When Flemming Bjøernslev took over as president and CEO of Lanxess Corp. and head of the North American region, he gave himself 100 days to get to know the company and the people. This January, the time was up — and by then, Bjøernslev had visited all 14 major sites in the United States and Canada.

“In my first couple days, I went out and took the pulse of the company to assess where we stood in order for me to prepare myself and the employees to take the company to the next level,” Bjøernslev says. “As an international corporation, we have global targets and the board at headquarters expects us to contribute to that target.”

He felt strongly about getting to rub elbows with the 1,500 employees of Lanxess Corp., the North American division of Lanxess, an $11 billion leading manufacturer of more than 3,000 products in the areas of rubber, plastics, intermediates (such as alcohols, acids and higher olefins) and specialty chemicals.

Bjøernslev came to Pittsburgh after serving as CEO of Lanxess Central Eastern Europe in Slovakia and now has the task of taking the learnings from his prior CEO role and transferring them to Lanxess’ North American business to continue to push the company forward.

Bjøernslev is optimistic about the current opportunities in the U.S. and how that will contribute to Lanxess’ business domestically.

“We are seeing a lot of manufacturing returning to the U.S.,” Bjøernslev says. “That gives me great comfort that the U.S. industries are moving forward to a better, brighter future, especially in the areas of mobility, urbanization, agriculture and water.”

Lanxess caters to all those areas and the current outlook has Bjøernslev excited that the business in North America will pick up rapidly, helping get Lanxess on the path to the next level.

Here is how Bjøernslev has come into a new role and put himself and Lanxess in a better position to succeed.

Take first steps

While Bjøernslev isn’t new to the CEO role by any means, he was still entering a new geography and new division of Lanxess when he came to Pittsburgh in October 2012. In his initial three-plus months, he had to familiarize himself with the business.

“In those first 100 days, I had to get to know the company and the people here in North America, which is Pittsburgh and our other sites,” Bjøernslev says.

He started with a couple of town-hall meetings and round-table discussions held department by department to interact on a more individual level with employees.

“I consider that extremely valuable to get to know the individuals and for them to get to know me and listen to what my vision is as we move forward,” he says. “I also visited all the major sites we have in North America. Again, we did a mix of town-hall meetings and round table discussions.”

Bjøernslev had a two-fold approach to his new CEO role, both internally and externally.

“The internal approach best practice for me has always been to sit down with the people and have them present their roles and responsibilities within the company in order for me to assess where we stand from a corporate point of view,” he says.

“The external part is presenting Lanxess to the outside world — customers, business partners and other relevant organizations we interact with.”

It is crucial that a new CEO put himself or herself out in front of the company’s stakeholders and offer the chance to get to know and understand one another.

“The key is to just take the hurdle of getting out there, getting to know the people, introducing yourself, introducing the company, introducing the target and tell a little bit about yourself,” Bjøernslev says. “That has been the focal point, and it is the best practice based on my experiences in previous jobs.”

Bjøernslev has learned that listening to the people who help drive the business every day is vital to understanding what direction to go in next.

“You have to listen to the people you are going to work with in the new position,” he says. “You have to watch the environment very closely and most importantly, listen to your gut feeling and be daring as you move along and make decisions.”

The worst thing a new CEO can do is hesitate in making those crucial decisions.

“We are all human beings and when you make a decision, you normally base it on experiences,” he says. “If you’re somewhat uncertain, human beings have a tendency to avoid making a decision. If you want to move forward in a new position, you have to make a decision, because avoiding a decision is not going to get the job done.”

Get to the next level

Lanxess is driven by innovation and technology paired with people excellence, both globally and locally. What Bjøernslev has found is that the company’s production and product base is extremely quick with regards to innovation, technology and the right ideas to make new products that will propel the company.

“At the end of the day if you take the people excellence, the topic of safety and blend that with the innovation and technology driven culture we have here at Lanxess, those are the keystones in order to create success that will take Lanxess North America to the next level,” Bjøernslev says.

When looking at what opportunities existed in North America, Bjøernslev saw the automobile market as a crucial player in Lanxess’ future with the ability to offer new products in rubber and plastics.

“The U.S. market is still the biggest market in the world for miles per person driven,” he says. “What I have realized over here is that Americans love cars. With our product portfolio within plastics and the fact that we are the leading manufacturer of synthetic rubber in the world, more than 50 percent of our turnover is generated in the automotive and tire manufacturing industry.”

Lanxess currently has an initiative it calls Green Mobility. Green Mobility relates to two major areas — lightweight construction of automobiles and green tires — which Lanxess hopes will drive the growth of the business and improve the auto industry at the same time.

“Car manufacturers are continuously focusing and forced to focus on reducing CO2 emission, reducing fuel consumption and that’s why they have to reduce the weight of the cars,” Bjøernslev says. “By using our high-performance plastics, you can reduce the weight of a car up to 30 percent. That is something that the Motor City is very interested in.”

The second area of interest for Lanxess is what it calls the green tire. The company has been supporting an initiative within the European Union, Brazil and Korea surrounding tire labeling.

“There is a requirement to label your tire as a producer based on three factors: rolling resistance, noise reduction, and wet-grip capabilities,” Bjøernslev says. “We are convinced that Americans who love to have a choice will be embarking on this tire labeling issue because so far in the U.S. you have never had the chance to decide what kind of tire you would like under your Cadillac, Ford or Chevy.

“We’re convinced this will be a topic for the U.S. industry in the future and we will support that.”

Bjøernslev hasn’t wasted any time in making decisions about where to focus the company moving forward. That decisiveness has been a result of listening to what is happening around Lanxess globally.

“First and foremost, you have to listen to your customers,” he says. “Secondly, make sure that you assess the entire value chain. You want to make sure that you reach out and listen to the customers of your customers. You want to make sure that you’re integrated in the right manner in order to cost-effectively and profit-effectively cater your products to the market.

“You have to make sure that you read the signs of your time, meaning the trends in the marketplace. You have to live in a global world. Today, it would be very risky to only focus on the U.S. or North American market.

“You have to take into consideration what the drivers are internationally, in Asia and in Europe, because although we sell a lot of products here in the U.S., we export to other parts of the world and vice versa.”

Bjøernslev says as time goes on, he plans to continue to focus on having the right set up in the company to get Lanxess to that next level of growth.

“We are cautiously optimistic as to future development,” he says. “What we have to do now is make sure we have the right organizational set up in order to cater our products to the market.

“What I found here was an excellent foundation. What we want to do is capitalize on that and make sure that we participate in the new market dynamics within the North American chemical industry and beyond … with the advancement of our products.”

How to reach: Lanxess Corp., (800) 526-9377 or www.lanxess.us

Takeaways

Get to know your employees and understand your company.

Listen to key stakeholders and the business environment.

Take your learnings and make decisions about direction.

 

The Bjøernslev File

Flemming Bjøernslev

President and CEO

Lanxess Corp.

Born: Denmark

Education: Bachelor’s degree in international management, FOM University of Applied Sciences, Essen, Germany

What was your very first job, and what did you learn from that experience?

I was a shop assistant at a green grocer. It taught me that hard work and dedication pays off.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Never tell yourself that the target has been reached, because there is a big risk that you turn complacent.

You mentioned you are a car guy, what is your favorite car?

I am the proud owner of a 1969 Porsche coupe. I’m a Porsche guy but old Porsches.

Who is someone in business that you look up to?

I’m a great admirer of a man named Ferdinand Piëch. He is the head of the supervisory board of Volkswagen. Volkswagen is currently No. 3 in the world and the target is to be the No. 1 car producer. First with Porsche, then Audi, then Volkswagen, Piëch has continuously been building Volkswagen to be one of the leading car producers in the world and that’s been done with innovation and technology. I find it fascinating the consistency he has had in achieving the position Volkswagen is in today.

What has been your favorite country you have spent time in?

I have a bunch of favorite countries, but my takeaway lesson from traveling the world has been that the key is the language. I speak four languages fluently: Danish, German, English and Spanish. I speak half Slovak because my fiancé is from Slovakia. I have a couple of favorite cities: Vienna, Austria; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and I’m increasingly starting to like Pittsburgh, because it’s not a major city like New York, but it’s also not a village. It’s the right size and it has a lot of culture.

Published in Pittsburgh
Friday, 31 May 2013 20:00

The mindful organization

Mindfulness, a concept originally characterized by Ellen Langer in 1989 as a state of alertness that is manifested in active information processing, includes creating new categories rather than relying on categories present in our memory; welcoming new information by being open and attending to changed signals, welcoming more than one view and being aware of multiple interpretations, and avoiding being on auto-pilot.

In 1999, Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe extended the concept of individual mindfulness to the collective dimension, describing it as the widespread adoption and diffusion of mindfulness by the organization’s members. Mindfulness helps organizations to notice more issues, process them with care, and detect and respond to early signs of trouble. Weick and Sutcliffe describe five cognitive processes that constitute organizational mindfulness: Preoccupation with failure, reluctance to simplify interpretations, sensitivity to operations, commitment to resilience, and deference to expertise. These, they contend, are prevalent among members of high reliability organizations.

So how does organizational mindfulness apply to the management of organizations?

Let us look at these five processes one by one.

Preoccupation with failures

Mindful organizations demonstrate an ability to learn from failures and breakdowns. The organization learns from what did not work and identifies gaps to ensure transformational success. These firms see failures as an opportunity to learn and to try again instead of getting discouraged and throwing in the towel.

In no way does this mean that you ought to get totally absorbed with failures. Mindful leaders spend equal time celebrating successes and analyzing failures to move the organization forward.

Reluctance to simplify interpretations

High performance organizations refuse to simplify interpretations, especially when facing intense competition, increased complexity and large amounts of data.

Business professionals are exposed to an enormous amount of internal data and market information. They face variations in the degree of analyzability of market information, in the degree of information commensurability, and in the equivocality of information coming out of multiple sources in the organization.

The inherent levels of information uncertainty and ambiguity require they focus on complex problems without reducing and oversimplifying them.

Sensitivity to operations

Leaders of mindful organizations purposefully invest in developing capabilities of their front line personnel. They pay attention to all organizational actors whether in leadership or in the “trenches.”

Mindful leaders listen actively to the rumor mill and embrace feedback coming from organizational skeptics. Being sensitive to operations also entails adjusting strategic programs by taking into account the knowledge of people who actually do the work.

Commitment to resilience

Resilience is one of the dimensions of the organizational confidence construct.

Leaders of mindful organizations commit to the success of all organizational programs. They purposefully develop shared beliefs, courage and resilience when implementing business strategies so that the organization keeps going when facing adversity.

The role of organizational champions and change agents is equally important to build collective confidence in teams.

Deference to experts

Decision-makers in business units should rely on the expertise of specialized centers of excellence to optimize business decisions and firm performance. Business leaders should avoid improvising and ought to defer tough decisions or complex problems to internal experts.

The five characteristics of high reliability organizations proposed by Weick and Sutcliffe can be applied and operationalized by any company in search of business excellence. Organizational mindfulness and mindful champions can play a critical role in the success of organizations. I call this mindful business management. I encourage you to read more about this emerging theory on organizational mindfulness.

 

Stephan Liozu (www.stephanliozu.com) is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors and specializes in disruptive approaches in innovation, pricing and value management. He earned a Ph.D. in management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at sliozu@case.edu.

Published in Columnist
Friday, 31 May 2013 20:00

The secret to business success

In my management consulting practice, I am frequently asked, “What is the key to business success?” I invariably tell clients that the answer is simple: employee buy-in.

If most of a business’s employees believe in the company, its leadership and its prospects, success is significantly easier to attain. Examine companies that have outperformed the competition in their industries, such as Southwest, Starbucks, Facebook and Google, and you will discover that they invest significant resources to generate employee buy-in and have subsequently benefitted handsomely from it.

Competitors frequently are able to replicate the business practices of these market leaders but are seldom able to achieve the same level of employee buy-in — the key to generating a powerful, intangible competitive advantage for businesses.

Employees who buy in are invariably passionate, energized, committed, dedicated and creative. With this frame of mind, they are far more valuable than those working to earn a paycheck by going through the motions of the job, let alone going the extra mile. They may even go out of their way to frustrate or sabotage the company’s success.

Getting the necessary conditions

While the concept of buy-in is relatively simple, achieving it takes a serious commitment. Buy-in is neither difficult nor costly to achieve, but several conditions must exist to generate that highly valuable disposition.

•           Employees need to understand the vision and direction of the business and recognize that they are realistic, attainable and motivating. To accomplish this, a business must have a comprehensive, up-to-date vision and strategic plan that is shared with employees in a manner they can understand and embrace.

SS&G Parkland’s research indicates that fewer than 10 percent of businesses have a comprehensive and up-to-date vision and strategic plan. And for those that do, only a tiny fraction of them share the plans with a significant number of employees. Employees who are not presented with a vision and plan that clearly communicate the path to success cannot be expected to buy-in.

•           Employee involvement and empowerment are key catalysts to buy-in. Those who are invited in and trusted to participate in determining the company’s direction invariably feel good about their role and their employer. Involvement and empowerment unleash pride, ownership, energy, and creativity — the key ingredients for buy-in.

•           While fair, respectful, consistent and honest interactions with employees will not by themselves generate buy-in, the absence of these qualities can critically undermine buy-in. Employees who are not treated well are not likely to feel good about the organization or its future.

Change in management style is needed

None of the conditions described above are particularly difficult to implement or likely to require any significant financial investment. They will, however, require a change in the management style and approach, including the following:

•           Management accepts the responsibility for developing a comprehensive vision and strategic plan, which is likely to lead the company to success. This is management’s most important role in a business. Instead, unfortunately, many managers are more comfortable focusing on day-to-day issues, challenges and opportunities.

•           Sharing plans and information with employees. Many managers prefer to keep employees somewhat in the dark, expecting them to keep their heads down and just do their jobs.

•           Changing from command and control management to coaches and cheerleaders.

These changes might be uncomfortable for some leaders at first. For them, successfully embracing and accomplishing these changes may take training and coaching. Conversely, employees invariably love the changes and adapt easily. Employees may be skeptical about managements’ commitment to the changes — requiring management to demonstrate its commitment to this new approach.

Without buy-in, most employees function as a pair of hands. With buy-in, employees throw in their heads, hearts and souls into creating a very compelling and powerful force. Buy-in is the simple trade secret that offers any company a huge competitive advantage.

Larry Goddard is managing director of SS&G Parkland Consulting LLC, the management consulting affiliate of SS&G Inc., the 41st largest accounting firm in the U.S. Goddard has been providing management services for more than 25 years. Contact him at www.ssandg.com.

Published in Columnist

Staffed with beautiful servers in sexy plaid kilts and matching plaid tops, Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery has its roots deep in the tradition of Scottish, Irish and English pubs. Originally coming to life in Las Vegas, the contemporary, Celtic-themed sports pub is headquartered in Tempe, Ariz., and has been doubling in size for the past couple of years. Today, it has 3,500 employees, revenue of $240 million and locations across the country.

While many patrons may come to Tilted Kilt to view the attractive servers, President Ron Lynch wants to make sure the brand is seen for much more than that. To help him get a better view inside the restaurant chain’s stores and get a firsthand account of how its employees were performing, Lynch went undercover on CBS-TV’s “Undercover Boss” in 2012.

“Going undercover made me realize that we really employ a lot of young people,” Lynch says. “Human resources are always a challenge and more so in our brand because we do hire so many young people. For some of them, it’s their first job. Some haven’t even been employed as servers or kitchen help or bartenders for that long of a period of time.”

One of the biggest lessons Lynch learned from his time under wraps was that Tilted Kilt and some of its younger staff could greatly benefit from a mentoring program. In addition, he discovered that there were a number of superstar employees going unnoticed.

Here is how Lynch took his undercover findings and translated them to make Tilted Kilt a better place for patrons and employees alike.

Educate through mentoring

Many young people looking for some early work experience will often find jobs at an area restaurant. Tilted Kilt is no exception, and that led Lynch to launch a mentoring program to improve the Tilted Kilt experience.

“We assumed at the store level that the management/young-employee relationship was enough, but they talk more along the lines of taking care of the guests, providing good product, being upbeat and entertaining people,” Lynch says. “A mentor relationship can be more of a personal thing for them.”

The idea for a mentoring program surfaced because of the actions of one Tilted Kilt server in particular who appeared on “Undercover Boss”with Lynch. She was seen telling off-color jokes and using language that wasn’t acceptable.

“That doesn’t represent our brand,” Lynch says. “A mentoring program for those young people allows a more experienced server to talk to them and give advice. Coaching in these areas is for their own good.

“This isn’t just our brand. It could apply for any brand that hires young people. Sometimes they need a little bit of coaching when those young people are in the adult world.”

The mentoring program allows Tilted Kilt’s young employees, like the one seen on the show, to speak with more experienced members of the staff.

“The mentor program is set up so that they have monthly meetings and talk for a period of time,” he says. “We want to enroll all the 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds before they are legally adults at 21. That’s where we have started.”

What Lynch has found so far in the company’s mentoring efforts is that you have to be persistent at getting involvement in the program.

“No. 1 is you have to persevere at it because your young people are going to be resistant to it,” he says. “They don’t think they need it. That’s the hardest part. We may need to rename the program something like Big Sister, Big Brother program — anything other than the mentoring program.

“At that younger age, they think they know everything, and so they think they don’t need it, and that’s the difficulty we are having with it. We need to put a different face on it and call it something different but have it accomplish the same thing.”

Lynch and his team are putting their heads together because so far the mentors and mentees are getting together, but they feel obligated to meet instead of wanting to meet with a mentor. That’s a problem Lynch is looking to fix.

“It takes time, but it’s also the approach that our servers take,” he says. “Rather than them coming up to that person and saying, ‘Hi, I’m your mentor, and we need to meet,’ and they go, ‘Why?’ Maybe there is a better approach.”

Seek out superstars

Much like with the mentoring program, Lynch found out that Tilted Kilt had some real hidden gems inside its restaurants during his experience undercover, which made him realize the company needed a better way to find these employees and recognize them.

“Another thing I noticed was that we have some fabulous people in the field that are going unnoticed,” Lynch says. “I would have never actually seen some of these people without going undercover. So our operations people and I are going to spend more time, particularly in the kitchen.”

Tilted Kilt needed a way to find those superstars within its system and make sure they prosper.

“I’ve challenged our operations people to go beyond that and get into the kitchens,” Lynch says. “Observe and talk to the kitchen people, maybe work on the line a little and assist them where you can. Then a great way to meet the servers is to offer to help run the food with them. That will help get feedback as to who those superstars are.”

To find those employees who are high achievers but might be going unnoticed, you have to challenge your staff to dig in deep.

“I know it’s uncomfortable and you’re in a restaurant that you don’t work in every day, but you have to pick out those roles that you can function in and dig in. You have to help them run and help them prep food and meet those people who are actually doing the job for us rather than just the owners and managers,” he says.

Finding great talent already in your business is one thing. Having the ability to hire those high achievers from the beginning is another. Lynch is also devoting time and resources to improving the hiring process.

Tilted Kilt uses a hiring process called HOST, which stands for hiring only spectacular talent. It’s a process that takes a minimum of 30 to 45 minutes to do.

“We have that potential bartender or potential server role-play with us,” Lynch says. “One of the common scenarios is I play the customer and the new person is the server. We want to know if they will communicate with us and connect. Are they a people person? Will they smile at the customer? That’s very, very key to us in the hiring process, and we spend a lot of time on it.”

You have to make sure that if you have one person in charge of a hiring process that he or she doesn’t get complacent and tired of it.

“It’s an interruption in their busy day, which is wrong, because that is the most important thing — getting the right people,” he says. “The hiring process is the No. 1 priority and the No. 1 priority that they do it right. If you have one person in charge of that hiring process, that one person will do it over and over and get really good at it and have the experience of knowing what makes the best employees.”

How to reach: Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery, (480) 456-5458 or www.tiltedkilt.com

Published in National

Staying relevant. It’s why companies close old divisions and start new ones, why they introduce new products, make acquisitions, diversify their portfolios and invest in R&D. And for IT companies like Groupware Technology Inc., it’s the reason to complete one transformation, only to pause, and do it all over again.

The need to change was something that IT industry veterans — owners Mike Thompson, Scott Sutter and Anthony Miley — understood well when they acquired Groupware, an IT solutions provider that was on the verge of going belly-up in 2005. They recognized from day one that the company’s survival was dependent upon Groupware’s ability to transition outside its roots of

“systems and storage” and make a name in for itself in IT’s fastest-growing segments: big data, cloud computing, virtualization and data security. It’s a process that’s taken involved two restructurings in seven years.

“It’s a brand-new organization from the company that we acquired,” says Thompson, the company’s president and CEO. “We took a company that was doing at the time of the acquisition $1.7 million, and we turned it into almost $150 million with our company. We injected life into the organization by creating relevancy within the marketplace … and within the customer base.”

Here’s how Thompson and his co-owners have taken Groupware from struggling IT reseller into a leading systems integrator.

Look for an opening

Groupware’s broad customer base includes SMBs all the way to Fortune 500 companies. This means the company’s IT solutions must meet a wide range of technology needs. Delivering solutions that are on the leading edge of today’s systems and storage technology is the only way to stay relevant for customers.

“At the rate that technology is changing — it’s pretty amazing the acceleration that it’s going through — we need to stay in the forefront in regard to what technology is out there,” Thompson says. “It’s having business conversations with our customers to understand what pain points they’re trying to solve for and where they’re trying to take their business.”

Nobody knows the needs of the market better than your customer base. So one of Thompson’s first steps as CEO was to ask customers, “What’s going on in the marketplace?” and “Where do you want to take your business?” to see where Groupware should be investing.

“Understanding what’s going on around cloud computing, big data, next generation data centers and having the expertise to be able to deep dive into those types of opportunities and conversations with customers has allowed us to remain in the forefront,” Thompson says.

“It’s having conversations with our end users in regard to what business issues they are trying to solve and then understanding how we can help them solve those issues, and not just for today.”

What Thompson and his partners realized quickly is that businesses buying IT products also wanted in-depth knowledge and advice from their providers. They began working on a strategy to transform Groupware into a services-led business, which could provide both products and support for its customer’s technical capabilities.

As it turned out, the challenges in the down economy — more companies began seeking IT workarounds to help them manage with more limited resources —gave the company an “in” to present its new solutions and services to the marketplace.

“Customers looked to us to offset some of the reductions that they had in place because business has to go on,” Thompson says. “You still have to solve these business issues. You’ve just got to find new ways to address the business models out there.”

While competitors scaled back, Groupware doubled down on IT investments, including its service segment, which Thompson and his partners believed would propel demand moving forward. The company also invested heavily investments in its labs and engineering capabilities — especially engineering talent.

“Where there is change and uncertainty, there is opportunity,” Thompson says.

“As we went through it, we saw that people were going to pull back. Our opportunity was to go invest heavily to have resources available to [businesses] and to create value out in the marketplace that our customers could leverage from us to continue to be successful in their operation.”

Start tough conversations

By the time the recession began bottoming out in 2010, Groupware had nearly doubled its business, a sign that new investments were paying off. Still, the business transformation also forced Thompson and his executive team to restructure certain areas of the company to make room for those investments.

It was important to engage people in “adult conversations” about why the changes were happening and what they meant.

“I think too often we let niceness get in the way of the truth. You need to have those conversations and not delay the hard conversations, acting decisively based on that and moving forward. I’ve been in situations where the executive team has been slow to make changes and it became irrelevant really quickly by not acting and not executing. It’s critical to have those conversations and then act on them appropriately.”

Groupware has now gone through two restructurings since 2005, a transformation process that’s involved rearranging certain departments, eliminating remote offices and consolidating operations. These strategic moves have helped drive the company’s investment in “rack and roll” solutions — complete technology solutions designed to be rolled into the data center and quickly put into production, generating higher returns for Groupware.

For Thompson, the ability to have honest conversations with team members has helped him keep the company accountable to progress, but also to earn employee respect. People prefer to do business with people that they like, but they’ll also follow a leader who they respect, he says.

“We need to have those hard conversations and get everybody on board with the investments that we want to make as an organization,” Thompson says.

“You can move too quickly, but if you set the goals and hold accountability level, you can make minor changes to that if you need to, or you can pull back.”

That said, building a dialogue with employees is also important in helping you monitor your investments. Strong internal communication gives you a continuous feedback loop to know where your investments stand and what kind of returns they are generating so that you can know when to pull back.

“It goes back to where you place your bets, making bets and then understanding the return, setting expectations associated with those bets and managing toward that,” Thompson says. “If you don’t see the return or you don’t see the return coming, you need to be able to take those resources back and double down where you do see return on those investments coming from or where you believe you can get a greater return.”

Share in excellence

Today, Thompson continues to invest heavily in the company’s core competencies — networking, security and storage — as well as its services practice, its fastest-growing division. Smart investments combined with open and honest communication are two building blocks in a foundation that helps Groupware stay relevant with customers, and the marketplace.

The third is collective ambition, or a shared commitment by employees to the company’s success.

“I’m a firm believer in building winning teams, having the right people in the right positions at the right time,” Thompson says. “Then you’ve got to empower them to go out and execute.

One way Thompson drives collective ambition at Groupware is by creating an environment where employees want to come to work.

“I’ve always felt that it’s our job from a leadership perspective to put our employees in a position to be successful,” Thompson says. “When they drive home that night, we need to give them a reason to come back in the office the next morning.”

What makes a great work environment? At Groupware, it comes down to living the company’s three core values every day.

“The great thing about this transition is that we’ve remained true to our core values of customer service, excellence and fun,” Thompson says. “My belief is that you keep those core values intact and you create an environment where employees can be successful and understand the consistency of the model that you’re bringing to the marketplace.”

An example is the fact that Groupware invites every employee in the company to its national kickoff — an event that many businesses limit to their sales teams.

“It’s customer service,” he says. “It’s the pursuit of excellence and it’s having fun. Those three complement each other.”

Getting employees together for the kickoff is about showcasing the company’s values and vision; but it’s also about “getting everybody to fill part of the success of the company,” Thompson says.

Driving this culture is also why Groupware expanded its focus on collective ambition in 2010, when it rolled out a corporate program around the concept. The goal of the program is to help employees understand their role in serving the purpose of Groupware and better explain to employees how all departments participate and work in harmony to help the company succeed.

“Once you have buy-in and you have collective ambition by multiple individuals in the organization, you can propel the business in the direction that you want to take it,” Thompson says.

How to reach: Groupware Technology Inc., (408) 540-0090 or www.groupwaretechnology.com

The Thompson File

Mike Thompson

President and CEO

Groupware Technology Inc.

Born: Mountain View, Calif.

Education: USC undergrad; MBA Regis University

Leadership philosophy: I don’t shy away from the fear of failure. That actually makes me work harder, and I take those challenges and adversity head-on. I’m a classic example of ‘productive paranoia.’ I’m always looking over my shoulder, always working hard and always trying to better myself to make sure that I can keep moving in the right direction.

What would you do if you weren’t doing your current job? 

In some capacity, creating an environment and opportunities for others to grow. Leadership and mentoring have always been important to me.

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?

When I’m not traveling, taking my kids to school in the morning. Discussing ESPN Radio with my son while my daughter tries to sing over the conversation and dance free of her car seat always starts my day off in perspective.

If you could have dinner with one person you’ve never met, who would it be? 

Cassius Clay. I’m a huge boxing fan. The man who became Mohammed Ali was a personal branding genius and his endless confidence and brashness are endlessly fascinating to me. 

What do you do to regroup on a tough day? 

If I can, go do something with my son, shoot hoops, play catch and so on. It gives me a half hour or so away from my phone. Practice, form and fundamentals messages, repeated to him over and over, are great reminders for me as well.

What do you do for fun?

Get out on the water: wake surfing, boating, being out on the water with friends and family. 

Published in Northern California
Friday, 31 May 2013 20:00

The mothers of invention

I’ve always enjoyed working for myself. In fourth grade, I mowed lawns. In high school, I expanded into window washing. Later on, I started a janitorial company and an outdoor advertising company. Eventually, I raised money from venture capitalists and started a business to sell marketing supplies online. Supposedly, all of that was a single kind of activity called “being an entrepreneur.”

“Entrepreneur” however, is a stretched out word. It may have been a perfectly good word at one time, but it isn’t very useful any more. A fellow who owns a McDonald’s restaurant is called an entrepreneur, and so is Mark Zuckerberg who started Facebook. The word has come to mean something like a “businessperson” who takes “risks” to make money.

I am not sure how much risk is involved in opening a McDonald’s or dropping out of Harvard — maybe because I’ve never done either. But launching Facebook seems fundamentally different than opening the 14,000th McDonald’s. We need more nuanced definitions to describe these varied activities so that we can see the differences.

Originality, not risk

There is certainly risk in starting any new business, just as there is risk in investing in any business, no matter how large or well-established. But the essence of entrepreneurship in its most exhilarating and important sense has to do with originality, not risk. There is greater value in the discovery of new things than in the refinement of the known. That is why cooks and bakers proudly guard their newest recipes, while the best of the tried and true are free online.

Oftentimes, when we’re speaking admiringly of successful entrepreneurs, what we’re really talking about are what I’d call imagineurs (thanks, Walt Disney, for the inspiration).Imagineurs bring to the table not just a desire to build, but a desire to create — whether their creation is a new gadget, a new idea or a new business model.

This act of invention is what differentiates starting up Facebook from starting up a new McDonald’s. Both require the riskiness of basic entrepreneurship, but only one requires doing something no one else has done before.

New life into an old field

To see the potentially tremendous value in thinking up something completely new, consider a field that’s incredibly old: music. People have always wanted to be able to listen to the music of their choice at the time and in the place of their choosing.

Over the past 150 years, our ability to do so has changed and improved dramatically. Each great leap forward depended on imagineurs, be it Thomas Edison and his phonograph, or Nobutoshi Kihara and his Walkman, or Steve Jobs and his iPod and iTunes store. Each imagineur’s efforts enhanced our ability to listen to the music we love.

Imagineurs don’t have to be technological wizards or tinkerers in the lab. Walter L. Jacobs started America’s first rental car business with 12 Model T Fords; today that company is called Hertz.

Reed Hastings upended the video rental business by sending discs through the mail on a monthly subscription basis and started Netflix.

Imagineurs are architects, designers, creators and seers of the unseen. Through curiosity, ingenuity and discovery they contribute a founding insight without which, neither they nor any other business builder can proceed successfully for very long. They find a way to give customers what they’ve always wanted, but better, faster or cheaper than before.

Just as every great inventor had a mother, every great invention began with an imagineur.

 

Jerry McLaughlin is CEO of Branders.com, the world’s largest and lowest-priced online promotional products company. Reach him at JerryMcLaughlin@branders.com.

Published in Columnist
Friday, 31 May 2013 20:00

Movers & Shakers June 2013

Perspectus Architecture, a planning and architectural design firm based at Shaker Square has expanded the firm’s leadership team.

The firm announced that Vladimir Novakovic, Sal Rini and James Wallis have been promoted to principals of the architectural design firm. Novakovic, Rini and Wallis are experienced in providing master planning, design and project management for health care, higher education, government, senior living and hospitality clients. With this promotion, they will become more active in business decisions guiding the direction of the company.

 

 

Magnus International Group has announced several promotions and additions to its team.

Tom Burlinski is now purchasing manager for Hardy Industrial Technologies, a division of Magnus. He has more than 25 years of notable experience in purchasing, quality assurance, customer service, safety, transportation and

production management.

 

Tom Szucs has been promoted to plant engineer for Hardy Animal Nutrition, a division of Magnus. As plant engineer, Szucs will employ his skills in cost-savings analysis, system optimization, project management and R&D to improve HAN’s chemical engineering processes.

 

Mark Pavlus has joined Magnus as senior plant engineer with more than 16 years of engineering experience in the manufacturing sector. He is focused on behavioral safety and operational improvements for Hardy Industrial Technologies.

 

Gordon Taylor returns to Magnus as production manager for Hardy Industrial Technologies to oversee daily manufacturing activities for the plant. He has more than 10 years of experience as a plant and manufacturing manager, operations supervisor and production team leader.

 

 

Skylight Financial Group, a leading comprehensive financial planning firm in Cleveland, Ohio, announced the creation of a new division, the Business Private Client Group (BPCG).

The new focus allows Skylight to address the increasing need to provide specialized planning for business owners looking to exit or transition control of their businesses. The Business Private Client Group works with privately held and family-owned businesses to develop a comprehensive approach to designing an exit strategy.

 

 

MesoCoat, an Abakan Inc. subsidiary located in Euclid, took the final step to the market introduction of its award-winning CermaClad corrosion and wear-resistant cladding process when it opened its first commercial facility on April 26.

The new plant is capable of producing $70 million in clad pipe annually, and is estimated to be one of the largest clad pipe manufacturing plants in the world in production capacity. The plant will help stimulate the local economy by providing highly-skilled manufacturing jobs.

 

 

Turner Construction Co., the builder of The Global Center for Health Innovation and Cleveland Convention Center, which was formerly known as Cleveland Medical Mart and Convention Center is pleased to announce that it expects to complete the project three months ahead of schedule.

The $465 million Cuyahoga County project began on Jan. 3, 2011 and is expected to be completed on June 1, 2013. The project is being developed, managed, and marketed by Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. GCHI and CCC will consist of a 235,000 square foot medical mart in downtown Cleveland and an adjoining convention center with 230,000 square feet of Class A exhibit space. The facility also includes more than 90,000 square feet dedicated to meeting rooms and a grand ballroom overlooking Lake Erie.

Published in Cleveland

Ronald McDonald, the red and yellow M&Ms, the Budweiser frogs and the Energizer bunny have all helped their respective brands to gain the attention of the consumer. These characters make content interesting, engaging, fun, and most importantly, memorable.

That kind of content is what Sway, a new Cleveland-area content and production studio, is helping companies achieve. David Walker, vice president of interactive, and Tom Megalis, chief creative officer, started Sway with the intent of helping companies make the connection between their brands and the content they produce.

“What we’re finding is a lot of companies that we go into have invested time to do social media and content and a year later they don’t have any Facebook followers, no one is going to their YouTube channel and nothing is happening,” Walker says.

“We go in and look at their content and it’s boring, uninteresting, and it’s not engaging. You have to think about how you create something interesting, engaging and fun that people want to look at.”

Examples of the characters leading advertising today are Flo of Progressive Insurance, Mayhem of Allstate and the Geico gecko.

“They market their stuff with humor,” Walker says. “Why? Because insurance is boring and no one wants to listen to a guy saying, ‘We need to update your policy.’ They create characters and brands, and we’re telling people that same idea whether you’re selling an industrial product or insurance. Sway is all about creating engaging, fun, dynamic content.”

Dos and don’ts

Today, in the world of social media it is all about generating your audience.

“In order for me to do that effectively, I’ve got to give them something they really will latch on to,” Walker says. “That’s where a lot of people have missed. You don’t have to go spend a lot of money, but you have to form an idea, form a brand, form a concept and then start putting that out there.”

When you create a brand — the colors, the typeface, the voice — everything about it has to match.

“I think where people are missing it is they’re not getting good writing, good concepts and good ideas,” Walker says. “There’s very little really good creative thinking and strong marketing execution behind it and part of it is some people just don’t get how to do it.”

When you produce content it has to have the effect that makes people want to share it.

“We put high premium where it really counts and why we believe we’re getting traction is because of ideas,” Megalis says. “The idea has to work for your business, its strategy and it has to hit your demographic with something that’s unique and stands out.

“Sure, anybody can take great pictures or shoot a video, but if there’s no substance it’s not effective.”

A lot of companies want to share education about their business or a particular product. The idea of sharing education through someone talking into a camera is no longer good enough.

“Instead of doing it that way you have to think creatively,” Walker says. “You want people to watch it. A lot of companies just push out content and it’s very instructional, institutional and industrial and we forget about it all. In today’s world, consumers are way too savvy. The old world stuff doesn’t resonate.”

Make it memorable

Today, we are bombarded with messages from all kinds of media. Everyone wants to send a tweet or post on Facebook, so how do you come up with something that is memorable? One of the best ways is with a mascot.

“Once you create that character it transcends to social media, print, broadcast and everywhere,” Walker says. “That becomes your voice because advertising is all about making impressions that stick whether it’s online or offline. Having that mascot or that character helps people make a connection with your brand.”

This isn’t really too different than how advertising has always been. It’s doing the research to understand who that target customer is and who that core audience is.

“What will best appeal to them?” Walker says. “What do you want people to know about your product or service? Who are you trying to get it to? You have to make sure the thing you create and the message that you’re putting out there will catch your audience.”

“If it’s just words being spewed without something attached to the message, people don’t remember it,” Megalis says.

How to reach: Sway, (330) 416-9768 or www.swayideafactory.com

Published in Cleveland

With demand robust and capital chasing deals, the market is primed for increased M&A activity. Through the April year-to-date period, deal value is ahead of last year’s pace by more than 20 percent, despite a seasonal lull in deal flow. While pending tax changes had the effect to pull more sellers into 2012, contributing to a softer first quarter, the drivers are present to support a healthy transaction environment.

For sellers, it’s a better sales environment today than all of last year. Quality companies are commanding the time and attention of buyers. With fewer differentiated businesses in a less than robust M&A market, valuations for those assets are high. Competition is pushing up purchase multiples, driving a seller’s market for the best companies.

It is a borrower’s market for companies on the hunt for acquisitions. Interest rates are at record lows, and lenders are aggressively supporting acquisition financing. Buyers are able to secure more favorable pricing and flexible terms as lenders compete for new M&A opportunities.

To create value and boost the topline in the slow growth environment, companies will need to make acquisitions. Company financial performance has improved and rising purchase multiples should propel more exit activity.

April Highlights:

International Business Machines Corp. acquired Cleveland-based Starbelly Productions Inc. (dba UrbanCode). UrbanCode automates the delivery of software, helping businesses quickly release and update mobile, social, big data, and cloud applications.

Timken Co. completed its fourth acquisition this year with the purchase of Smith Services Inc. Based in Princeton, W. Va., Smith provides electric motor repair and field technical services in a wide variety of markets including power generation, petrochemical, paper, steel, nuclear, and mining. The acquisition will expand Timken’s industrial services capabilities.

TransDigm Group Inc. acquired Aerosonic Corp. (AIM). The Clearwater, Fla.-based company is a manufacturer and marketer of aircraft instrumentation and sensor systems worldwide.

Cleveland- based Evolution Capital acquired new platform AXIOM Sales Force Development. The Richardson, Texas-based company provides sales coaching and integrated software solutions and implementation services. The Riverside Co. added on with the purchase of TerraSim of Pittsburgh, a terrain-generation software provider. The transaction represents the first tuck-in acquisition for Bohemia Interactive Simulations, which received development capital from the Cleveland-based sponsor in January 2013. Bohemia is based in Australia and provides simulation technologies for military and civilian organizations.

 

Deal of the Month

Measurement Specialties Inc. (MEAS) acquired Akron-based Spectrum Sensors and Controls from API Technologies Corp. (ATNY) in a $51.4 million transaction. Spectrum manufactures custom temperature probes, high reliability encoders and inertial sensors. The company was formed through the acquisitions of Advanced Thermal Products, a producer of HVAC and refrigeration temperature probes and assemblies, JDK Controls, a manufacturer of high-reliability encoders for aerospace and military applications, and Summit Instruments, a supplier of inertial test systems for aerospace and military markets. Spectrum is the third acquisition for MEAS in the last 12 months.

Andrew Petryk is managing director and principal of Brown Gibbons Lang & Co. LLC, an investment bank serving the middle market. Contact him at (216) 920-6613 or apetryk@bglco.com

Published in Cleveland

The view from Beth Mooney’s office on the 56th floor of Key Tower in downtown Cleveland overlooks Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Jacobs Pavilion and the Lake Erie shore — attractions that are part of what makes Cleveland special and reasons why Mooney loves this city and is proud that KeyCorp can call it home.

Mooney, chairman and CEO of KeyCorp, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies, with assets of approximately $87 billion and more than 15,000 employees, came to Cleveland in 2006 to lead the bank’s more than 1,000 branches. Her appointment to the CEO role in 2010 was a historic one since the move made her the first woman CEO of a top-20 U.S. bank. The announcement received national attention.

“I knew it was significant, and it wasn’t lost on me particularly from when I started in banking in 1978,” Mooney says. “It wasn’t lost on me that within a generation how transformational that was for our industry and within Key how significant it was, but it came with a degree of notoriety that I don’t think I saw coming. The world kind of took pause and noticed that banking, an industry that has long been heavily dominated by men at the top, promoted its first woman.”

While the move created big buzz, Mooney had to quickly focus on the job at hand since KeyCorp had been struggling to make a profit the previous few quarters coming out of the recession. One of the reasons she won the CEO role was her knack for developing and driving a strategy and her ability to get people to follow her. The company needed a new approach, and Mooney was ready to answer the call.

“Part of the process with the board when they selected me was to challenge me with what would be our strategy,” Mooney says. “How would Key differentiate itself? How will you make a competitive advantage? How will you know you’re winning with clients? There was a lot of dialogue around strategic vision. We just really need to stay the course, be rigorous, execute the strategy with focus and discipline and I needed to position us for that journey, reaffirm our strategic message to our employees, to our investors and find a way to capture that and bring people with us.”

Here’s how Mooney is focusing on building better relationships, providing great customer service and making sure her legacy as the first woman CEO of a top-20 U.S. bank leaves a positive and memorable mark.

 

Believe in your abilities

When Mooney started her career in banking, she didn’t think she would one day become a bank CEO. However, as she developed her skills and grew in the industry, she began realizing that the top spot could be within her grasp. She consciously sought opportunities in her career that would keep pushing her further.

“I was in it because I didn’t know that I would ever truly be a CEO, but that I wanted to go as far as my ambitions would take me,” she says. “I’ve made a lot of choices in my career and taken jobs, challenges and moves and very diverse opportunities in order to build what I call the best tool kit I could personally have and try to balance that with how far my abilities would take me.”

Throughout Mooney’s career, she has identified working well in a team environment, bringing out the best in others and accepting constructive criticism as some of the most important skills to have.

“One of the most critical skill sets is the ability to be effective in a team and work within environments where it’s groups of people solving problems, creating opportunities and driving business success that you have to think of yourself as a successful participant in a team and be able to exert pure leadership,” she says.

“As you get the opportunity to lead and get increasing responsibility, don’t lead with your differences; lead in a way where you bring out the best in others. You’re known for being a problem solver. You’re known to be somebody who is encouraging, coaching, mentoring, yet disciplined and delivers results.”

In Mooney’s career, there have been many role models and people who have mentored, coached and helped her get to this level.

“I have had a lot of bosses, both men and women, over the years who have invested in giving me opportunities — the stretch assignment, the difficult assignment because they believed I had a lot of capability,” Mooney says. “I tell people to take a tough job or take an assignment that’s outside your comfort zone so people can see you in a different light and realize that you’re scalable, nimble and can adapt to new situations. Never stop investing in your own abilities and your own learning.

“One of the things I’ve always said in interviews in my life whenever I was being considered for another opportunity … is I will always take the chance on my own abilities. If you give me this opportunity, I won’t disappoint you. Then work really hard to make good on that.”

Mooney says she is in her dream job, and as the company’s first female CEO she wants to make KeyCorp the best company she can.

“I want to do this well because I would like my legacy to be that this was a successful time for Key, for its clients, its communities, its employees, its shareholders — that it was transformational to our industry at a point in time and that it was a headline,” she says. “Hopefully by the time I’m done, it’s a footnote because there will be others who have risen to this level. Whenever you get that recognition and the spotlight is turned on you, I think it needs to bring out the best in you and that’s how I’ve internalized it as an extra obligation to do what’s already an important job well.”

 

Build better relationships

Mooney’s first steps to get KeyCorp back on track were to understand what would return the bank to profitability. She started with a focus on the company’s clients and consumers and sought to understand what they wanted from their bank.

“From a challenge point of view, what we were doing is still unique within the industry, which is a real firm focus on being very targeted about your clients and being disciplined about doing business with people that you had relationships with,” Mooney says.

“So staying very focused on our value propositions we’re going to build relationships, we’re going to do it in very targeted ways with clients who we know and appreciate our capabilities. We’re going to be clear about giving advice and solutions and not be product-pushers, and at the end of the day we have to give great service. So it was a little of back-to-basics, but with a whole new level of accountability and rigor.”

The best example of how Key showed its loyalty to its customers was when the Durbin Amendment was put in place in 2011. The legislation, which was part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, limited what banks could charge for debit card activity.

“It took a huge stream of revenue out of the banking industry,” she says. “In our case, it was $60 million in revenue that went away. The last time I checked that was real money. The different banks started talking about no longer being able to offer rewards programs along with your debit card and were probably going to have to charge a fee. So you had to make your plans for what you were going to do because it was a significant revenue difference.”

The company stepped back and ultimately came to the conclusion that it should ask its customers how they felt.

“We have been building this notion of listening to our clients, being insight driven, i.e. what do they want and need?” Mooney says. “What do they value and what will they pay for? When we [asked our clients] what we heard was don’t nickel and dime us. They feel that adding a fee was nickel and diming. What they wanted was for people to recognize and value that they have a relationship with us, and if we have a relationship that should be meaningful to the bank.”

Key decided to reorient its products around the notion of relationship building. The bank not only didn’t pull its rewards program, but expanded it, which was the opposite of what other banks ended up doing. It even landed KeyBank on the “ABC Nightly News.”

“When [ABC] listed the banks that weren’t charging their customers’ fees, Key was prominently displayed, and I got a sound bite where I said, ‘We asked our clients. They didn’t want to be nickeled and dimed. They wanted to be valued, and we went for reinforcing ‘Bring us your relationship and we will reward you’ versus going the fee route.’” Mooney says.

“That is value-spaced, relationship-based and that is a commitment to an extraordinary service. That is trying to find solutions that fit the needs of your clients and positioning yourself to be different in the market. I look at that as one of those examples that you can point to that says something is different at Key.”

In order to differentiate your business from others in your industry you have to be able to use your relationships to your advantage.

“I would start with the basic premise that the more you can understand about what your client wants, needs, values or what will differentiate you is an incredibly powerful strategy,” she says.

“The power of unleashing the ability to take that which you provide and build it, package it and deliver it in a way that really resonates with what your client wants, to me, is probably the only truly valid growth strategy over time.

“To the extent that you believe that you can build something — if you build it they will buy it — is a lost strategy these days because we’ve come to an age where choice and knowledge about choices, the rapidity of change and the ability to switch has probably never been higher.

“Retaining loyalty and building relationships takes a different value proposition and takes different work. It has to be rooted in what your clients want and need and finding proactive, robust ways where you find those outlets to listen and understand is a linchpin of a successful strategy.”

 

Form a strategy

The strategy of relationship building and customer service initiatives at KeyCorp go back to before the recession hit. However, as the recession increased pressure on the banking industry, those strategies gained importance.

“Even before the downturn we stepped back and said, ‘What are the things we want to be known for?’” Mooney says. “This goes back to 2007 and we said, ‘We better get really, really good at customer service because at the end of the day nobody truly stays loyal to a product, nobody really stays loyal to a location, a brand; they stay loyal to people and they stay loyal to how you make them feel.’”

KeyCorp looked outside the industry at how others were delivering service in order to better grasp how the company should move forward.

“We looked to Lexus and Ritz-Carlton and really calibrated how we trained our people, what we asked them to do and how we measured them,” she says. “We put in customer satisfaction surveys and all sorts of things to ask what sort of experience you received. You need to teach your people this is what service looks like, and this is how it feels to the client and then you call the client and ask them did they indeed experience you that way.”

Through that kind of training and initiative, KeyCorp got its customer satisfaction levels up to what most community banks experience.

“In the last two years, the slope of that line has accelerated to the point where the Holy Grail in service has always been the local community bank,” she says. “We’re right at the level of the service that community banks have give,n and we’ve really gapped out from our competitors.”

“You’ve got to decide what it is people want. Learn from the best in the industry, not just your business. Create a way to train people to it. Test that it’s happening and then recognize and reward so it becomes a virtuous cycle within your company to make giving great service part of how people get up.”

For any strategy to be effective, there are a few critical factors that you need to make sure you do.

“For a good strategy to be great, there is only one way and that has to be the consistency of execution of the strategy,” Mooney says. “First, you have to start with clarity of the strategy to the people who have to implement it. Your employees have to understand clearly what your strategy is. What’s your strategy and how are you going to differentiate? How are you going to compete and what does winning look like?

“Secondarily, it’s the consistency with which you execute that strategy over time and that your ability to focus on execution is done with rigor and accountability. Then make appropriate course adjustments, but do so with consistency.

“I don’t think there has ever been a great strategy that wasn’t executed over time with rigor, with accountability, with clarity, with buy-in, with recognition, with reward that is meaningful to the client. This whole notion of ‘It’s a journey, not a destination’ that you have to stay with it over time and people need to understand it and believe that it’s real and get up and know what’s expected of them and do it over and over and over again, to me, it’s that clarity and consistency and the disciplined, focused execution that makes a difference.”

The course of implementing a strategy takes a lot of hard work by everyone involved, but the CEO has to play the most crucial role.

“The trajectory, the pace, the rapidity and the tone and feel of [a strategy] is uniquely a CEOs role to help shape that, to help give it a face and something that your employees can follow, your clients can understand and your communities can appreciate,” she says. “Then ultimately create the shareholder value from those strategies that will make it rewarding for them to invest in your company. It’s kind of unique being the bearer of it as well as the driver of the strategy.”

 

Gain buy-in

No matter how good a strategy sounds or how good it looks on paper, it will not succeed unless you get buy-in from your employees who have to ultimately be the ones who do the work.

“The first cornerstone for how do you get followership in a strategy has to be the simplicity of the message, the consistency of the message and you can’t communicate enough,” Mooney says. “Every chance I get it’s here’s who we are, here’s how we compete, here’s how we’re going to be different in the marketplace, here’s how you help us win. It’s consistency of messaging. Then what I hope I do effectively is, ‘I hope I’m very authentic. I’m very genuine. I’m very down-to-earth, and I put things in terms people can understand and can see themselves as part of.’

“So there is this constant, clear messaging and consistency of communication that you have to get protocols and rigor around where the content is compelling and understandable and you see yourself in that strategy.”

Another way to get people to follow you is to truly show your company how much you care about its well-being and success.

“I think the other thing that is unique to my style is that people know I’m passionate and I believe in what we’re doing,” she says. “I value our employees. I believe in our clients and our community. I’m committed to our shareholders, and I think there’s a bit of a rising tide in the messaging that people want to go with that.

“It becomes something that they can rally around. The rigor around making sure those messages are done continuously and reinforced doesn’t happen by chance. There is a whole protocol and operationalizing of that messaging to make sure that it is not just ad hoc, that it is indeed consistent, clear and inspiring.”

Today, KeyCorp is continuing to leverage its relationships and devotion to customer service. Since the downturn, the company has reported eight straight quarters of profitability, and it has further plans to keep growing.

“The cover of our annual report captures it well; it says, ‘Strong, Focused and Building Momentum,’” Mooney says. “I feel like with eight straight quarters of profitability Key is solidly back to profitability and that what we need to do as a company from here is to build on our momentum and the sources of where we’ve been able to grow our business and return to profitability – and just be relentless around doing so.”

To ensure the continued success of your business, you need to not only focus on relationships and service, but on new opportunities as well.

“You need to do both grow your core and do the things you do well as well as seek to always do new things that are additive to your business model, but with a keen sense of prioritization,” Mooney says.

“If you try to do everything, you do nothing well. You have to be disciplined in what you prioritize, ‘planful’ in what you choose to execute, and then rigorous in how you measure and hold people accountable for what you’re doing. Those three stages of attributes need to be part of a constant vigilance making sure you answer those three questions and then it becomes a virtuous loop.”

 

Takeaways

  •  Never stop investing in yourself.
  •  Build relationships and leverage them to succeed.
  •  Use strategy to deliver a consistent, clear message.

Learn more about KeyCorp at: 

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

Twitter: @KeyBank_Help 

 

How to reach: KeyCorp, (216) 689-5580 or www.key.com

Published in Cleveland