Andy Ball is a leading advocate of new technology implementation at Webcor Builders. Under his leadership, the San Mateo-based company has become a pioneer for innovation of LEED and virtual building in the construction industry. Yet incorporating cutting-edge technology is just one way Ball embraces change to position Webcor for success in today’s business environment.
“What I’ve found is the best strategy is that most of the time you don’t completely know just what it is you are preparing for, but you’re improving the company, you’re making the company better, you’re training people, you’re bringing in good people, and you’re doing the right thing,” says Ball, the president and CEO of Webcor. “You’re preparing yourself. Opportunities will come up, but if you don’t prepare yourself, one, you won’t recognize an opportunity when you see it, and two, even if you did, you would not be able to take advantage of it.”
In recent years, Ball’s role as a change agent has been even more vital in helping Webcor adapt to challenges in its industry.
“Change is never easy, and it has an emotional toll and it has a financial toll,” he says. “Initially it has a reduction in productivity in order to have a significant gain in productivity. So all of these things sort of work against change, but if you don’t embrace it and you don’t move forward, you’re just going to move backward and fall off the back because it occurs every day.”
When the economic downturn caused a complete collapse of private sector financing, which typically funded the company’s projects, Ball was forced to change the company’s business model completely so Webcor could survive.
Smart Business spoke with Ball about how he’s kept Webcor in front of change and focused on continuous improvement to stay competitive.
Build client relationships
When growing in a new area, you have to make sure you have a thorough understanding of that market’s needs so you know how to meet them. To prepare Webcor for a transition into public sector building, Ball realized the first step was to forge strong relationships with new and potential clients to find out how their needs varied from and aligned with Webcor’s strengths.
“That really was a surprise but shouldn’t have been — that we really had to learn about our clients,” Ball says. “We had to understand what they wanted and we had to understand how to respond to their requests. It comes down to people. You have to get out and you have to meet the people who make these decisions. You have to meet the people, talk to the people, allow the people to understand who you are. You have to develop the trust relationship with them. These things are every bit as important in public or government contracts as they are in private sector contract.”
Fortunately for Webcor, the company had begun taking on some public sector work several years prior to the downturn, including the $120 million California Academy of Sciences project, partly funded by the city of San Francisco. As Ball and his team worked with city leaders, they realized a new process for selecting subcontractors better suited the client’s goals for the project. After implementing the change with positive results, Webcor was able to secure future projects with the city, including the San Francisco General Hospital.
“In succession, we started to pick up these large public- and federal-funded public sector projects that we had not done before,” Ball says. “And when the market turned down, we were very fortunate to have already started growing in that sector and taken on some very significant large projects that we could turn to.”
Ball also saw building companies grossly under do projects because they didn’t take time to create solid client relationships. In these cases, the company and the client often end up worse off. Understanding the full magnitude of your client’s needs is how you adapt and develop solutions that are innovative as well as effective.
“It takes time to build relationships,” Ball says. “You can’t do that overnight. And to say that, ‘Wow, the bottom’s falling out of our market so we need to just go and do public work.’… You’re not just going to waltz in there and figure out what is important, how do you staff it, what are the expectations.
“You really have to understand the agency that you are dealing with. You have to understand their strategy. You have to understand how to respond to their request for qualifications, what they are looking for, what makes the difference.”
Make big bets
As a leader, adapting your business for growth requires you to identify and evaluate growth opportunities constantly. It also means you have to be able to make a decision when the right one comes along and not be afraid to put in legwork to seize it. To excel in an increasingly competitive industry, Ball isn’t afraid to takes risks in areas that build on Webcor’s strengths, such as being a leader in virtual building.
“People often believe that the easiest task is to broadcast and integrate new technology into your own company, and actually that’s probably the hardest step,” Ball says. “You have to get your finance department to believe in the investment, you have to get the people in operations to change the way that they’ve been doing things for their entire career.”
Implementing technologies at Webcor, such as building information modeling and integrated project delivery, has involved significant training, resources, financial investment and buy-in. Yet Ball and his team have continued to invest further in virtual building technologies because they also represent significant long-term value — for example, allowing architects to send digital drawings in hours instead of weeks.
“By very nature, any return is a risk,” Ball says. “Without taking a risk, you will never get a return. A lot of people fail to see that … I went all in on virtual building. I went all in on implementation of technology. I completely believed and dreamed and did it before people could prove to me that there was return on it, just because we believed that it was the right thing to do.
“That is never ever easy to do and most people look at it and say, ‘Well, that was easy.’ Yeah, it is easy when you look back to know what happened and know that you were right or you were wrong. But it’s never easy when you look forward.”
Even though there are bumps along the road to change, it’s by taking risks that you learn how to adapt and improve. Though some risks may prove less successful, Ball doesn’t just see them as failures. Instead, every outcome is a source of information in how Webcor can address its weaknesses and exploit its strengths.
“The wrong decision is to not make a decision, so you have to get over that,” he says. “Then you have to also understand that some of the time when you make a decision, you will fail. If you are not failing, you’re not going forward. You’re not taking risk and you’re not changing anything and you’re not improving anything, because you will have failure.
“There is a lot of pushback any time you try and change things — change the technology, but we were successful to the point it became an industry standard. Widely embraced building information modeling followed, and now our bet is on virtual building.”
Lead by example
To have a culture that embraces change, people have to be comfortable with constantly altering the way they are used to doing things. Because Ball asks his team to engage in and embrace changes in areas such as new technology, he shows employees that he is also walking the talk.
“I think that this organization would say I am not an obstacle to change,” he says. “In fact, I am one of the leading advocates for change. We constantly have to embrace change, so I like to lead by providing an example of how we innovate, how we embrace technology, how we embrace green practices and how we change as we go forward, because I’m trying to lead the charge in every case and encourage that.
“I’m usually the guy that first uses technology. I think a lot of companies, they say the last person to embrace new technology is the CEO and typically it’s driven by the younger people. They want to use it and then they drive it to the top. In this case it’s the other way around. I’m the guy that loves technology and I want to try it out and I want to use it.”
Ball models the behaviors he wants his team to engage in from the top of the organization down. If he promotes or employs a new piece of technology at Webcor, it’s because he’s used it himself and decided it was worth pursuing. This shows his team that decisions about using new technology aren’t arbitrary but well-thought-out, so they are more likely to respect them.
“Before I sort of force that onto other people, I’m going to use it myself to see how it works and if I think it actually creates a benefit,” Ball says. “If it does, then I will go beyond just discussing it with my IT vice president. I’ll say let’s try and roll this out to a few people and see how they react to it and start to implement technology and change from the top.”
As Webcor has shifted into public sector building, Ball also supports and motivates his team by helping them focus on the positive aspects of change.
“It has been over 30 years since I was actually out in the field with my work boots on,” he says. “So I now have to take what I actually did in the field and say, ‘Well, over the years that’s changed. That’s changed for these reasons.’ I’ve got to, on a regular basis, get with my people at every different level and sector of this company and talk to them about what’s working, what isn’t working, what do you think we can do to improve and be very open to employees. I find that when I do that, people speak up and they’re not afraid to come up with great ideas because they believe that they are going to be listened to and that they are actually talking to me, somebody who understands.”
Ball’s lead-from-the-top philosophy works to cultivate a team dynamic at Webcor that supports change and enables the company’s continuous improvement. As a result, Webcor has been able to change its business dramatically in the midst of a recession. Though some outsiders doubted its ability to compete in the public sector, today the $680 million company brings in 80 percent of its work in the form of public and government sector projects.
“I think they were shocked when we got the Transbay Terminal and [San Francisco] General Hospital and the PUC building, the Cal Memorial Stadium … and the hospital in Guam, saying ‘Oh my God, Webcor has hardly ventured outside of California. How can they do something in Guam?’” Ball says. “But we’ve always been very creative. We’ve been forward thinkers. We’ve been visionary. We’ve been flexible and we’ve been quick to react. Those skills become heightened and more important in a recession. I think we surprised a lot of people when we very, very quickly adjusted, adapted, changed and brought on some really nice, new work and just kept moving forward.”
HOW TO REACH: Webcor Builders, www.webcor.com
The Ball File
Born: Ojai, Calif.
Education: I attended school at Arnold House School and Highgate School in London, England between the ages of 6 and 15 years old. I was a weekly boarder at Highgate School which means I lived at Highgate during the week and went home on weekends. After Highgate School, I spent two years La Serna High School in Whittier, Calif., followed by my senior year at the Singapore American School in Singapore. I took undergraduate studies at UC Davis and the University of Utah, graduating from the University of Utah with a bachelor of arts degree in architecture.
What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?
I like to have a hot lunch each day with Webcor employees or clients. This is a holdover from my school days in England where the midday meal was the largest meal of the day and consisted of warm dishes such as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Although I enjoy this type of midday break, I don’t like to linger over lunch too long. An hour is a more than adequate break.
What do you do to regroup on a tough day?
At the end of a tough day, I enjoy going on a good, hard, bike ride. A 30-mile ride with lots of hills to climb is a great way of relieving stress.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I enjoy working with a project team — owner, architects, engineers and subcontractors — to solve design problems and develop cost-effective solutions during the pre-construction phase of a new building. I also particularly enjoy the challenge of incorporating cutting-edge technologies into the building process, resulting in new ways to build and do business.
When we invest in a company, our return on investment always is premised on value creation from growth. While we look to other factors to enhance and accelerate value creation (like enterprise improvement and leadership development), growth is the key.
The most coveted and valuable companies (that is typical companies — not social media, Internet or other uniquely valued enterprises) are those with significant, sustainable, profitable organic growth. Since not all companies can accomplish that type of growth, an alternative or supplement to organic growth is growth from add-on acquisitions. While acquisition growth likely won’t be rewarded as highly as sustainable organic growth, great value can be created.
An ideal add-on acquisition will be in the same or complementary business and will add profitable, retainable revenue and will add employee talent. It will have costs eliminated upon integration and can be purchased at an attractive valuation. As companies typically are valued on the basis of a multiple of earnings (most commonly EBITDA), an attractive valuation multiple for an add-on acquisition is any multiple equal to or less than the multiple that would be used to value the acquiring company times the earnings of the acquired company pre-integration.
In other words, if the acquiring company is valued at five times earnings, and it can pay four times earnings for an add-on acquisition, and then save another one times earnings in costs upon integration, you’ve created a value equal to two times earnings on day one. Plus, there’s the harder-to-calculate value of broader product lines, more talent and other potential benefits from the add-on acquisition.
If this piques your interest, the following summarizes the five steps for completing an add-on acquisition.
Noncompetition/nondisclosure agreements. Sign mutual confidentiality and noncompetition/nondisclosure agreements (NDA). As the buyer, you will want to learn everything about the potential add-on without disclosing much information about your company. The NDA must give the seller comfort that the disclosed information will not be used against his or her company if the transaction doesn’t close. Typically, customer names and similar highly sensitive information is not disclosed until just prior to closing.
Initial information delivery. Once NDAs are signed, the acquirer should deliver an information request list to the seller. This list should be everything that is needed to understand the company well enough to propose a structure and terms but not a full diligence request list.
Proposal and agreement. Once the initial information has been reviewed, if there is interest in moving forward, the acquirer delivers a structure and terms proposal. A good acquirer will have listened carefully to the seller and incorporated not only fair economic terms but also terms that meet the non-economic needs of the seller. For the transaction to proceed, a final agreement must then be negotiated. It is then documented with a letter of intent.
Full due diligence and document preparation. At this point, the acquirer delivers a comprehensive due diligence request list to the seller and its representatives. The acquirer also retains CPA and other experts to conduct financial and specialized due diligence initiatives. Assuming due diligence is proceeding well, the acquirer has counsel begin preparation of the documents. This step should take 90 to 120 days.
Close. If the due diligence is satisfactory, the documents have been negotiated and there are no funding issues, there should be a final delivery of sensitive information. The closing should take place shortly thereafter.
I wish you great success in creating value through add-on acquisition.
Dan Lubeck is founder and managing director of Solis Capital Partners (www.soliscapital.com), a private equity firm headquartered in Newport Beach, Calif. Solis focuses on disciplined investment in lower-middle market companies. Lubeck was a transactional attorney, and has lectured at prominent universities and business schools around the world.
Over the last few years, Gary Sasso saw his law firm facing two substantial and markedly unique challenges. The first was universal: a worldwide economic downturn that impacted markets and businesses all over the globe, including his company, Carlton Fields, and its clients. Though the second challenge was limited to his firm, it was equally disconcerting.
“Maybe the most significant challenge to continuing to grow is one that people don’t talk about very much, but it’s complacency,” says Sasso, president and CEO. “It’s being satisfied with past success. We had been successful before the downturn and during the downturn, and there’s a temptation to be satisfied with that and complacent, but this is not a destination. It’s not about hitting this growth target or that growth target. It’s a journey. It’s about being committed to continual improvement.”
Sasso realized it was the combination of these challenges — the external economy and internal complacency — that had the real potential to hold Carlton Fields back from continued success. He also realized that while the two problems were different in nature, they in fact shared a common solution: growth.
Rather than retrench, Sasso led Carlton Fields to focus on growing throughout the recession. As a result, the firm’s significant growth in 2009 made it an economic success story and one of nation’s fastest-growing companies on the Inc. 5000 list that year. In 2010, Carlton Fields generated $154 million in revenue. Now, in 2011, Sasso still hasn’t lowered his sights.
“We’re a fairly small piece of the overall economy and we don’t need that much more than our share to be successful,” he says. “So we just stay focused on growth relentlessly.”
Focus on service
Coming into the downturn, Carlton Fields was fortunate to be in a position of strength. Yet one drawback of having financial security is that employees can get into a comfort zone and they don’t feel driven to adapt and be proactive.
So rather than have people focus on the larger goal of growth, Sasso kept his team rallied around the more tangible goals of providing best-in-class service and adding value for clients.
“The economic climate can provide obstacles but also opportunities, because all of our clients are struggling to deal with the downturn and they need help,” Sasso says. “The firm that steps up to the plate to provide that help has an opportunity, and that’s the way we’ve chosen to look at it.
“Our overarching goal is really to provide best-in-class service in every area where we practice and to have the best of all worlds, not to accept false tradeoffs among our clients and shareholders and employees. That’s a guiding light for us and we test our goals against that vision. We do that first and foremost by talking to our clients to make sure that we understand their businesses and their needs.”
To furnish value-added solutions for clients whose businesses were impacted by the economy, Sasso encouraged Carlton Fields’ attorneys and staff to utilize internal meetings and sessions with clients to brainstorm creative ways to handle client issues. Providing these opportunities for employees to be resourceful and collaborative supports the kind of proactive, idea-driven culture that enables growth.
“When you’re in the midst of such change and evolving economic and legal circumstances, you have to be innovative to tackle new problems and new challenges,” Sasso says.
“We spent a great deal of time talking to our clients, meeting with our clients, asking them about their business, asking them how they were being affected by the downturn and taking the time and trouble to change the services that we provided to meet our client’s evolving needs.”
When you frame goals for your team around improving services and developing client relationships, you ensure there is never a point where people feel like they’ve maxed out opportunities to grow. At Carlton Fields, having best-in-class service is a goal that requires continuous improvement because to meet client needs better than a competitor, the firm has to adapt as those needs are constantly changing.
“When I talk about growth I’m not talking just about growth in revenues or numbers of people or numbers of offices,” Sasso says. “When we talk about growth here, we’re really talking about growing the strength, depth and quality of our firm, which can be reflected in numbers, but it’s not just about numbers. It’s about quality.
“We looked at what was happening in the economy from our client’s point of view and asked how was this affecting what they needed from us? We launched a full court press to anticipate what our clients’ needs were and we undertook to meet those needs.”
Don’t compromise people
Engaging employees in success is one of the key ways to affect growth. Although Carlton Fields has incentives in place to recognize and reward exceptional performance from team members, Sasso says that nonmonetary motivators such as job security, inclusiveness and transparency are just as important if not more so in keeping people committed to the vision and striving for excellence.
“We’ve tried to motivate employees by being successful as a business and as a result of that we have not had to engage in layoffs of staff or attorneys, which makes us relatively unique among law firms I believe,” Sasso says. “And that’s a big motivator — where we can provide a secure place of employment for our employees.
“We motivate people by means other than money or economics. We try to engage everybody in the success of the firm. We value everybody here. We reach out to everybody and include them in discussions about how the firm is doing.”
Making sure people feel recognized and valued is vital if you want them to give their best efforts and drive growth. When people don’t feel appreciated, it’s not long before dispirited becomes dissatisfied and they are doing the bare minimum to collect their paychecks.
To fight complacency at Carlton Fields, Sasso shows his team that security and growth can go hand in hand by letting them know that even though growth is the goal, they are the priority. He refuses to make tradeoffs for growth — financial or otherwise — that come at the expense of the firm’s employees. That’s one reason why, by each category on the whole, Carlton Fields’ shareholders, associates, special staff and all employees have been able to maintain or improve their compensation through the years, even through the economic downturn.
“We reject false tradeoffs among clients, shareholders and employees,” Sasso says. “There are some who argue that you can only promote the interests of your clients, your shareholders or your employees, but not all at the same time, and we reject that. We have to be attentive to the needs of all of them and then we’ll be able to serve each of them.
“I think you have to try to ask and understand what are your goals for each. What is a home run in each area? And then work hard to find ways to advance in each area without compromising another. Sometimes accepting a tradeoff results from just not thinking hard enough about how to balance all of them, giving up too soon. But I think if you work hard enough and probe deeply enough, there isn’t necessarily a tradeoff. All of the things can be working together.”
Invest in growth
No matter what challenges your business is facing, Sasso says growth should always be part of the criteria for CEOs when making financial or strategic decisions. Continuous improvement needs to be an ongoing investment. When leaders dwell too much on short-term problems and lose focus on continuous improvement, it can have stifling consequences on a company’s profitability and long-term success.
“I think that it’s a mistake to lose your focus and overreact to negative events and retrench,” Sasso says. “You can’t grow by cutting. Notwithstanding that, you do have to achieve operational efficiency. Sometimes controlling or cutting costs is necessary, but you can overreact. We’ve invested during the downturn to position ourselves to come out of it in a strong position. I think it’s important to stay focused on growth and not to panic and to continue to mind the fundamentals of your business.
“If you do nothing you are taking a risk. If you do something you are taking a risk. So you have to kind of get it out of your mind that you can function without taking risks. Then once you understand that, whatever the issue, you look at the options, you gather the facts, you analyze the options and you bring people together who have knowledge and value to contribute to making a decision. You make your best judgment and you move forward. And then you know whatever risks you’ve taken, you’ve taken with good information, with good analysis, with good input.”
As the economy sees signs of recovery, Sasso continues to take risks and invest in opportunities to position Carlton Fields’ for continuous improvement. In his view, even a misstep forward is an advantage over companies who are taking no steps forward at all.
“If you stay focused on the goal on the horizon, once in a while you are going to hit a bump or hit an obstacle, and we sometimes can call it a failure, but it’s just more information,” he says. “It may mean that that particular tactic or strategy is not working at that moment, so you sit back and say, ‘Well, what can we do to get over this bump?’ And the next attempt may even be better and more effective and smarter. So a failure can simply be an opportunity to do something better the next time.
“There’s no such thing as getting to a goal and stopping. I think that’s a mistake. If you are committed to continual growth and continual improvement then you have to keep taking risks to continue to grow.”
Today, Sasso sets his sights on growing Carlton Fields in size and strength, but also in the quality and value it provides clients. By emphasizing continuous improvement in all areas, Sasso keeps complacency in check and his team focused on where the firm can get better, stronger and more efficient. And in today’s business environment, the opportunities are unlimited for companies who set their sights the highest.
“I love the challenge of having to navigate through the economic climate that we’ve been facing,” Sasso says. “I’m excited about the opportunities we face. There’s a temptation to focus on the obstacles being presented by the current economy, but I see so much opportunity for our firm and for this profession. I think we’re really just getting started on what we can achieve as a law firm.”
HOW TO REACH: Carlton Fields, (813) 223-7000 or www.carltonfields.com
The Sasso File
President and CEO
Born: Miami, Fla.
Education: Bachelor’s in economics, Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania; J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School — graduating at the head of his class. While in law school, Gary was editor-in-chief of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. He spent his first year after graduation as a clerk for Judge Spottswood Robinson III on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and his second year as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White.
Who are the leaders you look to for advice and questions?
I have the opportunity to work with many fine business leaders in the Tampa Bay area, and I often bounce ideas off of my colleagues at the Tampa Bay partnership and United Way. We have a client advisory board, which consists of CEOs and general counsel and we brainstorm with them too.
What do you like most about your job?
What I like most is the time I spend with high-quality people in our community, among our clients and inside our firm.
What is the best business advice you’ve received?
I think it’s probably something that I came across in my first year as a CEO, when I was trying to grapple with the idea of taking risk and what kind of risk and how much risk. I read what I could get my hands on about the job, talked to as many people as I could about the job and one piece of advice that I received is at the end of your first year, if you look back and you haven’t made a number of mistakes, you’re not doing your job well, because you’re not taking enough risks.
Darron Burke’s picture is on the front of every bag of coffee he sells, a testament to the fact that he is always standing behind his product. When Burke launched Café Don Pablo as a specialty coffee roaster in 2004, he spent as many as 10 hours a day on his feet handing out samples of the coffee at Costco and sharing the company’s vision with anyone who would listen. As president and CEO of Café Don Pablo and its parent company, Burke Brands LLC, Burke has doubled the company’s product sales on average every year since. By embracing every opportunity to engage customers in the story and the mission of Café Don Pablo, he spearheaded the company’s tremendous domestic and international growth to $12 million in 2010 revenue.
Smart Business spoke with Burke about how he spreads Café Don Pablo’s mission of quality and value to get buy-in from customers and employees.
How have you set your company apart from competitors?
I wanted to give people an honest deal, and I wanted to produce the best of the best for a very good price. In other words: value. I don’t think that value ever goes out of style. … We wanted to give people a fair deal, a great quality coffee at a fair price. When somebody gets something that’s really special, if the quality of the product is such that it’s outstanding and you can tell that it’s different and better, people tend to want to share that with their friends and family.
Whenever we’re at Costco or Sam’s Club and we’re giving out samples and people walk by with another brand of coffee in their hand, they drink ours. They put theirs away immediately.
How does setting up sampling booths help communicate your value to customers?
We’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of money educating the consumer, and it’s worked. I make sure — and this is with everybody I come in contact with that has an interest in the business — I always try to share the vision and direction with them and try to get them to buy into it, because if they do, that just makes us stronger. For the last five years I’ve been standing out there myself on weekends giving out literally 1,000 little 4-ounce cups of coffee to people and giving them my little spiel and telling them why, what sets us apart. We’re the No. 1 selling coffee in Costco, and it’s because of that, because I’ve literally given tens of thousands of people, handed them a cup of coffee personally and told them about our company. There’s a lot of brand equity that’s been built up.
Where does customer feedback come into play?
You try to glean any piece of information that you think is going to be helpful to you. Obviously customers are a wealth of information. All kinds of people write in and give suggestions and it helps quite a bit to see if you are on track. If you screw up a bit, and sometimes we do — maybe you’ll burn a batch of coffee and they’ll put it in a bag instead of throwing it away — we hear it from the customers. So that just helps us to realize that we may have some concerns and we need to address them.
What can a leader do to communicate the vision to employees?
You need buy-in from the people. People have to believe you. You have to be honest and credible and transparent. They have to know that you have their best interests in mind. Everything you do has to be with a win-win mentality. I’ve always tried to put myself into the shoes of the other person, whether it’s somebody that works with us or our customer or our potential customer or vendor. And that I’ve found has helped quite a bit. What I try to do is seek first to understand and then to be understood. If you really get to understand somebody else’s point of view and then work from there, they’ll really appreciate that and they’ll help you achieve your goals.
HOW TO REACH: Burke Brands LLC/Café Don Pablo, (877) 436-6722 or www.cafedonpablo.com
Mike Vinton was just venturing into the business world out of high school when he found his vision. There was a catch — he didn’t have any formal education on how to operate a business, much less on being a leader. However, it didn’t stop him.
“I knew at that time, there was no doubt in my mind that was the kind of work I wanted to do,” he says, after a stint on a tennis court project in Michigan inspired him to be a sports contractor.
“When you fall in love with doing something, you will know it,” says Vinton, president of The Vasco Group. “It’s just an overwhelming desire to get up and go do it. And somehow, some way, in spite of any circumstances good or bad, you’re going to make it happen. You become willing to do just about anything.”
Despite the obstacles faced, being relentless and doing the right thing along the way brought rewards. Vasco’s 2010 was the best financial year in its 44-year history.
“If the spark starts to burn inside any man ? if it truly is a passion, a vision ? he will go to just about any length to explore that to make it happen,” Vinton says.
Once illuminated with a vision, the would-be leader would do well to seek out mentors.
“Watch other leaders ? what they are doing, how they act, how they treat people,” he says. “Just try to do what the winners are doing.”
People that are successful usually are willing to share advice.
“The big part is asking for help,” Vinton says. “Once you ask, I’ve found that people want to help. I’ve been blessed in that respect in that people have always taken me under their wing and helped me.
“Mentor other young people that want to be leaders. Read leadership books nonstop, and study leadership styles.
“I heard someone say a long time ago that if you want to keep wisdom and knowledge, you’ve got to give it away. That was always modeled for me and that’s what I try to do as a leader today.”
Pick a mentor that works in a different industry.
“Choose people that you came across in relationships,” Vinton says. “I had a commercial real state developer take me around and show me his properties. We would discuss what a leader would do in certain situations.”
Then as you develop your skills, the time comes for more specific mentoring. In a competitive field, it’s a reality check that no one is going to share tips to a possible competitor. But a suitable alternative can be found through associations. Securing a board position on an industry association puts you in touch with professionals from all over who are open to helping.
“I’ve never had people in the industry help me until I was part of national business organizations that did not include local contractors,” Vinton says. “I got many contacts that way.”
The camaraderie will help develop the principle to treat other people as more important.
“One of the most important leadership principles is servant leadership,” Vinton says. “Learn it, teach it and model it for young leaders that serving people in your area of influence is more important than yourselves. Give others the credit when things go well.
“As a leader, be intuitive and aware of the people around you and make yourself available to them on their time.”
How to reach: The Vasco Group, (800) 487-0422 or www.thevascogroup.com
When it comes to acquiring another company, there are two tips that shouldn’t be overlooked: Be patient, and see that synergy ? when a combination is greater than parts alone ? is a component of the decision.
“Make sure you have synergy between the two companies ? that the company fits with your core competencies,” says Vasco Group President Mike Vinton, whose vision included company expansion into other cities and states.
“Get your key people together and ask, ‘Does this create synergy or does this create division?’ That’s a huge thing in making sure that synergy is a part of it.”
Your management team needs to have complete buy-in that the two companies can work hand-in-hand, each pulling its own weight, with no negative feelings.
As the team gets on board and supports the decision, not just the leader’s edict, negotiations can go forward. Timing is everything in acquisitions.
“Don’t be in a hurry,” Vasco says.
Take your time, and be ready to cancel negotiations if a red flag appears.
“I walked away from a deal once. The fit was not good. Three months later, he called me back and said he was ready to start talking again. We did a deal within a month.”
How to reach: The Vasco Group, (800) 487-0422 or www.thevascogroup.com
Hundreds of years ago, towns and cities were built on rivers for the access to resources and the transportation advantages.
The river might not serve as the sole lifeblood of those towns anymore, but Matt Mittman is among those trying to prove that building in a river town still has strategic advantages.
Conshohocken, Pa., is a borough of more than 8,000 people, located in Montgomery County, on the north bank of the Schuylkill River, about 10 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Its location on the river and proximity to interstates and rail corridors make it an ideal place to start or relocate a business.
Now Mittman — a real estate agent who serves as a member of the city’s planning commission and as the chairman of the borough’s business development commission — is trying to get the word out.
“There is a main street, which is Fayette St., and it is full of retail shops and businesses. We’re also close to a number of main routes, such as Interstate 76 and 476, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and U.S. 202,” Mittman says. “I would tell a new business owner that we have just completed a revitalization plan, and a plan for the future of Conshohocken. And it digs down to what is needed in the borough. We already know that banks want to be here; we have Wawa (that) wants to be here. So there are other successful businesses that want to get into the borough.”
According to the revitalization plan, which Mittman helped construct, 20 percent of the approximately one square mile that comprises Conshohocken is zoned for commercial or borough use. Another 20 percent is used for manufacturing, while 40 percent is used for residential. The remaining 20 percent is related to transportation, including parking lots.
Above all else, Mittman says borough leaders want to see increased retail development, to help increase the profile of Fayette St., which runs southwest-to-northeast through the center of the borough.
Mittman says there are resources available to those who are interested in starting a business or relocating a business to Conshohocken. Chief among those is the business development commission.
“That is part of the reason we created the commission,” Mittman says. “To be the center point that can connect those businesses. We like to call ourselves a resource center, and if someone is looking to start a business in the borough and has specific questions, we can point them to the right spot. We can be the road map for them. If you were looking to start or relocate here, you would reach out to the borough hall. At that point, we’d provide you some resources to look over.”
The Conshohocken Borough Hall can be contacted at (610) 828-1092.
Population: 8,595 (2010)
Land area: 1.03 sq. mi.
Government system: Council-manager
Mayor: Robert Frost
Borough manager: Fran Marabella
Phone: (610) 828-1092
On the surface, Chad Hallock’s situation seemed contradictory: generate more business while spending less money.
Hallock, the CEO and one of five co-founders of Budget Blinds Inc., was forced between this rock and a hard place by — not surprisingly — the economic recession. As a manufacturer and installer of custom blinds, shades and drapery, Budget Blinds’ customer base took a hit as the economy took a nosedive in late 2008, slashing new housing starts and halting remodeling projects in the process.
That made it much harder for the company’s 800 franchises — employing about 2,000 people — to drive business and turn a profit. Up until the recession hit, the company had been growing by about 100 franchises a year, with a failure rate of approximately 3 percent. Once the economy began its freefall, Budget Blinds was opening 60 franchises a year with a 10 percent failure rate.
“The challenge was to keep our franchisees in business and thriving in spite of the situation,” Hallock says. “When things are great, you can get very little in the way of new business and still be successful. When the housing market goes, so does the lead flow they were accustomed to.”
Hallock and his leadership team had to re-evaluate how they were marketing the business, where they were spending money and how they were going about beating the bushes for new potential customers. With the economy crumbling throughout the end of 2008 and into 2009, Hallock and his team came to the conclusion that large, high-cost marketing campaigns paved a path to the poorhouse.
“You really have to take a look at how you’re generating those leads,” he says. “You can do things like a mailer, a magazine ad or a television ad. But those cost money. So we quickly realized we had to plug this hole another way, and that’s when I said we had to focus on the Internet.”
Over the next several years, Hallock and his team structured and rolled out a two-pronged plan: Get to the top of the main search engines without spending money on sponsored links and provide franchisees with support for their grassroots sales efforts, tactics intended to build up the customer base through personal relationships.
Don’t make them scroll
As a company with no storefront locations, Budget Blinds is completely reliant on networking and mass marketing to find new customers. By reducing the company’s emphasis on print advertising and moving toward the Internet, Hallock made it a necessity to get Budget Blinds to the top of all relevant Web searches, which meant he needed to partner with people in the growing marketing area of search engine optimization, or SEO.
Hallock had used the Internet as one tool in his marketing belt for about a decade, but now he needed it to become one of his main sales-driving vehicles.
“Over the past six or seven years, the Internet has given us the best bang for our buck,” Hallock says. “It’s called CPL, or cost per lead. Once you see that the Internet is helping to drive a certain amount of business, how can I improve that? How can I spend my money and time on things that I can improve?”
At the top of most Internet searches, the user will find a set of sponsored links. Those links are paid advertisements. The company pays a fee to get their link at the top of the page. Hallock wanted keywords and key phrases to do the pulling to the top of the search, not the marketing funds he was feverishly trying to conserve. But he was wading into the deep end of the SEO pool with e-commerce companies that are specifically designed to market and sell on an Internet-based business platform.
Though Budget Blinds markets over the Web and does not have a brick-and-mortar retail presence, the company isn’t designed to be an e-commerce outfit.
Hallock went to his Internet marketing agencies, which he has been working with for about a decade and began to map out a plan that would allow Budget Blinds to venture into the fray with e-commerce companies.
“We had a bunch of meetings, all the agencies getting together in our conference rooms and talking about the challenge,” Hallock says. “Just because they’re e-commerce doesn’t mean we can allow them to show up and place higher on the searches than we are. Before we solved that problem, several years ago, we weren’t showing up well at all on the free part of the searches. Now that we have worked together to address the challenge and solved it, according to recent searches, we’re the second-highest company in terms of SEO in our space. The company ahead of us is an e-commerce company, and they’re one of our key accounts.”
The key to mastering SEO, Hallock says, is to learn how large search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing work. The big search engines know who is searching for what. Once you have uncovered who is searching for your product or service, when they’ll search for it and how often, you can build a strategy that can help maximize your Internet visibility.
“We can go to Google and find out, for example, how many people tomorrow are going to search the term ‘blinds,’” Hallock says. “How many are going to search for ‘window company’ and ‘window treatments.’ Google has the ability, with the way they built their system, to see what type of searching is going on. There is kind of a fundamental math equation that says if all these searches are going on and I’m in the one through three position on the search results, I’m going to get X amount of traffic. And if I can convert on that X amount, it will generate a given amount of revenue. You put a profit percentage to it, and you decide what it’s worth to go after. How many resources and dollars should I spend if this is the potential outcome?”
If you’re going to make a large commitment to SEO and Internet marketing, one place you will need to spend money and resources is with your personnel. Despite a shrinking revenue base over the previous several years, Hallock has still invested money in beefing up his IT team.
“Over the past three years, our IT team has grown to 22 people,” he says. “We’re not an e-commerce company, but we have grown our IT team and we have specific, exclusive agencies that handle our Internet, because of the level of commitment we’ve made. I am in meetings constantly, all focused on how we can improve our Web presence, how can we improve the lead flow.”
Lead the way
The Internet is a useful tool for marketing, but you can’t lean entirely on Web searches if your company isn’t structured strictly for e-commerce. You still need a personal touch, and that means putting power in the hands of the employees who develop relationships with your customers, and that’s where the second prong of Hallock’s strategy comes in.
You have to educate employees and back up their training with resources. At Budget Blinds, Hallock and his leadership team have worked for the past several years to give franchisees a ready-made jump-start in driving new business.
From the corporate office in Orange County, Hallock and his team have spent the past several years negotiating partnerships with major homebuilders around the country. The partnerships allow Budget Blinds to attain status as the exclusive provider for window shades and treatments in new homes.
“We’re working with a number of huge companies now, doing tests to see of they’ll be able to add us as one of their suppliers,” Hallock says. “With those kinds of deals in place, our franchisees don’t have to go out and generate leads. They automatically get a book of business when they start out with the Budget Blinds brand.”
If you’re going to ask a lot of your workers in the field, you have to provide them with a lot of support. You have to lay the groundwork before your people can excel. Hallock used his franchise system as an example of how to support employees in the field.
“The struggle with being a franchisee as the economy backslides is, I’m the franchisor and I’m asking, ‘What have you done for me lately?’” Hallock says. “But if you can start giving your people, the day they move into their franchise territory, some great opportunities, you’ll put them in a much better position for success.
“If, for instance, a franchisee knows that the brand is going to have a presence in all the big box retailers in their territory, that’s a big deal when you consider all the customer traffic that the different big box stores get. If you can negotiate deals to get into those stores, then when a franchisee signs on with you, they know they’re going to get all of that big box store’s traffic. They’re going to have a display in those stores.”
As a corporate leader, your job isn’t on the grassroots level. Your job is to hire the right work force to conduct operations in the field, and then leverage your resources to make them better at their jobs. Hallock has fully embraced the notion that he and his leadership team are the main support staff for the company’s franchisees.
“The franchisees are on the grassroots level,” he says. “They’re the ones we’re teaching to go knock on doors, go to meetings, do all the networking. That’s not corporate’s role. We have all the contacts, we meet with the vice presidents of the departments and work with them on a much higher level than grassroots.”
You need to maintain a global perspective on your business because you need to develop an accurate picture of how to best utilize your resources. Some employees, divisions and regions in the field will bear more fruit than others, for a variety of reasons. Hallock says that when you’re deciding where to distribute your corporate-level resources, it’s often best to aim toward the middle of the pack — toward the areas that are performing adequately, but could do much better. That is where the potential is often the greatest.
“Don’t always focus on the worst performers,” Hallock says. “I’ve seen people who want to focus all their time and energy on the worst part of their business, and you’re going to spend all of your resources and effort on trying to help them to be successful, and it won’t work. Instead, focus on where you think you can get the biggest return.
“The people in the middle, they’re responsive. They react when you give them sales tips, when you help them. You want to go where people will make a change, and the help you give them will put them over the top to where they’ll become more successful than they ever thought possible.”
Hallock’s multifaceted approach to driving new business has allowed Budget Blinds to weather the recession in relatively good shape. The company has remained in growth mode with a long-term goal of 1,500 franchisees. Budget Blinds generated $240 million in revenue last year.
“Just remember, don’t put your eggs in one basket,” Hallock says. “As you grow, probably eight out of 10 things won’t work the first time, but the two that do work make up for the eight that don’t. If you try only one thing at a time, when that one thing doesn’t work, you’re six months behind the eight ball again. You’re in an even worse position. That’s why you need to have that multifaceted approach.”
How to reach: Budget Blinds Inc., (714) 637-2100 or www.budgetblinds.com
The Hallock file
Name: Chad Hallock
Title: Co-founder and CEO
Company: Budget Blinds Inc.
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?
Never let the failures get you down, because success always seems to be right around the corner. I can’t tell you how many times that happened. I work on things all the time that don’t work. But if I quit, I’ll never find the one thing that does work. When you’re hearing ‘no,’ you never know how close you are to a ‘yes.’
What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?
If you ask me, transparency is the one word I’ll come back to. They have to see your heart, your integrity, and your ability to take the bad with the good.
What is your definition of success?
Freedom. When I hit 1,500 franchises, and the franchisees are successful, I’ll have hit every goal I’ve wanted to achieve. That is what everyone bought into. And with that comes freedom. Freedom from worry over what is going to happen today.
They were definitely dropping some “New Coke” references in those first few months. But Patrick Doyle and his leadership team would just smile at each other. No matter what the media pundits said, they knew they were right.
When Domino’s Pizza made the decision to scrap its old pizza recipe in 2009, Doyle’s team had amassed a year and a half’s worth of data that said customers viewed Domino’s as a convenience brand first. They ordered Domino’s for a pizza in 30 minutes, not for quality food. Customers perceived the pizza itself as a brand weakness.
It’s something the leadership at Domino’s never really took to heart. Like its customers, Domino’s leaders had always viewed their specialty as convenience. Any complaints about the food would be offset many times over by the customers who kept coming back for the efficient service. It’s a philosophy that made Domino’s the worldwide gold standard in pizza delivery, with yearly sales in the billions.
That all changed in early 2008.
“We had launched a new ad campaign called ‘You Got 30,’ which kind of took us back to our roots,” says Doyle, the president and CEO of Domino’s Pizza Inc. “While we weren’t guaranteeing anyone a 30-minute delivery, we were reminding them that most of the time, they’ll get their pizza in 30 minutes. The campaign emphasized how Domino’s saves you time and what you could do with that 30 minutes.”
The campaign fell on deaf ears. Consumers had heard it all before.
“They simply did not care,” Doyle says. “The consumers who already used us because they appreciated the convenience already knew what we were telling them. Those that didn’t, who said the convenience factor was great but we needed better food, it didn’t change their minds about anything. So it was right then, in March 2008, about two months after we launched that ad campaign, that we decided we needed to go back to the drawing board with our pizza.”
Take a bold step
To this day, it’s something of a parlor game at Domino’s Ann Arbor headquarters: Who else in the world of business has admitted an inferior flagship product, scrapped it and rebuilt it from scratch?
“We still can’t come up with one,” Doyle says. “The closest example I ever heard was an ad in the late ’60s from Volkswagen, which had a picture of one of their cars, and under the picture it said ‘lemon.’ They were dealing with some quality perceptions head-on, but it was a single print ad from 45 years ago. We have wracked our brains, and our ad agency’s brains, to come up with a comparable example where a company has come out and said, ‘Our product wasn’t good.’ We haven’t yet.”
To make the product better to the eyes and mouths of customers, Doyle and his team had to go directly to the source. The first step was to listen to the people who had an ax to grind with Domino’s. Throughout 2008 and into 2009, Doyle and the rest of the company’s leadership stayed quiet, listened and took their verbal lumps as consumers launched repeated salvos, comparing the crust to cardboard and the sauce to ketchup, among other things.
“We did every possible kind of research,” Doyle says. “We were doing qualitative research like focus groups, where you’re getting people into a room and having them help you get a sense for where the opportunities were. Those were the comments you ended up seeing in the commercials themselves. But then, we also went out and tested every possible ingredient change, every combination of new sauces, crusts and cheeses, until we thought we had it optimized. Then, we took the new pizza ideas to our most loyal customers to see if they’d appreciate the change. We took it to people who weren’t doing business with us. We went to kids, we went to every possible demographic group and kept testing it.”
The rounds of data gathering and testing put Domino’s on the path to wholesale product change. The recipes for the crust and sauce were completely remade, and new cheese would be used.
Doyle and his leadership team had their new product ready for rollout by the fall of 2009. Then came the next step: explaining themselves, first to the company’s 4,900 U.S.-based franchisees, then to public at large.
State your case
The biggest momentum boost for Doyle and his team might have come with a show of hands.
In the weeks leading up to the rollout of the new pizza, the corporate leadership at Domino’s held a series of meetings around the country, meeting with the leaders of all franchise locations.
“We had five meetings over the course of a couple of weeks,” Doyle says. “We showed them the research and talked to them about customer perceptions of the pizza. We had them sample the old product and the new product, and laid out all the implications for them.”
At one point during one of the meetings, Doyle had the franchisees sample the old and new versions, then vote for which pizza they preferred.
“At one point, we did a show of hands,” he says. “It was nearly unanimous. Out of over 1,000 franchisees in the room, there were 12 who preferred the old pizza. It was absolutely overwhelming. We made the case, we allowed them to give us input, but ultimately we had overwhelming support from our system. And that is maybe the most important constituency. Those are the people who pay us to manage the brand. They’re the ones who are relying on us to do the right thing.”
But Domino’s is an industry giant and a public company to boot, meaning the convincing didn’t stop there. When Domino’s made the announcement near the end of 2009, members of the media and pizza-consuming public were quick to whip out references to New Coke, the famous 1985 business blunder in which Coca-Cola reformulated its flagship beverage, resulting in a massive consumer backlash and, ultimately, the reintroduction of the old formula as “Coca-Cola Classic.”
However, Domino’s reasoning for changing their pizza recipe was fundamentally different from the reason Coca-Cola changed its formula a quarter-century ago.
“Interestingly, while New Coke won in blind taste tests, if you went to Coke customers, they’d tell you that the taste of Coke is why they bought the product. It’s what they were used to,” Doyle says. “When they changed the formula, they were messing with what made Coke what it is. What made Domino’s a household name was the fact that we deliver really quickly. We didn’t build our reputation around the taste of the old pizza. So it was a far different level of risk involved with changing something that consumers considered a weakness. At Coke, they were changing something that consumers considered a strength.”
By the time the New Coke questions came raining down, the new pizza recipe had already caused a spike in sales. The company’s first-quarter U.S. sales in 2010 were up 14.3 percent over 2009. Year over year, Domino’s finished 2010 with a 9.9 percent bump in sales.
“It actually made the New Coke questions kind of humorous,” Doyle says. “The fact that sales were up double digits made it very easy for us to say with confidence that we weren’t pulling a New Coke. Whenever we’d get the New Coke question, we’d just kind of smile at each other.”
But before Doyle and his team could chuckle at the New Coke references, there was still a great deal of work to be done. In December 2009, Domino’s had to retrain 4,900 franchises on how to make a pizza. Corporate leadership had to ensure that the old ingredients ran out and new ingredients were stocked as close as possible to the changeover period, which was the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when Domino’s rolled out their first ad campaign touting the new pizza.
It was a massive logistical balancing act, and it had to be carried out in the span of several weeks.
“We trained a hundred trainers, they each had 50 stores to cover, and there are typically two to three people in each store who are making the pizzas,” Doyle says. “We’d have the trainers organize the pizza makers into groups of 10 to 15 people per day. Over the span of a couple of weeks, each trainer probably trained about 150 people. You just get the people into a store and go to work. You show them how to do it, and you don’t let them leave until you’re confident they can do it right.”
The scope of the transition didn’t allow for a completely clean break between old and new. There was a period of about a week just before Christmas when a given store could have been selling the old pizza or the new.
Despite the months upon months of research, communication and training, Doyle still had a knot in his stomach as the initial rollout was taking place. Despite overwhelming evidence that the consumers wanted an improved pizza from Domino’s, there was no fallback plan if it failed. Doyle and his staff had to completely commit to the new product, because they were going to finish destroying the reputation of the old product by openly admitting its inadequacy. It was an all-or-nothing proposition.
“I remember one of the meetings with the franchisees,” Doyle says. “One of our greatest franchisees raised his hand and asked a great question: ‘I’m on board with the changes, but what do you do if this doesn’t work?’ All I could do was laugh and say, ‘My successor will have a really hard time dealing with that.’ There was no Plan B. There couldn’t be. On the plus side, when you’re facing something like that, it does tend to help you focus more.”
Domino’s, which generated $6.2 billion in global sales in 2010, also rolled out a similar product change in Mexico. The company’s overseas markets were not altered because they already use different ingredients from those used in North America.
Make meaningful change
Doyle admits that much of what happened is unique to Domino’s, but there are still some lessons about change that are applicable regardless of the nature of your business. Chief among them, you need to make change that has an impact. Otherwise, your customer might not even notice.
Don’t change the label and expect consumers to embrace it as a real, meaningful improvement.
“There are a lot of incremental changes made by companies and trumpeted to consumers as something completely different,” Doyle says. “But consumers tune it out. They know it’s not true. They recognize it for what it is. You have to do things that are material in order to get consumers’ attention.
“You walk up and down the aisle in the supermarket, and there are all kinds of new and improved products, with starbursts and arrows pointing to what is improved. But all they did was change the color of the cap on the jar. And then the company is surprised that consumers don’t get excited about it. You lose credibility as a brand and a company if you so clearly overstate the magnitude of the change. You have to make changes that are real and relevant to consumers, and big enough that they’re going to notice.”
How to reach: Domino’s Pizza Inc., (734) 930-3030 or www.dominos.com
The Doyle file
Name: Patrick Doyle
Title: President and CEO
Company: Domino’s Pizza Inc.
Born: Midland, Mich.
Education: B.A., University of Michigan; MBA, University of Chicago
First job: I was mowing lawns and maintaining some tennis courts when I was 12 or 13 years old. So pretty much as soon as I was tall enough to reach the lawn mower bar.
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?
The fundamental lesson is that every business is about people, and the companies with the best people are going to win. If you’re recruiting the best and training the best, and getting the best excited about what the company is doing, you’re going to succeed.
What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?
The ability to listen well, the ability to build consensus when you need to build consensus and the strength of your convictions. Once you’ve listened, you go out and lead. That takes a bit of confidence sometimes.
What is your definition of success?
There are a lot of basic ones in terms of creating shareholder value, growing sales and earnings. But personally, what is most gratifying to me is to see the people we’ve brought into this business, whether employees or franchisees, winning and succeeding. It’s about seeing them build great careers and great businesses.
Not even Dave Blom can predict where exactly the health care reform will leave his industry. But he does know that OhioHealth, the umbrella of not-for-profit, faith-based hospitals and health care organizations where he’s president, will survive the changes if “they” unite as “we.”
OhioHealth’s new branding campaign reflects this cohesiveness with the idea that, “WE are more than a health system. WE are a belief system,” as it says on the website. Blom needs a true team, not just a collection of more than 40 care sites, to innovate and improve the quality of care that OhioHealth provides. So he leads OhioHealth on a pursuit of “systemness” — building teamwork and applying best practices with the common vision of improving the convenience and quality of health care for all members of the community, regardless of their ability to pay.
Because of this, Smart Business, U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies named Blom to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leader honorees. He shared how OhioHealth overcomes the changes in health care with cohesiveness and curiosity.
Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.
It is no secret that health care is undergoing major change and has been for some time. We also know with health care reform, the changes are going to intensify. But no one really knows exactly how or to what degree — there is still a large degree of uncertainty. What we do know is that we have to change how we deliver care. We have to learn to do more with less while always delivering value. Most importantly, at all times, we must maintain and improve quality, access and service.
OhioHealth has been on a ‘systemness’ journey for a few years now, and it has really intensified in the last couple of years, given the changing health care landscape. We are our community’s leading provider of health care, and it is our responsibility to ensure we are positioned to meet our mission in the future. The challenge we faced is that the more than 40 care sites under the OhioHealth umbrella have largely functioned independently in the past. That approach just won’t cut it as health care changes.
Today, we are not only deploying best practices across our organization; we are looking at all processes throughout our organization. It goes even deeper — it’s about a culture shift. We’re asking our associates and physicians to think differently about what they do and how we can do it better together, and they are making it happen. Today, we have more than 35 teams with hundreds of associates and physicians working on projects that will strengthen both our organization and how we deliver care.
It is a work in progress, but we are making great strides. The organization has achieved quality and service levels worthy of national recognition and a workplace culture noted by Fortune magazine as a best place to work, while lowering costs and achieving efficiency levels that will position the organization for the inevitable pressures of a changing health care industry.
The strategy has created cohesiveness, as exemplified by our new branding campaign: Believe in WE. It represents how we are committed to working together to do what’s best for our patients. And that is in partnership with our patients and the community; they are a part of WE.
In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?
At the heart of innovation is a healthy sense of curiosity. It is important to give people an outlet to explore how their ideas can be translated and applied in a meaningful way, especially in an organization comprised of caregivers who already have a natural instinct to improve the lives of others.
In 2006, we introduced the OhioHealth Research and Innovation Institute. OHRI offers an array of services to support clinicians in conducting investigational research studies that could eventually impact the standard of care for our patients. Whether it is a medical breakthrough, a new procedure or a medical device, OHRI supports the process of taking innovative ideas that have the potential to improve the delivery of health care from concept and research to commercialization.
In fact, new medical products developed by OhioHealth clinicians and first introduced at OhioHealth’s hospitals are now marketed internationally.
How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?
OhioHealth’s most significant impact is on the health of our community. Our facilities and services are spread out geographically so we are available when and where patients need health care.
That takes 21,000 associates, physicians and volunteers who not only work in and around Columbus; they also live here and take pride in their communities. That is a powerful force in the economic health of central Ohio.
As a not-for-profit health care system, every dollar OhioHealth earns is reinvested in our community to improve quality of care, increase access to care and enhance service to patients and their families. One of the most tangible measures of that investment is the amount of community benefit we provide each year.
In 2010, OhioHealth provided $191 million in community benefit, exceeding the amount of taxes we would have paid if we were a for-profit business. More than $80 million of that was charity care for members of our community who are uninsured and lack the ability to pay for care.
How to reach: OhioHealth, www.ohiohealth.com
See all 2011 Columbus Smart Leaders on the next page.
Together with U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies, Smart Business named the following honorees to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leaders:
- Christine Poon, Dean, Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University
- Dave Blom, President, OhioHealth
- Denny Griffith, President, Columbus College of Art & Design
- Derrick Clay, Vice President, New Visions
- Doug Kridler, President, Columbus Foundation
- Jack Partridge, President, Columbia Gas
- Marjory Pizzuti, President and CEO, Goodwill Columbus
- Brenda Stier-Anstine, CEO, Marketing Works
- Jim Klein, CEO, Finance Fund
- Kevin Gadd, CEO, Venture Highway
- Eleanor Alvarez, President, LeaderStat
- *TaKeysha Sheppard Cheney, CEO, The Women’s Book
- Brigadier General Arnold W. Bunch Jr., Air Force Security Assistance Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
*Indicates Women Presidents’ Organization Breakthrough Business Leader
Think back to when you were a child. When you talked about the future, you probably declared: “When I grow up, I’m going to be a fireman!” Or maybe it was an astronaut, doctor, explorer or possibly a singer, veterinarian or ballplayer. Whatever our ambitions were, we passionately proclaimed our grand aspirations for these careers, not because they were merely jobs but because to us, they sounded fun.
Of course, time passes and a terrible thing happened to many (but not all) of us — we grew up. In time, imagination and youthful exuberance were replaced by controlled behavior and managed expectations, so much the better for functioning in adult society and living a professional life. We may not have realized it while it was occurring, but in doing so, many of us put aside our passion and enthusiasm, as well.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the famed 19th century poet and philosopher wrote, “Every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is due to the triumph of enthusiasm. Nothing great was ever achieved without it.” Roll that around in your mind for a few moments and contemplate how profound yet simple that statement is. Add to that another well-known saying — “enthusiasm is contagious” — and the result is the recipe for greatness.
Most successful businesspeople share a common trait. They love what they do. They have succeeded in taking the same mindset they had as children and applying it to their work. Furthermore, their highest goals are almost always about something more than monetary pursuits. Consider for a moment some of the greatest human endeavors — walking on the moon, climbing the highest mountains, exploring the ocean, finding cures for deadly diseases, even pursuing Olympic medals and sports championships. For those who pursue these extremely lofty goals, the challenge — and the satisfaction — comes from wanting to be the best. They are fueled by a fire that burns from within. By retaining their childlike spirit and passion, these people confront seemingly daunting challenges not with dread but with tremendous enthusiasm combined with a deep sense of purpose.
Of course, not every successful person is necessarily a great leader. The best leaders aren’t just passionate themselves; they are also able to impart their enthusiasm to others. By nature, most people are resistant to changes in the status quo. But a true leader, infused with an individual sense of deep passion, can actually generate a wave of energy to those around them.
Our history books are filled with the names of legendary leaders from all walks of life — sports figures, statesmen, military figures, as well as those from the business world. What elevated them from the rest of the pack was their ability to spread their vision and motivate others to believe in whatever cause they were working toward. More than just selling them on an idea, their deep-seated passion sparked the same feelings inside their followers, making them feel personally inspired to aim toward the same goal. This personal engagement was then passed along to the next person and the next after that. Soon enough, with critical mass achieved, the white-hot flame of belief and passion gave rise to monumental achievements — world record sports performances, decisive military victories and breakthroughs in business.
By recapturing the ambition and enthusiasm we had as children and translating that into our professional goals of today, we can bring new vision and purpose to those goals — not just for ourselves but for our employees, customers and communities. Emerson was right. The bottom line is: With enthusiasm, you truly can attain greatness and change the world.
Tony Little is founder, president and CEO of Health International Corp. Known as “America’s personal trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct response marketing and television home shopping. Today, his company has sold more than $3 billion of product. Contact Little via his website, www.tonylittle.com, or by e-mail at GuestBook@tonylittle.com.