Dallas (874)

Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Outside the box

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Kip Tindell, co-chairman, CEO and one of the founders of The

Container Store Inc., wanted to build a strong team of great people

that could help grow his store of home and office organization

products into a national chain of stores dedicated to helping consumers organize their lives. Since the store’s founding in 1978,

he’s done that, and he’s proud of what the company has achieved.

But Tindell says the success has come as a result of one key focus:

quality. He wants his stores located in the very best locations for

his potential customers, even if that means waiting for the right

location. More important, he only wants the best employees, even

if it means spending more — a lot more — than the industry average to get them.

“The most difficult and frustrating and rewarding and wonderful

part of any business is the people aspect of it,” Tindell says. “I’m a

big advocate of the fact that you can’t achieve uncommon results

unless you are surrounding yourself with people who are awesome. If you’re going to have a golf team, why not have Tiger

Woods on it?”

The $550 million Dallas-based retailer has 39 locations and 3,500

employees, and has never shuttered a store. The company has

grown at a steady pace of 15 to 20 percent annually.

Tindell’s commitment to quality calls for careful analysis and a lot

of patience, regardless of whether it’s real estate or people. For

Tindell, rushing would lead to a dilution of the company’s quality,

and that, in turn, would put the entire company in jeopardy.

Great customers make great employees

The Container Store’s success starts with knowing its customers,

and knowing them well. By simply collecting phone numbers of

customers at the checkout point, the store knows who shops,

what they buy, where they live and even their average income.

Tindell says The Container Store’s strongest customers have a

household income of $100,000 and up, are highly educated and

highly likely to be female.

And here’s what’s interesting: Tindell sees those people as great

potential employees. Tindell says if they like shopping at the store,

they’ll love working at it, and he’s been proven right, time and

again.

To capture those potential employees, The Container Store’s

staff members have little cards on hand that they are free to hand

out any time they meet someone whom they believe would be a

great employee. The card invites the recipient to apply for a job at

the store, and this doesn’t just happen when a store has openings,

either.

The Container Store invites anyone to apply at any time and

begins training new employees before others leave so the company’s always ready when a vacancy occurs. Not that it happens

much: Annually, the retailer’s turnover is in the single digits. The

company hires about 6 percent of those who apply.

“We always have backups,” Tindell says. “We are very big on succession planning. I run across a lot of great retailers and business-people that I’ve admired over the years that, as they became older,

they didn’t have any succession planning, no one chosen to replace

themselves or their top people.”

Almost two decades ago, Tindell adopted the one-equals-three

philosophy, where one great person is the equivalent of three good

ones. Instead of staffing a store to the max, Tindell’s philosophy is

to hire only the very best people.

“If you really believe that, you can afford to put your money

where your mouth is,” Tindell says. “It takes a lot of bravery to pay

50 to 100 percent above industry average, but it works because

everybody wins. The employee wins because she is getting 50 to

100 percent more money than someone else might pay her, and the

company wins because it is getting three times the productivity for

only 50 to 100 percent more pay, and the customer wins because

they are getting this really great person who is thrilled about their

compensation and loves to come to work every day.”

Employees aren’t paid on commission, because that tends to

encourage them to sell more than a customer needs. Instead, they

are trained to help customers solve problems.

A good example is a customer who wants something to organize

his or her shoes. The employee is trained to ask deeper, more probing questions of the customer about that person’s entire closet. If

his or her shoes are disorganized, chances are, so is that person’s

closet, and The Container Store sells a variety of products that can

help tame that troubling, disorganized beast.

Ultimately, the store will sell more products by helping customers solve problems rather than just meeting the immediate

need that brought that person to the store, and Tindell says the

customer is happier in the long run.

Part of what keeps employees working for The Container Store

is the company’s level of investment in them. It spends about 240

hours training employees before they start work, and continues

the training as they continue to work so that they are always up to

date on the latest products.

“You can’t lose them once you do that,” Tindell says. “Once you

have that kind of investment in an employee, you need to have a

very, very low turnover rate, which we do.”

That’s at least in part because of a few great perks. Besides its

higher-than-average pay, employees receive a 40 percent discount

on products. Because many of them are already storage aficionados, that’s a really nice perk, and it encourages them to continue to

get to know new merchandise as it comes in. Tindell says the more

merchandise they know, the more products they can demonstrate

and the more customers will buy.

For a new store, Tindell has a very deliberate process to staff it.

The company opens up a nice office near the store that’s set up as

if it is a location of The Container Store. Applicants get the look

and feel of how the store will operate.

Before their group interview, applicants are given a homework

assignment: Find a product on the company’s Web site or in its

store that they like and give a presentation on how the product

works and its major features. Applicants are interviewed in

groups, and product demonstrations take up most of the initial

interview time. That shows how potential employees sell and

how they interact with others.

“They get a good flavor in this group interview for the quirky

culture of The Container Store,” Tindell says. “People leave the

interview and go home and say, ‘Oh my God, I hope I get this

job.’ It’s a thrilling process.”

After the first cuts are made from the group interviews, the

company’s representatives from its home office and retail locations personally interview potential associates in several oneon-one interviews.

“We start months in advance,” Tindell says. “We hire our

employees a couple of months before the store opens so that

they are fully trained. They participate in the set-up of the

store. Most retailers hire employees a day or two before the

store opens because they don’t want to pay them for the previous month or two. We hire them as early as possible.”

Group interviews continue year-round, even though stores

might not have openings, to ensure every store has enough

employees whenever they are needed.

Tindell says one key change has helped the company redefine

how it thinks about recruiting: Recruiting is under marketing

at the company; The Container Store has no human resources

department.

“We just wanted to break the mold on that whole concept,”

Tindell says. “The people who are in charge of recruiting for

the company understand that it’s not their job to go out and

recruit great people for The Container Store. It’s their job to

make sure that the rest of us are constantly recruiting great

people to work for The Container Store. A key part of everyone’s job is to find other great people to come and work for

The Container Store.”

The recruiting card is a handy tool for doing that, even if it

means giving them out at a family gathering.

“We are happy to have friends, cousins, relatives,” Tindell

says. “People know which of their cousins are great and which

are not. ... It takes a little bit of boldness to recruit a soccer

mom at a soccer game. We are huge on the concept of our customers make our best employees.

“Employees get recruited right off the sales floor. We really

want our employees to be people our customers can relate to.”

Examining markets

Part of what keeps The Container Store strong is knowing its limits. Similar to his philosophy on employees, Tindell says he’d

rather have one great location than three good ones. He concentrates on finding the very best retail locations for stores, which, as

it happens, are in plaza-style, outdoor shopping centers that allow

the stores to be on one level.

Customers are buying large, bulky items, in many cases, and

wouldn’t want to carry them around a mall.

“There is a limit of how fast we can grow,” Tindell says. “We are

not limited by capital. Money has never been our limiting factor.

Our limiting factor has always been the people aspect of things. We

have learned we can grow at 15 to 20 percent a year. It’s right for

us. We take the best real estate development locations we can

find.”

Currently, The Container Store has some 29 markets it is examining, and the company waits patiently for the right space in those

markets. And until it taps out the U.S. market, Tindell won’t consider international markets, as he says that’s a whole other type of

market. He says there are more than 100 cities he’d like to locate

in, and as he sees it, that means The Container Store has decades

of potential growth ahead of it without ever sacrificing its quality.

“It’s the most exciting period in our history,” Tindell says. “We are

in this adolescent stage. Even though we’ve been in business since

1978, everything just keeps getting better. Now, everybody wants

us in their shopping center.

“That wasn’t always the case. Now, everyone seems to want

to work for us. The average person we hire is better and better

and better. The products we are able to develop with manufacturers are getting better. ... It’s so much fun and so exciting

because it just keeps snowballing. We are really hitting our

stride right now.”

HOW TO REACH: The Container Store Inc., www.containerstore.com

Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

John F. Davis III

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When John F. Davis III’s team members told him that they needed to lay off 240 employees the first week of December, he said absolutely not, even though it would cost $250,000 to keep them on until January. He wanted to do the right thing and not let people go right before the holidays, so despite arguments from his staff, he kept the employees on. As word spread at Pegasus Solutions Inc. of what he had done, the affected employees took the impending layoffs much better when they saw how Davis cared about and fought for them. As chairman and CEO of Pegasus, a provider of booking services to the hotel industry, Davis is adamant about leading by example, a style that has helped him grow the company to $170 million in revenue last year. Smart Business spoke with Davis about how he lets the Golden Rule guide him in empowering his employees as he sets an example for them every day.

Lead by example. You have to show people. People follow leaders that are actually doing something.

During the summer, I like having Friday afternoon off to go play golf, so I made a new rule that everybody gets Friday afternoon off. If I left every Friday at noon, I would expect everybody else to do it.

If you want people here at 8 o’clock, you’ve got to be here at 8 o’clock. You want people to work over the weekend, you’ve got to be willing to work over the weekend.

Don’t just tell people to do it. The people that come up here and work on the weekends, if they didn’t see me up here, by about the third weekend they’d go, ‘Well, if it’s not that important to him, why’s it important to blow my weekend?’ Be willing to do it yourself. If you’re not, then you’re just not the leader.

Empower people. I hire smart people and count on them to get the job done. I have what I call the big-boy and big-girl rule. Everybody’s a big boy and big girl when they come to work here.

I hired an executive vice president, and I said, ‘We’ve got a meeting in San Francisco, and he started in — ‘What flight are you on? When are you leaving? Who’s going to pick you up? Where do we go when we get there?’ I said, ‘No, no, no, big boy. The meeting is at 3 o’clock in San Francisco. Here’s the address. I assume you can get there.’ Everybody’s a big boy [or] big girl. They can figure it out.

It gives them a freedom to get it done. They feel like they’re in control. Nobody’s dictating to them how to get it done. Just say, ‘Here’s what we need to accomplish,’ and you show them the mountain and hope they get to the top through their own devices.

If I have to go do it, why did I hire them? If I really have to do it, then we have to talk about splitting your salary with me. That gets their attention.

Lead people away from micromanaging. Back off — don’t micromanage. Let people do the job you hired them to do.

Everyone here is an intelligent person. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have hired them, and if they’re not intelligent enough to get the job done, we don’t need them anyway.

We have some people that still are dead set on micromanaging and making sure everybody knows exactly every step they need to do to accomplish a goal. Forget it. Keep working on them because people who are micromanagers, it’s in their DNA.

It’s not something you cure overnight by any stretch. It’s just how they are, so keep reminding them to back off. We don’t do training on micromanaging. You can’t train them. It’s just a style. Hope they pick it up by watching.

Define the vision. Be very clear, concise and specific. You cannot be vague. The vision itself is, by the very nature, vague, but then you have to take the next step.

What does that mean, and what do we have to accomplish to achieve the vision? You have to be extremely specific.

Let them ask as many questions as they want to. I try not to speak to them too long without, ‘Stop me anytime if you have a question, you don’t understand or there’s something that’s not very clear.’

Overcome cultural barriers in international business. The challenge is communicating enough, communicating the right message and in the right form.

When you communicate, don’t make references that people around the whole world have no idea what you’re speaking of. You can’t use references like, ‘We want to get the ball over the goal.’ They don’t quite get that in Beijing. I started talking to people face to face, and they’d look at me like I was from Mars. It gave me a little hint that they don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

It also changes your jokes. Every time I went to Europe, the employees would say, ‘OK, you’re not in the U.S. anymore. We don’t think the way Americans do.’

You just have to force yourself. When you get to a new country, go along with them. I always have them take me out to dinner and give me a tour. Just keep a smile on your face, and go look at churches. I’ve seen a lot of churches — especially old churches.

Own your ideas. I started a company called 800-FLOWERS years ago. I got the phone number, went out and raised a bunch of money.

The guys that I raised the money from decided I was too young to be the CEO. They told me I had to go hire a CEO, so we did. I brought this guy in, and he immediately ran the company into the ground.

If it’s your dream, your vision, you can’t pass that on to somebody else. You cannot translate that. You have to go with your own gut. The guy who cares most about it is the guy whose idea it is, so when somebody comes to me in the company and says, ‘Here’s an idea for a new product,’ I turn around and say, ‘Perfect idea — it’s yours. You go make it happen’ because nobody cares more than the person that has the vision and the idea.

You cannot go hire emotion. You can’t hire drive. If it’s your vision, your idea, you have to go do it.

HOW TO REACH: Pegasus Solutions Inc., (214) 234-4000 or www.pegs.com

Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

Controlling litigation costs

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When does it pay to go through the cost and stress of filing a lawsuit? John J. Butrus Jr., the chairman of Munck Butrus PC’s Litigation Section, is fond of saying, “winning resets your costs to zero. The case you win costs you the least. If you get into a fight, fight to win.”

That is prime advice.

“In many instances, however, litigation costs prevent you from implementing a litigation strategy that gives you the best chance to win.” Although litigation expenses can be significant, more than 90 percent of all civil cases settle prior to trial.

Smart Business talked to Butrus about controlling business litigation costs.

Are litigation costs really out of hand?

Yes and no. Litigation costs deprive many individuals and small entities access to our legal system. These persons and entities often lack the necessary resources to engage in litigation against large opponents.

Our judicial system is designed to accomplish a fair and impartial resolution of litigants’ claims. In theory, every litigant has the right to expect our judicial system to provide a forum conducive to this purpose. Judges, legislators and attorneys must periodically assess whether rising litigation costs are creating a barrier to a fair resolution of civil cases.

How tough is going through litigation?

While most litigants understand litigation costs, most do not consider the intangible costs. Litigation often requires employees to dedicate significant time and energy to gather documents, provide information and otherwise work with counsel on the case.

Never presume a lawsuit will end quickly. Most lawsuits have the potential to become a multi-year proposition, and if your business cannot afford a lengthy battle you should avoid litigation.

In many instances, there are good reasons to file a lawsuit even though the company may never recover its costs. For example, litigation often occurs when a large company wants to protect its intellectual property against infringers. Some manufacturers, as a matter of policy, want to litigate all claims to discourage parties with weak cases from filing suit.

Is there a rule-of-thumb on when to pursue legal action?

While there is no rule of thumb per se, a company should consider certain critical issues before engaging in litigation. Theoretically, a business’s goal is to maximize long-term value of shareholder equity. Of course, litigation expenses affect bottom-line profits. In the end, however, a successful lawsuit may lead to higher profits and increased shareholder wealth.

What do you tell clients who want to fight about ‘the principle of the thing?’

In most instances, it makes no sense to incur litigation costs simply to prove a point. Ultimately, however, the client decides whether to pursue a claim.

The attorney should explain to the client that our civil litigation system achieves justice primarily through awarding or denying monetary damages. In simple terms, our judicial system is not right venue to prove a point.

Can mediation help?

In some instances, mediation can help. During the course of a dispute, the opportunity for a successful mediation comes and goes.

When the parties have sufficient information to evaluate a case’s value, a case may be ripe for settlement at a pre-suit mediation. In addition, when both sides want to resolve the dispute a pre-suit mediation is a good idea.

A good time to seek post-suit mediation is just before the parties invest in large amounts of litigation costs. A critical development that changes the landscape of the case or resolves a critical disputed fact also presents an excellent opportunity to resolve a case through mediation. An imminent trial date is perhaps the best motivation for the parties to agree to mediation.

How do you choose a litigator?

Past success is an excellent predictor of future success.

In addition, ask questions to determine whether the firm has the in-house expertise needed for your case. In many cases, it is less expensive and more convenient to consult in-house experts than to hire outside consultants. Your case may involve intellectual property, tax, employment and other practice areas in addition to litigation. When the firm you hire has attorneys who practice in these areas, your costs typically go down.

Finally, be sure you have good rapport with the attorney you hire. Highly educated people such as engineers, scientists, accountants and attorneys tend to rely on technical skills and logic rather than intuition. However, litigation success goes beyond technical proficiency. It is critical that you trust your attorney and feel he or she is looking out for your best interest.

JOHN J. BUTRUS JR. is chairman of the Munck Butrus Litigation Section. He has more than 20 years of trial and litigation experience and currently handles intellectual property and complex commercial litigation matters for corporate clients and investors. Reach him at jbutrus@munckbutrus.com or (972) 628-3600.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

Sooner is better

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Your company’s success depends on quality employees. Attracting and retaining them often takes more than a competitive salary or satisfying environment. One tool that many successful businesses use to attract and retain quality employees is an attractive retirement plan.

Choosing a retirement plan for your business can be a daunting task, requiring the consideration of a range of business and personal needs and goals.

“The sooner you set up a retirement plan for your business, the longer you and your employees will be able to contribute,” says Jamie Richardson, vice president of View-Point Investment Group, a division of ViewPoint Bank and registered principal of Raymond James Financial Inc. “This can make a significant difference upon retirement. For many businesses, the question is not ‘Should I implement a plan?’ but ‘Which plan is right for my business?’”

Smart Business talked with Richardson about some of the things businesses should consider in developing their retirement plans.

What are the options in types of retirement plans?

The choices are many. They include SEP, profit sharing, 401(k), SIMPLE IRA and defined benefit, just to name a few. Selecting a suitable plan is a crucial step, and providing one has many benefits.

What are the major differences between these plans?

There are many differences between these types of plans. However, qualified retirement plans fall into two broad categories: defined-benefit plans and defined-contribution plans. SEP, SIMPLE IRA, 401(k) and profit-sharing plans are all considered defined-contribution plans. For small businesses wishing to minimize administrative costs, a SEP or SIMPLE IRA might be appropriate. For an employer wanting a plan that allows employee elective deferrals without nondiscrimination testing, a Safe-harbor 401(k) might be attractive. Safe-harbor 401(k)s allow owners and highly compensated employees to maximize their contributions to the plan.

What are the main considerations in setting up a plan?

A number of considerations should be evaluated when selecting a plan. Working with a qualified adviser to establish strategic solutions for your financial needs is crucial no matter what stage of growth your business is in. Key issues in plan design include the type of business and ownership information, employee eligibility, funding, contribution limits and nondiscrimination testing.

In addition to plan design, a number of components must be coordinated to help ensure the most effective benefit for your employees. These include investment alternatives, record-keeping, administration, employee communication and trustee selection.

What is the adviser’s role in setting up a plan?

Retirement plans have many different moving parts that must be coordinated to run smoothly and potentially meet the needs of the organization. An adviser’s role is to help you set reasonable expectations, select the most appropriate plan, then manage all the components on an ongoing basis to help ensure a successful plan.

How often should the overall plan be reviewed for potential adjustments?

Annual plan reviews are imperative. This includes overall service, operations, participation, nondiscrimination testing and investment performance. It is also important to review your plan in light of any regulatory updates, legislation, Department of Labor and IRS matters. In August of 2006, President Bush signed the Pension Protection Act of 2006 into law, which brings many changes to shore up retirement plans.

What are the main criteria for selecting a retirement plan?

You must listen to the needs of your employees and then select the appropriate service provider at a reasonable cost, determine the optimal plan design provisions, choose and monitor investments, keep up with legislative changes, help ensure the plan is administered properly, and educate and inform plan participants. All of this will hopefully result in a plan that inspires employees to reach their retirement dreams, while helping you recruit and retain valuable associates.

Of course, not all financial planning needs can be met by a company retirement plan or benefits. An adviser can integrate qualified plan goals into a customized financial plan for business owners and senior executives.

Securities are offered exclusively through Raymond James Financial Inc. Member NASD/-SIPC, an independent broker/dealer, and are not insured by the FDIC or any other bank insurance, are not deposits or obligations of the bank, are not guaranteed by the bank, and are subject to risks, including the possible loss of principal.

JAMIE RICHARDSON is vice president of ViewPoint Investment Group, a division of ViewPoint Bank, and a registered principal of Raymond James Financial Inc. Reach him at (972) 398-3472 or Jamie.richardson@raymondjames.com.

ViewPoint Investment Group, a division of ViewPoint Bank
Registered principal, Raymond James Financial Inc.
Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

The Davis file

Written by
Born: Frisco, Texas, 1961

Education: Bachelor’s degree, finance, Texas Christian University

What was your first job, and what did it teach you?

I worked as early as I can ever remember, maybe 5 years old (with) my dad, who worked half-days on Saturdays in a large agricultural equipment shop. He was a mechanic.

I swept the floors for four hours on Saturday. That was my earliest memory of working. I learned that work resulted in pay, and I liked to have money. I really did. It took a good work ethic in order to have the spending money I wanted to have.

My first entrepreneurial venture was in college. I organized, ran and coached in baseball camps. I utilized the players and coaches from TCU to actually run the camps.

What’s been your biggest business challenge?

The biggest challenge was having the proper alignment of intentions with all stakeholders, be it partners, teammates, financial backers and lenders. We went through four generations of financial backers before we really gained the alignment that allowed us to do what we’ve done.

What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned?

It’s all about relationships — internal relationships and external. The people you work with are the most important thing to long-term success.

What is your personal work philosophy?

Seek to get better every day.

What is the best work advice you’ve ever been given?

Always be able to go back to wherever you’ve been in the past. It requires you to treat people well, to honor relationships and to do the right thing.

What’s the best business book you’ve read lately?

‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins. It does the best job I’ve ever seen of emphasizing the importance of ‘Who’s on the bus?’ and secondly, the emphasis on servant leadership.

Monday, 26 March 2007 20:00

Perry A. Sook

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Perry A. Sook took a big risk in 2005 when he told cable companies that unless they were willing to pay to retransmit his TV stations’ signals, they would no longer be able to include those stations in their cable packages. They declined, so he pulled the stations comprising Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc. off of cable. Sook was only trying to get the payment that cable-only stations were already receiving, and his peers in the industry praised his courage — but none stood up to back him. Even his board had doubts — its members said they would support him, but added that he’d better not be wrong. Eight months later, his risk paid off as cable companies agreed to his demands and began paying to retransmit Nexstar’s signals. Today, that income contributes to Nexstar’s annual revenue, with 2006 revenue of $265 million, up nearly 16 percent over 2005 revenue of $226 million. Smart Business spoke with Sook about how he grows Nexstar and why he doesn’t want to be the bottleneck to growth.

Manage growth effectively. I don’t want to be written on my tombstone, ‘He couldn’t manage what he built.’ When I started the company, I was the only corporate employee.

We have scaled up the corporate staff and the support staff to now a staff of nearly three dozen people. We have the ability to grow. We have the ability to manage growth and to scale the organization.

We spent a lot of time trying to anticipate, stay out in front of problems, talk about what the different scenarios are that could happen and try to have a plan for each of those scenarios and try to guide the company down the course that is the most likely one.

Invest in acquisitions. We look to acquire businesses that are underperforming or have not reached their long-term potential in either top-line revenue or bottom-line margin maximization, so we try to find underperforming assets, pay an appropriate price and then invest the necessary human and capital resources to build the business into a more competitive position.

We don’t overpay for acquisitions, so we don’t have to cut corners in the way we operate. It all starts with investing in the business and investing time in the community.

Get involved in the acquisition process. It is important to be personally involved in the diligence process and not outsource it completely to an accounting or law firm.

I have visited every acquisition that we have made, and I have interviewed the managers and spent time in the community before we have signed a purchase agreement to acquire that business. It’s important to see for yourself where the challenges are, where is the opportunity, where’s the weak underbelly, where is investment required immediately and over the long term.

Not only do you need to articulate that to your board and outside investors as to why you’re deploying capital in this particular instance, but you need to be able to, in your own mind, establish the benchmarks for performance of gauging the development of that acquisition over time.

Integrate acquisitions immediately. The first thing we do is attempt to integrate a new acquisition from a financial control — financial systems, sales reporting, basically put all of our financial systems and sales and revenue recognition systems in place. I need apples-to-apples financial information if I’m going to benchmark this acquisition against others.

We spend a lot of time and effort at the front making sure the accounting, the billing and the revenue and sales, and all of those tracking systems are on a common platform, a common chart of accounts, so we know the information we’re getting is comparable to the information we get from every other property. That is key. That is also the quickest way to introduce the employees of the new station to our way of doing business.

Make it clear that there’s a new sheriff in town. Leave no doubt that this is a takeover by another company, that things are changing. Many times, we will also bring in a new general manager or market manager that has either been promoted from within or has been trained in our way of doing business, so they can be our eyes and ears as we try to get a good start but also evangelize our business practices throughout the building.

We literally have a five-, six-person acquisition SWAT team that will go in at the time that an acquisition is consummated, train people on our systems, help install, help convert old historic information into our database, so we not only have accurate information going forward, but that it’s compared for the prior period on an apples-to-apples basis. It’s a lot of labor-intensive, people-intensive work, but it eliminates all of the language barriers, if you will, at the time of acquisition because the information flow starts from a common place. And that helps people not only as they’re learning, but if they have a problem as they’re learning, they can call 29 other peers in the company and say, ‘Help me out with this.’

It doesn’t always have to come from the corporate office. It helps them feel a part of the community of the businesses by realizing they’re on the same platform being measured and graded the same way out of the gate.

Give up control. We have diversified our management team and that has removed me from a certain level of involvement, but that is also important for entrepreneurs. They are going to have to give up some level of detail and some level of control if they want to scale a business, and it’s hard but it has to be done if you’re going to be successful.

There was a time when I knew the name of every department head in the company, visited each of the properties several times a year. You just can’t do that anymore.

You have to decide what you want to do, what you want to be. If we want to be a Top 10 broadcast group, I need to revert to what I do best, which is to surface, identify and negotiate good business opportunities, find key management talent to run these businesses and then repeat the process. I have delegated responsibility and authority in operations and finance.

I attempt to stay current with what’s going on, but I can’t micromanage — that will stunt our growth. I don’t want to be the bottleneck to decisions being made to opportunities being acted on. Hire good people, give them the guardrails and then send them down the road.

HOW TO REACH: Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc., (972) 373-8800 or www.nexstar.tv

Monday, 26 March 2007 20:00

Safeguarding your assets

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Fire and burglar alarms protect the physical assets of a business. But what protects its intellectual property (IP)?

“Intellectual property is intangible property resulting from creativity,” says William Munck, chairman of the Dallas-based law firm of Munck Butrus PC. “IP describes a wide variety of property created by musicians, authors, artists and inventors.”

Smart Business talked with Munck to find out how a company can protect itself against challenges to its IP.

How do you protect intellectual property?

IP is protected generally by copyright, patent, trade dress, trademark and trade secret laws. These areas of law are designed to encourage the development of art, science and information by granting property rights to creative and inventive people. These rights allow artists, authors and inventors to protect themselves from unauthorized use and misuse of their creations.

What is the difference between patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade dress and trade secrets?

Patents are granted to inventors for new, useful and nonobvious inventions. A patent gives the inventor exclusive rights in the invention for a period of time, so that he can profit from the invention before the right to exploit it is available to the general public. Patents can be granted for plants, manufactured products, machines, processes and combinations of matter. A patent must be applied for from the federal government and will only be granted if the invention is unique.

Copyrights are exclusive rights granted to authors, artists, composers and publishers to create and publish their works. The work must be original and must exist in some tangible form; it cannot exist only in the artist's mind. A copyright arises automatically as soon as the work is made. However, registration affords owners of copyrighted materials additional benefits.

Trademarks allow businesses to protect the symbolic information that relates to their goods and services by preventing similar use by competitors. To receive trademark protection, a word or symbol must be distinctive and must be used in the marketplace so that it gains recognition with the public; this is called ‘secondary meaning.’ A trademark need not be registered, but if it is registered, the owner of the mark is afforded particular federal rights.

Trade dress is similar to trademarks and can be used to identify and promote the product or service. For example, the shape, color and design of a product or its packaging can be trade dress. Likewise, the decor and color scheme of a restaurant or store also can be the subject of trade dress protection.

Trade secrets protect competitively valuable information such as formulas, patterns, devices and compilations of information. A trade secret remains enforceable as long as reasonable efforts have been taken to keep it secret.

Can all IP be protected?

No. Each branch of IP has its own set of standards that need to be met before protection may be granted. To receive patent protection, for instance, the invention must be novel, nonobvious and useful. Copyright protection, on the other hand, must meet certain originality requirements.

Do they hold water legally overseas as well as in the United States?

It depends. Each country has its own rules and regulations governing IP, so an artist or inventor who wants to protect his or her rights in more than one country may need to make several filings. International treaties have streamlined some search and registration procedures.

Other than protecting specific corporate assets, what are some other advantages to legally protecting inventions or publications?

Intellectual property rights and other intangible property, when properly managed, can go beyond securing a business’s future — it can also open new sources of value and revenue. With proper planning and the right legal team in place, your business secures its future and maximizes the value of existing and future intellectual property.

How does a company track and pursue violations of IP rights?

A company should consider having a competitive intelligence program in place. The program should not only conduct regular IP audits to monitor the company’s own IP but also that of its competitors (and for that matter, its potential competitors).

An IP audit primarily identifies IP currently owned by a company as well as IP not previously recognized. The results of a comprehensive IP audit typically improved the opportunity for a company to exploit, commercialize and profit from its intellectual property. For example, IP audits provide a ‘balance sheet’ of IP owned by the company, which may add value to the business in the event of a sale, investment or public offering. IP audits can also identify potential income streams from licensing.

WILLIAM MUNCK is chairman of Munck Butrus PC and its Intellectual Property Section. He concentrates his practice on domestic and foreign intellectual property procurement, exploitation, enforcement and counseling. He can be reached at wmunck@munckbutrus.com.

Monday, 26 March 2007 20:00

Treasury management

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The term treasury management may not ring a bell for most depositors but to the huge commercial market, the function provides a host of products and services vital to a firm’s day-to-day accounting and finance operations.

Often the purview of only the largest business-to-business banks, treasury management services today are increasingly offered by smaller banks that focus on small business and middle-market clients.

“The megabanks are competing for the Fortune 500 companies, so small to mid-size businesses may have trouble getting noticed,” says Robert Surko, director of treasury management at Plano-based ViewPoint Bank.

ViewPoint represents one of a growing cadre of smaller banks offering value-added treasury management services to small to mid-size businesses that before now could not avail these functions through their banks.

Smart Business spoke with Surko about the changing face of treasury management.

What is treasury management?

The term refers to a range of banking solutions to help businesses maximize their cash flow. These include remittance processing, cash disbursements, online banking services including review of check images, electronic funds transfer, overnight sweep investment options, remote deposit capture, positive pay — to prevent check fraud — and medical remittance imaging.

Some of it is simple cash flow — monitoring what checks clear, what deposits have posted and other daily activity. But there are other things like managing the speed of money coming in and going out, and investing, securing and protecting the funds.

An example would be remote deposit capture — a device that scans checks so

that deposits go directly into a customer’s account, eliminating the need to visit a branch or possibly use a lockbox. Businesses benefit from the technology because it puts money into their accounts faster.

What kind of business uses these services?

Just look at the Yellow Pages. Any business that needs its revenue proceeds to be deposited where they will be handled smoothly, timely and with appreciation, can benefit.

We count retailers, manufacturers, municipalities, staffing organizations, healthcare providers, property managers, transportation providers, homeowner’s associations … you name it.

Is technology the key selling point in choosing treasury management services?

Treasury management is more than technology. Sure, clients recognize the huge productivity gains from access to increasingly sophisticated technology. But one thing remains constant: everyone still wants to talk to a banker — someone who can solve a need professionally and responsively.

And there are also simple services that can help businesses. For example, at ViewPoint we offer a courier service that will pick up checks from a business and deposit them in the bank for them. Nothing technological about that, but we think it’s a nice convenience to ‘bring the bank to them.’

The key is to listen to customers and get to know their businesses. By doing so, you deliver the products and services that provide them with a one-stop solution. Businesses appreciate a personal relationship.

What do you think is important for a small or mid-size business to know about treasury management?

You’re not too small for treasury management services. If you use a bank that caters to a small- to mid-size business, you don’t have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars to take advantage of the technology and services available, from basic online banking to your bank coming to you. It’s become very cost-effective to manage your cash flow through these services.

ROBERT SURKO is the director of treasury management at ViewPoint Bank. Reach him at robert.surko@viewpointbank.com or (972) 801-5867.

Monday, 26 March 2007 20:00

The Elliott File

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Born: 1961, Oakmont, Pa.

Education: Pittsburgh Beauty Academy, 1980; also has attended various business management courses

What’s been your biggest business challenge?

Operating with insufficient infrastructure, which lacked people and resources during a mass expansion of our salons. Looking back on my years with the company, we went through a long period where we opened a lot of salons, but we had a very small, lean infrastructure. But it was lean to the point of needing more people and resources.

What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned?

Surround yourself with great people. That is No. 1. ... It’s very important, because we operate as a team. Then, stay true to the core values and strengths of the business and be consistent, especially in executing the vision. Consistency is very important.

What is your personal work philosophy?

I believe in a win-win philosophy by encouraging others to set goals. I really believe that mutual respect is the key to success.

What is the best work advice you’ve ever received?

Never compromise yours or the company’s integrity by saying something you are not going to do.

What is the best business book you’ve read recently?

“The Ten-Day MBA,” (by Steven Silbiger), third edition. It is a step-by-step guide to mastering the skills taught in America’s top business schools. It’s phenomenal. I read the first edition, and now I’m reading the third, because it’s updated. ... Also, I am reading another one called, “In Your Hands: The Behaviors of a World-Class Leader,” by Phil Geldart. He does management training for corporations. It is a great book.

Wednesday, 28 February 2007 19:00

Leading change

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When David Kirk took over RF Monolithics Inc. in 1999, he had to downsize his work force from 600 to 200 to make the company leaner and stronger.

And while he knew it would be hard, he also knew communication would help ease the pain. He held a meeting to tell employees about the cutbacks so that there would be no surprises later, but he also gave them reasons why the cutbacks were necessary if the company were to remain competitive.

During the next two years, Kirk — president and CEO of RF Monolithics — helped workers find jobs elsewhere. And many were able to find work on their own, because he gave them more than just two weeks’ notice.

Smart Business spoke with Kirk about how he makes tough decisions and leads change in his $54.2 million wireless solutions company.

Q: How do you make tough decisions?

Look at the total picture for the company. If you get too focused on the short-term, meaning a month or a particular quarter, you can get yourself in trouble.

Keep looking further down the road one, two, three years. Take into account a lot of different areas in the company as far as what’s going on with people, facilities, a variety of different things. Benchmark what’s happening in the competitive arena.

You have to make a lot of different decisions, and it’s a process that never ends. Even though we had some good growth — 17 percent last fiscal year — you can’t sit back. You’re continually having to look at what are the next hurdles ahead of us.

Q: How do you lead change?

It really is putting together a strong, strategic business plan and challenging yourself. We call it being brutally honest with yourselves when you form that plan. The question you really don’t want to ask, you’re kidding yourself. Ask that question and challenge yourself.

Separate it from a regular weekly meeting. Take the time to really think long-term.

Looking at the challenges facing the company, start to formulate the pictures of how it’s actually going to happen. Benchmark and understand how that’s going to happen. Go through an entire process and start to build consensus by doing an analysis understanding what’s going to happen out there.

As the ball begins to roll, people see you’re having success changing the company. It’s a long, steady process. It’s not something you can say, ‘We’re going to change,’ and in three months, you’ve done it. It’s a building process and will continue to be.

The other thing is to openly communicate that business plan to the company and use your employees.

Q: How do you effectively communicate changes and plans to employees?

It’s not, we put a plan together, put it in a binder and put it away on the shelf, and then when we get an internal audit or some regulatory thing say, ‘Well, here’s our strategic plan’ and pull it off the shelf. It is a living document that we’re continually benchmarking and studying.

We communicate that plan a minimum of twice a year to all management and support people in the company. We then create a document from that, called a dashboard, that is given out by functional area. It lets each functional area know how they’re participating and proceeding toward supporting the company’s plan.

The dashboard is updated monthly and posted in their particular department so they could see. Then we hold regular all-hands meetings to communicate what’s going [on], as many as four to five meetings.

We try to avoid giving quarterly meetings. We want to make sure that we don’t just focus quarter by quarter. We want to focus on the bigger picture. Don’t just hold a meeting when there’s a significant event — hold it on a more regular, even-keel basis.

Then it’s other things. Hold company picnics. Talk to people and have general conversations. Get to know them and understand them. A lot of good feedback can come from the people.

Q: How do you get feedback?

You build that over time. You can’t just walk out there and make one presentation and someone says, ‘Oh, I have to go talk to him.’ Build that in employee meetings. Go get yourself a cup of coffee. Walk around.

A key thing is to do what you say you’re going to do. We started to look for cost-saving ideas. We started a recognition program, and through that process, we received ideas for half-a-million in cost savings.

If you make suggestions, you get a $10 Blockbuster certificate. If your suggestion gets to the next level, where it’s getting considered and potentially implemented, it was a $50 American Express card.

Give a small reward for that idea generation. We had a committee that studied that suggestion, and following through with that showed them we were committed to trying to save costs. HOW TO

REACH: RF Monolithics Inc., (972) 233-2903 or www.rfm.com