Mark G Scott

Chris Clawson knew that it was the end of his baseball career, even if his father wasn’t ready to admit it.

The future president of Life Fitness had put together a great spring training performance in 1986 with the Houston Astros. He hoped to use it as a springboard to a strong season in the Astros’ minor league system, one that would get him moving again toward his dream of playing in the majors.

Unfortunately, the injuries that had plagued him the two years prior struck again. And as the season ended, Clawson was at the same place he had started.

“My dad came down and I had had a great end of the year and he said, ‘They’ve just got to see what you can do when you’re healthy,’” Clawson says. “I said, ‘Dad, I’m back in Single A. There are guys ahead of me that are my age, there are guys next to me that are younger and guys behind me that are younger.’”

Clawson knew it was time to give up his dream of playing baseball and start the next phase of his life. The experience taught him a lesson that has served him well in the business world.

“Business is a lot like life in that way,” Clawson says. “Things don’t go exactly as planned and you have to be able to rebound and recover. You have to put it behind you and focus and instill that you’re not going to be upset because something didn’t go exactly as planned.”

 

Keep it on the level

Fortunately for Clawson, the next phase of his life has been a tremendous success. He leads Life Fitness, a division of Brunswick Corp., which had net sales of $693.5 million in 2013. It’s the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial fitness equipment and a leader in making high-quality consumer fitness equipment.

Those are pretty lofty accomplishments, but Clawson doesn’t get carried away thinking about them, nor does he get too down when times get tough.

“You can’t get so high when something goes well because people lose focus and there’s still a lot of work to do,” Clawson says. “When a new product first comes out, there’s a lot to do to continue the momentum.”

But just like in sports, when the time comes to measure up and see how you’re performing, there are plenty of stats to grade your efforts.

“They tell you exactly what’s going on,” Clawson says.

The important thing for Clawson to see on his team at Life Fitness is progress.

“You want to see them progressing, developing, evolving and getting smarter and faster,” Clawson says. “You want them to have more understanding and appreciation for the marketplace, the customer, the competition and the product.”

 

Take a deeper look at Chris Clawson’s approach to leadership at Life Fitness and the passion he has for people by checking out this month’s Chicago cover story. Click here to learn about one of Chris's greatest inspirations in life.

In this month’s issue of Smart Business Los Angeles, we learn about Tommy Skinner’s desire to transform the logistics industry. Here are some of his thoughts on how you find the people that can help you drive big changes.

 

Tommy Skinner wants to build a business that transforms the way people think of logistics. To make that happen, he’s bringing people in to work for SHIFT Freight who don’t come from a logistics background.

“We are hiring outside the industry,” says Skinner, who leads the company as vice president. “There hasn’t been anyone that we’ve hired on the merit of their experience within the less than truckload space. They have been hired on the merit of their intellect, their cultural fit and really their vision and buy-in to what we’re trying to do.”

Hiring from outside your industry requires more training, but it also gives you a chance to more closely mold your talent to your unique needs.

“When you bring someone in outside the context of maybe what’s been built as the norm around them, you can teach them the industry and you can teach them your role within the industry from scratch,” Skinner says. “Above all, you can focus on a daily basis on why we’re different and ensure your people know that meeting those expectations is paramount.”

 

Blaze your own path

SHIFT Freight has gained some traction when it comes to finding good talent to the point that people come knocking on the company’s door looking for work.

“We get calls and knocks on our door more than we have to look outward for new personnel,” Skinner says. “When we’re approached, it means two things. One, we’ve effectively communicated our goal to be a fun and exciting brand and culture. It reinforces what we’re doing internally. Secondly, you know that those candidates who are approaching us, they already have bought into some or all of what we’re doing.”

Skinner says the formulaic approach that many companies follow in their hiring protocol has grown stale.

“The first step, particularly with larger companies, is an online application that has objective fields that allow for information gathering that is good for HR personnel,” Skinner says. “They also have some very generic behavioral questions. I look at those surveys the same way I look at a generic cover letter. They don’t really tell me anything about that person.

“Granted, I wouldn’t expect a large Fortune 500 company to have the time to meet with every individual that is interested in joining the organization. But if you can begin to quantify how interested that individual is, that passion and drive and that visionary buy-in is invaluable.”

The responsibility of figuring out whom to hire and who not to hire has to go beyond your executive leadership team, Skinner says.

“I feel comfortable having any one of our team members sit down with a potential candidate and ultimately make a hiring decision,” Skinner says. “In large organizations, you have a siloed HR department or a level of management that is responsible for the decisions. As a leader, I’ve failed if I haven’t been able to empower members of the team to make a decision as critical as building out the team. “

 

How to reach: SHIFT Freight, (888) 439-4241 or www.shiftfreight.com

 

To get more insight and advice from the top business leaders in Los Angeles, please visit us @SmartBiz_LA or on our Facebook page.

We spoke with EY’s Rick Fezell back in February about transitioning to his new leadership post in Chicago. Here’s a little more from that conversation as Rick talks about the value of asking for help – even when you’re the leader.

 

When Rick Fezell became the new managing partner of the Midwest Region for EY, he found himself in an unfamiliar setting. After spending most of his career on the West Coast, he was now in Chicago and had to get to know a bunch of new people.

“How I overcome that is I trust our other partners,” Fezell says. “If someone else has a better relationship and they’ve been there, it doesn’t need to be me and my title. It may be somebody else who has a relationship and can go and work through the issue. When you’re in a place for 10 or 15 years, typically you can just go out and handle those things. So I think it’s been a challenge to figure out where I should go and where we would be better off if I let someone else go who has a longer history with that client or person.”

It’s often not easy for a CEO to accept that there is someone in his or her company better equipped to deal with a problem. Those who aren’t able to accept it will find their opportunities for growth and expansion quickly become limited.

 

Setting ego aside

Fezell says stepping into a new situation is something most leaders will face at one point in their career.

“The biggest challenge for me has been not having a reservoir of goodwill to draw upon when you have to go into some challenging client situations,” Fezell says. “It’s particularly challenging when I haven’t been there before and my first meeting with someone is to work through a difficult issue. So they have no basis to trust me or know where I’m coming from.”

In those situations where you’re not the best answer, you just have to swallow your pride and trust your people.

“It’s difficult for me, not because of ego, but because I just want to fix it,” Fezell says. “We’re all fixers and with my title, it gives me the opportunity through influence and title to go out and fix something. But I also know that we have great partners and we’re all leaders in one way, shape or form. I just have a different leadership role.

“I think about what’s going to best help us get through the particular situation. In many cases, I’m not the answer. My team keeps me honest on that. They will say, ‘We don’t think you’re the right person to go do this and here’s why.’ So we find the person who is and move forward.”

 

How to reach: EY, (312) 879-2000 or www.ey.com

 

To stay in touch with the latest insight and advice from Chicago’s best leaders, please visit us @SmartBiz_CHI or check out our Facebook page.

It’s a scary feeling when you see great opportunity for your business but have serious doubts about your ability to capitalize on it. That’s precisely the situation Jim Beck, CEO of Nature’s Best, found himself in more than a decade ago.

The distributor of vitamins and health and beauty aids had an outdated warehousing system designed for an industry that had completely changed. The health food craze was taking off in a big way and presented nearly limitless opportunities for Beck’s business to grow.

Instead of just vitamins, the company could now sell frozen foods, chilled products and other products desired by those seeking to lead a healthier lifestyle. The only problem for Beck was he didn’t have the means to move this new inventory. He had to make big changes fast if he had any chance of making it work.

 

Be bold

The good news was that Beck had a great team eager to work with him through the many challenges that Nature’s Best faced as it set out to build a new business model.

“The guys that made it happen are all the guys who run the place,” Beck says. “The pride of ownership and pride of success that came out of it for those people was probably the most rewarding thing for me because they did it. That team worked so hard and dove so deep into the weeds of the details of the whole process. It was their baby.”

The pride Beck feels for his team is strong, but he deserves plenty of credit as well for taking the bold step to completely change the way Nature’s Best does business. He could have tried to make it work with the system he had and then demanded results that would have been nearly impossible to achieve.

He could have jumped in halfway and made a series of superficial changes that would have had the same effect on the effort to sell these new products.

Instead, he recognized that he needed a new system and that by creating a new system, he would provide opportunities to scale and to replicate the process in other parts of the country as his company grew.

 

Show appreciation

The old saying, “Go big or go home” doesn’t always apply in business, but it’s hard to argue that it fits in this case. When you’ve got a captive audience, you need to do whatever it takes to give your team members the tools needed to do their jobs. Put yourself in their shoes and think about what they need.

It’s the part of the equation you can’t skip over when you ask people to step up on a big change for your business. When you show that you care and you get down on the floor and break a sweat trying to make it all work, you earn loyalty that can take your company a long way.

 

Mark Scott is Senior Associate Editor for Smart Business Orange County. Reach him at (440) 250-7016 or MScott@sbnonline.com

Have any of your employees tried to do a selfie in the office in response to the one Ellen DeGeneres took at the Academy Awards last month?

It was one of those moments that seemingly everyone was talking about and trying to recreate in the days after the Oscars. It served as yet another reminder of the blazing speed with which information can travel in this day and age when it hits the right note.

If only that new product your company has been working on for the past six weeks had the same ability to captivate the masses. Unfortunately, that product would probably get much more famous, much more quickly if it was a total disaster that left you scrambling to explain what happened.

Outside of getting really lucky and stumbling upon the next great innovation that changes the way we all live, work or play, you’ll probably have to work a little harder to build an audience for what you’re selling.

But one thing you can do as the senior leader is take advantage of this ubiquitous communication tool and start using it to sell your brand. Don’t leave it all in the hands of your social media team.

 

Get involved

This isn’t a call to start micromanaging the efforts your people are making to build a following for your business on Facebook or Twitter. Rather, it’s a suggestion to take part in the conversation and engage your audience on a more personal level.

It’s safe to say that many senior leaders who have a Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn account don’t actually manage their own account. They have their IT team post pre-formatted messages at designated times through platforms like HootSuite. The times are selected based on thorough research into the most likely parts of the day for messages to be seen.

It makes sense. You’re busy running a business and you probably don’t have a lot of time to sit around poking at your smartphone to send tweets. But when you’re completely removed from the process, you miss a chance to share the passion you have for what it is your company produces.

I’ve said it in previous columns, but it bears repeating. People like people who are real and genuine. If you use social media to talk about your product and respond to feedback both good and bad, you show yourself to be aware of what’s happening in the world. You’re not just counting up the dollars each month to see if you made a profit. You’re taking an interest in how your product or service is being received by consumers.

 

Have fun

But it doesn’t always have to be about work. Take a picture of your dog or your son or your granddaughter having a good time. Share a video clip you saw on YouTube that you thought was funny. Round up your leadership team and take your own selfie for all your followers to see. Don’t be afraid to have a little fun. Life is too short not to.

 

Mark Scott is Senior Associate Editor for Smart Business Los Angeles. Reach him at (440) 250-7016 or MScott@sbnonline.com

 

Mark Silverman had a lot of voices in his ear in the early days of Big Ten Network.

The launch on Sept. 1, 2007, was a glorious day. But it was quickly followed by opinions from every direction as people with ties to the Big Ten Conference expressed their thoughts about what was and wasn’t working with BTN.

Patience wasn’t an option when it came to games not being broadcast or revenue being less than had been anticipated. Fans complained to their schools, the schools complained to the conference and the conference reached out to Silverman.

Fortunately, Silverman, who has been president from day one, was the cool head in the room. He did a masterful job of keeping his team on task, dealing with challenges as they came up and sticking to his vision of what he knew the network could be. The disciplined leadership has paid off with more than 300 affiliates and a presence in more than 52 million homes.

But Silverman did not just maintain an even keel in the face of criticism. He openly reached out to many of his critics and sought to gain additional feedback about the problems they saw at the network.

It’s a step many leaders are not willing to make.

 

Don’t be insecure

No one likes to be told that they are doing something wrong. Even those who say they embrace criticism or that they love it when mistakes are made must feel some sense of frustration when things don’t go right. It’s part of being human. So the ability to take criticism in stride and reach out to those who provide the negative feedback is a skill that many otherwise very successful people find hard to do.

In the case of Silverman, he saw it as an opportunity to make his organization stronger. So he contacted bloggers who wrote negative stories about BTN and set up meetings to discuss their concerns. He also went on talk shows and met with editorial boards and basically did whatever he could to gather feedback and use it to get better.

His approach going into these meetings was not to argue, nor was it to blindly accept every concern they had and always offer the perfect solution. It was to take what he believed would make BTN a great network, compare it to the opinions he was hearing and figure out the best response. If the critic was right, he was happy to make a change. If he didn’t agree with the opinion, he was comfortable not making a change.

Either way, he demonstrated a willingness to hear concerns and an approachability that would serve the network well.

When you have the confidence to hear criticism and even change course, you give your organization the chance to achieve great things.

 

Mark Scott is Senior Associate Editor for Smart Business Chicago. He is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Chicago.

Reach him at (800) 988-4726 x216 or mscott@sbnonline.com

 

When Eve Yen arrived in the United States 20 years ago from Taiwan, she wasn’t thinking about building a multimillion-dollar business, she just needed a way to support her family.

“I was bringing my daughter over here for the schools, for a better education,” says Yen, founder, owner and president of Diamond Wipes International Inc. “My thinking was if I could have one machine, I could make money to pay the rent.”

Building the business from a small restaurant wipe supplier to the largest consumer and industrial wet wipes manufacturer on the West Coast wasn’t easy, but Yen had her children to keep her motivated.

“I hired tutors to help them learn English,” Yen says. “Every night, I sat with them to do homework and tutoring. In the beginning, I had one machine and my dream was to sell 2,000 cases per month. Then I can support my family, and we can make some money. I never envisioned that we could be where we are today.”

The company now serves more than 2,000 clients in the food service, hospitality, health and beauty industries — producing 2,600 different kinds of wipes ranging from makeup removing to cleaning.

Yen is grateful for what her team has accomplished and is careful not to let herself or her people get carried away with the company’s success.

“There are a lot of companies that have been more successful than we are in different ways,” Yen says. “Some of them have bigger market share, higher volume in sales, higher margin on products or patents. We’re very proud of ourselves. But we’re also very humble. We do very down-to-earth, solid things every day. We don’t want to think we’re going to the moon on day one. We do it one step at a time.”

 

Eye on the future

Yen has gone through a series of transformations in her time leading Diamond Wipes. In the early days with her single machine, she was the company. Even as it started to grow, she needed to be selling her brand.

“In the early stages, we were very limited and had one or two items,” Yen says. “So we went out and educated the whole United States about what hot towels were. What is a hot towel? How can you use it? How could it benefit you? It’s persistence of introduction and education.”

These days, Yen is primarily focused on the big picture and what it will take to continue to grow her business. She has built a team of leaders and employees who can take care of many of the functions she once had to manage.

But no matter what stage you’re at with your business, early stage or established business, Yen says you always need to be thinking of new ways to sell your product or service.

“I’m a natural salesperson and entrepreneur,” Yen says. “I am focusing on what we will be doing in two years. Where will we be in two years? What does the company need? If I say we want to grow into a medical field and develop medical wipes or a similar product to compete in that industry, what do we need from people on the R&D side? Or do we want to get into a new brand in retail? Do we want to build a new brand?”

One of the keys to her success is the fact that as she’s thinking about the future, she’s bringing her employees into the discussion to get their feedback.

“If I see something new and very interesting, I will step in to look at it and then gather the team to talk to them together and develop an idea,” Yen says. “So I’ve evolved from a hands-on, frontline salesperson to a manager to a group leader. That’s where I see myself now.”

 

Know your key roles

Within the team concept, there are roles that should be prioritized in any organization. Yen sees sales, operations and finance as the three pillars of a profitable business model.

“If there are no sales, there is no company,” Yen says. “How do you grow a company without any sales? Everything you make, you have to sell it and the sale has to make a profit. It has to make sense; it has to be meaningful.”

An operations department needs to be focused on ensuring that everyone has the tools they need to succeed and is positioned to do their job for the business. And finance obviously keeps track of the money.

Once those pillars are in place, it’s all about the customer.

“Your job is to help customers solve problems,” Yen says. “Your job is to help them create profit. If you can help your customer generate more profit, then your customer will like you. If you can help them solve problems, you’ll earn yourself their business.”

Mission and vision are big buzzwords in the corporate world these days and they are important to Yen too. But they have to be more than words.

“It’s what we believe every day,” Yen says. “When we talk about this, we don’t put it in a statement and put it on the wall. We actually talk every day. I have one-on-one meetings with key people, but also key people under them. I want to make sure they understand what we’re doing.”

How to reach: Diamond Wipes International Inc., (909) 230-9888 or www.diamondwipes.com

Lean more about Diamond Wipes on Twitter at @DiamondWipes

 

 

It would not be right to say that Tommy Skinner gets excited when his employees at SHIFT Freight are sad. But he does take a certain level of satisfaction when he witnesses how much his people care about their customers.

And when the occasional problem occurs with moving a product from point A to point B, and Skinner sees how his employees feel about that problem having occurred, it does have a way of making him smile.

“I think it voices the true care we have and the empathy we feel for our customers, their product and the general experience they have with our business,” says Skinner, who leads the organization as vice president. “The team does a really good job of coming together and resolving problems as best we can. Everybody goes home at night knowing we did the best job we could.”

SHIFT Freight was formed in 2013 to “change the way companies think about moving freight.”

“I’m from outside the industry,” Skinner says. “Investors approached me who are seasoned veterans in the LTL (less than truckload) space and they said, ‘Hey, we’re looking to do something different.’ That alone piqued my interest.”

So Skinner climbed onboard and set out to do what many companies try, but fail to achieve — bring real change to an industry.

 

Measure value of customer satisfaction

One reason companies struggle to resonate with customers is the attitude they take toward customer service.

“A lot of it is just the perspective with which companies operate,” Skinner says. “If you were to go to your average widget maker, I believe they would likely consider themselves a widget maker as opposed to a provider of a premium service demanded by the customer.

“A lot of it is simply perspective. On a board level, it’s a little bit harder to quantify the results of a uniquely special customer experience. So dollars and resources and a cultural commitment are placed in other facets of the organization.”

It may be easier to put a number on how much money you’ll make selling this product or how much you’ll save by switching from this vendor to that one. But there are also ways to measure financial metrics when it comes to customer service.

“We have found some interesting ways to quantify our success, and really look at churn rate and customer loyalty,” Skinner says. “See the dollars that are a return on the investment in a customer. It’s so fundamentally core to what our business is.

“If you asked me what is SHIFT, I’d say it’s similar to a motto that Zappos has. We’re a customer service company that does a really good job at moving our customers’ products timely and safely.”

You’ve got to get everyone involved in the effort to please your customers, whether you’re talking about employees on the front lines or the people in the corporate office who answer the phones.

“Break down any wall or barrier between the two,” Skinner says. “I’m a liaison between the dock and the office. The values and those key performance indicators that we talk about in the office, we also talk about on the dock.

“There’s no separation, and I think that’s important. As an organization, we get into trouble if we’re not setting forth that same customer-focused vision operationally as we are in the front office.”

 

Focus on service

Of course, at the end of the day, you can be the nicest company with the nicest employees, but if they can’t do their job, you won’t be getting much return business. So you have to look beyond the smiles and energetic words and find the passion that exists in people to do the job right and do it with the right attitude.

“We’ve done a good job of finding creative ways to assess the talent,” Skinner says. “At the end of the day, there’s a lot of smart talent and a lot of proficient talent out there. You really need to find those individuals who are passionate and believe in what you’re doing.”

Ask questions that clue in to the person’s personality or help you know what they like to do away from the job or with their friends and families. Get to know the real person and you’ll have a good sense of whether they are being real with you or putting up a false front.

Do your homework before you get to the interview stage to help you bring the right people in for a deeper conversation.

“It’s often not until I’m sitting down with someone that I can really get an idea of who they are and what they are striving to do and how they’ll fit into the organization,” Skinner says. “To get that person in the chair, it’s often a matter of how many follow-ups they have sent me. What are the ideals with which they are interested in the position? That can say a lot about whether it’s worth the time to sit down with that person.”

The effort to hire employees who can bring strong passion to their work and create that difference in the logistics industry is showing signs of paying off. SHIFT Freight opened a number of locations in 2013 and expects to quadruple in size this year.

“When you start a company, you define processes and you map out every operational function,” Skinner says. “But it’s been great to watch the team adapt those processes and build on them in new and interesting ways. The ways our team feels invested in our organization is invaluable.”

 

How to reach: SHIFT Freight, (888) 439-4241 or www.shiftfreight.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shiftfreight

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/shift-freight-llc?trk=company_logo

Twitter: @SHIFTFreight

If you work for Avi Steinlauf at Edmunds.com, you can take as much vacation as you want. It may seem like a slacker’s dream come true, but Steinlauf says employees have embraced the move with just the right mix of appreciation and discipline.

“It’s something we piloted in 2011 with a few work teams and we found out that we had higher quality, quicker throughput and far higher satisfaction on the part of our people,” says Steinlauf, CEO at the leading online source for automotive information.

“We do company surveys on a yearly basis and the No. 1 thing people like about working at the company is the fact they are treated like adults. It’s a results-oriented work environment and they are getting the results. It was a bit of a leap for us, but it’s been a success.”

Steinlauf was part of a panel discussion at the EY Strategic Growth Forum® in Palm Springs, Calif., in November called “The right balance for your business.” He shared his thoughts on what it’s like being the leader of a family business. 

“My father is a very active chairman with no other hobbies other than Edmunds,” Steinlauf says with a chuckle, referring to his father and the company’s founder, Peter Steinlauf. “So he’s in the office multiple times a day. That’s really what he thinks about 24/7.”



Constant evolution

The Steinlauf family owns 70 percent of the privately held business, with outside investors making up the remaining 30 percent.

“Our goal in life is to continue to build this business, potentially for generations to come,” Steinlauf says.

“We were fortunate to have brought shareholders in at a time when the Internet was doing all sorts of crazy things in 1999 and 2000. Folks wanted to invest in anything that said dot com and there weren’t a lot of strings attached. The nature of our outside shareholders is that they are along for the ride for a period of time, and it’s up to them to determine what that period of time is.”

In terms of operational goals, Steinlauf says the company strives to make car buying easier for its customers and to foster trust between consumers and automotive retailers.

“We started off as a print publication publishing quarterly pricing guides and over the last 20 years, we have made the transition into the digital world and onto the Internet where today, we’re a fully online publisher of automotive information, pricing, specs, reviews and things like that,” Steinlauf says.

Edmunds now has an online audience of about 18 million consumers a month in the United States. The move to give employees unlimited vacation has not hurt that effort one bit, Steinlauf says.

“People are still working hard and in certain cases, are still working long hours,” Steinlauf says. “They just may not be chained to a desk to do that.”

 

Not a birthright

With three sons and three daughters, Steinlauf has a full house and an ample supply of potential leaders to choose from to carry on the family business. But he is quick to note that they won’t just walk into his office one day and take over the company.

“I’ve got a 10 year-old boy and an 8 year-old boy who have both expressed some interest,” Steinlauf says. “They made comments, each of them in their own way to me, such as ‘When I work at Edmunds, Dad ...’ and I say, ‘Whoa, hold on a second, you have to work hard and do some things, it’s not a God-given right.’

“Hopefully they’ll have the opportunity at some point, but it is not a God-given right that they will have an opportunity to do that. I’ve still got plenty of years to consider and think about that.”

 

How to reach: Edmunds.com, (855) 782-4711 or www.edmunds.com

 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/edmunds

Google+: https://plus.google.com/+edmunds/posts

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/edmundsinc/

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/edmunds.com

Tumblr: http://tumblr.edmunds.com/

Twitter: @Edmunds

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Edmundsvideo

Instagram: http://instagram.com/edmundsdotcom

If you work for Avi Steinlauf at Edmunds.com, you can take as much vacation as you want. It may seem like a slacker’s dream come true, but Steinlauf says employees have embraced the move with just the right mix of appreciation and discipline.

“It’s something we piloted in 2011 with a few work teams and we found out that we had higher quality, quicker throughput and far higher satisfaction on the part of our people,” says Steinlauf, CEO at the leading online source for automotive information.

“We do company surveys on a yearly basis and the No. 1 thing people like about working at the company is the fact they are treated like adults. It’s a results-oriented work environment and they are getting the results. It was a bit of a leap for us, but it’s been a success.”

Steinlauf was part of a panel discussion at the EY Strategic Growth Forum® in Palm Springs, Calif., in November called “The right balance for your business.” He shared his thoughts on what it’s like being the leader of a family business. 

“My father is a very active chairman with no other hobbies other than Edmunds,” Steinlauf says with a chuckle, referring to his father and the company’s founder, Peter Steinlauf. “So he’s in the office multiple times a day. That’s really what he thinks about 24/7.”



Constant evolution

The Steinlauf family owns 70 percent of the privately held business, with outside investors making up the remaining 30 percent.

“Our goal in life is to continue to build this business, potentially for generations to come,” Steinlauf says.

“We were fortunate to have brought shareholders in at a time when the Internet was doing all sorts of crazy things in 1999 and 2000. Folks wanted to invest in anything that said dot com and there weren’t a lot of strings attached. The nature of our outside shareholders is that they are along for the ride for a period of time, and it’s up to them to determine what that period of time is.”

In terms of operational goals, Steinlauf says the company strives to make car buying easier for its customers and to foster trust between consumers and automotive retailers.

“We started off as a print publication publishing quarterly pricing guides and over the last 20 years, we have made the transition into the digital world and onto the Internet where today, we’re a fully online publisher of automotive information, pricing, specs, reviews and things like that,” Steinlauf says.

Edmunds now has an online audience of about 18 million consumers a month in the United States.

The move to give employees unlimited vacation has not hurt that effort one bit, Steinlauf says.

“People are still working hard and in certain cases, are still working long hours,” Steinlauf says. “They just may not be chained to a desk to do that.”

 

Not a birthright

With three sons and three daughters, Steinlauf has a full house and an ample supply of potential leaders to choose from to carry on the family business. But he is quick to note that they won’t just walk into his office one day and take over the company.

“I’ve got a 10 year-old boy and an 8 year-old boy who have both expressed some interest,” Steinlauf says. “They made comments, each of them in their own way to me, such as ‘When I work at Edmunds, Dad ...’ and I say, ‘Whoa, hold on a second, you have to work hard and do some things, it’s not a God-given right.’

“Hopefully they’ll have the opportunity at some point, but it is not a God-given right that they will have an opportunity to do that. I’ve still got plenty of years to consider and think about that.”

 

How to reach: Edmunds.com, (855) 782-4711 or www.edmunds.com

 

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