We’ve all had days where we would rather not open the newspaper, turn on the TV or pick up the phone for the fear of learning about more bad news.
Unfortunately, there have been a lot more of those days for all of us lately.
The stock market is going through extreme ups and downs, capital has dried up, and key customers are cutting back. You start to wonder where the sales are going to come from to enable you to make this quarter’s budget. If things don’t turn around soon, you’ll have to consider drastic cutbacks yourself.
In times like these, what’s a CEO to do? The answer: Get back to basics. Focus on the things you do best and do them as efficiently as you can. Use your strengths to exploit your competitors’ weaknesses and outhustle them.
It’s often the simple things that made you a success in the first place, and it will be the simple things that keep you afloat during the economic storm.
With that in mind, we’ve assembled the best pieces of advice garnered from Detroit’s top leaders from throughout the year. We think you’ll find some great ideas to help you improve your business within these pages, and we encourage you to keep this issue as an ongoing reference to help you find your way through the trying times that lie ahead.
Develop leaders globally
Charles “Chip” McClure, chairman, president and CEO, ArvinMeritor Inc.
When Charles “Chip” McClure, the chairman, president and CEO of ArvinMeritor Inc., is interviewing for an overseas management position, he has two questions he asks every candidate: “Do you know a second language?” and “Have you had a chance to live and work internationally?”
The first and most important component of successful overseas expansion is the people you put in place to run the show. McClure says the best candidates won’t just have a working knowledge of your company and industry, they’ll also have an extensive knowledge of the culture, business climate and customer base of the country or region you are trying to broach.
“The person who heads up our Asian unit has been with ArvinMeritor for about eight years,” he says. “He is originally from India, was educated in the U.S. and is now based in Shanghai, China. So you have to have people who know how to do business in the area, from the leadership on down.
“The bottom line is that you need to have people on board who have had international experience. I encourage people to take (expatriate) assignments because it really does teach you a lot about the globalization of business.”
As part of ArvinMeritor’s expansion plan, McClure places an emphasis on educating his employees on cultures and customs from around the world. It’s something McClure believes should be reinforced at regular intervals, and it can be done in a format as basic as a lunch meeting.
“We’ll have our people bring their lunch for doing a lunchtime training session,” he says. “As part of our diversity exercise, around Cinco de Mayo, we had a lot of programs about what goes on in the Latino culture.”
Diversify your leadership
Marty McQuade, general manager, DuPont Automotive Systems
Marty McQuade, general manager of DuPont Automotive Systems, believes it is important for the senior leadership team of any business to be composed of a diverse group of people not only in business matters but culturally, as well.
An ethnically and culturally diverse leadership team can assist you in a big way if you are in the process of taking your business global.
“You do not want your leadership team to be only of the native tongue of the country of your headquarters,” he says. “If you have a diverse group, your senior leaders will speak multiple languages and can help you with that translation.”
Translation skills are highly valued in the people who manage the international communications pipeline at DuPont Automotive, whether they are on-site managers or marketing or public relations managers.
Poor translation of company messages can stall a company’s growth. If messages aren’t effectively reaching the ears of those who need to hear them, McQuade says it’s as bad as not communicating at all.
“We take a view that, although English is the world’s business language, if there is an important message we’re trying to get out to the organization, we’ll invest the time to translate it to the local language, recognizing that there is a very large percentage of the organization that won’t understand the message otherwise,” he says.
Team-building at breakfast
Denise Christy, president, Humana Michigan
Denise Christy has a special formula for building a sense of teamwork among her senior managers. It’s centered on two main ingredients that form the backbone of her weekly interaction with her direct reports: eggs and coffee.
Each Friday morning, Christy and her seven-member managerial team at Humana Michigan meet at an area restaurant for breakfast. The team talks about in-house items of business, customer matters and trends in the local economy that might affect the $332 million Michigan branch of nationwide health insurer Humana Inc.
Christy, the president of Humana Michigan since 2003, says the breakfasts started as an attempt to stop a growing negative trend in her business. Her managers were becoming so wrapped up in running the business, they weren’t finding opportunities to connect with one another.
“I found I wasn’t getting enough downtime to speak with my direct reports, so we started to have breakfast with each other every Friday morning at 7:30,” Christy says. “We go to a little café, and it’s not a staff meeting, it’s just a cup of coffee and some eggs. We’ll tell each other what is going on in the marketplace; what are you hearing on the streets, what is going on with your customers? It’s an opportunity for the whole team to have a chance to dialogue about the business.”
Those breakfasts, she says, have done more for developing unity and camaraderie than any formal meeting she could ever hold.
There is still a time and place for formal meetings with an agenda, but Christy says any good business leader will never underestimate the power of casual banter over coffee and food. It is one of the most effective ways to not only allow employees to share ideas with each other but to also strengthen the personal relationships that will allow them to comfortably work together.
At Humana Michigan, Christy tries to make everyone feel like a contributing member of the team. She says a team-oriented environment isn’t something you can control from the head office. You must cultivate teamwork by getting out among your employees and setting the example.
Innovate with a purpose
Günther Braun, CEO, ROFIN-SINAR Technologies Inc.
Günther Braun, the president and CEO of ROFIN-SINAR Technologies Inc., says innovation is a word that is overused in many companies.
While Braun does believe that innovation is an important part of his business, he says innovation means nothing if it doesn’t help the business in some definite way. That’s why, he encourages employees to develop new ideas that are in line with practical goals and can be accomplished in the foreseeable future.
“Innovation is important, but it’s also important that the innovations become new products,” he says. “It’s important that your innovations fall in line with what you can sell and what you can grow in your business. Just innovating does not help your performance.”
Braun tries to avoid ambiguity when defining innovation, a word that can mean many things to many people. Finding a sharp focus to define innovation can be a challenge.
“Innovation is a nice word, but it’s a stressed word,” he says. “Not everything is an innovation, but it can still be beneficial to the company. My thinking is, what is innovation? Is it when you change a little bit or when you develop a completely new technology?
“Innovation to me is when you create and develop something very new, something that was not done before, and it really opens up a new business opportunity.”