Gearing for change Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009
Dominic Silvio, chairman, founder and CEO, EWI Worldwide Dominic Silvio, chairman, founder and CEO, EWI Worldwide

When the idea came up almost 30 years ago at Exhibit Work Inc.’s inaugural Christmas party, Dominic Silvio was resistant.

“Here’s a small group of seven or eight of us sitting around a table and somebody said EWI instead of Exhibit Works,” says Silvio, the company’s chairman, founder and CEO. “And I admonished this person and said, ‘Hey, please don’t start that. I don’t want to be known as EWI.’”

But nearly 30 years later, Silvio and his 250 employees have made the initials official at the company, which posted $179 million in revenue in fiscal 2008. The name change to EWI Worldwide in August 2007 reflects the company’s global shift and is inclusive of all of the company’s live communication and event marketing services, not just exhibit design. But despite the changes, EWI’s communication-driven culture has stayed the same.

Smart Business spoke with Silvio about how to use your employees’ input for change while keeping them on track with everyday tasks.

Establish open communication. Rebranding situations are different. For some companies, it might be the culture that needs to change. For us, it was about evolving our business, diversifying, growing globally and ultimately serving our clients the full spectrum of live communications. So we were faced with the challenge of making organizational changes without losing sight of our core culture.

The culture we’ve managed to preserve has a lot to do with people, communication and trust. Give (people) a voice in the company. I have always had an open-door policy.

I encourage employees to stop me in the hall and ask questions, visit my office and share their ideas. It’s also important that they communicate with each other.

Keep your door open. Be available. Listen. Not everyone is comfortable sharing input with the CEO, so give options. Get your human resources department involved or have an employee responsible for internal communications. Create an open atmosphere and then some of it is up to the people.

Remind employees to stay on task during change. When we first started out and people weren’t remembering what they should be doing as far as being a salesman or generally doing their work, I would tell them — it sounds a little hokey — but, ‘Put a rock in your shoe so you’ll remember, a little pain in your foot so you’re going to remember what you should be doing.’

[We] came up with the Power of One and the rock [painted with the word ‘one’]. At first I thought it was hokey, but people understood Power of One, bringing everyone together under one name, and it seemed

to be very, very powerful.

So it was a fun, memorable and engaging way to deliver an important message to the company when we first announced this change from Exhibit Works to EWI Worldwide. And now, for those who have it placed on their desks, it’s a reminder of this message.

Use input from inside and outside of your company to rebrand. We formed a committee and there were designers, graphics people, marketing people, sales. We had a big group — 12, 13 people.

I heard everyone’s thoughts and ideas, and they just went off the charts. What always bothered me about logo changes is people go off on tangents, and they want to come up with some brand-new idea, and they lose the culture that they had.

Even though we had this large group, they were going off on a tangent, and it didn’t have the simplicity and the sophistication that I thought our company needed.

We chose a design [from our partner agency’s designer]. It’s like an interior designer can design for someone else, but they get to their own house and they have such a difficult time because they know people are going to be so critical because this is what they do in their lives.

But our designers were very much a part of the process. We had several creative brainstorm sessions and meetings to get to the final logo.

You don’t know if you did the right thing. What happens is you bump into people and they say, ‘Wow, that name change is terrific. I really like what you guys did.’ You just hear it over and over, and then you get a sense that you did the right thing.

Make your own decisions. We have a company where we respect everyone’s opinion. What we’ll do normally as a group is we’ll come up with a direction we want to go.

But this one was too personal to do that. I just felt people were not keeping with who we are. If there was going to be a mistake I wanted to make it, because it was too personal.

I wanted them to really go through this and beat it up and come up with ideas. They all got caught up in it probably further than I would have wanted them to, but I think it was important. [If] I was to tell another CEO, I’d tell him to let it go as far as it will go with ideas but then bring it back.

There were too many ideas, and somebody had to narrow it down. I was hoping I didn’t have to do that. I was hoping that we would come up with an answer that we all felt very good about, but there’s so many

conflicting thoughts that I had to bring it back to what seemed to be the right thing.

HOW TO REACH: EWI Worldwide, (800) 875-5250 or www.ewiworldwide.com