Robyn Davis Sekula

Monday, 28 August 2006 20:00

Play maker

Imagine inviting your customers to adjust your fee if they aren’t happy with your company’s services and putting that pledge in writing. Roger Staubach doesn’t just imagine it, he does it.

Staubach, chairman and CEO of The Staubach Co., has The Staubach Constitution, a document that spells out his real estate company’s principles and contains that pledge.

He stands behind the pledge to refund fees to clients who believe the company didn’t live up to its promises. It’s rare that he issues a refund, but it does happen, Staubach says, and it’s painful for the company.

For Staubach, though, there’s no other way to prove that your company has integrity than to offer an ironclad guarantee. Staubach says it’s a reminder to employees and to himself to adhere to the values central to his company as outlined in the constitution — integrity, respect, teamwork, balance and leadership. Offering the guarantee is one way the company takes the constitution from paper to action.

“We’ve had some disappointments through the years and we’ve had to live up to that guarantee,” Staubach says. “But it’s a way to say that you have integrity and trust and balance, the things that we’re doing. We have to back it up.”

Staubach is, of course, the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys who made a household name for himself on the football field and who is now making a name for himself in the real estate field. His company, with revenue of $410 million in fiscal 2006, focuses exclusively on helping real estate users, not owners or developers. He started the company in 1977 and has 60 offices throughout the Americas and about 1,300 employees.

Staubach governs his company by The Staubach Constitution, which he introduced in the early 1990s as the company was experiencing rapid growth, to spell out the principles he’s used to guide the company since its inception. It’s a way of providing guidance to employees on delivering a consistent service and doing it in a way that is consistent with the founder’s beliefs. All employees receive a laminated copy of the constitution in their orientation packets, and copies are posted around the offices.

Staubach says that the guiding principles in the constitution have helped ensure the company’s growth because customers can’t lose. He relies extensively on repeat business, and even if clients have a bad experience, he needs a way to lure them back again. Refunding their fees if they are unhappy encourages them to consider giving the company another try.

“We are defining who we are not just by a bunch of words but the things that we do and how we go about it,” Staubach says. “Whatever we say we’re going to do is what we’re graded on.

“We have a customer, and our main priority is that customer. Being able to get that trust internally, where we are going to do everything we can for that customer, is the challenge that we have. ... That leads into making sure you have access to the resources within the company that can provide the services to the customer. The trust has to be there internally. If we don’t have the trust internally, we can’t transfer it to the customer.”

The Staubach Constitution has three sections: mission, values and operating principles. The core of the document, values, governs how employees of The Staubach Co. function.

The secret to making the values transcend the paper is constantly keeping in touch with the company’s associates. Staubach Co. has a Web site that acts as a suggestion box where employees can post anonymous complaints about violations of the constitution, along with suggestions as to how to better meet the standards set forth in that document.

“We get a lot of suggestions from people,” Staubach says. “They have the ability to bring ideas and thoughts to us. We get better every day by listening to people.”


Establishing integrity
Any member of the Staubach team who makes a promise to a client is held to it, Staubach says. One way he ensures that his employees are following his principles is by communicating with the clients.

Every client is e-mailed a Client Review survey at the culmination of a deal. The client fills it out, giving feedback on the performance of the employee and the transaction. A copy goes to Staubach himself and to the manager of the office where the transaction occurred. Between 70 and 90 forms are returned each month.

Staubach reads every form and sends an e-mail to the broker involved, whether the review was positive or negative. If it was negative, he asks for the broker’s feedback, then either e-mails or calls the customer to resolve the situation.

And yes, in some cases, a client gets their money back.

“Internally, people know they will be graded and people will look at how they performed, and they want to make sure it’s done right,” Staubach says. “We also never want to get into any sort of serious legal action with a client, which we’ve never done. Our competition wants to say that the guarantee is just a marketing thing, but it’s not.”

Staubach says part of having integrity is doing what’s best for the customer. In some cases, brokers have led clients to less expensive space, lowering their own commission. But it was what was best for the customer —- and that’s the right thing to do, Staubach says.

Focusing on what’s right rather than on what is lucrative, keeps the company honest and is ultimately good for business.


Establishing teamwork and respect
Staubach says that teamwork is the one value that guides the other four.

“It all gets embodied in teamwork,” Staubach says. “To respect someone other than yourself is really what teamwork is. ... Team players are people you can trust.”

Technology has been key to helping Staubach employees feel they are part of a team working toward the same goal. The company’s professionals use an online tool called Staubach Connect that allows associates to see each other’s contacts, appointments, records and other information, and to ask questions of team members around the country.

Staubach says he’s impressed with how much his employees use Staubach Connect and how it forges them together as a team.

“I see so many e-mails that go out that people need some help, they’ve had an example or circumstance that could help someone else out, and people really e-mail back,” Staubach says. “That’s unusual in our industry as far as sharing information and trying to help someone else in your organization be successful with their client, and you don’t get any [financial] rewards from it. It’s just trying to do the right thing for someone else.

“Getting that kind of culture is a challenge every day. We are good at it, but we sure could get better at it.”

Another way he fosters teamwork is through a two-day academy every year at which all of the company’s associates come to one central location for training and teambuilding.

Staubach says it’s costly to hold the annual meeting, but it’s important for employees to get to know each other face-to-face. The meeting includes training sessions and panels of customers to give feedback on how the company is performing.


Creating balance
Staubach encourages employees to live rich lives outside of the office. With grown children of his own and a wife of four decades, he makes a point to live what he preaches.

His own life is demanding, but even as his company was growing, he put his children’s activities on his calendar and made it to as many functions as possible. His wife travels with him now sometimes, which also helps send the message to his employees that family time is important.

Employees are encouraged to leave early if they want to attend a child’s soccer game or participate in a volunteer activity.

“If a manager says, ‘You’re spending too much time with Make-A-Wish’ or something similar, that would go against everything we believe,” Staubach says. “We trust our people that if they are given time for the community, they are actually doing it, and they are able to do it and still be effective in their business life, too.”

Though many executives might worry that such leeway might cause employees to take advantage, Staubach says that’s not often the case.

“Very few people are like that,” Staubach says. “If you allow them to have that ability to make sure they have that balance, they will work harder for you and believe in your organization.”


Driving leadership
Staubach says leadership has to be consistent, displaying strong and even behavior at work and at home. He strives to embody the tenets of his constitution throughout his own working life, especially when it comes to respect and teamwork, and he says good leaders are respectful to every person they meet.

Staubach’s pet peeve is leaders who lie or are rude. Some people are rude to Staubach’s secretary or lie to her to get through to him, but it doesn’t work, he says, and it isn’t good leadership.

“They don’t treat people very well,” Staubach says. “It happens a lot. I get very disappointed in people who really are leaders and how they treat people who are not important to them.

“You have to incorporate it into their complete life. It should be pretty consistent in every aspect of their life. My leadership style is to say, ‘These are the things I expect of you, and I’m going to try to represent what I expect of you.’ A leader has to have a message that people follow.”

Lest you think that Staubach has too much of a quarterback mentality —- it’s all about him —- understand that he knows he can’t do any of this alone. His years on sports teams have taught him what teamwork is. After all, even if you’re a star quarterback, someone has to give you the ball.

“I was a pretty decent quarterback, but I sure wouldn’t have been as good as I was if I hadn’t had a lot of great teammates,” he says.

How to reach: The Staubach Co.,

Friday, 28 July 2006 20:00

Thinking ahead

 Last Christmas, Toni Portmann had the sort of problem that would stump any CEO of a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year operation: How do you compel workers, many of whom are brand-new to your company, to show up on Christmas Day, a day that is really important to a large client?

Portmann, president and CEO of Stream, an inbound call center company offering technical support and customer service, needed to accommodate the growing demands of her client, Sirius Satellite Radio. To do that, she needed to hire several thousand people and have them trained and ready to handle calls on Christmas Day.

Sirius anticipated — correctly — that many people would receive a Sirius radio and its service as a holiday gift, largely thanks to popular shock jock Howard Stern’s move to the service from traditional broadcast radio beginning in January 2006.

Many of these new customers would pick up the phone immediately to ask questions about how to operate the system, and even though it was Christmas Day, it was important to make sure someone was there to help them.

Portmann had four call centers ready to go and all of the workers lined up; she even hired 18 percent above projections just to make sure Stream had enough people on hand. But she wanted to do something else to encourage people to show up, so she decided to have all of the company’s top management answer calls themselves that day. They trained on the same script as other workers, and she dispersed them among the four call centers.

On Christmas Day, the centers handling the Sirius calls had absentee rates of about 11 percent, which made Portmann ecstatic. Calls were answered, Sirius was happy, and Portmann had proactively solved what could have been a crisis.

And yes, Portmann herself was one of those workers taking calls from gift recipients on Christmas morning. The company even set up a Web camera to show workers in other locations that their president and CEO was working in her cubicle. Portmann says the experience provided a bonus for the executives, as well, giving them great insight into how the company operates from the ground up.

“It was so wonderful because a lot of us had never known what the real job was like and to sit there for eight hours,” Portmann says. “We all work hard, but we don’t sit still for eight hours slammed with volume.”

Action, not reaction
Portmann uses proactive thinking to look at problems, and her solutions to the most pressing issues don’t necessarily focus on what someone else should be doing or who to blame when things go wrong. She prefers to think about what she can do to ensure that a situation turns out the best way possible.

In the case of the Christmas Day dilemma, she thought about potential problems such as a high absentee rate, and then led by example by manning a phone.

That sort of thinking has brought the company phenomenal growth since Portmann became president and CEO of Stream’s predecessor, ECE Holdings, in 2002, and is a big part of what has made Stream a $400 million company today.

Under Portmann, ECE blossomed due in part to a merger with the much-larger Stream in 2004. Portmann’s philosophy on growth is to buy companies that have what her company needs rather than try to build from the ground up. It’s faster and easier to do it that way, Portmann says.

“We had a grand vision at the time,” Portmann says. “(ECE) had four centers in the U.S. and one in Dublin, and that was it. We said, if we’re going to make it, we have to be international and global. We had this vision of what we needed if we could have an open checkbook. We shared that with our equity owner, and lo and behold, Stream comes on the market.”

Running inbound call centers is challenging because of high turnover rates, but Portmann takes a proactive approach to recruiting and retention issues, too. Some jobs require technical knowledge to support a client’s product or service, but hiring the smartest person isn’t always the smartest move.

“The very best techies are sometimes the very worst for our company,” says Portmann. “They hate dumb customers, they hate answering the same questions five times, so we always say, ‘Hire heart and train to technical.’”

She also thinks ahead when it comes to call center employees.

“You have entry level jobs, so you’d better have really good processes,” says Portmann. “When a person comes in and interviews, what I want to do is train her, get her on the phone and milk her and get her productive for as long as possible. We have built models that say we plan for attrition.

“We know that the average tenure in Dallas, Texas, is nine months, so we know that when we get to six months, we’d better start building another class. ... You can’t be nave about it. You have to plan for it and accommodate it.”

Rebuilding the spirit
To build the new Stream, company leaders started by re-energizing the company with a new mission statement, colors and other things designed to give the company its spirit back. The work was done by Portmann and two key executives — no consultants involved.

“We literally rebranded, remissioned, reimaged, remessaged the entire company, and we did that within the first 90 days,” Portmann says. “We called it the new Stream, and our whole mantra was, let’s put the spirit back in.”

Portmann’s goals after that were to create new processes to make sure that no matter where in the world a call was answered, it would be handled the same way, mostly in terms of the attitude of the person handling the call. One large client, Portmann says, has calls answered at 12 call centers around the globe, and Stream needs to handle all of those the same way.

“Wherever you go in the globe, if Stream is the one doing the support, it’s the exact same support model, whether it’s India or France or Italy or Spain or Germany or Canada or the U.S.,” Portmann says.

Stream created a list of 18 specific behaviors and practices it wants to see modeled in those who answer phone calls. The company looks for those behaviors during the hiring process but also spends considerable time and energy on ongoing training on those behaviors.

Managers listen in on calls and give feedback to employees, focusing on those traits. Also, Stream requires each of its 24 call centers in 14 countries to spend 15 minutes every week discussing one of the core behaviors the company wants to see in employees, and employees are invited to share experiences as to how they’ve implemented the behavior on the job.

After standardizing the way the company handles calls, Portmann began thinking of ways to differentiate Stream from its competitors. With some 4,500 companies offering tech support services, Portmann wanted a way to draw companies to Stream and help the company grow.

One avenue that’s helping Stream bond to its existing customers and lure new ones is a program Portmann calls “The Voice of the Support Professional.” Once a year, she asks all of the agents in the call centers what feedback they would give to their clients about their products. Those comments are passed back to the client for evaluation.

“It’s so cool,” Portmann says. “The clients now say, ‘When are you going to do the Voice of the Support Professional? We’re going to fly people in for that.’ If you think about it, we talk to their most important constituent every day, and that’s their customer.”

Another strategy is a program called RGM, or Revenue Generation Management. Portmann says it is changing the way her clients are thinking about their tech support operations.

“When you call for help, you come into my store,” Portmann says. “We have programs, at the end of any technical support call or customer service call that cross-sell, upsell or pitch something that might generate revenue. ... It has transformed the call center from an expense to a revenue-generating channel.”

The program also generates revenue for Stream.

“Americans love to buy,” says Portmann. “It works better with the Americans than anyone in the U.K. We’ve done correlation of the data, and customer satisfaction is higher when I ask you to buy something. It’s amazing.”

For the future, Portmann sees chat support growing, even more so than e-mail support, as chat is instantaneous. Right now, chat and e-mail support comprise about 15 percent of the company’s business.

“It’s starting to get its own rhythm,” Portmann says. “We are literally starting to staff chat like we do voice. ... I think there will be continuous movement in chat.”

Portmann’s proactive strategies are working. In 2004, before the merger with Stream, ECE had about 1,500 people employees and $70 million in revenue. Today, Stream projects 2006 revenue of $400 million and 12,000 employees. Portmann anticipates revenue growth of 20 percent a year as the company hones its focus, bonds with clients and uses new tools to bring in new technology-related clients.

Asked for five-year revenue goals, Portmann says that’s too far down the road to project in the technology business. But she’s always looking for growth opportunities, both through new clients and through buying other call centers.

“The additional opportunity for us is expansion into geographic markets and finding better, faster, cheaper ways to do things so that we can eke out higher levels of profitability,” Portmann says.

How to contact: Stream,

Thursday, 29 June 2006 17:24

The Sepulveda file

Born: Houston

Education: Bachelor of business administration degree, University of Texas at Austin, 1979

What’s the biggest business challenge you’ve faced?
A very substantial contract with an international software company that went sideways on us. I was executive vice president at the time and had responsibility for that in the enterprise.

You really don’t know someone until you see how they fight. That’s really where people display their character and competence. As the situation was unwinding, I interjected myself into the process to diligently coach our contractual partner on what’s going on and how it could be fixed.

And then things continued to move sideways, and the partner that we had said the contract will not be valid, and we need more money, and you’re going to get less than you were getting under the original contract. My position on that was, ‘Hey, we’ll be fair, but we don’t do the hostage thing.’

We ended up filing a lawsuit for breach of contract, and over the course of the next year and a half, I got together with the CEO of that company and reached a mutually agreeable resolution.

What is the best work advice is you’ve ever been given?
That comes out of the third chapter of the book of Colossians, verse 23: ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.’

What is the best business book you’ve read?
The Old Testament book of Nehemiah is an excellent business book. That’s where the foundational concepts of passion, focus and competence come from.

I think people do well in business when they are working on something they have a passion about. They can then focus, and their competence soars.

Sepulveda on accounting:
Accounting is the language of business. If you are interested in business and you learn accounting, then that will be very helpful to you as you interface in any kind of business you get into.

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