How do you spell relief?

The short answer is: C-U-S-T-O-M-E-R L-O-Y-A-L-T-Y and E-M-P-L-O-Y-E-E  P-E-R-F-O-R-M-A-N-C-E.

As leaders in business, we all struggle with how to find solutions to reduce the pain within our own competitive working environment. Building off of personal experiences, I have found that success comes from embracing a formula of unparalleled customer loyalty and exceptional employee performance.

The key to gaining customer loyalty and employee performance is to earn it. Talk is cheap. It is then up to us create a blueprint to excel in these critical areas. Ask your customers and yourself these 10 probing questions. If you then execute on them, you will be well on your way to success. Do it, and, yes, business will follow.

Know thy customer

Consider going out on a limb, sitting down with your customers and asking them these five questions (I refer to it as my annual “in-touch” initiative):

1. What is the most important thing you value of us as your professional service provider?

2. We pride ourselves on our extraordinary service. What’s the most extraordinary thing we have done for you over the past 12 months? Why did this impress you?

3. If we could improve just one thing to make our partnership even stronger and more meaningful over the past year, what would it be?

4. What is one thing we should stop doing and reallocate those resources to other areas?

5. We’re committed to creating a professional, yet family-like environment here. What would make you feel more part of our family?

The best time to ask customers questions of this nature is in a relaxed environment (e.g., not at a meeting or convention). Let the customer know in advance the purpose of your questions and how they will be used. Remember to thank them for their input. By reaching out to your customer and sharing the collective responses back to them, strong customer loyalty will follow.

Trust thy employees

Your employees/associates are the key to delivering extraordinary service, and those who are good at what they do, and love doing it, tend to drive customer loyalty. A successful customer-focused organization is one that is, first and foremost, client-centric. Here are five questions you might ask your employees/associates to get a sense of what might make them more satisfied, productive and enabled: 

1. What do you love about your job?

2. What two things do you need in the workplace that will enable you to perform your job better?

3. What two obstacles can we remove to allow you to perform at a higher level, thus making your job more rewarding to you?

4. What makes you feel valued and a part of our workplace family?

5. What other responsibilities or jobs in the organization would you like to be involved in?

The answers to these questions will serve as a barometer of workplace effort, attitude and engagement. The CEO should openly share this feedback with all associates, comment on how it impacts business and what, if any, changes might be in the works based on the responses. While not all responses demand changes, all comments should be heard, recognized and considered.

Your employees are your eyes, ears and voice to the customer world. They are your idea generators, your efficiency experts and your image makers. Connect to them, know them and respond to them. An employee who feels listened to, supported and personally cared for will provide the same responses for the customer.

Relief from the challenges we all face daily will come in many ways. Consider these 10 questions on customer loyalty and employee performance, execute on them, and you will find that you are well on your way to an even healthier environment geared towards continued success.

G.A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company founded in 1886. Reach him at tfernley(at)fernley.com, or for more information, visit www.fernley.com.

Published in Philadelphia

You could say that Tim Westergren is a bit of an expert when it comes to managing feedback. As founder and chief strategy officer of Pandora Media Inc., which runs the streaming music web site Pandora.com, he’s elevated the business philosophy of “listen to your customers” to another level.

“Consumer feedback is a huge influencer on Pandora,” says Westergren, who helped develop the Music Genome Project technology that allows the site’s users to craft their own music radio stations using thumbs up or thumbs down feedback on suggested songs.

Considering that Pandora has never advertised itself any more than a bit of search engine marketing, the value of this influence couldn’t be more apparent. For all intensive purposes, the company has expanded almost entirely through word of mouth to 100 million registered users. Since it made its IPO offering in June, the company has also experienced at least triple-digit growth every quarter since.

“We have a saying at Pandora: ‘It’s the playlist stupid,’” Westergren says. “It’s as simple as that — making it a super easy, intuitive experience and nailing the music choices. That’s really the basis for Pandora’s success so far.”

By staying attuned to the needs and interests of consumers and employees, Westergren has helped scale the business from start-up into a major public company with $138 million in revenue last year. Here’s how.

Know your audience

Pandora’s users have substantially shaped its evolution since the beginning. Perhaps the most obvious example is that fact that the web site was originally launched as a subscription only service.

“Not many people do know that because listeners ensured that it did not last long,” Westergren says. “We pivoted because they said, ‘This ain’t the way.’”

The site went free not long after.

With today’s technology, Westergren says it’s even easier to gain insights about who your customers are and what they want.

“You have a pretty intense feedback loop, which I think is becoming ever more true of all companies right now,” he says. “You have listeners who are much more participatory than they had been in the past.”

The company utilizes a combination of implicit and explicit user feedback to guide its direction. This involves monitoring how people are using the site — which features are gaining popularity and which are waning — as well as looking at feedback in the form of tens of thousands of monthly e-mails from listeners.

“That can influence the small things, little tweaks to the design, and that can affect big things like what large features we might want to add or a new domain we might want to go after,” Westergren says. “So we pay heed.”

An example is the company’s recent web site redesign, which was two years in the making and tested extensively with users before the September release. Some changes included removing the 40-hour listening cap for users, adding new “follow” and “shuffle” options and overhauling the design itself.

“When you do these things you have to get sort of a critical mass of feedback because otherwise you are just guessing at what the right answer is,” Westergren says. “So that’s a prerequisite for any significant change. We had a pretty good notion before this launched how it was going to impact our listening audience.”

If you have a large market opportunity, understanding your customer is even more critical if you want people to choose you over a competitor. Westergren’s strategy for differentiating the company from others with a similar business model — Spotify and Sirius XM Radio to name a few — is fairly simple, and it doesn’t rely on marketing.

It’s really by creating a product that they love,” he says. “Someone finds it, uses it and it solves a problem for them.

“If they love using it, they will be a long-term loyal listener and they will tell other people about it.”

As your customer base expands, resist the urge to be satisfied with past or current success.

“There’d be ways for us to kind of contract, and be more conservative and focus a lot more on near-term results, but we believe that the opportunity is big enough that it warrants a certain audacity,” Westergren says.

Maintaining consumer loyalty over time requires you to keep finding ways to serve your audience as their needs evolve.

“You need to really actively innovate, actively challenge yourself to maintain the pace and the velocity of innovation and effort that you have had in the previous years,” Westergren says.

That’s why the company’s innovations are driven by both customer feedback as well as the intuition of its leadership.

“It’s kind of a natural life cycle,” he says. “You feel it. You feel it in terms of your own disposition toward your product and you feel it from consumers.”

By investing heavily in its foundation via technology, talent and strategic business investments, the company is working to take advantage of the largest possible opportunity.

For example, several years ago the company’s growth accelerated sharply when it introduced its mobile application for smart phones and seized on consumer demand for mobile listening capabilities. Mobile now accounts for 70 percent of the company’s listening audience.

“I don’t think about the future in terms of obstacles anymore,” Westergren says. “I think it’s more about how do you prioritize the opportunities? That’s our challenge more than anything.”

Solidify your values

While there’s an immense amount of development that’s gone into getting the company to where it is now, Westergren says that all growth initiatives still fall under one primary area of focus: personalization.

Everything from redesigning the web platform to a higher performance HTML5 site to growing mobile offerings to expanding artist selections has worked in harmony with the goal of increasing the level of personalization for users. Westergren says that this is an area that the company has been singularly focused on for more than a decade.

“We’ve essentially been on this path for a long, long time,” he says. “That’s not only about the Music Genome Project and playlist station personalization capabilities. It’s also about streaming and structure. It’s about all of these deployments to multiple platforms on multiple operating systems in multiple environments.

“We’re the first company that’s really doing that at scale, and to me that is the promise of the web.”

As the company continues to hone the concept of personalization in new and exciting ways, Westergren also knows that amid all the change, he needs to make sure the company doesn’t stray from the core values that have helped it grow.

Staying close to your core doesn’t mean that your company’s not changing. Instead, having strong core values acts as a taproot for your business that helps the next generation of leaders and employees to be successful.

“There are lots of things that have to happen when you go from the early stage into a more mature stage,” Westergren says.

“You go through a period where you really need to clarify and codify the core of your company, who you are, why you are doing what you’re doing, your vision and so on – really cement that in such a way that as the company gets big and has more moving parts that you still have a nice, clear anchor vision for everybody to rally around.”

Westergren defines the company’s set of core capabilities as the areas where the company needs to be No. 1, and stay No. 1.

“So the challenge that we give ourselves constantly is ‘Are we meeting that?’” he says. “Are we really the best in the world at that? And if we’re not it’s sort of an all-hands-on deck response.”

This also goes for cultural values. A set of cultural guidelines called ‘Pandora Principles’ govern some of these fundamental areas for employees, ensuring that the company’s culture stays integral as more people come on board.

“It’s kind of like a manifesto,” he says.

“There are things like how do you want to treat each other as employees and what kinds of people do you want to work at your company and how do you want to communicate with each other. Each one of those areas benefits from having core values and principles.”

Develop future leaders

As the company has grown larger, Westergren’s ability to control its direction, even with the help of his management team, continues to get harder. So it has become even more essential to attract and to cultivate a new generation of leaders who can be empowered as new ambassadors of the culture, mission and vision. Doing that requires a successful mission and culture.

“There are two things that people look for in business: a mission that they can really get behind and get excited about, and a place that really values them, treats them well,” Westergren says.

The company’s mission, “enabling people to enjoy music they know and discover music they love,” is one that employees and consumers have naturally embraced.

“This is a product that listeners are deeply passionate about and that trickles down to everyone in the company,” Westergren says. “You know when you say, ‘I work at Pandora,’ somebody goes ‘I love Pandora’ or they are excited to hear that your work there because they love the product.”

However, while driving a unique mission is exciting for employees, that alone isn’t enough to keep people motivated to do more.

“I read somewhere recently that the best employee perk is giving people a place that they love to work,” Westergren says. “That’s kind of it right there.”

As a leader, facilitating a culture that encourages collaboration and avoids hierarchies gives people the freedom to contribute their ideas and run with them.

“So your role as a leader once you have them in the company is to help them do what they do,” Westergren says. “It’s not to control them. It’s not to micromanage them. It really starts with a place of trust.”

Trust covers everything from what level of supervision you give your people to what level of access to information that they have, which at Pandora is very transparent. It also means having faith that the talented people that you hire are going to do a good job. When you build a culture of trust, employees feel like they are part of the solution and want to step into more active roles.

“It’s not, ‘Oh, you solve this. I’m the employee and I’m looking to you to solve this problem,’” Westergren says. “They feel much more sense of ownership, where they want to know how they can help. They understand that things change, and they trust the same way that you trust them that you are doing the best job that you can.”

The team at Pandora has grown to 295 employees since 2005, and the company continues to build its bench of talent. Because people enjoy working there, they also tend to stick around, making it easier for the company to develop leaders internally.

“We have a long tenure in our team, and an unusually long tenure I think for a technology company,” Westergren says. “We’ve been able to grow that part of our company really successfully.”

As you develop the next level of leadership, you gain the latitude needed to keep up with constant change and fast growth.

“You need to stay very closely connected to your company,” Westergren says. “Don’t let layers insulate your leadership from what it’s like to be a line-level employee.

“You give people responsibilities. You empower them. You compensate them properly. You give them a nice environment to be in. If you treat them well, they will reciprocate with effort and innovation and all sorts of contributions.”

How to reach: Pandora Media Inc., www.pandora.com or (510) 451-4100

Takeaways

  • Make decisions with a good understanding of your customer
  • Solidify your core mission and values
  • Develop the next generation of leadership

The Westergren File

Tim Westergren

Founder and CSO

Pandora Media Inc.

Born: Minneapolis, Minn.

Education: B.A. from Stanford University

Westergren on his management style: There are some unique things I can bring to this as a musician. Managing and operating a band can teach you a lot about how to operate a company believe it or not. So I think there are some really interesting insights that experience brings to this.

Westergren on how Pandora levels the playing field: I think one area that, to me, is particularly exciting is the impact that we are beginning to have on artists. Because of the way we analyze and recommend music, Pandora is a place that is a completely level playing field for musicians. So once your song gets added to the collection, we’re blind to popularity in recommending any given song on a playlist. We have over 900,000 songs in our collection and over 90 percent of those played last month.

What is your favorite station on Pandora?

That’s an unfair question to ask a musician. Actually, I’m pretty scattered in my tastes. I like all sorts for music. I’m a piano player so I’m somewhat partial to piano music, but I also really love a good melody. So I can listen to punk music or classical music or country music if it has a good melody. So I don’t really have a single spot that I sit on very long.

In 2011, Pandora:

  • Hit 100 million register users
  • Was the most downloaded free music application on Apple’s and Google’s app stores
  • Made its stock market debut with a market value of $2.6 billion
  • Reached its 10 billionth thumb rating. The song was a thumbs up for “Ridin’ Solo” by Jason Derulo.

Published in Northern California

Many businesses — especially in this economy — would love to be in the position of Petplan. The pet health insurer has experienced explosive growth over the past few years, climbing to $18.7 million in revenue during 2010 and a debut on the Inc. 500 list (No. 123) in 2011.

But with explosive growth comes daunting challenges, and it has fallen on the husband and wife team of Chris and Natasha Ashton to lead the way. The co-founders and co-CEOs of Petplan — which is the DBA name of Fetch Insurance Services LLC — have needed to chart a course for the blossoming business and ensure that the resources are in place to sustain growth.

“We debuted at No. 123, but getting there sure wasn’t as easy as ABC,” Natasha Ashton says. “Managing that growth has meant taking our hands off the nitty-gritty and delegating. Bringing in the right kind of people to enable us to handle the growth and then accelerate it further is a constant thing. We’ve had to expand our office, pretty much double our head count and make sure the team members weren’t distracted throughout the construction. We also had to make sure the technology wasn’t going to falter and that we were able to maintain the same level of exceptional customer service that we have become known for.”

The Ashtons have been on a constant search for the best possible talent to aid in the company’s growth. But adding intellectual muscle to the work force is only part of the equation. The company’s employees have to be properly managed and motivated.

“We always have very lofty goals and ambitions, but one of the things we are very good at is taking those goals and breaking them down to manageable goals,” Natasha Ashton says. “Our aim is to become the first billion-dollar pet insurer globally. But when your long-range goals are ambitious, you know there are a number of steps you need to take before you can get there. So you break it down into manageable chunks, and delegate those, which ensures that we hit every goal along the way.”

“A lot of how you handle growth comes down to your core values as a company,” Chris Ashton says. “It drives who you decide to partner with as an organization, but it also drives the kind of people you look to recruit. You want people with a great skill set, who have relevant experience, but who also have the right personality. In our case, you want people who can thrive in a fast-growing, high-energy business like this, because it doesn’t suit everyone.”

A great deal of the Ashtons’ jobs revolves around communication. When the landscape is constantly evolving, new ideas are suggested by team members on a daily basis and maneuverability is important, management needs to define the company focus and communicate it consistently, while encouraging dialogue around new ideas.

“Part of it is cultural,” Chris Ashton says. “Do you really encourage people to speak their minds? We strive to reward people for having great ideas by publicly recognizing them. There are also structural things you can have in place. We have built an intranet that includes discussion boards, and we encourage people to contribute to the discussion boards along every aspect of the business. It’s key, because as you get bigger, nobody can be as involved in all areas of the business at once, like you used to. So you keep your finger on the pulse of what is going on, what the customers are saying, and continue to encourage the good ideas that are coming from our customers and our employees.”

How to reach: Petplan, (610) 595-3353 or www.gopetplan.com

Personality match

Offices with adult-sized playground slides? On-site pet care? Table tennis in the lobby? Call it the Googleization of the American workplace, or whatever you want. Unconventional trends are becoming quite conventional.

It can mean you cultivate a more engaged, upbeat work force. But it can also mean that your HR questions just became a lot more vexing. Not only do you need employees who match the skills required for the position, they also need to be able to thrive in your unique workplace. One employee’s whimsical atmosphere is another’s irritating cacophony of background noise.

At Petplan, co-founders and co-CEOs Chris and Natasha Ashton are on the front lines of trying to answer the question of fitting employees to the workplace. The workplace atmosphere cultivated by the husband and wife team includes bright colors, animal figures positioned throughout the office and frequent visits from family pets.

For the Ashtons, the first question they often need answered from a prospective employee is “Are you an animal lover?” If you think dogs are too noisy or cats are walking lint balls, shedding everywhere, Petplan is probably not the place for you.

“We want people who believe that pets are fun,” Chris Ashton says. “There is a reason people have pets, and we want people who are also going to have that sense of fun about them. We want them to be able to bring that personality to work.”

Published in Philadelphia

Barry Wolfson joined Tervis at a time when the company was expanding nationally, increasing sales and enjoying double-digit revenue growth. From the outside, it was a CEO’s dream. Internally, the company’s 700 employees could barely keep up.

“When your business is growing 60 percent a year, it’s everything you can do to just focus on running the business day to day,” says Wolfson, CEO since 2010.

“I just think that there wasn’t an opportunity for anyone to say ‘Hey, we need to step back for a moment,’ because there really wasn’t time to step back.”

By restructuring the business in a way that allowed it to scale, Wolfson has helped the company — known for its tumblers that “keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold” — manage the demands of fast growth.

Smart Business spoke with Wolfson about the keys to scaling a fast-growth company.

Set your timeline. There were things that we put on the timeline that we said, ‘In 2011, we need to get these things done.’ There are other things that we’ve started to work on during the year and say, ‘OK, now over the next five years, where do we see the company going and what are the capabilities that we have to put in place to get there? So there were short-term things — less than a year — that were very critical for us to do… and then the other is developing this longer-term vision and strategy for the company. Phase one was a little bit of an Extreme Makeover Tervis edition as we just put in place the basic capabilities to support growth. But the phase that I’m in with my senior management now is a little bit longer-term vision in terms of what products and markets do we want to focus on.

Take a forward-thinking approach. This is not something that happens in one day, that you go from ‘This is the right way to do it’ to ‘You can’t do it this way.’ It happens over time.

When you are in senior management, you have to look a little bit further down the road and say [what’s] fine today are the things that we need to do differently. It wasn’t necessarily changing every aspect of the business. Tervis has been a successful company for 65 years and so it’s a matter of saying ‘Hey, what can be preserved the way that we’re doing things and what needs to happen differently to be able to continue to grow profitably, and grow in a way that makes sense for all involved?’

Allocate resources. It was first huddling with my senior management team…then between us prioritizing here are the things that we believe in our experience and at our level that we needed to do and the time frame of doing them. We went through that process, identified a number of things that we needed to get after, and then it was a process of saying, ‘What are the resources involved in doing this — people and investment capital?’ At that point, it’s engaging with the ownership of the company and getting their support in making the investments that we needed to make both in people, systems and plant equipment.

Build a deep bench of talent. You look at how fast we’ve grown — there are many, many people in the organization who have not been here very long. So continuing to develop a culture and the key people in the organization is something that I spend a lot of time on. Generally, besides the culture, it’s continuing to develop intellectual capital that’s required in the business. Develop people from within with additional skill sets and complement that with bringing people in from the outside that can give us different perspectives on the various levels of growth and business that we are trying to achieve.

Think sustainability. Sustainable growth will come from us continuing to reach out to a wider audience of potential customers in various different markets and geographically. Staying very fresh, relevant and innovative in our product offerings is something that again fuels growth.

You have to be very intentional about the growth. We don’t see growth for growth’s sake. We want to be a strong consumer brand out there in the marketplace that is a high value brand. We don’t want to grow just to sell more tumblers. … Resisting that growing for the sake of growing is extremely important in a business that has the opportunity to grow.

How to reach: Tervis, www.tervis.com or (888) 508-8859

Published in Florida

If you frequently watch the Home Shopping Network, then you probably recognize Tony Little. He’s that energetic fitness guy with a ponytail and baseball cap, standing next to some healthy product, talking to you about changing your life and saying, “You can do it!”

Maybe you were convinced, and maybe not. But for Little, “you can do it” is much more than another sales tagline used to sell exercise equipment. It’s a personal philosophy for success.

“I’ve just always felt that whenever you hit that roadblock, there are a zillion other ways around it,” says Little, founder, president and CEO of St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Health International Corp., which sells Tony Little-branded consumer lifestyle and fitness products. “I think that too many people quit too soon.”

Little’s own roadblocks have included everything from a handful of near fatal car accidents, to going completely broke, to last year, having an employee steal more than $600,000 from his company.

“That was probably one of the toughest areas for me, because I still had to carry on business,” he says. “I still had to make up the money that was gone.”

At the time, Little’s newborn twins, born prematurely, had also been hospitalized for medical reasons. With his children in a life-or-death situation and the business he’d built facing catastrophe, Little says he only got through it by believing in himself.

“You’ve got to come out fighting,” he says.

Today, Little’s twins are doing fine with occupational and physical therapy, and he has already made up much of the lost business. In fact, his company generated $100 million in revenue last year.

By overcoming personal and professional challenges time and again, Tony Little has become one of the most successful television sales people of all time, selling more than $3 billion worth of products to date. Here’s how he builds, grows and preserves his successful brand.

Pick the right opportunities

Little’s incredible sales track record stems first from his ability to identify profitable market and product opportunities that grow his brand.

“I have well over 45 million people that have brought Tony Little products, which I never really thought that would happen in my life,” he says. “I’ve been successful in the fact that the percentage of projects that I do have been winners.”

He says the first step in building a brand is clearly articulating your niche and purpose.

“You identify that there’s problem out there,” Little says. “You identify the fact that you know the solution.”

Growing your brand is then a matter of finding ways for that solution to extend to other products under your brand name. By focusing on the lifestyle market, for example, he has been able to expand his company to sell everything from shoes to food to pillows and even a personal care line.

“My brother calls me a living oxymoron,” Little says. “He says, ‘You started in fitness. You exercise people. You get them all jazzed up about fitness. Now you’re feeding them, putting them to sleep and they’re wearing your shoes the next day.’

“If you’ve been successful with the direction you’re going, then you just need to keep complementing that direction with other extensions.”

When you see an opportunity that fits within your brand’s niche, you want to make sure it’s something that you and your company can grasp and understand before you pursue it.

“The most important thing about selling a brand is not being overly technical with something and bringing it home so that everybody understands it,” Little says.

You have to be able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. So do your research and make sure that the opportunity is within your knowledge comfort zone. If it is too complex, you may have trouble communicating it to customers or getting enthusiastic about it yourself. Little finds that the best sales results come from choosing opportunities that you can connect to and inspire your passion.

“Everything in your life is selling,” Little says. “It just comes back to the belief factor that you have in what you’re selling.

“I think I motivate a lot of people to feel better, look better, take charge of their lives and do things because I’m such a strong believer in what I do.”

While having enthusiasm alone doesn’t guarantee that every customer will jump on board, when you are selling something that you truly believe is positive versus negative or middle of the road, it’s infinitely easier to transfer that enthusiasm to customers.

“The more ammunition you go into war with, the better off you are,” Little says.

“I still believe that people love to get excited about something. So I have a large excitability about something if I truly believe in it. And it just translates. And that’s why I always say passion sells. Enthusiasm sells.”

Have a winning mindset

From the time he started in the sales world selling his own vitamin regimen, and later, helping grow a chain of pet food stores, Little has seen the power positivity and perseverance has in selling anything.

“No matter how much money you make, no matter what kind of education you have, no matter who you are in this world, you are always excited about someone who shows up in your office who has enthusiasm, passion and confidence,” Little says. “And so many people lack it.

“I’d never done television. I’d never sold pet supplies. I’d never sold vitamins. I never did infomercials. I just had the attitude.”

Little says that he’s no different than any other CEO when it comes to stressing about bills or an order not coming in on time. Yet he’s found that turning around any tough business situation often just starts with having a winning mindset.

“If you look at our economy now and how tough it is and how people get so beaten up and depressed so quickly, I think that it has to do with your mindset,” Little says.

He says that today’s business environment favors those who are prepared to think proactively and take the initiative to find something, figure out something or do something another way.

“If you’re sitting there waiting for people to bring you something, that’s a mistake,” Little says. “If you have an idea, follow it.

“You hear it every day with different people you work with. You ask them to do something, and they ask, ‘How do you do that?’ You just want them to go, ‘I’ll figure it out. Go ahead, Tony. Go away.’”

A winning mindset starts with eliminating attitudes such as fear and negativity that can inhibit your ability to make decisions and chase opportunities.

“The key to a successful company really is the person who is a decision-maker above anything else, because even if they are wrong with their decisions, their opportunities are at bat that much more,” Little says. “They are bound to get a home run.”

But understanding what good ideas and opportunities are out there isn’t enough if you don’t have the attitude to run with them.

“There are so many people that are going to say no, and it becomes a bit of a numbers game,” Little says. “If you take 99 no’s and you get one yes, the yes could make you a fortune or make your whole life.”

When Little first pitched his idea of selling a low-impact exercise video on HSN, the network had never sold an exercise video in its history. But after much persistence, he was able to track down the company’s owner, Bud Paxson, and convince him to try the idea.

“Bud looks at me and says, ‘So you are the guy that calls my company all the time,’” Little says. “I said ‘Yes sir.’ And he said, ‘Well, videos don’t sell.’ I made a bet that my videos would sell if they were presented a certain way.”

In the first airing, Little’s tapes sold out in four minutes. When Paxson called to order 1,000 more of the tapes, those sold out too.

“Certain people will get right up to a goal line and fail, whereas you really need to be the person who is going to bring it over the line,” Little says.

“There are actually a lot more opportunities out there. So many people are not realizing that the person who is going to get the job right now or the person that is going to be able to innovate on a product is someone who has an energy level and enthusiasm and a belief.”

Protect your reputation

Lastly, the strength of your brand is based on more than just your ability to choose the right products or get people to buy them. Because your brand name is synonymous with all aspects of your customer’s experience, everything from manufacturing quality, to shipping time, to how you handle a return affects how your customers feel about you and whether they’ll continue to buy your products.

“You must keep the customer’s experience great and never lose sight that it’s the customer who made you a brand,” Little says.

Once Little did a show to sell a shoe product, but it turned out that some customers who bought the shoes had high insteps so the strap would not fit them. Instead of just accepting that there would be more returns, he called the manufacturer and asked them to create a Velcro extender so that customers could extend the shoes to fit. He shipped the extenders out immediately, and the result was twofold.

“One, it reduces returns and it helps the customer have something that they originally bought,” Little says. “So I was able to make these extenders for the shoes and get them off to the people who had an issue and then they were all happy. Then what was a problem became an asset for my company. I was able figure out that that’s a really good thing to be able to adjust shoes. Now all of my shoes are adjustable.”

Whenever he discovers a customer issue, Little takes swift action to let people know that he cares and is going to make the issue a priority.

“What I do is try to cut the product off immediately, try to revamp everything,” Little says. “Let your consumers know that you understand their concerns and you are working on it. That’s how you preserve your brand.”

If something gets screwed up, he knows that it’s still his name that the customer associates with the problem and subsequently, his brand’s reputation.

“It’s a lot more work for me because people are buying Tony Little in the respect of, ‘I believe that he’s already checked this out,’” Little says.

“If I have a consumer that’s not happy with something, the type of e-mail you’ll get from that consumer is basically, ‘This has to have been somebody else. Tony Little would never let me down like this.’”

That’s why Little uses a range of media channels to connect with customers and talk to them about their feedback.

“The common mistakes are usually in the way people market a product, not understanding their demographics and not understanding the people they are selling to,” Little says.

He still writes in all of his online guest books, answers customer e-mails and always responds to anyone who reaches out to him personally about a product.

Transparency with customers also gives you a more accurate picture of your customer satisfaction, so you can gain insights from the positive feedback as well as the negative.

“The majority of people that send in a review on the Internet on something normally are always going to skew to the negatives,” Little says.

“People we find who love a product or are satisfied with a product aren’t just all of a sudden sending you stuff. They don’t have the same emotion.”

Being responsive, approachable and showing consumers that you’re really thinking about how they use your products builds trust with them as well as with your own business partners. When your brand faces challenges and you need to make up lost ground, having that trust is an invaluable asset.

“Obviously there will be certain times that you just don’t agree…but in the long run no matter how negative a person is or what their experience has been ? as a person who built their business off of their brand – you try to always respect your customer,” Little says. “I don’t think I would be in business if it wasn’t for taking care of my customers.”

How to reach: Health International Corp., (727) 556-2959

Takeaways

1. Build your brand with products you understand and believe in

2. Develop a can-do mindset in decision-making

3. Be accountable for your customer’s experience

The Little File

Tony Little

founder and CEO

Health International Corp.

Born: Fremont, Ohio

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?

That I’m a very quiet person, and that I love reading books — as many as I can get my hands on.

How do you regroup on a tough day?

I’ll give myself a self-motivational talk and put myself through a challenging workout. It never fails to energize me.

What is your favorite part of your job?

It’s important that I have fun when I work; I don’t like to get too serious. Even when I’m selling or presenting new opportunities, I like to be myself and have a good time. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing for a living, you should find another line of work.

What is your favorite Tony Little product?

The Gazelle. The Gazelle was an exercise machine that has been used in more motion pictures than any other infomercial. I also used it on the Geico commercial, which was fun. It was over a billion in sales for just that one product. It was just fun and the amount of mail, the amount of letters and before and after pictures and stories — even to this day I probably get two or three a week. People just still love the product.

Whom do you admire in the business world?

I have great respect and admiration for people who are self-made. I’ve always looked up to Donald Trump as someone who is willing to speak his mind and create victories from adversity. I would also include Cornelius Vanderbilt. I just finished reading his biography, ‘The First Tycoon,’ and he really was an amazing man. He wasn’t particularly well-educated, but he wound up being one of the wealthiest people in American history. Then there’s Steve Jobs. So much has been said and written about him since his death, but I admired him most for never giving in to a challenge, no matter how tough it got. He never gave up on himself, and that’s a lesson for all of us.

Published in Florida

Steve Pittman had some definite ideas that he wanted to launch as the new managing partner of accounting firm, Bruner-Cox LLP. In fact, he had been working on them for quite a few months before he became managing partner last year, and he felt they would differentiate the firm from the competition by using a simple catchphrase ? “We.”

“That’s the collaborative culture within our organization, and part of that collaborative dynamic is the relationship we have with our clients. We are working together, and we are extremely effective,” Pittman says.

The feedback, in a word, has been positive.

“The response from our associates has been outstanding,” he says. “The response from our clients has been outstanding.”

Smart Business talked with Pittman about incorporating the message of “We” to a firm’s mission.

How do you decide if your brand needs polishing?

This was something I had been working on with the partners. I think it’s one of those things where you look and say, ‘OK, we’ve got a great organization. We have great people. We’ve been able to be really effective even during the tumultuous economic environment we’ve been in. So what are we doing that we can do better?’ We felt like it was finding a message ? the brand, if you will ? that we could all recognize, all feel good about and talk to our clients about.

It’s not that just the leader can drive the vision; the whole organization has to drive it.

Think of the late Steve Jobs as an example. If you talk about visionaries, he had a vision. He drove that vision. He wasn’t actually building the products, he wasn’t building the retail stores, but he had visions of what Apple was going to be. He constantly reminded people, ‘This is what we are. This is what we what we do. Nothing less than that.’

How do you get your organization to buy into your approach?

Over time, you build up your reputation as an organization, as having quality people who are excellent, who have high integrity, who have this concept of collaboration. Be sure that every person in your organization never deviates from that. If you do have people who aren’t consistent with your culture, they should not be with your firm.

You want clients to always feel like that whoever they are working with from your organization, they will get to know him or her because that person is most interested in them. First of all, they’re highly intelligent, they’re well-trained, they’re focused and they have all the professional attributes that you want in a service provider but also they get the relationship concept. They get the collaborative dynamic concept.

A culture has a life of its own. If you feed it well, if you nurture it, then it takes care of deviations because as a group, you are making sure that you all stay focused, you all stay disciplined. You don’t let variability occur.

How do you control variability?

If you hire interns, that’s an excellent opportunity to evaluate people. Whether or not you are recruiting somebody young into the profession, or someone who’s lateral, spend a lot of time making sure that they understand your culture, making sure they are going to fit in and constantly monitor that and make sure they understand that the culture is the most important thing you have.

But you don’t want to discourage independent thinking because a key value should be innovation ? innovation within the culture. Here’s an excellent example: 90 percent of the competition may look at an issue one way and one of your people looks at it a different way, which is a tremendous value-added feature for the client. So that’s the idea; you always have to be thinking. You always can’t just fix up something on its face value. You have to say, ‘OK, how can we look at this in a way that it can add value to our client?’

Company facts:

City: Akron

Founded: 1925

Size: About 105 employees

Pittman on maintaining a culture: Culture is self-managing … if it is working the way it should. The key is having people who get it and understand it, and they feel good about being in that environment. That’s what you need to do best.

How to reach: Bruner-Cox LLP, (877) 339-1040 or www.brunercox.com

Published in Akron/Canton

When Guy Marsala took over as president and CEO of Costa Mesa-based EZ Lube LLC in April 2010, the only real option was to start climbing.

The chain of quick-service auto maintenance centers entered bankruptcy in late 2008, sent reeling by the skyrocketing price of oil, regulatory compliance fines and — perhaps most damaging — an eroding company culture brought about by an ongoing revolving door of CEOs in previous years.

EZ Lube emerged from bankruptcy in November 2009, but was still a company in need of direction when Marsala took over.

“I could see right off the bat that I had to find a way to place a higher value on the customer and the employee,” he says. “Morale needed a boost, and we had a real sense of urgency and some very aggressive goals to meet.”

The steps Marsala took to engage store managers in improving the company’s customer relationships helped EZ Lube rebound to $75 million in sales during 2010.

Smart Business spoke with Marsala and discovered some of the lessons he learned about taking over a company in crisis.

Start by listening

First, ask for feedback and input from people, and really listen to what they tell you. They have the answers. I had meetings with my store managers where I went around the room and asked people how long they had been here. The would tell me five years, eight years, 12 years, and so on. I would add that up and say, ‘Wow, we have almost 100 years of experience sitting around this table.’ I’ve been here two months or whatever it was at the time. I told them that I believe they know a lot about this business and I wanted to learn from them. I wanted to challenge them and tap into that experience. Once people know that you really listen and value their input and you don’t shoot the messenger, they really tell you some amazing things. So No. 1 is to listen.

Maintain the dialogue

Second, you need to communicate. I try to never miss an opportunity to talk to employees in groups. I have monthly store manager meetings, monthly all-hands meetings — but it’s also the informal communication. We were doing some training here at headquarters recently with our store managers. I heard about it, so I just popped in there and listened, and when they took a break, I took the opportunity to talk to people. I asked them how things are going, if there was anything we could be doing to support them better. You want to use those opportunities to continue to get your message out.

Remain visible

Along the same lines, No. 3, you have to be accessible. I am out of my office a lot. I am out in the field. I am out in the stores. I am walking around the hallways. People have my e-mail; people have my phone number.

Make the tough calls

No. 4 is to be decisive. Have the courage to make tough decisions. We can’t always do the most popular thing, it’s not a popularity contest, and you have to have a bias for action. We had to make some decisions and choose a course for action, then follow it. We couldn’t debate forever which way we were going to go, what we were going to focus on.

Number five is focus on what you can control. We can’t control the price of oil. The Southern California economy has some real challenges. But we can do some other things within our control to drive for company forward in spite of those challenges, or in some cases capitalize on those challenges.

Have the right attitude

Lastly, be positive. Enthusiasm is contagious; there is a spiral of positivity that I call it. As a leader you have to be the one rallying the troops and carrying the flag for everybody.

How to reach: EZ Lube LLC, (714) 556-1312 or www.ezlube.com

Company facts:

Headquarters: Costa Mesa, Calif.

Stores: 73 (all company-owned)

Employees: 970

2010 sales: $75 million

Business: Automobile maintenance

Published in Orange County

Auburn Hills is known to the nation as the home of The Palace of Auburn Hills, the arena where the Detroit Pistons have won three NBA titles dating to 1989. The Palace is certainly important to the city — it counts as Auburn Hills’ third-largest corporate employer.

But if you only think basketball when you think Auburn Hills, you’re selling the city short. Located in eastern Oakland County, Auburn Hills is a business hub with resources including five colleges and universities, and access to major transportation routes and facilities.

“We have a great location,” says Laurie Johnson, the city’s economic development coordinator. “We have access to M-59, I-75 and two major airports, and that’s one of the big reasons why the city is 80 percent business. Usually, a city like ours will be close to a half-and-half mix of business and residential, or lower on business, but business is what we are built on. We know business here.”

Business also thrives in Auburn Hills because of the educational support structure provided by the quintet of higher-learning institutions that operate in the city: Oakland University, Oakland Community College, and satellite campuses of Central Michigan University, Baker College and Thomas M. Cooley Law School, which have helped construct training programs used by area corporations.

The city’s government has also taken proactive steps to make it easier for businesses to start or relocate. Auburn Hills Advantage is a program that helps streamline the process of providing businesses new to the city with the resources they need. The city’s leaders also implement state tax abatement acts to drive growth.

“With Auburn Hills Advantage, what we do is bring everybody together in a meeting,

 Johnson says. “We find out what exactly the business’ needs are and what needs to be done, so that when they walk away to submit their building application or site plan, it’s going to be so streamlined, they’re not going to have to come back and do things a couple of times. We’re going to walk you through it.”

The tax incentives include Michigan’s Public Act 198 and Public Act 328. Act 198 is a 50 percent abatement on property tax for a new structure or addition to an existing structure, and a 50 percent abatement on personal property taxes. Act 328, usually reserved for larger projects, is a 100 percent abatement on personal property tax.

Of course, to build, you need space, which Auburn Hills has in the form of 22 business and technology parks.

“One site was just recently purchased, and we have had two new buildings built,” Johnson says. “They broke ground in May 2010, and were up and running by that October. That gives you an idea of how fast we are, and how well we work with our businesses.”

Quick info:

County: Oakland

Population: 21,400 (2010)

City manager: Peter Auger

Area: 16.6 sq. mi.

Notable businesses: Chrysler, Volkswagen/Audi, Delphi, BorgWarner, Great Lakes Crossing Outlets, The Palace of Auburn Hills

Phone: (248) 370-9400

Web: www.auburnhills.org

Published in Detroit

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

Ryan Gunnigle’s company Kids II Inc. has grown at almost 25 percent a year for the last four years.

“Just really keeping up with that growth is probably mine and the executive staff’s biggest challenge,” says the president and CEO.

With 400 employees spread out over 12 different offices, it’s quite the challenge for Gunnigle and his staff, but he manages to not let the growth eat him up.

Smart Business spoke with him about how to not let rapid growth consume your organization.

What’s the key to staying ahead of rapid growth?

There’s a lot of components to that but I think it’s strategic planning and trying to do a better job of that every year so you can lay down the plan — not a big, formalized process but really try to lay it down so it’s well thought out and you have everybody’s buy-in and everybody in the organization moving in the same direction. Continually try to do that while your organization is growing fast and changing and becoming more and more dynamic every year.

Really try to innovate and do things you haven’t done before. As you get bigger, some of that effort gets diffused sometimes, so it’s keeping in front of that.

How do you do that?

Your job as the leader is really to visualize where we want to go and a lot of components go into coming up with that overarching vision. The biggest thing is within your organization to come up with a way you can get everybody’s buy-in, and as you grow, it’s harder to put together an environment that fuels that thought process that helps you get to where you’re visualizing.

What I try to do is come up with a very simplistic way to show everybody the very basic way that helps communicate where we’re going as an organization and try to simplify that as best you can so everybody has a clear understanding of what they can do or what they need to do to be able to help the organization get there. As you grow as an organization, your top leaders’ time is consumed with everything but business-driving activity sometimes.

Honestly, it’s the infrastructure we have in place that really fuels the great people that fuel us and help us get to long-term goals. They’re the ones that really develop a lot of it. We work with them and what is their wish list and what is their paradigm-shifting activity that can propel the organization to what our top-line goals are. They’re the ones that come up with the really strategic, outside-the-box [ideas] that makes us more competitive and really fuel the team and have the environment that the teams can prosper in that way and really contribute.

Culture really starts at the top. The bottom line is you really have to give. You have to really care about your team. I think that shows to what you do in your organization.

How do you show you care?

We really strive to not have a real roll-up-your-sleeve mentality. Those kinds of things set the pace. Every year we try to improve the employees’ experience, whether it’s benefits or work atmosphere or it’s activities at the office. Keep it fun, keep it fresh. Get an environment where people really enjoy coming to work, and they’re excited about coming into the office and working for somebody who inspires them. As soon as you stop trying to get to that point, you’ve failed. That really sets the pace for the organization. I fully expect from the Kids II team as much as I expect from myself.

In evaluating employees and people, one of the quickest things that comes up to me, let’s say you have an A-player, but they just don’t fit corporately, that type of person will not succeed at Kids II. I’d rather have a B-player that cares about the business as much as or more than I do than having an incredibly smart person who’s distracted in certain areas.

How to reach: Kids II Inc., (770) 751-0442 or www.kidsii.com

Published in Atlanta