it is just asking. Partnerships allow you to build a brand, extend yourself broader, and get more information.
What are some keys to finding new opportunities?
We’re living in a world that is changing very quickly. If you’re running a company and you’re looking around, whatever your specialty was 10 years ago is now vanilla. You have to create a new special sauce and that’s true for individuals and it’s true for companies. So many companies just hold on to their old business model and they hold on for dear life. You have to be willing to make transformational decisions. You have to be able to adapt to the changing world and you have to be solving a problem that needs to be solved.
How do you find the right people to help grow the company?
There are two parts of hiring any person. There’s the buying and the selling. The buying is finding somebody that is right for the job and selling is having that person want to work for your company. Some CEOs spend too much time on the selling and some CEOs spend too much time on the buying. You’ve got to find the proper balance.
You need to find people that have the right skills, know what they’re doing and don’t need to be told what to do. The second thing you need are people that fit the culture. They have plenty of options and you want them to want this option. You have to be relevant. If you’re not relevant you’re not going to be able to hire great people. People want to solve big problems.
HOW TO REACH: SnapRetail LLC, (877) 459-7627 or www.snapretail.com
Over the past 20 years, I have worked with hundreds of executives who at some point confided, “I’m not sure this is really what I want to be doing anymore,” “It’s getting harder to gear up for travel,” or “I just don’t feel as sharp as I once was.”
And these statements usually are followed by: “Is it me?”
Well, yes — it is you. And me. And each of us at some point in our careers, if we are really honest and self-aware. So where does that leave you? Quit your job? Change careers? Move to the monastery in Tahiti?
Instead, begin by exploring the root of your discontent; what is causing you to really feel as you do and what are your options to change that?
Is the pace and intensity too much? It’s not unusual for an executive to feel like “enough is enough” and desire more free time where there is not 24/7 accountability and pressure.
Does managing no longer motivate you? Leading others can be exhausting and distance you from what most excites you about the company or industry. Some executives realize they’d rather advise or do something other than the day-to-day running of the business.
Has there been a change in your company? Has the composition of your board, leadership team, company ownership, brand positioning or core values left you less enthusiastic or feeling disconnected from the company you once loved to lead?
Do you simply feel underappreciated, unfairly compensated, or under challenged?
You didn’t just wake up suddenly feeling miserable about work. Your discontent has come on gradually and is more like an abrasion that doesn’t heal. Left untreated, the abrasion can become infected or maybe it already has. Remember that infections, untreated, often feel like general malaise.
So what can you do about it?
Find the quiet time to get away and have a candid conversation with yourself. Write out a “what bugs me” list about your work life. Be honest. It is most important that you discover what problem you are trying to solve.
Note the things on there that you influence directly or indirectly. Most executives are humbled when they are truly honest about how much they do or could influence about their work life and possibilities.
Jot down options given what you know. Do you need to designate “no meeting days” or “no travel days”? Do you need more frequent or less frequent contact with your board chair? Is your current organizational structure enabling you to be fully leveraged? Consider what would address the frustrations on your “what bugs me list.”
Have conversations with the appropriate persons to explore options. Gently explore with their confidential assurance, options to the “issues” that you are considering—or that they may suggest that you have not thought about. Talking with those who have a shared accountability for the company’s success is an important step toward addressing the issues you have noted.
Ignoring your “infection” or leaving it untreated will not produce a miracle cure, but taking positive actions that acknowledge and act on your discontent can.
The best gift you can give yourself is intellectual honesty regarding the sources of your frustration/weakened passion, and the options you have available. Once you understand the source of the problem, you can take steps to make necessary changes.
You owe this to your company, colleagues and shareholders who rely on you to lead with passion and commitment every single day. But most of all, you owe it to yourself. Doing nothing is doing something. Take action. You’ll be glad you did.
Leslie W. Braksick is cofounder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), coauthor 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 leaders at all levels to ensure work never stops working for them. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Douglas Ewert first joined The Men’s Wearhouse Inc. in 1995, the specialty retailer of men’s apparel only had 200 stores and just the Men’s Wearhouse division. More than 15 years later, the company has 1,200 retail locations, six divisions, 17,000 employees and had 2010 revenue of $2.1 billion.
Ewert has seen the business grow quite a bit over the years, and as part of a succession plan, on July 15, 2011, he became the company’s new president and CEO. Previously serving as president and COO, he knows it will be a tough task to fill the shoes of founder George Zimmer, who will continue to serve as executive chairman of the board.
“I’ve learned a lot from George,” Ewert says. “Probably the two biggest are if you take good care of the employees, they’ll take good care of the customers, and secondly to listen to my instincts.”
Armed with years of knowledge in the retail industry and some guidance from Zimmer, Ewert is continuing to focus the company on a strong culture, customer satisfaction and retaining a No. 1 market share.
Since Ewert had a senior leadership history with the company and the management didn’t change much when he took the CEO role, Ewert had to focus on the strong aspects and initiatives of the company.
“Because I’ve been here for 16 years and George is going to be here for another 16 years at least, this has really been a succession story of continuity not of change,” he says. “One of the first things that I did do was reorganize the organization chart a little bit so I would have fewer direct reports to allow myself to fly at a higher altitude and spend more of my time focused on strategy rather than tactics.”
Part of that focus on strategy was aimed at getting more familiar with the investment community surrounding the company.
“I’ve met with a number of our shareholders, potential investors and analysts that cover our stock,” he says. “So I’ve spent time in the investment community more so than I have in the past. I think it is important for a CEO to understand the needs and motivations of all of their stakeholders: employees, customers and investors.”
The Men’s Wearhouse has always made sure that it pays attention to its stakeholders and most importantly its employees.
“If you had to rank all of our different stakeholders, we put our employees at the top of the list,” Ewert says. “We believe that if you take good care of the employees then all of the other stakeholders will get taken care of. It’s always been a focus in this company and I look forward to continuing that style of leadership.”
Ewert and the other executives in the company make sure that they are accessible to every employee in the organization. They want to know employees’ opinions and concerns.
“Every employee can contact me,” he says. “They have my phone number and my e-mail address and they have George’s. We hear from people throughout the organization every week, because we want to know what we can be doing better. Some of the best ideas that we’ve ever had have come out of the field. For example, our tuxedo rental business, which is something that we’re very proud of and is driving a lot of nice top and bottom line results for us, came from a suggestion from one of our store employees. So keeping those lines of communication open, remembering that our employees come first is just part of our heritage. We have a rich company culture that has always valued that.”
To get employees to voice their individual ideas, opinions and concerns, you have to be available and you have to be willing to listen.
“One of the keys is to spend more time listening than talking,” he says. “You have to be accessible. You have to be open to changing your mind with new information. It’s important to not to fall in love with your own opinions. You have to be open especially in retail and especially in this economy. Our company, just like most, has had to reinvent itself somewhat in the last couple of years. That took input from the entire organization and then winning the hearts and minds of the entire organization.”
Opportunities are all around you and as a CEO you have to make sure you utilize every avenue available in order to foster those creative ideas.
“If you hang on to your opinion on what the business requires too firmly, you may miss an opportunity or an emerging opportunity,” Ewert says. “A number of things need to be present for an organization to foster creativity. First, the CEO needs to believe that they don’t have to have the best ideas, but rather have to recognize the best ideas. Then you need to foster an environment that encourages creativity. Trust needs to exist throughout the organization. Trust that the ideas will be heard. Trust that they won’t be criticized and trust that employees will be recognized for their creative contributions. Finally, leaders have to create the space for people to share their ideas.”
To run a company as big as Men’s Wearhouse takes a lot of commitment and a lot of travel. If you meet those needs, employees will see that they have access to you.
“We do a lot of training and cultural events in our company and George and I both attend as many of them as we possibly can,” he says. “Every spring, we bring every store manager and assistant store manager out in California for three-day meetings and George and I make presentations at each of those meetings and spend the evenings socializing with all of our employees, giving them our perspective on the business and giving them an opportunity to share their perspectives. We have 55 holiday parties throughout North America every fourth quarter and George and I attend as many of them as we can. We visit a lot of stores and that just gets back to that access. I think most of our employees feel comfortable with us and feel comfortable talking to us.
“You have to be accessible. I wander through the office every day. I pop into offices and ask questions. They come into my office and ask questions — the door is open all the time. I visit stores and spend a lot of time talking to employees in the stores. With e-mail now and BlackBerrys, access is 24/7.”
Maintain market dominance
Having a No. 1 market share doesn’t mean you’re safe and have time to relax. You have to constantly be looking at ways to continually improve and protect that spot.
“One of the things that we did as a company about a year and a half ago was we changed our business model from being an every day value retailer to being a promotional retailer,” Ewert says. “We found that in this economy our customers weren’t responding to every day value pricing, so we adjusted our model to be much more promotional and the customers responded nicely. Our business is strong right now and we’re having a great year. We reinvented our company to figure out how to maximize our opportunity in what everybody’s defining as the new normal — this sluggish economy.”
To mitigate the challenges that the company is facing, Ewert has had to lean on his team to help find the best solutions.
“You need to surround yourself with very competent people and listen to their ideas and suggestions and trust your own instincts,” he says. “When it comes to reinventing your business those are pretty big decisions. You’ve got to be careful and you can’t do it all yourself. You need a strong team to reinvent the company and you’ve got to keep the lines of communication open so that everybody understands the direction you’re going and everybody is pulling on the oars at the same pace to move the ship, so-to-speak.”
The company had to leverage its suppliers to combat rising commodity prices, which helped increase its buying power. It also hedged certain materials like wool to help absorb cost increases.
“Most of the changes that we had to make we were able to test the change before we implemented it throughout the entire network,” he says. “We moved cautiously, and we didn’t make any dramatic changes without some assurance that we thought it was the right move and was going to work. You have to utilize the people around you and listen to their advice. You have to try and prioritize the areas where you think you can make the biggest impact.”
If you think protecting one No. 1 market share is tough work, Men’s Wearhouse has to look after five No. 1 market shares.
“We’re the largest seller of suits in America and the largest seller of suits in Canada and the largest tuxedo rental operator in both the U.S. and Canada,” Ewert says. “We’re the largest corporate uniform company in the UK and the largest retail dry cleaning operator in Houston. Our opportunity is to continue to drive our business with that strong dominant market share.”
The company’s biggest focus is on its prominent tuxedo rental business and its blooming Big & Tall stores.
“I think there is a lot of opportunity for us to continue to take more market share in tuxedo rental,” he says. “We believe that we have a compelling strategy. As a national retailer, we believe that we have market dominance throughout the country. Our competitors are primarily small independent regional players. For an out-of-town wedding where the wedding party is spread out around the country, we’re the logical place for that type of event, because you can go into any one of our stores and get measured and get fitted and pick up your tuxedo in one store and drop it off in another or pick-up your tuxedo in the city where the wedding will be held so you don’t have to travel with it.”
The company’s Big & Tall stores also continue to do well.
“Our Big & Tall business is growing at a double-digit pace and we are aggressively growing that business in all three of our retail divisions,” Ewert says. “In Big & Tall, we are increasing the amount of inventory that we carry and we’re also testing three free-standing Big & Tall stores — one in Houston, Manhattan and Dallas.”
By focusing on two of the company’s strongest markets, the company is doing what it can to remain on top.
“You need to evaluate the strengths of your brands,” he says. “You need to keep a close eye on the macro-economic conditions and the outlook. You need to keep an eye on the strengths and leveragability of your management team and the needs of all of your stakeholders.”
Ewert isn’t just reinventing areas of the company to beat business challenges. He is making these moves to also beat the competition.
“The pitfalls of being the No. 1 market share leader in a category is that everybody is trying to take that away from you,” he says. “In order to protect and preserve your position, you need to continually reinvent yourself, because whatever you’re doing this year, your competitors will be doing next year. You need to focus on constant reinvention and paying attention to your customers as the best ways to make sure you can retain that dominance.
“We have 1,200 stores and our employees are facing customers every day and getting feedback every day from those customers. We get hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from customers every week. We have a customer service call-in center where if somebody has a question or suggestion or compliment or concern, they can reach us. If you’re not satisfying the needs of your customers, you’re not going to have customers for very long.”
HOW TO REACH: The Men’s Wearhouse Inc., (800) 851-6744 or www.menswearhouse.com
- Lookout for employees and be accessible to hear their ideas
- Trust your instincts and ideas from your management team
- Reinvent areas of your business to keep market share
The Ewert File
President and CEO
The Men’s Wearhouse Inc.
Born: Riverside, Calif.
Education: Graduated from San Jose State with a bachelor’s degree in business
What was your first job and what did you take away from that experience?
My first job was as a bus boy in a restaurant. The only job I ever got fired from was as a disc jockey in a roller rink. I got fired because I wasn’t playing the kind of music the audience wanted to hear. I guess 7- and 8-year-old girls don’t like Van Halen. The lesson there was to listen to your customers.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
I would go back to the things that I focus on most from George: listening to my own instincts. Don’t let self-doubt creep in too much.
How would you define success?
It’s always been important to me to be in a job that I enjoyed and I’ve been fortunate that, for 26 years, I’ve looked forward to coming to work every day, and I think that’s pretty rare. If you’re doing something you love, you’ve got to consider yourself successful.
In the corporate world, the suit-and-tie style is no longer the typical attire, how have you seen it change?
I think we’ve seen the suit transform itself from being a Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. uniform to being an element of your wardrobe that has a reason for being at times in the evenings and on the weekends. We’ve seen the suit jacket become an important piece to be worn with a pair of jeans and an open-collar shirt. You go back 10 years and you never would have seen something like that. The suit has become less of a uniform and more of a utility piece.
Do you have any plans to film your own Men’s Wearhouse commercial?
No. I promised my wife that I would not become our spokesman on TV. That was actually a condition of me accepting this job.
Winston Churchill once said, “I am always willing to learn, however I do not always like to be taught.” I’ve always admired this phrase, but speaking as a salesperson, I feel it can be adapted easily to have more resonance in the field. One might say that we are all eager to buy, but we do not particularly enjoy being sold.
Understanding this fact is important when it comes to understanding our customers and their buying processes. While we may be involved in a “sales cycle,” our prospects are not. They are involved in a buying cycle.
Moreover, since prospects seek to buy, they may resist and perhaps even resent efforts to “sell” them. That’s why sellers must see themselves much more as an assistant purchasing agent rather than a sales agent. I employ the term “servant sellers” at Cincom to convey this role, with the emphasis being on the idea of a servant who seeks to help prospects buy what they value, want and need, rather than as a seller who seeks to sell them only what the seller wants to sell.
We must begin to think in these terms instead of those that are more typically used. Instead of a “sales cycle,” we must begin to think of it as a "buy cycle" or as a colleague of mine at Cincom once helped me to see, we might metaphorically see it as a bicycle.
A bicycle lets you get where you’re going much faster and using much less energy than if you were walking or running. Thinking of customer interactions as “buy cycles” will help a salesperson get to a sale faster than if they were thinking in terms of a “sales cycle” because we are looking at the interaction from their point of view. Instead of selling them, we will help them to buy by being a “servant seller” and identifying the value a product can provide for them.
A bicycle is also a machine that has all of its mechanics completely exposed. Everyone involved in the buy cycle needs to openly communicate with one another. It is helpful to express appreciation and respect, build positive affiliation and association, recognize the autonomy of others and never intrude or impinge upon the other’s desire for each one’s own autonomy. Just like a cycling team competing in events like the Tour de France, there are many different individuals on each “servant selling” team and each has their own job that works toward the goal of a victory. It is a group of different people with different skills and perspectives all interacting to come up with ideas that they might not have individually.
There are many other ideas and analogies that show the similarity between a bicycle and our “buy cycle” if we look more closely.
For example, the wheels on a bicycle are very important—the front wheel provides direction and represents the strategy and vision for the buy cycle. At the same time, the rear wheel is the source of power or fuel that energizes the cycle. The bike becomes much more difficult to ride without either of these wheels. Similarly, strategy and direction have to be present along with energy and action in a corporation if a sale is to be made.
Each of the closer analogies that can be made can be substantially expanded upon as one digs deeper into the features and functions of a bike. This is why the bicycle is a great tool for us to think about as we work to become better servant sellers in our various buy cycles.
Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems, Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and insurance. Learn more about Nies at http://tomnies.cincom.com/about/