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Jeremy Rayl has witnessed a lot of industry change since he became the third generation to take leadership of his family’s transportation company in 2007. But he knows that today’s stricter regulations and compliance standards are just the beginning.

“There’s a big fundamental change coming in transportation,” says Rayl, CEO of Akron, Ohio-based J. Rayl Transport Inc., which operates approximately 200 tractors and 600 trailers in the U.S. and Canada.

Yet while other trucking firms have struggled in the past years, Rayl’s company has opened up four new locations, made several acquisitions, grown sales and increased employment by 135 percent to 240 employees in the last five years.

Rayl says the company has stayed competitive in Akron and other areas by being able to identify opportunities, which a CEO needs to be able to do in both a bad recession and a good economy. One of the benefits of doing business in Akron is the access to capital from the area’s large banks.

“With my industry, if you don’t have access to capital you’re not going to have the ability to grow, let alone survive,” he says. “The ability to attract and retain companies here in Akron would center around the availability of capital.”

Because his company has many moving parts and variables that make measuring profitability difficult, Rayl also knows that having a well-defined cost model is absolutely essential in today’s business environment. Ultimately, not understanding your cash flow down to the penny is a critical mistake for a leader, because that’s how you recognize areas that can damage or improve your business.

“If you don’t understand the risks that are out there, then you’re being naïve to the potential things that could possibly bankrupt your company,” Rayl says.

“It’s being able to identify these opportunities and being able to accurately identify our costs, what our revenues need to be and really understanding what drives profitability for our company.”

ROI is the first area Rayl looks at when considering business investments, though the return doesn’t necessarily need to be in dollars. It could also come in the form of improved quality, service level or safety. Either way, the return has to warrant the risk that you are taking on.

“It has to have some sort of measurable ROI and it has to add value to the company whether it is dollars saved or overall quality improvement,” Rayl says.

As the company goes forward in making new acquisitions and adding more U.S. locations, Rayl looks for areas where there is already more demand than the company can support.

“If we open up a new location, we’re already going to have preexisting customers there ready to give us business before we even open the doors,” he says.

By breaking down the risk versus reward and return, Rayl makes calculated investments that meet the changing demands of customers.

“It gives us flexibility and the ability to change as customers needs change, whether it be supply chain solutions, whether it be more efficient delivery options or just reporting for those customers to measure how well they’re satisfying their customers with on-time deliveries,” Rayl says.

That goes for adapting to new industry regulations, as well, such as the now tighter limits on “hours of service” or the number of hours that drivers are allowed to drive in one week.

“Every single hour of that driver’s availability is that much more valuable,” Rayl says. “So it is very important that we are operating that asset and that driver as efficiently as possible to maximize the amount of miles and deliveries in a week that that driver and equipment can do.”

By identifying opportunities ahead of time to invest in new technologies and equipment, he positions the company for future competiveness.

“It represents an opportunity for us,” Rayl says. “If we can be a leading company when it comes to safety standards, equipment standards, driver standards, we’ll be that far ahead of the competition when these new rules are enforced, and they will be coming soon.”

How to reach: J. Rayl Transport Inc., www.jrayl.com or (330) 784-1134

Akron invests in biomedical

Over the past 35 years, Akron has successfully transformed itself from the rubber capital of the world into a diversified business climate that supports more than 600 metalworking, electronics, machining, advanced materials (polymers) and biomedical technology companies. In the past six years specifically, the city has devoted a major economic development effort and significant private capital investment towards attracting companies from this last area.

The most recent investment came in 2011, when a new vehicle was created to further attract and create new biomedical company investment in Akron. Akron Bioinvestments Funds LLC was created by the city’s Akron Development Corp. and was funded by private organizations including Medical Mutual, First Energy, Cascade Capital Corp. and Northeast Ohio Medical University. It is a $1.5 million loan fund aimed at providing financial support for the commercialization of high-potential biomedical early-stage companies that are close to market entry.

There are two components of the fund. First, $1.25 million will be dedicated to the Rapid Commercialization Loan Fund, which will include loans in the $100,000 to $250,000 range that are approved based on the merit of the applicant’s business plan and feature low interest rates and flexible repayment schedules. In addition, $250,000 will be dedicated to the Product Development Fund, where grants of $25,000 are awarded based on proof of product concept, market assessment and business plan development.

A major goal of the initiative is quick turnaround time on all funding requests reviewed. This new availability of funding is expected to draw both national and international interest from companies in the biomedical field to Akron in coming years.

Published in Akron/Canton

For Arnold Burchianti II, business in the past 10 years has been good. Burchianti, founder, president and CEO of Celtic Healthcare, a home health care and hospice provider, has been focused on growing his business through strategic planning and keeping his 450 employees engaged.

That engagement and strategic planning have helped the company reach 2010 revenue of $45 million and has allowed Celtic Healthcare to stay nimble and adaptable in an industry that is always changing.

“When cuts and changes have occurred, which they do quite frequently in the world of Medicare and home health care, you operationalize and try and maximize your efficiencies as best you can,” Burchianti says. “Along that journey it’s been a lot of engaging the work force in alignment with the type of strategy and tactics that we had.”

The company has continued to thrive because everyone at Celtic works for the betterment of the business.

Smart Business spoke to Burchianti about how he keeps his work force engaged and strategically aligned.

Be honest and open. We’re pretty transparent with our employees. Short of issuing a P&L and balance sheet to a nurse who won’t understand it, we give them everything we can. We try and paint that picture and get them to really understand how and why as leaders we’re doing the things that we’re doing.

We go in and show them our overhead costs, the leadership’s wages and costs according to benchmarking data that we get from cost reports and we put it out there. By really engaging the work force as to what’s going on in the industry through benchmarking data, comparing us to them and showing them where we need to improve and why we need to improve for sustainability, it makes it a little easier when you walk in and show them the facts.

Are they always happy with our decisions? Hell no, but as a leader you have to engage them and you have to be transparent. You have to let them know why you’re doing stuff so they can trust you. That’s the fundamentals of great leadership. You’ve got to get people to be engaged, to trust you and be transparent.

Understand your culture. I believe you need to come up with strategies to engage your employees and one of the best ways to do that is to take a look at the cultural health of your organization. We do these cultural tests and we pay a lot of money for it, but its well worth it. I could tell you twice a year exactly what my top three things are for corporate health and culture.

It’s easy to get baselines on your financials, on your marks, on many legislative things, on your turnover rate, but getting an objective read on culture, you can’t just go into a room and ask somebody, because they’re not always going to tell you the truth. As a leader or CEO, you can’t listen to your VPs and people around you all the time, because sometimes those people are micro-managers and they just hear what they want to hear. You as a leader need to go transcend beyond that and most of us don’t have the ability to do it ourselves. You need to bring someone in at least every few years to run these types of exercises. I’m not saying bring someone in to train and make things better; you’ve got to understand what the issue is first.

Once you’ve heard and gained the information, then you tell them that you heard them and tell them what you’re going to do. Let them know where the progress is. It’s really an art of engaging your employees and making sure you understand the health of your culture. If your people aren’t engaged and you’ve got to make a change because of a market or legislative issue, good luck, because a company like Celtic is going to beat you there 500 times faster, because we can move quicker. The small and the fast always eat the big guys’ lunch.

Form a plan. The No. 1 thing is proper strategic planning. That means making sure you understand your values and that you understand what is the single most important priority that your organization has to accomplish for your vision and mission. You have to make sure you understand what your values are, because that lays out what your strategy is going to be and what’s important to you and keeps you from chasing 9 million different facets.

Once you understand what that vision or mission statement is then … you’ve got to get your work force engaged or at least your leadership engaged and you need to be meeting with them in some cases daily or weekly. You’ve got to make sure when they wake up in the morning they are thinking about that. That’s where people fail; they’re chasing a lot of different ideas, they’re putting out fires and everyone thinks within their own division what they’re working on is their priority. Everyone needs to be aligned with that single most important corporate goal.

HOW TO REACH: Celtic Healthcare, (800) 355-8894 or www.celtichealthcare.com

Published in Pittsburgh

Together, yet separate. Unified, yet unique.

It’s the quandary of seemingly polar-opposite circumstances that David McKinnon — and any CEO in charge of a company that oversees multiple brands — faces each day.

The brands are what the customers see and trust, so they each have to maintain a strong presence on their own. But the brands can’t become more important than the company as a whole, so corporate management has to maintain a tight grip on the reins of the central entity.

McKinnon moved from Canada in the 1980s to co-found the company that would become Service Brands International LLC. As chairman and CEO, he has grown the company to $239 million in 2010 revenue across four household services brands — Molly Maid, Mr. Handyman, 1-800-DryClean and ProTect Painters. Each brand has its own president, its own revenue streams and its own customer base. But none of the four would exist, as least in its present form, without the contributions of the other three.

“When you have multiple branches, multiple divisions, it’s all about keeping the leaders focused on accomplishing the goals that they have to accomplish for their brand, but to do it while working with the other brands cooperatively,” McKinnon says. “For example, we have shared resources for IT, shared resources for marketing, shared resources for legal support. So it’s a give-and-take of understanding that, at a given time, some other brand’s priority must be ahead of yours, or vice versa. As the leader of all that, it’s often my biggest challenge to manage that process. It requires a high degree of communication, a high degree of letting people know why things are important at a given point in time, and trying to get understanding from everyone in all of that.”

In short, McKinnon needs to set the expectations of himself and his corporate leadership team, and manage the expectations on the brand leadership level. Ultimately, everyone in the company needs to promote the brands while respecting the role the brands play in the advancement of the whole company.

Earn your stripes

One of the most important hats McKinnon wears is more like a striped shirt — of the black-and-white zebra variety. McKinnon has to be the referee, officiating any disputes that might arise between brands over allocation of resources.

The relationship between the brands at SBI isn’t contentious, but it is competitive. That can be good to a point. McKinnon’s job as referee is to determine when the competitive atmosphere moves from constructive to detrimental, and prevent the leaders of the brands from crossing that line.

It comes down to a lot of talking and trying to appeal to the inner diplomat in each of the brand presidents.

“Let’s say there are two demands by two separate brands for a new IT project,” McKinnon says. “One is for one brand and one is for the other. We don’t have enough resources to get them both done at the same time, so I ultimately have to decide which one of the brands goes first and which goes second.”

McKinnon gathers the information for his decision by getting the presidents of the involved brands in a conference room along with any other involved parties, and facilitate a discussion.

“We try to figure out together which project is going to have more value or which project is going to provide more customer satisfaction, and try to make a decision based on as much data as I can gather,” he says. “When we decide which brand has to wait for their resources, I try to keep that brand’s leaders assured that their turn is coming next, then communicate that bluntly and openly with employees and franchise owners. It’s managing that process, which requires tons and tons of communication.”

Just because you appeal to your team’s sense of reason doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is going to be happy with the decision you make. Don’t expect total satisfaction, but do expect willingness to compromise. McKinnon doesn’t want everyone to leave the conference room happy, but he does want them to leave with a sense that the fair and proper course of action was taken.

“It is a difficult process at times,” he says. “But again, you make it easier through how you communicate with people. You share your decision and the process by which you went one way as opposed to another. You try to develop understanding around that, and also develop willingness on the part of everyone to live with the consequences. I take the hit when there is bad news to report and give the credit to everyone else when there is good news to report.”

Stick to your principles

A willingness to work for the good of the whole is fostered through developing a culture that values collaboration and teamwork as guiding principles. That type of culture has to be carefully cultivated, starting with the top levels of the company. You have to set the tone for what is acceptable and what is not acceptable; what cultural principles you want to see emphasized throughout the organization.

“Principles, I’ve found, are lived out,” McKinnon says. “We have a manual, but the principles of the culture are created and evolved by the leader. The leader sets the pace for how fast the altitude and the aptitude of the organization grows. When you have a culture of ‘Let’s get this done now,’ and a bias toward serving our franchise owners because that’s why we exist, we realize that our job is to serve them and make their businesses better. That is the bias by which we have to look at the business and judge the culture we have created.”

If the leader is doing a good job of demonstrating the cultural principles through communication and actions, a number of employees should soon begin to adopt the culture throughout the company. Those early adopters are critical to the success of the culture, because those are the employees who set the example on a peer level.

At SBI, McKinnon wants the culture to filter downward, from corporate leadership to the leadership of the individual brands, then down to the departments within the brands. If each level has adopted the culture, the level below — the direct subordinates — should adopt at a much faster and higher rate.

If the message is consistent and predictable, the process of adoption should go much smoother than if you bounce around with your messages and are inconsistent with your communication level.

“The brand presidents and department leaders are people I hold to a pretty high standard,” McKinnon says. “I hold integrity and predictability at the top of my list. I demand it of myself, and I ask it of everyone else in the company, as well. I don’t think there have been many times where people have heard me say something that they didn’t already expect. The best thing a leader can do for an organization, for it to maintain its health, is to make sure that it is stable, that it’s predictable, and there are not a lot of surprises.

“There are times when changes have to be made, but when changes are made, you want as many people as possible to have expected it because that’s how you always communicate. By making an environment that is predictable, by highly valuing integrity, each brand president knows that they have to be the coach on those matters, and keep everyone informed.”

Develop collaborators

A culture of collaboration starts at the top, but the task of finding the pieces that can fit the culture starts in human resources. At SBI, McKinnon’s team gives potential new hires an education in the company’s culture from the time they sit down for their first interview — and even beforehand.

“It is part of our recruiting process,” McKinnon says. “We try to demonstrate to all potential candidates that this isn’t the easiest environment. They’re going to have to work with multiple bosses on multiple given projects. It is driven by high performance, and you work with multiple bosses, but it is a lot of fun and a lot of teamwork that we believe outweighs the traditional structure of having just one boss.”

McKinnon believes that collaborative workers who are willing to work for the good of the whole can be molded to an extent, but it is largely a product of someone’s personality.

Working in a team is either a strength or a weakness, and it is up to McKinnon and his team to determine between the two.

“I want to see if a job candidate is able to thrive in an environment like this, so if I’m interviewing a person for an upper management role, I’m asking them to give me examples of ways they’ve been collaborative,” he says. “Maybe it isn’t even an example from a work environment. Maybe it’s raising children, or other things they’ve taken on in their lives. But we’re looking for the type of experience that demonstrates that they are team players.”

Being a team player means you understand your role in enough detail to grasp how it fits into the larger puzzle of the organization. So once a person has passed enough scrutiny to warrant a job offer at SBI, the test doesn’t end there. McKinnon and his team want to see the new hire’s collaboration abilities in action. One of the main ways McKinnon gets all employees involved in a collaborative effort is through the company’s strategic planning process. Each person in the company, from the franchise owners up to the top, is asked to define their roles, and how they believe their roles affect the organization as a whole.

“We start by collecting information as to what each person believes their role is, and we start laying out goals. We ask each person what they think their contribution will be. There are no numbers assigned at that point, there is no resource allocation yet. It is strictly the beginning of the process.”

The answers to those questions are fed upward to the brand president, then to McKinnon and his leadership team, and ultimately become a part of the large-scale strategic planning process for the whole company.

Ultimately, McKinnon says collaboration is rooted in engagement, which is why people are immersed in the culture from their first interview. You have to build those bridges early and keep them maintained on a constant basis.

“The future of your company should be more preferable than what you have today,” McKinnon says. “You should want to move from here to there. That is really what helps motivate people to do their jobs better. When they understand that the reward is better than what they have today, people will pull on the rope harder.

“That creates buy-in, and when you get buy-in from employees, you get commitment. The person feels personally obligated to contribute at a higher level because they were part of the process that came up with the initiative. The employee feels that their voice was heard and their input values. And if you have produced a predictable, safe environment, they feel more willing to risk bad ideas. The more willing people are to throw ideas out there, knowing they’re not going to get thrown under the bus for having an idea that gets rejected, the higher the level of engagement will be, and you’ll be able to better sustain a collaborative culture.”

How to reach: Service Brands International LLC, (888) 700-6177 or www.servicebrands.com

The McKinnon file

Education: Accounting and finance degree, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology, Toronto

History: I moved around a bit because my parents were missionaries. I was born in Fredericksburg, Va., and grew up on Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. Eventually we moved to Canada, and I finished high school in Toronto.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Everything is a risk, so as a leader, you have to be involved, you have to know who is important and you have to know who is going to be on your team during the tough times.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

You need integrity, vision, enthusiasm and credibility. And you have to stay in front, too. It’s kind of like being a good flight attendant. If you’re in an airplane, you hit a pocket of air and drop 30 feet, everyone is going to look at the flight attendants. If they panic, everyone panics. If the flight attendants are calm, everyone stays calm.

What is your definition of success?

To achieve the goals that were set. We thought them through. We know they are reasonable. We know the effort that will go into accomplishing them. But success isn’t an end point. What is successful today isn’t necessarily successful tomorrow. It keeps going.

Published in Detroit
Tuesday, 03 January 2012 16:45

Best of 2011: Guidebook to growth

Mergers and acquisitions

A few of our cover companies were involved in mergers and acquisitions in the last few years, and one sold itself to new ownership. It’s always met with mixed reviews.

“You always get a mixed reaction,” says Phil Rykhoek of Denbury Resources. “Some people love it — the ones that are more aggressive and wanting to grow and get excited by the change. Those people love it, but a lot of employees don’t adapt to change as well, and those are the ones that will resist it.”

One of the keys to successful mergers and acquisitions is communication

“Communicate early and often,” says Jeff Markham of Merrill Lynch “You can almost overcommunicate. Make sure you’re sharing the vision, that it’s not just that there is a vision; there is a strategy behind this. When you’ve got uncertainty like that, people do want to be a part of something larger than themselves, and we’re all created that way, so they’re going to tie into that vision and strategy. Some of them will happen further down the line. Some of them will jump in there quickly. You over-communicate and begin to share capabilities and really point out the most important thing to both cultures and that is we’re a client-first organization.”

You have to communicate often, too.

“My rule of thumb if that you have to tell people 11 times before it sinks in, so we go back and check with people,” says Richard Holt of Bank of America. “Once I can hear my client managers kind of rolling [the changes] out with their broader team, then I know it’s starting to sink in.”

Sometimes it gets challenging, but that’s part of the process.

“You just have to persevere and just keep a level head and keep working the deal and not let it get emotional when problems come up,” says Tom Sanderson at Transplace, who led his company in finding new ownership. “You have to be prepared to walk away,” he says. “There were a couple of points where we said, ‘We can’t go on like this,’ and that has a way of getting people back to the table as well.”

Strategic planning

No business is going to succeed unless it maps out exactly where it’s going and how to get there.

“Next to the right people, strategic planning is one of the most important functions you can do,” says Steve Mansfield of Methodist Health.

He says one of the keys is to include a variety of people outside your company in the process.

“Have thought leaders from your industry come and talk to your leadership,” he says. “We tend to get myopic in our focus on our own organization and our own market, and we think that’s the way the world’s running, but, in fact, there may be trends occurring outside of your market that you need to take into account for your market.

… “You may not agree with all of them, and some may not work for your market or your company, but it’s helpful to expand our horizon of thinking at the beginning of a strategic planning process. Then you take it from broad to narrow and make it work for your organization and your service area or market.”

You also need to involve the right people from inside your organization, too.

“Whoever’s going to be tasked with the primary responsibility for delivering on your plan needs to be involved in your planning process so they feel ownership in that plan,” he says.

Nancy Brown of the American Heart Association created a think-tank group to help her in generating new ideas and planning. When utilizing a group to plan, you have to be strategic in your approach.

“It can be deadly to have a random discussion that takes you nowhere, so by having strategic discussion questions framed in advance, the discussion is more focused, and the feedback is as valuable as possible,” she says.

When you’re trying to narrow ideas down, it’s important everybody is on the same page.

“Upfront, before you start the selection, make sure that you have agreed upon the criteria that you will use to focus on ideas because if not, people then will lobby for their favorite idea,” she says. “If you have objective criteria upfront — say, must reach the maximum number of people possible or must generate the maximum number of revenue possible, or whatever the criteria area — and you work through a facilitated process to narrow down the list, the likelihood of success is better because people will not focus on their pet project but rather on the things that can truly make the biggest difference.”

Leading change

Change can be one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish in a business situation, but the past couple of years have meant change for almost every business. Some grew by leaps and bounds, and others had to cut back. But both scenarios have one common denominator: change.  

Barry Davis led more difficult changes at Crosstex Energy. Those times call for solid leadership if you want the change to be effective.

“People want to see the confidence and see into the eyes of the guy at the top,” Davis says. “Are you demonstrating that you’re going to get through it, and do you have a plan? Are you committed or are you wavering in your commitment? There was never a wavering.”

A decade ago, Mark Cuban had to take a floundering Dallas Mavericks organization and turn it around. He was frank with his team on day one.

“I said, ‘Look, we’re speeding up, and either you’re on the train or off the train,’” he says. “’If you keep up, you stay on, if you don’t, we’ll still be friends, but you know, you’re going to fall off the train, and we’re going to figure out how to move forward without you.’”

To succeed in leading change, you have to be completely focused on what it is you want to do. The result? His organization won the NBA title last year.

“You have to go in and be very specific about what your goals are, what you’re willing to accept and what you won’t accept,” Cuban says.

Through it all, it’s important to stay upbeat because your people need that in order to buy in to change.

“People want leaders, need leaders, who are positive,” says Catherine Monson of Fastsigns. “You can be positive realistic. Positive doesn’t mean Polyanna and not seeing the reality, but your people need to believe that you see a way to get to the end result, and you have to portray that in a positive way.”

Leading in tough times

The downturn has been difficult for many businesses to continue navigating, but honesty has been the key in successfully doing that. Barry Davis had to let some employees go at Crosstex Energy.

“Be very clear and generous in the exit process, meaning the severance that you give people, the time you give them to find other jobs, to be generous in the support you give them in finding those other jobs,” Davis says. “Be quick and decisive in the process — these are things that need to be done in a short time frame and not drug out over a period of time. It needs to be as deep and as broad as you can think — don’t make multiple reductions. One time needs to get it done. Be generous, be supportive and do it in one time, and be very caring in the execution.”

He says you have to also plan out that separation process and not just go at it blindly.

“First of all, focus on the person,” he says. “It is a relationship, so you have to focus on the person. Second, be very diligent in the planning process because the execution is critical at the time, in the moment. You have to have a great plan. Then, thirdly, be real. Be a human, be transparent and be loving. That’s a word we don’t use often in business, but I think everything really comes back to that and to love the other people just like they are family.”

Catherine Monson deals with franchisees as CEO of Fastsigns. With so many people all over the country, she had to be honest with her team.

“Given an information vacuum, people will always assume the worst,” she says. “If we don’t share what’s going on, our employees are listening to the news, they’re watching the headlines, they’re picking up a newspaper, they’re talking to their friends who have been, perhaps, laid off, and in the vacuum of honest information and direct information, they’ll just assume the worst.”

Four Tips: Leadership

“You have to be brutally honest with yourself,” he says. “You can lie to yourself. You have to know what you’re good at and what you’re bad at. You can’t all of a sudden be a homerun hitter. You can’t be a dunker if you can’t dunk, right? It’s that simple. …You better figure out what you’re good at and be great at it.”

 Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner and HDNet chairman, president and CEO; March

“The day you think you’re the best as you can be is a bad day for any organization because that’s the beginning of a downfall,” she says. “There’s always ways that things can be improved or reinvented, so setting that culturally as the expectation that we can always improve, we always want to do better, there’s always new and better and different ways to improve the work that we’re doing – that creates an environment where people are willing to be open about what works and what doesn’t work.”

 Nancy Brown, CEO, American Heart Association; June

“A strong board is tremendously important,” he says. “You can’t underestimate that. Some CEOs like to get a board that’s sort of their cronies that will rubber stamp what they want to do and is sort of a yes, man, yes, woman type of approach, and pat them on the back and congratulate them for doing a good job. … It’s far more helpful to have a board that you can bounce ideas off of and will challenge your thinking about things,” he says. “You don’t want a board that thinks they know your business better than you know it as CEO. They can’t know your business as well as you do as CEO — you don’t want them to tell you how to run your company, but you do want them to challenge the way you’re thinking about your business and get you to think creatively and question the way you’re doing things.”

 Tom Sanderson, president and CEO, Transplace; August

“You do as much research as you can and then you make a decision. Part of leadership is being willing to make a decision without having all the answers because you never can have all the answers. If you have to wait until you have all the answers, you’re just going to have analysis paralysis. Part of it is taking educated risks.”

 Catherine Monson, CEO, Fastsigns International Inc.; January

Three Tips: Building a team

“You have to have the right people that care and are proactive and ask questions that go beyond what is just expected. By talking to them [in the interview], you can really feel that they would be the right person. If they ask good questions in the interview process, they’re probably going to be a questioning kind of person to begin with.”

Camille Cheney Fournier, owner and CEO, SWS Re-Distribution Co. Inc.; February

“If someone I’m with treats the wait staff in a way that’s not reflective of appropriate, respectful appreciation, I’m done. That’s all I need to see. That’s how they’re going to treat other parts of the enterprise. Maybe not their direct reports, but that’s how they’ll treat other team members.

“One of my personal theories is that no one will ever lead anyone else better than how they lead themselves, so I look to see how they’re leading their self. … If they’re doing things with vigor outside of their career, that’s a real positive. If they take personal responsibility for their physical health, that’s a real positive.”

Carlos Sepulveda, president and CEO, Interstate Batteries; October

“Initially, our ability to hire the best quality people was somewhat low because that was linked to the old quality image. Until we really started building momentum in the company and changing the image and reputation in the industry, it was difficult to hire the very best people.”

Jim Nixon, Varel International, December

Three Tips: Communication

“Good leadership is being able to explain how you’re going to kick your competition’s ass and being able to explain to everybody how they’re going to participate in doing that,” he says. “Otherwise, what are you doing there?”

Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner and HDNet chairman, president and CEO; March

“Unless you educate employees about the financial structure of your company, they assume that 98 percent of revenue flows down to the bottom and is profit,” Monson says. “It’s important to educate them about what are the cost of goods — what’s our overhead, what does it cost to turn on the lights here.”

Katherine Monson, CEO, Fastsigns International Inc.; January

“It’s one thing for everyone to state they have an open-door policy — so whenever you have an issue, come on in my office, and I’ll always be there to listen. In practice, there needs to be some more formal, regular, structure to bolster that, even if it’s a true statement that the organization’s leader has an open-door policy.”

Ken Menges, partner in charge, Dallas office, Akin Gump; September

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“My father ran a butcher shop, and he worked extremely hard to provide for the eight children he had. He told me, ‘Son, your role in life is to find the gold in everyone and polish it up.’ Basically what he was saying find the good in people and don’t waste your time trying to make them perfect -- just make them as good as they can be at what they’re good at.”

-John Nixon, Varel International, December

“I’ve gotten a lot of good advice and I know I need a lot more, but the best I’ve ever received was from my father who told me a long time ago, there’s always a better way to say it. I think that advice came to me in junior high or high school. It has stuck with me because I can think of no truer words. When I think of other people occasionally who say something out of emotion or without forethought, I’m thinking, yep, there’s always a better way to say it.” 

-Ken Menges, Akin Gump, September

Published in Dallas
Tuesday, 03 January 2012 16:17

Best of 2011: Guidebook to growth


One of the most critical elements of creating a plan or vision is to make sure you have sound processes in place within your business. This starts with evaluating your products.

“You have to look at your product range and you need to ask yourself the question, ‘Is this the best product, or are there competitors that are better than I am?’” says Martin Richenhagen of AGCO. “American cars are not sold outside of America because they’re lousy cars — not because people in Europe prefer European cars. The technology isn’t leading technology and leading quality. Today, you need to be able to lead in technology and lead in quality and have a competitive cost position.”

It’s also important that as part of your processes you’re willing to take risks.

“A willingness to take risks and experiment is very important because the good ideas stop coming if people think there’s no chance it will ever get implemented because they’re viewed as too risky,” says Chip Perry of AutoTrader.com. “You have to be willing to experiment, make mistakes and iterate toward a better solution in order to promote an innovative environment where people feel safe to make suggestions that are outside the box, and then the company has to be willing to methodically test and evaluate them.”

And above all, you have to make sure you have measuring processes in place as well.

“Invest in data and metrics, not just metrics that your clients use but metrics internally, trying to make them simple but sort of poignant,” says Chris Krubert of ApolloMD. “You have got to understand what is the key component that determines success.”

Krubert says if you don’t have ways of measuring, it’s something you need to spend some time processing, as well.

“You have to come up with ways to measure it, whether its technology or simplifying your process, but then monitoring it and benchmarking it and having historical data, so you can do a trend analysis and when you’re pointing toward the worst direction, you can act,” he says.

Planning and vision

It’s hard for any business to know where it’s going if it hasn’t taken the time to do some strategic planning and analysis.

“You have to find a niche in the business,” says Mit Shah of Noble Investment Group. “I think that companies of the future that are going to be very successful will have a niche. They aren’t broad-based companies that do a lot of things. They’ll find a couple things they do really well, and they focus on those things, and they outperform the competition there. It’s way too difficult to be good at many different things.”

So how do you find a niche? You have to look at trends and what you’re good at.

“I encourage people to analyze the markets,” says Millard Choate of Choate Construction Co. “What’s the coming trends? What are the needs going to be not just today but six months to a year from now? Try to anticipate where to deploy your resources to produce the maximum return.”

Watch the wording that you use, as well.

“You can wordsmith sentences that become ambiguous,” says Jeff Bowman of Crawford & Co. “What you have to do is create a series of effectively executable plans that are then absolutely easily translated.”

For example, you might say something such as, “We’re going to increase sales around the world,” which is a very wide open statement.

“Increase is a good word,” Bowman says. “Sales is a good word. Around the world? What does that mean? It has to be more defined than that. What’s the marketplace? What is the product we want to grow? That’s where a lot of strategies have to be planned in the sessions that you do prior to laying those strategic plans out.”

No matter what you do, make sure you’re honest with yourself and aren’t being unrealistic.

“It’s important to be as objective as you can and gather objective facts and information,” says Chip Perry of AutoTrader.com. “One of the things we try to do is whenever it’s possible, to go out and do some research about the potential impact of an idea so we’ll go talk to consumers and dealers and manufacturers and ask them for their guidance on how valuable they think it is, so research is a very important part of it.”

On top of everything, make sure you don’t put your strategy on the shelf and forget about it.

“A strategy document is a living document,” Bowman says. “Events change, and you have to change an organization to implement the goals.”


One of the other key elements to successfully leading is measuring the goals and processes you’ve created.

“You make your own metrics for what success is,” says Ted Turner. “You set up criteria and write down what you think would make you feel successful. Each person would do it differently. What success is for one person wouldn’t be success to another. If one guy said, ‘If I made $1 million, I’d be a success,’ but to another, ‘I wouldn’t be a success unless I made $1 billion.’ They’d be off by a factor of 1,000 to one.”

So what should those metrics look like?

“You have to have quantitative, objective measurements of your business results,” says Bob Puccini of Mizuno USA Inc. “That’s certainly an indication. You have to have a clear indication of (key performance indicators) — what are you trying to measure? What’s important to you? Therefore, if those things are important to you relative to achieving your business goals, these are the KPIs you ought to be looking on a regular basis. If we’re succeeding or not based on certain benchmarks, that’s one indication.”

And make sure you’re not trying to measure and hold people accountable to things they can’t control.

“Make sure you focus on things that you can control,” says Darrell Grimes of MAG Mutual. “In other words, you can’t control, and I can’t control, interest rates. You and I can’t control health care reform. You and I can’t control tsunamis and earthquakes that are actually affecting us today. Focus on those things that you can control, but remain flexible and keep your options open but have a mission and reason for being.”

2 Tips: Customer relations

“Ask probing, delicate questions to make sure that their vision is consistent with what our plan is and then updating it periodically.”

Chris Krubert, ApolloMD, January

“You have to understand what your client’s hot buttons are, what his interests are. It’s not just always revenues. Each client has his own nuances so just customizing your approach to that client and making sure you’re taking care of them and promote that you’re looking out for their best interest.”

Millard Choate, Choate Construction Co., September

4 Tips: Culture

“Let’s be honest, this is a tough labor market. People aren’t jumping jobs right now, so we get that. You can’t use that as a crutch because as soon as the market comes back, they’ll leave for a better opportunity once available.”

Mit Shah, Noble Investment Group, February

“Recognize the value in what the honesty can deliver for you. Create an environment where truth and bad news is accepted and used as a learning opportunity, which means you also have to check egos at the door. You have to build trust with your constituency — your employees — where it becomes safe to have those open discussions.”

Bob Puccini, Mizuno USA Inc., December

“If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customer. … It’s important that they understand that we’re all in the same boat and we’re all rowing in the same direction — that when times are good, they all get bonuses and when times are not so good, we may get a smaller bonus or no bonus at all. If we don’t all pull together and understand what the financial results are, we will not do as well as a company, and we won’t service the clients the way we want to be serviced. It’s an open-book policy.”

Darrell Grimes, MAG Mutual, August

“One of the hallmarks of successful companies is being open-minded and receptive to ideas for improvement from the employees, who are closer to the work than the executives are. It’s kind of built into your DNA. Either you are or you aren’t receptive. You have to be curious and receptive and then be willing to work with it. Then you need to set up a pattern and a tempo of consistency on this topic. If you do it once, and it goes away — a flash in the pan idea — it becomes not effective. If you do it every year, you’ve been doing it for 10 years, people come to expect it, and it becomes part of the culture.”

Chip Perry, AutoTrader.com, May

4 Tips: Communication

“Although you have to craft the format differently, I believe you have to be very consistent with the communications, whether it’s your employees or customers or suppliers or investors. You can’t have different messages. You have to have a consistent strategy and talk to them and adopt it to their viewpoint a little bit. You can’t create different ones for different people – it doesn’t work. … Making it a simple message is very hard. … You have to be able to communicate not only to your senior people but also be able to reach somebody who is working on a factory floor who may not speak English, and translate it and be ruthless and streamline the message down. When you do that, it means you have to be very clear about what you have to do. If you use a lot of words, you don’t have to be so clear. If you use very few words, you have to be much more clear.”

Jim Bolch, Exide Technologies, November

“I listen because no one person has all of the ideas,” he says. “It’s a collaborative environment.”

Darrell Grimes, MAG Mutual, August

“Make sure people understand what they’re accountable for. They do things that they understand much easier than things that they don’t understand. … The world we live in, you get swallowed up in the amount of data you’ve got. You have to cut through and say, ‘What is the important data that you’re going to measure people on?’”

Jeff Bowman, Crawford & Co., June

“If you ask someone their opinion, and you never follow it or you never use it, then why in the world would they ever want to give it again. But if you ask people their opinion and say, ‘To every extent possible, we’d like to take your ideas and make things better, and they see that we actually take ideas and implement it and use it to create a better work environment, it’s synergistic and it just grows.”

Michael Bass, Piedmont Newnan Hospital, April

4 Tips: Hiring

“It’s a disciplined approach to define the key characteristics of what you need in a person to do that specific job and completely severing the ‘I like, I don’t like,’ and then tapping into other people’s sort of ratings on the same scale. It’s pretty clear, hard work or not hard work. That’s almost a quantifiable type. There’s ways you can define that and then ask other people who are in a similar role.”

Christopher Krubert, ApolloMD, January

“The individual who is comfortable is relaxed. They pause, they think about their response. They’re inquisitive but yet they are knowledgeable. The cocky person is usually the person who you can’t get a word in edgewise. They just want to go on and on and on.”

Michael Bass, Piedmont Newnan Hospital, April

“What we always do is discuss it with the guy who has the job because I think it would be very bad if you have a job description, and the guy who’s doing the job would say, ‘That’s not me.’ That happens sometimes. If it’s getting too theoretical and you only have human resources involved or someone from the outside, this could happen. … You need to keep things simple in a way but also very pragmatic. This means don’t make it too long of details. The most important part of a job description is to describe the area of responsibility in the form of results you are expecting. Instead of describing what you expect somebody to do — he has to come into the office at 7 o’clock in the morning and open his door and start to make phone calls — describe activities and describe results you expect the leader to generate.”

Martin Richenhagen, AGCO, October

“If you have a business vision and a business goal and say, ‘Here’s where we’re going and here’s how you have to play,’ those kinds of things allow you to recognize the kinds of skills you need to do that. You have to have a clear vision — where you’re going, where you’re going to play, where you think you can win, and how you’re going to play in order to win. Then you step back and say, ‘Wow, what kind of skills do we need in order to do that?’ Then you do a gap analysis. Here’s where we are, here’s where we need to be from a competency perspective, and what’s the plan to either acquire or develop those competencies.”

Bob Puccini, Mizuno USA Inc., December

6 Tips: Leadership

“Sometimes you just have to be a smart guy growing up in New York to survive. That means knowing which alleys not to walk down. It doesn’t mean you walk down every alley and pick a fight and win them all. It means also being savvy enough to know I’m not going to walk down that alley — that doesn’t look right, that doesn’t feel right. It’s knowing where to play and where not to play, and again playing to your strengths. If you don’t have them, you better acquire or develop them. … That ability to be completely honest with himself was critical as a kid, and it’s just as needed as a leader looking at your abilities and your business. … Sometimes it hurts, but that’s part of being successful. You’ve got to be honest with your limitations.”

Bob Puccini, Mizuno USA, December

“So many people are trying to move up in an organization — step over someone else to get up the corporate ladder. Just focus on the company and just focus on the customer, and you’ll find that all those other problems go away. … Forget trying to beat the guy down the hall. I think there’s too much of that. If people will do that, they’ll see how much easier it is to move up the corporate ladder without doing it. Just do the right thing.”

Darrell Grimes, MAG Mutual, August

“Continue to do what the books say you’re supposed to do — stick to your core values during times of great opportunity and during times of crisis, take care of people, make sure that you continue to commit to things that are part of who you are and who you espouse to be.”

Mit Shah, Noble Investment Group, February

“How do you build trust? There are several ways. No. 1, you say what you’re going to do, and then you do it so that employees know that if I say that this is what we’re going to do or this is what’s going to happen, then I’ve got to make sure that that’s exactly what we do and we don’t deviate from that. Trust is being open and telling it like it is.”

Michael Bass, Piedmont Newnan Hospital, April

“The easiest thing is to do nothing, and then you’ll never get in trouble — and you’ll never get anywhere either, but doing nothing is an option, and that’s an option that most people avail themselves of in life. They do as little as they can, and they don’t realize what they could have done because they didn’t do anything. That’s most people. It’s just too hard, and it is hard. It’s extremely hard, and you’ve got to be — there’s an old expression I heard somewhere — smarter than a tree full of owls to do anything like create a Microsoft or a Google or a CNN.”

Ted Turner, Turner Enterprises, July

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“‘Trust, but verify.’ I think it is critically important to empower your team, but periodically you need to drill down to ensure that you are getting the whole story and you are comfortable with the direction.”

-Jim Bolch, Exide Technologies, November

“Don’t worry about those things you can’t control. Just try to manage through them. I see a lot of people worrying about things, but it’s just more stress in your life. Manage what you can control. Prepare for the worst; accept the rest. Don’t worry too much about what you can’t control. I think that’s important advice.”

-Darrell O. Grimes, MAG Mutual Insurance Co., August

“The best advice I’ve ever received is you’ll only get one chance to make your case for a change order, and only a fool would be willing to attempt to argue about the end result after that. That was my grandfather, who was the road-building construction contractor.”

-Chip Bullock, HDR CUH2A, March

“One of the original founder’s term: personal is best. That’s important. That’s the advice I use. When I’m trying to understand why someone is acting out or stressed or giving me a hard time, trying to keep it personal and trying to understand who they are as a person, whether it’s in a clinical setting or a business setting and that often times will give you the answer. That’s the best advice I’ve gotten to date.”

-Christopher Krubert, ApolloMD, January

Published in Atlanta

Most business owners understand the idea of developing a business plan and know how to create objectives and goals. But many become challenged when asked about their vision for where they want to be in 5, 10 or 15 years, says Ricci M. Victorio, CSP, managing partner at Mosaic Family Business Center.

“Many business owners say they don’t know what they are doing in the next 30 days, much less in 15 years,” says Victorio. “But failing to have a strategic vision will be detrimental to potential growth and long-term success.”

Smart Business spoke with Victorio about how creating a deliberate strategic vision can help move your business into the future and help you achieve anything you can imagine.

Where does a business begin to create a strategic vision?

With the help of a facilitator, imagine the year is 2022; then look back to 2012 and ask yourself, ‘What have we achieved in last 10 years that we are really proud of?’ Instead of asking yourself where you want to be, hypothetically ask yourself, ‘Where have I been?’ Do this exercise with no boundaries and no fear of failure. If you could have achieved anything in these last 10 years, what would it be? For example, if someone has a goal of being retired, then he or she has to think about succession. Who will have taken your place? If you don’t know, you have a strategic issue.

As you think back from 2022, you step into strategic visioning. When you look at what your future needs are going to be, rather than just dealing with whatever happens, you can ask what you need to do now to be better positioned for where you want to be. This kind of behavior is called ‘being at cause.’

‘Being at effect’ is based in reactive behavior and causes anxiety. You will spend more money solving problems, paying the highest price to get it done quickly. Also, hasty decisions may not be the best ones for the long term. Having a strategic vision allows you to make deliberate changes on your own timetable because you are thinking ahead.

Having a strategic vision also allows for creative, innovative problem solving. You can take the time to determine whether an adjustment works. And because you are doing it incrementally, you are ahead of everyone else who will be scrambling to make changes at the last minute.

How does creating a strategic vision allow a business to work more methodically?

For example, if you want to be retired in 10 years, ask yourself what will be required in the next 10 years to bring your successor through the experiential and training process so he or she will be ready when needed. Or if your shareholders want to expand, determine what you have to do to be positioned to build your assets so you will have the available resources when you need them. Your vision for tomorrow should fuel your action today.

Buy-in from your team is essential. Boil it down to a concept. This will create a strong emotional connection that will encourage commitment from your entire organization. With a common vision, all decisions become based upon keeping everyone in alignment with where you are going. Be advised that a strategic plan should be reviewed every year or two, because change is inevitable.

How does the process work?

Initially, all ideas should be welcome without judgment. The only rule during brainstorming sessions is that nothing is impossible. When you give people permission to create without being required to know how they are going to get there, it’s very freeing. People often get stuck in the question of ‘how’ something will be accomplished. But in the visioning exercise, the focus should be on the ‘what we want to be’ and ‘where we want to go,’ and not about worrying or negotiating how we will get there.

After you’ve gone through the predictable ideas, begin considering what else you can do — let go and have fun. You’ll find that people start throwing out ideas that are ‘outside the box’ and potentially brilliant. This is where having a facilitator who is objective, understands the creative process and doesn’t have a vested interest in the decisions that are made is significantly important.

How do you communicate the strategic vision to your employees and get buy-in?

Start by transforming the strategic vision into a plan with action implementation steps. Communicate your overarching vision and provide a way for employees to participate in implementing the vision into actionable steps. Your vision cannot become a reality without their creative participation.

Next, enroll employees into committees to work on fulfilling the three or four major objectives in your plan. They will develop the tactical steps that will become part of your annual business planning. This vision gives you the motivator — the ‘why’ — for the ‘what,’ and then employees are tasked with figuring out ‘how’ to get there.

Buy-in requires that every employee has a stake in the outcome and participates in creating the programs that will get you to the next goal post. Conversely, if ownership believes that the success of the company is built on the genius of top management, change will be difficult. Recognizing that your organization is stronger and more innovative and successful when everyone is working together as a team, rather than when taking orders from the top, will propel you toward the achievement of your dream.

Ricci M. Victorio, CSP, is managing partner at Mosaic Family Business Center. Reach her at (415) 788-1952.

Published in Northern California

Caroline Nahas doesn’t try to be intimidating. But it would be naïve to deny that her position has that effect on people. So when she speaks to employees at Korn/Ferry International, she works hard to be very approachable.

“People can be intimidated through absolutely nothing that you did other than you have the title,” says Nahas, office managing director of Southern California for the executive search firm. “I always think one of the greatest approaches is to sit down and say, ‘Hi, I’m interested to hear what you think.’”

Nahas leads about 150 employees that work in offices in Irvine and Los Angeles.

“Show them the respect and show them that you think their views and what they have to say is of value,” Nahas says. “There is bound to be someone, whether they come up with a right or wrong statement, someone is going to open up. And suddenly, you are getting into this dialogue and then you can ask some of the questions that you’re curious about.”

Korn/Ferry is going through a transition where clients expect the firm to have more intimate knowledge of what recruits can do and how they can address specific concerns in their business.

When your business is going through a major transformation, you need to get your employees at all levels of your organization involved in the discussion about how to address the changes.

“I might say, ‘We are going through this strategic change, and the people on the executive team are extremely excited about it for these reasons,” Nahas says. “I’m curious, what would you do if you were us to get this out to the population of the firm?’ What you have just done is show them a great deal of value. You’ve said, ‘I value your opinion.’ When you do that, you break down the barriers, but you also engage them and win them over and make them part of something rather than making them feel part of something that is being imposed on them.”

Keep in mind that just because you’ve been thinking about this change for a long time and have talked about it with your peers, others in your company may not be as familiar.

“If you’re a CEO and living this day to day and it’s sort of your overall vision, you’re very deeply steeped in the subject,” Nahas says. “Sometimes people can forget because they are so engaged in it and so enthusiastic and passionate about it, they forget that the people they are communicating to haven’t had the benefit of all that vetting, of the debating, the learning and the creating. So you just have to be more repetitive and consistent in terms of delivering that message and trying to put yourself in their shoes, three or four levels down. Make it real for them.”

Reality is another obvious but often overlooked component in communication. Just as you look for concrete evidence to see that your business is growing, your employees appreciate tangible examples to help bolster the case for whatever it is you’re telling them.

“If you tell people stories about why something has been successful, giving them real-life examples of clients who have integrated and used some of those services and how they have benefitted and how the partners or the people at Korn Ferry identified those needs within the clients is extremely impactful for helping people understand how something works,” Nahas says. “Telling them on paper or giving them theoretical ideas is not as effective as practical application and real-life examples.”

After you’ve had a good discussion with someone who you don’t normally talk to, follow up with a note to express your thanks for their time.

“Write back and say, ‘I truly appreciated the open, candid session we had,’” Nahas says. “’Your input was valuable and your active participation made a huge difference, not only in the meetings but obviously also in our company.”

How to reach: Korn/Ferry International, (310) 552-1834 or www.kornferry.com

Don’t act too soon

Caroline Nahas doesn’t face a lot of conflict in her role as office managing director of Southern California for Korn/Ferry International, where she leads about 150 employees. But when she does, she works hard to maintain a sense of impartiality.

“When you’re going to be involved in resolving conflicts with individuals, it’s very easy when the first person comes in and gives you the story; generally, that person is obviously editorializing,” Nahas says.

“It’s not that they are trying to do that. It’s just natural. They have their own view and they are very passionate about what they are raising objectives about. It’s very easy, as you’re listening to that, to get drawn into the story and to potentially show a reaction or to even prematurely make a judgment.”

If you want to maintain peace in your company, you’ll resist the urge to make that judgment before you’ve heard the other side.

“Listen, don’t render any kind of a judgment, don’t show any kind of expression that you agree or disagree,” Nahas says. “You’re just listening. This is such a great adage. There’s always two sides to the story. Often times neither one is right or wrong or they are both right and they are both wrong. But it’s absolutely critical you get all the information before you react.”

Published in Los Angeles

Like many CEOs, Ray Titus got a reality check when the U.S. economy tanked in 2008. With his franchise development services company coming off 20 straight years of year-over-year growth, the idea of not growing was at the very least a foreign concept.

“It was all great and roses and now the last couple of years have been really trying and challenging,” says Titus, CEO of United Franchise Group, which owns and manages approximately 1,400 franchise locations in 50 countries, including well-known brands such as SIGNARAMA, EmbroidMe and Billboard Connection. “We were in a position to grow again as usual, and unfortunately the franchisees got hit, the economy, everything that was going on.”

The company’s customers and employees lacked direction, unsure of how to deal with the financial uncertainty of what would become a global economic recession. As fear of the unknown threatened to paralyze the company, Titus realized that changes were needed to adapt for survival in the new business environment.

“You had a real freezing of decision-making that was being done,” Titus says. “Nobody knew what was going to happen next, so nobody wanted to make a decision.

“We live in a business world today that is changing on a daily basis, a weekly basis, so anybody that is stuck in their ways — it’s my way or the highway.”

Because UFG had focused on growth for two decades, Titus knew that the first step forward would be taking a step back.

Rethink profitability

After reading a book called “Islands of Profit in a Sea of Red Ink,” Titus discovered an important takeaway about operating as a successful brand and revenue-generating business.

“That book really hit it right between the eyes, because it talked about that there was as much as 40 percent of your business that was not profitable,” Titus says. “You just did this work because you always did it.”

To create a stronger business moving forward, Titus realized that the company needed to start thinking more about profitability when making investment decisions.

“We were really focused more on growth than we were even on profit,” Titus says. “As an organization, when you take a step back, you realize, ‘Wait a second, there are certain things in this organization that we are more profitable on than others.’”

The first change that Titus made was to put a stop to the expansion mode that the company had been in for years. That meant selling fewer new stores and franchises and refocusing on strengthening the brand.

“We had to change the way that we were doing business,” he says. “We had to look at things a little differently, make cuts, look at expenses differently and change the thought process.”

Part of that was revising the company’s strategic planning process to having only one- and three-year strategic plans.

“We always looked at five years and even 10 years as a company,” Titus says. “You’re obsolete in your planning and your strategic plan if you are going beyond three years.”

Titus also now spends much more time doing due diligence to evaluate investments, assessing factors such as profitability and vetting out those that aren’t a good fit with the company’s philosophy and goals.

“We’ve created some really smart steps for us to go forward with,” he says.

“Based on that, it’s meeting the criteria, the budget, looking at everything and does it get us to where we want to go in our one-year and three-year strategic plan.”

Improving profitability short term was a matter of identifying and eliminating expenses that had minimal return for the company. Titus knew that several of the countries the company was running as a direct organization, including a new store in Switzerland, had become money drains but were still mounting in costs.

“What started out as a small investment all of a sudden became a rather large investment into it and we weren’t getting any return on it,” Titus says.

But by selling master licenses in less profitable countries such as Switzerland and Canada, Titus handed over the expense and ownership sides of the businesses so the company could scale back to a support role.

“So we went from something that was costing us a lot of money to something that costs us nothing, and we’ll probably end up in a better spot when it is all said and done,” he says.

At the same time, Titus knows that some investments pay off in ways that aren’t as apparent on a budget line, such as in learning opportunities.

“It’s easy to cut people from going to trade shows or seminars, but looking back on it, each time that we’ve ever done that it’s a mistake,” he says.

Instead, invest smarter. Rather than having four or five employees traveling to a trade show, have one or two people attend and then relay the information to the rest of the company.

Evaluate your talent

Ultimately, restructuring the business to withstand the recession also called for some initial job cuts. While it wasn’t an easy time, making these cuts was necessary to strengthen the company from the inside out.

“There has been a change in mentality that was needed, but it still doesn’t mean it isn’t painful,” he says.

In times of financial uncertainty, it’s important to fully understand how each employee fits into your company’s vision so you can hold your organization accountable for progress and goals.

“I think it’s kind of bizarre that now we go year after year, month after month and everybody thinks they are an A,” he says. “Everybody thinks that they are 15 percent underpaid.”

If you want your people to be the best they can be and add the most value they can to your company, you have to set clear expectations and a high bar.

“Every great teacher and every great coach that I ever had got more out of me than I even thought that I could,” Titus says. “If you do that with your people, they’ll eventually really appreciate that management style — tough love but love.”

Titus evaluates his people through an annual review process that assigns employees with an A, B or C letter grade based on 12 criteria — an idea he got from Jack Welch’s management book. A’s usually get bonuses, raises and more money. B’s are valued employees that do a great job with the company, and C’s get a warning — 30 or 60 days to show improvement. Just like in school, C is the passing grade.

“We don’t hire D’s and F’s, and we don’t keep D’s and F’s,” Titus says.

The evaluation process frequently reveals strengths or weaknesses of a person that weren’t obvious to their boss or co-workers.

“The first year that we did it years ago, we went around the table and the manager was saying that this person is B, but by the time we got around the table it was very clear that that person was a C, or an A,” he says.

Knowing people’s strengths can also tell you how they can be utilized more effectively for the success of the company. During the recession, Titus realized some of his managers were actually more valuable reverting to the sales or customer service roles where they started out and really excelled.

“Certain people took roles that they did for ten years, eight years prior and went back to doing what they really, really did well,” Titus says.

Titus even removed himself as brand leader for each of the individual brands and put a separate president in charge of each brand, which freed him up to take the role as director of franchise sales and get more involved in big picture strategic planning.

“It’s focusing your people and yourself on taking a step back, and getting away from the titles and all the other things out there to really go back to what made you successful in the first place,” Titus says.

“We’ve got to sit down with our people and we’ve got to say what we like, what they are supposed to be doing, what they are not doing and correct it, but then we’ve also got to be able to say ‘This is how I’m rating you.’”

Lead a new mindset

Titus knew that the lessons learned from the down economy — getting more pricing for products, being more efficient with resources and so on — were things the company needed to keep doing moving forward.

“All of us have had to evolve a little bit more and be more conscious of how we spend our money, what we are investing in, and even the projects that we bring on. It’s not throwing bodies at problems,” he says. “It’s throwing solutions at problems.”

The challenge was explaining to employees and franchisees that there would be no getting back to normal.

“I have ten direct reports and they average 20 years with the company,” Titus says. “So they go back so far that they’re used to different mentalities in business.

“As we’ve turned and been in a really good spot now for about nine or ten months as an organization, we’ve learned that we can’t go back out and say everything is fine and now it’s back to the way that it was. We don’t want people doing what they did before.”

When you’re asking people to accept a new way of doing things, it’s critical to manage expectations by clearly communicating what that vision involves, especially for long-term employees who may be eager to revert to old ways. Clear communication from the top down is the key to making sure people understand what is expected of them as well as keeping morale high moving forward.

“Any time you do cuts of any kind it is painful and it’s hard to keep morale in a good spot and keep things positive, especially when people all around are getting budgets cut or somebody is getting laid off,” Titus says.

“The challenge there is to keep a good positive attitude and convey that we are doing well, but in the same breath, we still have to be careful. We have to watch what we are doing and keep moving forward as an organization to improve how we do business.”

To make sure the message doesn’t get skewed, Titus prefers to deliver it person, whether it’s participating in superregional meetings, traveling nationally to different offices for Q&A’s or spending time with franchisees locally. There is nothing like face-to-face communication to really get to know people and make sure that you are all on the same page.

“You don’t run a business from a desk,” Titus says. “You run a business with people, so you’ve got to get out from behind your desk and get face to face with customers and prospects.

“Some of those meetings are tough meetings. Some of them will appreciate it and some of them don’t, and it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is we’ve got to be involved in the different aspects of our business that we can make a difference in.”

The company’s ability to execute these changes has made all the difference. By late 2010, UFG was seeing dramatic improvement from the start of the recession, and just one year later, annual revenue had grown from approximately $450 million to $500 million.

“We have consistently moved forward as an organization,” Titus says. “I don’t want to say that it is back to normal because what is normal? We’re in a new normal. So things are improving. Store volumes are up. Franchise sales are up. We’re in good place now.”

How to reach: United Franchise Group, www.unitedfranchisegroup.com or (561) 640-5570

The Titus File

Ray Titus


United Franchise Group

Who are your business mentors?

My first mentor was my dad. My eighth-grade school paper was how to start a franchise company. I would not be anywhere near where I am today if it hadn’t been for him. So he was the first one, and he introduced me to my second one, which was Gary Rockwell, who worked for my dad for 40 years. From my standpoint, the next one would be J.J. Prendamano. He is my father-in-law who has worked for me for 20 years. For me to have him as a mentor, as a helper and employee has just been incredible.

What is the greatest piece of business advice that you’ve ever received?

My dad telling me that there are always two sides to every story. There are always two sides. Sometimes you can really get emotional or caught up when you hear one thing, but there is a really good reason. There are always two sides and the truth is usually somewhere in the middle, a little bit of one and a little bit of another.

About JJ’s Entrepreneurs mentoring program:

Founded in 2011, J.J.’s Entrepreneur was developed by UFG to encourage and teach students about the benefits of entrepreneurship and owning their own business. The program was also created to honor J.J. Prendamano, a long-term employee who was diagnosed with brain cancer, by recognizing his commitment to mentoring and helping new business owners become successful. Through a five-year minimum $75,000 commitment by UFG, students participating in the competition are mentored by Titus and Prendamano as they create their own innovative business plans. Two winning students are selected to launch their business concepts, with one student awarded $10,000 and one receiving $5,000.

Published in Florida

For Doug Bergeron, slowing down has never been part of the plan. He didn’t slow down after leading the buyout of VeriFone Systems Inc. from Hewlett Packard back in 2001. In fact, he spearheaded the turnaround of the struggling San Jose, Calif.-based company to return it to profitability. A decade later, VeriFone’s U.S. business has more than doubled to $500 million in revenue today, an accomplishment that somehow pales in comparison to the company’s global expansion.

“That’s pretty impressive, but what’s more impressive is that we grew our $100 million international business to $1.2 billion, 12 times the size of what it was when we purchased it,” says Bergeron, CEO of the company, which provides electronic payment systems and solutions such as credit card terminals.

Now that VeriFone has run out of time zones for expansion, Bergeron says his next challenge is mapping the road for the company to grow to $3 billion in revenue.

Partner up

To set the strategy for the company, much of Bergeron’s time goes to finding ways to merge and partner with companies that can further its vision for point-of-sale payment solutions. Last August, he announced that the company may spend up to $1 billion annually on acquisitions in emerging markets and data services. Around the same time, it acquired the electronic payments company Hypercom Corp. for approximately $485 million.

“We’ve realized that we’re an integral part of the payment system but we need partners,” Bergeron says. “We’re not going to do this on our own.”

Bergeron seeks out partnership opportunities that can be meaningfully large in furthering the company’s major goals.

For example, in 2011VeriFone partnered with Google to incorporate Near Field Communication technology into the company’s payment systems and introduce Google Wallet, an Android application that allows consumers to make payments with their phone using virtual versions of their credit cards.

“It’s hard to participate with 25 small companies,” Bergeron says. “It’s better to pick ISIS, which is AT&T and Google, Groupon, partnerships with companies like that, that have staying power and a lot of financial resources. We know that we have confidence that we can get shoulder to shoulder with them and move a market.”

In addition to seeking partners with big shoulders, Bergeron isn’t ashamed to say he always looks for a good deal.

“We will never overpay for anything,” he says. “Remember we paid $50 million for VeriFone in a market that is $4.2 billion today.”

You also want to partner with businesses that complement things that your company is already doing.

“I look for businesses where part of the problem gets fixed by being inside VeriFone,” Bergeron says. “Maybe they lack international distribution. Maybe they lack an R&D capability that we have internally. Maybe they have great products but a lousy sales force. We have a great sales force. So I look for something that not only is a good value, but once we put it inside and take some time tuning it up, that the outcome will be a much better outcome than it would have been before.”

Lastly, try to acquire companies where you could take some of the managers and make them great managers within your business. Bergeron has brought on a number of VeriFone managers, presidents and executive vice presidents through acquisitions.

He makes it clear that once people join VeriFone, there is no combining cultures.

“I’ve seen companies go broke trying to bend over backward trying to merge their culture with your culture,” Bergeron says. “We’re a very successful company. It’s a great culture. It’s fun. It’s fast. It’s feverish. But we’re not going to compromise our culture for a company that we bought.”

To protect your culture, it’s important to treat people as common citizens of the company from day one so they don’t feel like outsiders.

“They are not from the other guys,” Bergeron says. “They are not from the competition. They are VeriFone. We’re a better company for that as a result of it.”

Make strategic investments

To double the size of a billion-dollar business, it’s no longer about deciding which markets to enter. It is about building out existing businesses and services. That begins with casting a wide net to find new and profitable business opportunities.

“We’ve taken the philosophy that we have to invest prudently and not wildly, but we have to have our nose in almost everything,” Bergeron says.

One of the newer markets Bergeron is excited about is taxicabs. While you couldn’t use a credit card in a taxi three years ago, today the company’s electronic payment technologies are universal in taxis throughout New York, Boston and Philadelphia. The key is to look for broad market opportunities, he says. Pick markets with lots of upside, and don’t pick too narrowly.

“A lot of stuff we have our nose in will never ever pay off for us, but that is the price of admission to having the certainty that all of the stuff that does move on from trial to mainstream, VeriFone will be a part of,” Bergeron says.

As a leader, you can’t be overconfident and think you know how to pick all of the winners from all of the losers. You innovate successfully by staying actively involved in many different projects and experiments.

“If you try to be too cute and say I’m going to work on this project, not this one, this one, not this one because I want to optimize my spend … inevitably you probably won’t overspend,” Bergeron says. “That’s for sure. But you are going to miss some of the winners.”

Once you’ve found what seems to be a profitable market, you’ve got to get completely committed.

“Don’t just allocate a little bit,” Bergeron says. “If you are going to pick some projects, get committed and put some wood behind your efforts.”

That may mean taking an initial hit to surface an idea with customers, whether it’s offering the product or service for free initially or on a trial basis. To get retailers get on board with Google Wallet, for example, Google has provided large subsidies for many retailers to be able to upgrade the VeriFone systems with the technology.

“Often in the beginning of new innovations, you have to make it free just to offset the chaos that you’re asking a customer to go through,” Bergeron says.

“We are counting on retailers coast to coast to post these pilots saying, ‘I want to be part of that. I see a lot of consumers wanting to use their phones as a method to pay. I want to get a piece of that.’”

In other cases, such as with putting credit card capabilities in taxis, it may just take some evangelizing until people begin to see the benefit.

“With usage, people find that people spend more on plastic,” Bergeron says. “Governments collect more sales tax. Everybody wins with the electronification of payments. Typically the resistance is fairly short-lived.”

Either way, the goal with any investment of time and resources should be stimulating business.

“Ultimately, beyond the chaos, if customers aren’t willing to pay for something then it’s likely that no incremental value is being delivered,” Bergeron says.

While it takes some patience to evaluate an investment, a CEO needs to have the operating discipline to be able to call a dog a dog. If an investment isn’t profitable, move on and spend your time, money and R&D expenses elsewhere.

“Things do sometimes take longer to progress than one would like, but there comes a day in the evolution of any project where milestones aren’t being met,” Bergeron says. “Customers aren’t adopting. Customers aren’t paying. I think economics can be a great determiner.”

Cast the roles

Bergeron says to scale properly, make sure the right people are in the right positions over time. One of the main ways companies don’t scale properly is by not making sure the right people are the right positions over time.

“They think that it’s the same job, the same skill set,” he says. “It’s not.”

Bergeron gives the example of Asia, which used to be a $50 million division for the company. “When Asia is $250 million, like it is going to be next year, that’s a whole different set of skills,” he says.

“The guy running Latin America is running the company, in a sense, bigger than VeriFone was ten years ago.”

Bergeron says it is his responsibility to ensure all employees in the first two levels of top management are the right people for their jobs every year. In a company that was approximately 30 percent larger in 2011 than it was the previous year, one year can make the difference in someone outgrowing his or her job.

“It might be that there is some terrific employee somewhere in this organization whose skills and whose drive and whose capabilities have tripled in the last 10 years,” Bergeron says. “But guess what? We are six times larger, and that person has fallen behind.”

Today, the company has 700 U.S. and 2,800 international employees. When you’ve reached a certain size, developing the next generation of leaders is no longer a matter or training.

“At a certain level of executive management, there really is no training,” Bergeron says. “We’re not IBM. We’re not going to be sending people to Harvard for a summer workshop.”

Instead, you need to work with people to improve their skill sets in areas that can prepare them for the jobs they will be filling, for instance, by exposing them to different experiences.

“Part of the human development business is identifying areas of growth, and not just saying here is where you need to grow and walk away, but giving them a chance to work on those areas and providing the necessary additional experience,” Bergeron says.

“If there is a guy that I think is going to be running a continent one day, not just a country, and my concern is he doesn’t have multicultural experience, then I make sure that I take him out of his comfort zone and I give him a couple of countries where they don’t speak English. He has to travel there and learn how business is done another way.”

Bergeron believes that the company’s commitment to promotion from within is a cultural strength. It motivates people that if they work hard they can scale with the business.

“I want to give people at least the more-likely-than-not chance that if they continue to improve, there is going to be another bigger job for them if they want it,” Bergeron says.

With rare exceptions, very few of the company’s current executives and managers were outside recruits.

“For the most part, people who are running large countries, large continents today, were sales people that became product managers, that became country managers and just continued to overperform at every level,” Bergeron says.

As for Bergeron, his board is still giving him the thumbs up as the right CEO for the job. With the company six times the size it was when he took the job, it seems like a pattern that won’t break soon.

“I guess I scaled pretty well because the board has kept me,” Bergeron says.

“Time will tell, but it sounds like it’s going to be a very exciting next three or four years here.”

How to reach: VeriFone Systems Inc., www.verifone.com

The Bergeron File

Douglas Bergeron

Chairman and CEO

VeriFone Systems Inc.

Born: Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Education: York University in Toronto, Canada — B.A. with honors in computer science; University of Southern California — M.S.

What was your first job?

I had a paper route from age 10 to 16, gave accordion lessons from 16 to 20, and played accordion on Friday and Saturday nights in a wedding band.

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?

I love reading to my kids before bedtime when I'm not out of town.

Who are your heroes in the business world and why?

I admire Larry Ellison for his tenacity and unwillingness to accept no for an answer.  I try to live by that motto myself.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love communicating to employees, customers, and investors. I love taking complex concepts and boiling them down to memorable and relevant simple themes.

Bergeron on the benefits of mobile payment technologies: The early word is that consumers are very anxious to replace a fairly simplistic experience that is the use of a credit card with a more robust experience that the retailer may know more about you based on the fact that your phone is a rich source of data for you. And as long as you permit it, the retailer may like to know who is there, why you are there, where you were before, what you are buying, (offering) some of the benefits that come from online purchasing, (such as) the one-click Amazon experience where they are suggesting other things to buy and knowing where to ship things automatically. There is an opportunity to create a richer customer-to-retailer experience once we start replacing cards with phones.

Published in Northern California

Growth mode. A lot of business heads want to be there. David Segura practically lives there.

Segura founded VisionIT in 1997, growing the IT solutions firm to more than 900 employees and $230 million in revenue by 2010, expanding the firm’s reach to an international stage, with offices in Mexico, Puerto Rico and India. For Segura, who oversees VisionIT as CEO, growth has been less of a phase and more of a state of being.

“The biggest initial challenge was starting a business from scratch,” Segura says. “It took many years for us to build a strong brand, name recognition in the market, and take it from that stage to national, and then to global. Today our challenges are managing the growth and expansion of VisionIT.”

Growth has required Segura to manage VisionIT — the brand name of Vision Information Technologies Inc. — by developing a strategy for the future and rallying hundreds of employees around that strategy, and continually finding new talent that can help VisionIT remain an influential player in in the IT space. Segura has needed to maintain a strong focus on the long-range goals that he and his leadership team have put in place for the company, while still maintaining a degree of flexibility to adapt to market changes and unforeseen opportunities.

“What is exciting is seeing not only the top-line growth and seeing how much we’ve grown as an organization over the years, but for me it’s more so seeing our solutions become world class, leading the industry and being a key partner to many of our Fortune 500 customers, and our state and local customers,” Segura says. “That was ultimately the vision I saw for VisionIT, having a global impact and influence in the IT sector.”

Gather your people

The strategy and areas of focus in any growing organization need to be defined at the top level, with you and your management team. Segura recognized that fact early in his tenure at VisionIT and has strived to build and maintain a talented leadership team that is cohesive, yet not afraid to express diverse viewpoints.

To aid in building that type of team, Segura sought outside help, bringing in a former executive from Johnson & Johnson to serve as a consultant.

“I loved the group we built in the internal organization, but thought it would be great to have an external executive who has already gone through and managed a global operation, getting his insight on overcoming similar challenges that he faced regarding growth and expansion,” Segura says. “That is one definite recommendation I have: leverage all the assets in your organization. In our case, in building a strategy, we needed to leverage our top executives in the company as well as bringing in the right outside advisers.”

Segura also took steps to augment his internal team with additional direct hires, including the addition of a chief information officer to deal expressly with internal matters.

“A lot of times, companies in our industry hire a CIO in that role more for customer-facing matters,” he says. “But in our case, based on the size of global operations, we reached a point where it became very critical to have a senior leader focused on internal operations, investing in technology that would enable us to better deliver our services across our global footprint.”

As the leader, you have to walk a tightrope between team unity and independent thinking. You want decision-makers who are in agreement about what your company is and where it needs to go. But you also want leaders who can get everything on the table in your planning meetings — points of contention, disagreements, differing philosophies on how to get from point A to point B — so those issues can be resolved in a constructive manner.

At VisionIT, Segura says a major key has been to simplify the focus. The main areas of focus for your business are the foundational building blocks. Their importance can’t be overstated. However, you need to keep the language short and basic. If you can’t sum the goal up in a few words or at most a sentence or two, you’re probably not zeroing in enough on a defined set of goals.

“That’s what I have learned, to keep things as simple as possible,” Segura says. “You want it to be easily understood by everyone in the organization. So that means coming up with something that is easily conveyed, so that people throughout the company can understand the strategy. With your overall strategic plan, it starts with the vision and mission of the company. That is something that doesn’t change. The ongoing future of the company is something that is best left static. The next level down is really the three to four major focused priorities for the overall business.”

Those areas can be broadly stated priorities, such as a focus on people, organizational excellence, financial excellence, or sales and market growth. The areas of priority should be phrased in a way that it conveys clearly what is important to the business.

“Based on the business model, if it’s an organization that creates products for the market, research and development may be one of the core, focused areas of priority,” Segura says. “For our organization, as an example, people and organizational excellence is one of those focused priorities. It’s an area in our business, providing services, that becomes very key for us that we have the right people in the right positions in the organization and are giving them the tools and resources to fulfill their daily objectives.”

Beneath the core areas are objectives housed within each core area. Those objectives can be more flexible and adaptable to changing market conditions, as opposed to the objectives higher up the ladder, which are foundational in nature.

“Those are the areas that, as you are evolving, some get completed in a short time frame,” Segura says. “Others take time to reach. In our plan, we’re typically looking one year and three years out. Then constantly, on a monthly basis, we are reviewing in executive leadership team meetings what will complete the strategic objectives. We’ll ask if there is anything new happening in the market that could impact our strategic plan.”

Go back to the plan

Many executive teams will put a great deal of time and effort into crafting, sanding and polishing an all-encompassing strategic plan aimed at giving the company a well-defined sense of direction for the coming years – and then file it away on a shelf or a hard drive and seldom look at it again.

Segura says that is a recipe for slow erosion of your company’s focus on the vision and goals you originally set in place. In short, putting your strategic plan aside, whether a conscious action or not, will cause alignment to suffer throughout your organization.

“Sometimes people just put a plan on paper, then go and never look at it again,” Segura says. “They never ask if the plan is still really representative of who we are as a company and where we are going. In our case, we tried to avoid that by pulling together in our process a couple of years ago. We went back and looked at our vision and mission, and asked if that would best represent our company. We had participants at all levels in the business help form an initial framework, finalize it and roll it out. Then, at the next level, as I shared it, I was setting the three or four or five top focused priorities in the business.”

You might not change your foundational vision for the company, but the way you reach that vision by serving your customers might evolve over time.

Segura uses the example of employing social media as a means of finding job candidates. The tools you use today, such as LinkedIn, might change.

“Say we’re going to leverage more LinkedIn to do that,” Segura says. “We would have someone do some discovery, make a plan, come back and say this is our strategic objective around social media. We’re going to make a certain level of investment in LinkedIn, we are going to run a pilot to attract this type of talent to our organization, we are going to gauge it, give it a time frame, and gather feedback and numbers.

“But let’s say a new tool comes out in the market. I’ll share in our strategic framework that a new tool might be out, there might be a better tool than LinkedIn, and is getting a lot more passive candidates. That is where you’re going to need some flexibility to say, ‘OK, we have already gone down the path, we’re making this investment, but we need to take a look at another tool in the market. That is why you need constant monitoring, review and discussion to make sure you are on top of what is happening in the industry.”

Leverage your talent

Whether you rely heavily on social media as a recruiting tool or have found success with more traditional methods, if you are growing, you need an effective process by which to add new talent to your team — and a means of making sure you’re getting the most out of that talent once it’s in the door.

At VisionIT, measuring employee performance is a key to the strategic planning process. Segura and his staff want to ensure that management is aware of the skill sets within the organization and how each employee is being utilized.

“We review all the organizational charts, understanding who reports to which manager, how the model is working, how are people performing and whether they’re hitting their key metrics,” Segura says. “Without those types of things, people may say they feel great about their job and where the organization is headed, but the bottom line is the performance. If you’re in a sales role, you might say that you’re getting all these great meetings with potential customers, but how much revenue is being generated? So that becomes very important, the recognition of the metrics of the organization by a specific person, and as you are evolving and growing, you’re seeing certain thing, certain trends happening in the business, as you are evaluating the workload for team members.”

Evaluating the workload of your team members is another check and balance against inefficiency. As you grow the business, you will often see the strengths of your team members in action, which will help you best leverage their skills, reduce inefficiency and create a scalable system of delegation that will offer extra capacity as the size of your business increases.

“I ask my senior team members to often look at what they’re working on and whether it is a good utilization of their time,” Segura says. “And I ask them to continue to evaluate themselves and their teams as we work on more projects and engagements, winning new customers. As you do that, you begin to see the strengths of your team members. You see what they love to do, what they’re really enthused about taking on. That further helps you to evaluate as you grow. Because as you grow, it will become apparent that there are certain areas that need focus and complete dedication. That’s definitely happened here, where we now have senior leaders dedicated to finance and the sales side.

“You see the value over time. When everyone is focused, they can work to achieve great results.”

How to reach: VisionIT, (313) 420-2000 or www.visionit.com

The Segura file

Name: David Segura

Title: Founder and CEO

Company: VisionIT

Born: Detroit

Education: Computer science degree from the University of Michigan-Dearborn

First job: One thing for me was that I was always very entrepreneurial. I started a side tutoring business in college, tutoring kids in technology. They didn’t like technology and I loved it, so I developed a niche tutoring to help them get an A in IT class. That’s one example of many entrepreneurial ventures when I was young.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

One of my favorite lessons is about enjoying the journey. We’re often running so much and focused on our objectives, we need to truly appreciate the time we are in and the opportunities that are before us. I remind my team about enjoying every moment. When we were launching our Mexico operations, I reminded them that this is the one time we’ll do it. You can go through changes, it can be stressful, but enjoy the moment.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

There are three major traits: be a very good listener, understand the dynamics of each business you are in, and communicate back with your team on your direction. And making sure people are having some fun along the way.

What is your definition of success?

Success is a journey, so I go back to enjoying the process if you’re doing something that has a purpose and an impact. Ultimately, great service is rewarded with more opportunity.

Published in Detroit