Most of us sincerely want to be a better person, manager, spouse, significant other, parent, child or Indian chief. Certainly, good intentions and desire are the first steps in self-improvement. The second step is an introspective discovery process combined with a bit of discipline in order to make meaningful progress.
To get started, ask yourself several pointed questions. Has anyone ever made suggestions to you about your management or communication style? Maybe it was a boss or mentor, a good friend or an associate earnestly trying to give you a few constructive tips on how to improve. Best yet, it might have been self-discovery after you did something that did not quite measure up to your own expectations.
Reality is, for most of us, our strengths can also be our biggest weaknesses. As an example, if you're a type A, anal-retentive person who is detail-oriented to a fault and always crosses every T and dots every I, possibly this strength has morphed you into becoming a micromanager of others. Or, maybe you consider yourself a disciple of the great communicator, the late President Ronald Reagan, because you are a terrific speaker who can captivate the other person in one-on-one conversation or every individual in a large audience. The downside of this is maybe you're not a great listener because you fall in love with the sound of your voice and your words. This could translate into you talking too much and unintentionally giving the wrong impression of not being receptive to another person's point of view.
The list can go on and on. The trick, however, is to recognize what you are and what you're not, and then tweak your style for the greater good, helping not only yourself but also those with whom you interface by making yourself more effective and perhaps even a little easier to take.
Try this. Create two columns on a legal pad or spreadsheet and list all of the attributes you think you possess in terms of your management capabilities/style. Keep the list short and focus on what's important, as this is not an inventory of everything you've done or learned since the third grade. Once you've captured two, three or four key characteristics, in the next column record a corresponding set of those things you know don't help your cause.
Next, re-read this personal inventory of pros and cons and look for patterns. If you note, as an example, that you are incredibly disciplined and seldom give yourself any slack, see if you also jotted down on the detractor side of the ledger that people tend to think you push subordinates too hard without differentiating between what is mission-critical versus basic tasks. If you spot this corresponding weakness, it doesn't necessarily mean that you suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, but you might just need to recalibrate your standards when dealing with others, recognizing that your subordinates don't have to become your clone to be successful.
Once you've drilled down on the most important characteristics that you want to change, it's time to develop a game plan. For illustrative purposes, let's again assume you're that great communicator, but you sometimes go over the top and incessantly interrupt others, which leads to missing out on their ideas, not to mention becoming a bore. If this is your Achilles' heel, you must focus on the triggers that cause you to behave in this manner in order to strive for improvement.
Maybe you're really not self-consumed, but instead, your mind races ahead to follow-up thoughts that you want to make without allowing enough time for others to absorb and comment on your initial words of wisdom. This suggests you need to put a mental circuit breaker on your lips after you make your first major point, allowing for a long pregnant pause to let others amplify on your point or introduce an opposing or complementary thought. By doing this, you'll help make the conversation or presentation more interactive, which may lead to better resolutions or open the door to new unexplored concepts or opportunities.
Armed with this newly created self-assessment, you'll become a more productive and better leader who has learned to make your strengths stronger and reduce the negative effects of your weaknesses.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.
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Also available wherever books and eBooks are sold, and from Smart Business Magazine and www.SBNOnline.com. Contact Dustin S. Klein of Smart Business at (800) 988-4726 for bulk order special pricing.
There are plenty of warnings about wanting too much in this world, whether it is in your personal life or as the CEO of a company.
Remember the dot-com bust? Prior to the technology market bubble bursting, tech companies could do no wrong. Investors were ignoring basic fundamentals because “this was a new era” and the old rules didn’t apply. Well, it turns out the rules did apply. As did one very old rule about “what goes up, must come down.”
Tech company valuations were slashed by billions, thousands were laid off and the ripple effect was felt throughout the economy.
More recently, we experienced the real estate bust. It was pretty much the same story — people ignored basic investing and common-sense rules and the prices for real estate went sky-high, and then the bubble burst. The results were also the same: billions in value lost, thousands of jobs affected and the ripple effect was felt throughout the economy.
There is plenty of blame to go around for these events, both by investors who got caught up on the hype and CEOs who were trying to get rich, or at least richer than they already were. It was a quest to have the biggest paycheck, the biggest yacht, the biggest plane and the biggest house. The reckless CEOs were trying to use get-rich-quick methods that are dangerous to everyone.
There are four common ways to grow a company:
- Going public through an IPO
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Debt financing
- Self-funded organic growth
IPOs cost a lot of money to launch and even more money to maintain. The second and third methods are all about leverage. Overvalued stocks and overleveraged companies were major contributors to the tech and real estate busts. Too many CEOs were borrowing more and more money to fund the next great merger or open more locations. When tough times hit and the money dried up, they had lived well beyond their means and a harsh reality set in.
Despite these recent economic failures, many companies are still playing with borrowed money, overleveraging themselves and putting their entire company at risk. You have to understand the leverage game and the risks that come with it. The best way to grow a company is to create an environment that fosters growth and to focus on building long-term relationships.
This isn’t to say that you won’t make a strategic acquisition here and there or occasionally borrow money to fund needed expansions. The key is to do it in moderation and understand how too much debt can hurt your ability to grow. Making a mistake with debt can spell doom for your company and everyone in it.
Your responsibility as CEO goes far beyond yourself. Investors obviously are counting on you, but so is everyone that works in your organization. For some of your vendors, you might be their largest account. If you suddenly went out of business, how would it affect them? Would you create your own mini “bust” that rippled through the local economy, even on a micro scale?
In today’s world, you need to take a hard look at how you are leading your company. One wrong move could cut you off from the credit you need to fund your leveraged growth. With no money, the organization often collapses under the weight of its own debt.
It’s OK to be satisfied with what you have and not play the high-risk game of leveraged growth. Growth is good but not when it requires an “all-in” risk that can ruin your organization and the lives of the people who work there. Remember, more often than not, slow and steady wins the race.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ernst & Young founded the Entrepreneur Of The Year program to recognize those with a passion for “thinking big” and to bring together visionaries and leaders to inspire each other and our communities. We have gathered here and in 25 other cities across the United States to honor all of our regional semi?nalists and welcome a new class of entrepreneurs into our Hall of Fame, recognizing their resilience, ingenuity and innovation.
We applaud them for overcoming challenges, inspiring others, opening new markets and, ultimately, fueling economic growth in Michigan and Northwest Ohio. Let’s celebrate their achievements, perseverance and tireless pursuit of business excellence.
Congratulations to all our 2012 Michigan & Northwest Ohio semi?nalists.
-- Jamie Simpson, Partner/Program Director, Entrepreneur of the Year, Ernst & Young
2012 Winners, Finalists and Semifinalists
• Bradley Oleshansky, BIG Communications LLC (Winner)
• Donald A. Hicks, LLamasoft (Finalist)
• Frederick Minturn, MSX International (Finalist)
• Richard B. Sheridan, Menlo Innovations LLC (Finalist)
• Sabah Ammouri, ATM of America Inc. (Semifinalist)
•Lynn Mustazza, JAWOOD Business Process Solutions LLC (Semifinalist)
• Mark Symonds, Plex Systems Inc. (Semifinalist)
• Ryan J. Blair , ViSalus Sciences (Winner)
• Pam Turkin, Just Baked (Finalist)
• Michael Eckele, Eckele Health & Nutrition (Finalist)
• Joseph M. McClure, McClure’s Pickles (Semifinalist)
• Mark Peters , Butterball Farms Inc. (Semifinalist)
• Kevin and Carole Chase , Chase Plastic Services Inc. (Winner)
• John Eldred, Midwest Tap LLC (Finalist)
• Jameel M. Burkett , Burkett Restaurant Equipment (Semifinalist)
• Charles Elliott, Lake Court Medical Supplies Inc. (Semifinalist)
• Douglas J. Grimm , Grede Holdings LLC (Winner)
• Tanvir Arfi, SPX Service Solutions (Finalist)
• Charles G. McClure, Meritor Inc. (Semifinalist)
• Christopher J. O’Connor, Humanetics Innovative Solutions (Winner)
• Shiela Kaye Rossmann, Paramount Precision Products Inc. (Winner)
• Noel Cuellar, Primera Plastics Inc. (Finalist)
• Wilbert W. Williams, Williams-Bayer Industries (Finalist)
•Jonathan Paul DeWys , DeWys Manufacturing (Semifinalist)
• John Sztykiel, Spartan Motors (Semifinalist)
• Manoj Bhargava, Innovation Ventures LLC and Living Essentials LLC (Winner)
•Dr. David Kent, Lifestyle Lift (Winner)
• Dr. Christopher Newton , Emergency Physicians Medical Group PC (Finalist)
• Jeffery S. Prough , Critical Signal Technologies Inc. (Finalist)
• Jane E. McNamara, GreenPath Debt Solutions (Semifinalist)
• Jason Teshuba, Mango Languages (Semifinalist)
Spirit of Entrepreneurship
• Nancy Schlichting, Henry Ford Health System (Winner)
Staffing & Support Services
• Claudine George, ICONMA LLC (Winner)
• Tel K. Ganesan, Kyyba Inc. (Finalist)
• Dianne Marsh and Bill Wagner, SRT Solutions Inc. (Semifinalist)
• Marie Seipenko, Preferred Solutions Inc. (Semifinalist)
Working at Preferred Solutions Inc. for 17 years, Marie Seipenko has stamped her unique ideas all over her business, from its products to its unique business strategy designed around customer needs.
Seipenko understands that a company doesn’t have to be big to diverge from the industry norms and try new things. Since becoming president and CEO of the IT staf?ng company in 2002, she’s taken many steps to differentiate Preferred Solutions from competitors and build its niche in health care IT.
Soon after Seipenko became CEO, the IT market experienced a decline for the ?rst time in years. Seipenko watched as smaller staf?ng companies merged with each other and others went out of business. Quickly, she realized that Preferred Solutions needed to change directions if it was going to survive in the industry long term.
One of the major changes she made to reshape the company was rejecting the idea that Preferred Solutions should use one form of software or partner with one software company for customers. Instead, she helped organize the business to work with more than 500 service providers, allowing clients to maintain their current IT systems and creating a ?exible model for growth.
To position the company uniquely from competitors, she also developed a three-point business strategy: become a tier one vendor (only taking a job if they could work directly with the client), target a completely different industry — health care IT — and hire a topperforming salesperson, despite the expense.
The company also switched to using nurses on the job instead of IT employees to work with hospital customers to increase the comfort level of clients.
Although implementing these ideas was risky, Seipenko’s creativity in developing solutions that add value for Preferred Solutions’ clients has led the company to not only survive but to also successfully grow in the challenging economy.
HOW TO REACH: Preferred Solutions Inc., www.prefsol.com
Semifinalist, Staffing and Support Services
In the last ?ve years, Ann Arbor, Mich.-based software developer SRT Solutions Inc. weathered the recession and the bankruptcy of its biggest client, General Motors. And SRT didn’t merely endure these adverse conditions, it thrived under them. Led by co-founders Dianne Marsh and Bill Wagner, SRT Solutions more than tripled its revenue from 2007 to 2011 and increased its staff from 12 to 18.
SRT Solutions uses a collaborative approach to building software for its clients. Marsh, the company’s president, and Wagner, its CEO, have different technology and software preferences, which makes the company more versatile than many software developers.
Staffers work side-by-side with clients to gain an understanding of the business and technical issues that affect software design and execution. SRT’s goals go beyond creating software to helping its clients compete more effectively in their markets. The company also helps its clients understand the technology and how it works.
Marsh and Wagner take a hands-off approach to working with their employees. They give them freedom and don’t hover over them or make them feel rushed. They require R&D time of their entire team, keeping SRT Solutions abreast of the latest software being developed. This investment has produced a successful return, evidenced by the company’s strong performance under adverse conditions.
SRT Solutions’ co-founders are active as organizers, sponsors and presenters at CodeMash, the Midwest’s largest software development conference. The annual conference has grown greatly since its launch in 2007. The 2012 CodeMash conference sold out its 1,400 tickets in 22 minutes.
Marsh and Wagner believe in the importance of spreading the knowledge of technology, and to support that goal, SRT Solutions hosts free user groups and technical forums at its downtown Ann Arbor facility.
HOW TO REACH: SRT Solutions Inc., www.srtsolutions.com
Tel Ganesan likes to be told something can’t be done. His response? “Watch me.” This can-do, risk-all attitude has served him well. He tapped all his personal ?nancial resources seven years ago to launch Kyyba Inc., a home-based operation specializing in providing IT and engineering services to companies.
Today, as president and CEO of the Farmington Hills, Mich.-based, multimillion-dollar company, that entrepreneurial leap has paid off. Ganesan has met and exceeded his goals, winning the Inc. 5000 award four years in a row for being one of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S.
Ganesan has achieved this growth through strategic acquisitions and diversi?cation of services. He consolidated 2007 and 2008 acquisitions under one location in 2009 to streamline company operations, and consolidated further under one company name — Kyyba — in 2010 to bolster the brand. When the ?nancial crisis hit, affecting the company’s primary client base, the automotive sector, Ganesan led the company in diversifying services to ?ll the sector’s demands generated by workforce reductions.
The staf?ng company of nearly 200 employees was recently recognized by Corp!Magazine and received the 2012 Michigan Economic Bright Sport Award.
In addition to a dedication to entrepreneurship within his own company, Ganesan encourages the development in others. He formed the Annai Ashramam USA Foundation to raise money to assist women and children with education and the ability to build lives of their own. He is also active in The Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE), the world’s largest nonpro?t group fostering entrepreneurship and assisting individuals with their dreams of opening a business.
Ganesan has served as chairman of TIECon and assisted with the development of the organization’s ?agship conference for entrepreneurship.
HOW TO REACH: Kyyba Inc., www.kyyba.com
Claudine George had worked at companies where employees were not treated with the level of respect she felt they deserved. She wanted to change that and create a business where they would be valued and made to feel as if they were her No. 1 asset.
The company began as Computer Systems Group, a small, homegrown business that specialized in recruiting IT consultants and engineers.
George did not expect to make money overnight and took a methodical approach to building the organization she had envisioned. In 2000, she took her clients and rolled them into a company called ICONMA LLC. She invested as much capital and pro?t into the growing company as she could. Money was a challenge in those early days as many clients were pretty slow about making payments.
As the stress mounted, George was advised to obtain certi?cation as a woman-owned business. This turned out to be a big help in staying a?oat. She continued to work hard to try to provide better service and encourage clients to consider her ?rm. Over time, her efforts paid off and the company continued to grow.
But all the while, George’s attention did not waver from her employees. She wanted to know what drove them to come into work each day and what opportunities they sought for their own personal growth.
She wanted to provide them with a voice in the company’s goals so they would feel part of the success as much as she did. And she wanted them to have a sense of optimism, no matter how bleak things looked at times.
The result is a company that continues to grow with employees who indeed feel like they are No. 1.
HOW TO REACH: ICONMA LLC, www.iconma.com
It was a great opportunity but, unquestionably, a great challenge as well. For the ?rst time since 1915, Henry Ford Health System was going to build a new hospital. The health care system had grown since that time, but it was through acquisition rather than new construction.
Nancy Schlichting felt the pressure, but she was supremely confident she was up to the challenge. This new hospital would be used, viewed and analyzed for years to come by millions of people. Schlichting wanted all those observations to be positive.
So the CEO and her team embarked on a design that would revolutionize the design of hospitals and the type of care that they provide. Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital was going to be modeled after a northern Michigan lodge with wooded areas and paths for walking and biking.
The latest in medicine and technology would be offered, along with comprehensive wellness and preventive programs.
To ensure that customer service and culture would stand out, Schlichting hired an executive from The Ritz-Carlton Hotel to be CEO at the hospital.
In addition to exemplary customer and patient service, Schlichting wanted safety to be a priority at the new hospital. She makes her way around all of the company’s hospitals on a regular basis to gather feedback and address any issues that may have developed so she can quickly address them.
Her regular presence has served as an important reinforcement to her words of quality and accountability. The results indicate she’s on the right path. Satisfaction scores since the hospital opened are in the 99th percentile and admissions are higher than many other hospitals in metro Detroit. The hospital is also projected to break even in its third year.
HOW TO REACH: Henry Ford Health System, www.henryford.com
When working for an Italian company after graduating with a computer engineering degree from Michigan State University, Jason Teshuba wanted to learn Italian. However, he could not ?nd a good teaching program that provided a fresh and practical way to learn a language. This experience led him to develop his own business, Mango Languages, in 2007.
The business’s founding was not without risk. Although they received some bank loans, CEO Teshuba and his three other founders mainly funded the business personally, racking up loans and using personal credit cards to get the business off the ground.
The quartet also needed to think outside the box if it was going to compete against other language software programs and come up with a concept other language programs weren’t using.
Mango Languages’ competitive advantage is that it teaches practical conversations for immediate exchanges instead of unnecessary vocabulary a person will most likely not use. The software also uses semantic color mapping to teach grammar in place of less engaging verb conjugation lists.
While there were many ?nancial and logistical obstacles in the way of Mango’s launch, Teshuba never saw them that way. He feels the true entrepreneurial spirit means that you embrace every challenge with creative thinking — and believe that you can do anything.
In the future, Teshuba plans to continue investing capital in research and development, production capacity, mergers and acquisitions, and new geographic markets. His vision for the company is 1 billion users by 2021 by launching the new products in the U.S. and some foreign markets.
Teshuba is actively involved with the National Museum of Language, a nonpro?t organization that works to promote a better understanding of language and its role in history, contemporary affairs and the future.
HOW TO REACH: Mango Languages, www.mangolanguages.com
Jane E. McNamara looked at Credit Counseling Center Inc. and she saw a good business that could be even better with a little work. It needed standardized service delivery methods and processes to bring order and take out confusion from the work the company did to help those in dire ?nancial straits.
She also decided the company needed a new name and so Credit Counseling Center Inc. became GreenPath Debt Solutions. As president and CEO, McNamara invested in a task-based computer system that automated parts of the operation that didn’t need human involvement.
She also standardized some decision-making processes and created a quality assurance department dedicated to ensuring that consumers receive the same high-quality service at all its locations.
GreenPath’s reputation surged as the services wowed clients. Partnerships were established with large creditors such as Chase, Bank of America and HSBC, who began referring their customers directly to GreenPath.
There have been challenges along the way, however. In 2011, actual revenue was off signi?cantly from what was budgeted, and GreenPath had to undergo signi?cant restructuring. The workforce was reduced and several locations were shut down to cut costs. Despite the blow to the corporate culture, the company was able to recover through decisive leadership and began to turn back toward pro?tability late in the year.
The strength of the culture is very important to McNamara and she encourages her employees to get involved in philanthropic opportunities. GreenPath has donated hundreds of pounds of food and thousands of dollars to area charities to support their drives. Employees have also taken part in gift drives to make sure children have a happy holiday season.
HOW TO REACH: GreenPath Debt Solutions, www.greenpath.com