You have all seen or know a CEO who has every technological gadget on the market. E-mails are routed to his phone, which are read to him by the computer via his earpiece. Voice mails are logged and sorted by importance based on preset filters. This person is so plugged in, he starts to resemble a robot with all of his buttons and screens attached to him.
You’ve also seen his nemesis: Mr. Old School. This person avoids technology like a disease. Forget about wireless headsets because if he has a cell phone, it’s only so the wife can contact him in an emergency. E-mails? He never bothers to check them even though the company IT guy gave him an address years ago. This guy is so anti-technology he’d power his company on wood-burning stoves if he could figure out a way to do it.
But the interesting thing is, both CEOs are successful. Both get the job done and know how to run an organization that turns a profit.
This brings up the question of how much technology should you personally be using? Some people embrace technology and have proven successful, while others abhor it and are likewise successful. So how much is the right amount?
For me, I know that there’s a lot of technology out there that would probably be beneficial, but I just don’t have the time to devote to it. Much of today’s technology requires an upfront investment in training, whether its reading the manual and trying to figure out how the gadget works on your own or having someone come to your office to show you all the bells and whistles. For me, I use some technology, but I know I could probably be getting more out of what I already have, but I just can’t find the time to get the training.
The other problem is, technology is evolving so rapidly; it’s a full-time job just trying to keep up with everything. Why spend time training on a device that may already be obsolete?
We face some of these same issues when it comes to implementing technology in our company as a whole. You want to make sure everyone has the tools he or she needs to be efficient but not pay for cutting-edge technology that costs more than any return you’ll ever see on that investment. When you are choosing technology for yourself, you can afford to spend more because it’s only for one person, and a small gain in time can pay big dividends for the company. But the problem is, while you may have every intention of getting the most out of the latest gadget, the day-to-day necessities of running a business often get in the way.
So how do you decide what technology is best for you? The key factor is comfort. Get recommendations from your friends who also run businesses and see what works for them and maybe they can give you tips on how to use it as well, eliminating some of the training time.
Maybe the most important thing is to be realistic with both the expectations for the technology and yourself.
Technology can help you find answers, but it isn’t the answer itself. Buying the latest gizmo isn’t going to solve your cash flow problems or necessarily make you more efficient. For example, if you had a hard time communicating your vision to employees before, the device may give you the means to do so, but it’s still going to be up to you to get the job done.
Technology is just a tool to help you build your business, so be realistic about what you will use and try to ignore the “cool” factor. Too often, technology is like that exercise equipment that sits unused in your house an expensive reminder of a good intention that never panned out. The equipment could help you get in shape, but it’s you that has to ultimately get the job done.
So keep that in mind when you are looking at the latest gizmo. Is it a tool that complements your style perfectly, or is it a $200 paperweight with a fancy screen? It’s up to you to decide.
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.
If your company invented the credit card, would you be looking to share it with some of your competitors?
Most companies would see it as too good to give up, and the first-to-market advantage would put them in a clear leadership role as the competition played catch-up. But what then? They’d fight to stay in front, margins would shrink as everyone jumped into the business, and then they would have a commodity on their hands. It might take years or even a decade or two, but if it’s a good idea, it’s going to attract imitators.
A branch manager at Bank of America invented the credit card as a way of streamlining bill processing at the bank. The BankAmericard program was an instant hit, and Bank of America began licensing it to other banks.
Dee Hock, one of the leaders of a group of BankAmericard licensee banks, proposed that the banks form an association a joint venture that would allow members to enjoy the benefits of a centralized payments system while competing fairly for their own interests. Hock became the new group’s first president. In 1970, Bank of America transferred control and ownership of BankAmericard to the newly incorporated National BankAmericard Inc., which changed its name to Visa in 1976.
Instead of fighting it out with a bunch of redundant systems, Hock’s organization allowed the banks to keep their own brands within an efficient, centralized system. The end result was that all of them benefited from the credit card revolution.
Hock’s example doesn’t mean you have to run out and share your latest invention with the competition, but it does show that you have to understand your market. You have to find a way to maximize the value of your products and services, and it starts with differentiation. You have to make your product unique from that of your competitors.
When you do that, it gives you a couple of advantages. First, there’s the obvious value-added that everyone always talks about. You can give them something others can’t, making your product more desirable. Second, it gives you a means to be able to avoid the squeeze of customers who are looking for exclusivity.
A company might be very interested in doing business with you because it sees how your product can benefit it, but at the same time, it doesn’t want you doing business with its competitors. It wants exclusivity with you, but it’s going to cost you business with someone else.
That’s where the differentiation comes in. By creating differentiated product lines, services, programs or whatever it takes, you can offer exclusivity in that category to one business and exclusivity in another category to someone else in addition to perhaps a “generic” product to everyone else.
People want products that offer them unique value, so you need to solve their problems by creating a supply for their demand. By differentiating yourself and your products, you will not only create happier customers, you can also command higher margins because you have something unique that the competition doesn’t.
Listen to your customers for clues on what they need. What are they asking for? What are they complaining about? Don’t make the mistake of settling for the status quo because that makes you just like everyone else.
Every business can find a way to differentiate itself. Sometimes, it’s as simple as packaging. For instance, soda companies now offer 6-ounce cans, 12-ounce cans, 16-ounce bottles, 20-ounce bottles and 2-liter bottles. Candy bar companies are doing the same thing. Their sweets now come in bite, miniature, standard and giant sizes.
Some food companies listened to their customers’ needs and are now private-labeling for supermarkets rather than trying to fight their way onto the shelves using their own brand, making them more of a packaging business and a business that can provide products to multiple supermarkets using their brands, creating a different kind of exclusivity.
The point is, you have to find a way to be different, and the best way to do that is to listen to your customers. When you do that, you’ll find ways to make your company better than the competition.
FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or email@example.com.
According to the Bible, "People perish for lack of vision." And businesses can, too.
Whenever we are in a position of leadership, we carry the responsibility of having the vision. I once wrote a column on what it takes to be a visionary. There is a big difference between being a visionary and seeing the vision to completion.
Many people have a wonderful vision but lack the patience and perseverance to see it all the way through. We live in a place where so many want instant gratification. Instant has become the word of the decade. It is all around us and we are being brainwashed by it and not even recognizing it.
Instant tea or coffee for anyone to drink? How about some instant oatmeal or rice to eat? Maybe an instant lottery ticket to get rich?
When the going gets tough, everyone wants to bail out. We see it all around us. In the business world, there is little loyalty to the company anymore from the employees. We also see employers looking out for themselves first and others second.
We see it in marriage with increasing divorce rates. Church-hopping is at a record high. People aren't happy at a church, so they attend another. No one wants to stick it out and turn things around. Visions are rarely completed because people do not persevere.
Here are the four steps it will take to see your vision completed.
1. Have commitment. In good times and bad, keep moving forward. If it were easy, everyone would complete his or her vision.
2. Have realistic expectations. Set goals to reach along the way and achieve them. Once you have reached one set of goals, formulate your plan for the next ones. Don't set goals that are impossible to reach.
3. Have accountability. Hold yourself and others accountable for reaching goals along the path to success. Make changes if necessary to keep moving toward your ultimate vision.
4. Have a purpose. Always know what you are working toward in life. What purpose will your vision serve? Understanding how your vision fits into the big picture helps keep you motivated to move toward it.
To see your vision through, you need to know where you are going. Too often, people are going in circles with no clear purpose in mind. Don't be another person with a vision that someone else ends up implementing because you weren't willing to go the extra step.
"Dee who?" you are probably asking. Some 30 years ago, Hock developed a revolutionary global system for the electronic exchange of value. While you may not know Hock, you know his brainchild: Just open your wallet and pull out your Visa card.
I consider Hock one of the great visionaries of our time, his talents made all the more impressive by the fact that he put his ideas into action and created a monumentally successful business -- some would say the biggest enterprise in the world -- while keeping a low profile.
I'm sharing some of the key philosophies I gleaned from that article in the hope that you can benefit from them. I encourage you to read the entire article, available online at www.fastcompany.com.
* Business plans. Are you looking for a ironclad plan for success? Don't take Visa's, it won't work for you, Hock says. Neither will any long-term plan.
"The world is changing too fast, making detailed plans obsolete before you can implement them," he tells the magazine. "What we all need is a clear sense of direction and beliefs in which we operate by, and this lies within each one of us."
Instead, he advises, define a purpose for your organization that everyone can believe in. Then devise principles to help you achieve that purpose. It's hard work -- it took a year at Visa -- but it is essential for everyone to be on the same page.
* Employees. People make up an organization, and Hock's view toward "associates" is unflinching: "Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind."
* Compensation. Hock's take on money is enlightening: "Money motivates neither the best people, nor the best in people," he says. "It can move the body and influence the mind, but it cannot touch the heart or move the spirit. That is reserved for belief, principle and morality."
* Leadership. Hock calls this "the very heart and soul of the matter." Leaders must first understand that they "work for" their subordinates, not the other way around. "Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers and free your people to do the same. All else is trivia."
Each month I try to keep my column focused on broad topics of management and leadership so it can run in all of our publications. However, this month, I want to highlight the staff of one of our markets because of an award they won.
While we have won many awards over the years, this one is very special to me.
The Press Club of Cleveland conducts an annual Excellence in Journalism Awards contest in which publications from across Ohio enter their work. From the biggest dailies to the smallest trade journals, most publications and their staff members strive to take home one of these coveted prizes.
Last month, the winners were recognized at an awards dinner in Cleveland. Among the writers honored were our own Morgan Lewis Jr. (first place - Personality Profile, and honorable mention - Public Service/Investigative Journalism) and Kim Palmer (second place - Trends).
But the highlight of the evening was the Best in Ohio awards, in which Smart Business Cleveland took first place for best business publication in the state.
I would first like to congratulate all of our Cleveland staff for making this award possible and to let you know how much I appreciate all of the hard work and effort you put into making the magazine the best it can be. The hard work you put into each issue clearly was not lost on the judges.
Next, I would like to thank our readers. Without you, we would have no magazine. The publication you hold in your hands today has evolved into what it is because of the feedback you have given us through the years. Every year we take your comments and change our product to better meet your needs.
Third, I would like to thank our advertisers. Without you, there would be no revenue to pay for producing our magazine. In addition, you are the people who hold us to a higher standard.
Because of your demand for quality, we have tried to continually improve our product so that it meets your high standards. I think this award shows we've had some success in that regard.
Lastly, I would like to thank Publisher Michael Marzec, Executive Editor Dustin Klein and the rest of the Smart Business Network team for all of their dedication and hard work. There is no I in team, and it was truly a team effort that won this award.
Congratulations to all of you.
SBN Online has been streamlined to make it as easy as possible to get the information and tools you need every day. We have organized the content into industry-specific pages -- from Accounting to Manufacturing to Technology -- that now serve as a starting point for your business day.
Just go to www.sbnonline.com, choose your city and preferred industry, and here's what you'll get.
- Local breaking industry news prepared by SBN's staff of experienced business writers, complete with links to additional sources of information.
- National breaking industry news provided by an array of leading sources from national news organizations -- such as the Associated Press, New York Times Syndicate and U.S. News & World Report -- and leading trade publications such as American Banker, InfoWorld and IndustryWeek.
- Local promotions in the industry, including detailed information on the person's background and experience.
- A calendar of local events relating to the industry.
- Feature articles involving leading companies and key issues pertinent to the industry.
- A comprehensive list of quick links to the most valuable tools, contacts, research and other information on the Web.
The next time you come back to SBN Online, we'll take you directly to your industry-specific home page.
If you haven't used SBN Online before, please give it a try. I think you will find it the most useful business site on the Web.
If you are a current SBN Online user, I hope you agree we have made it even more valuable and easy to use.
As an extra incentive, all users who visit SBN Online and sign up for our e-mail news alerts will be eligible to win four tickets to the 2003 British Open golf tournament in July. For details, see the SBN Online User's Guide included in this issue, or go to www.sbnonline.com.
Many companies would just as soon forget about the past two years, but we can't. It is crucial in times like these that a company's leadership remains focused and calm. Don't panic.
Last year I shared a friend's story about a pilot flying during a bad storm. He said that no matter how bad the weather, the pilot is trained to remain calm and stay focused on the end result of landing the plane safely.
As CEOs, we are piloting our planes through the business storm. I didn't know then was how long the storm was going to last, but the principles remain the same.
Here are some recommendations to help keep you focused.
1. Make the tough decisions. Leaders should not be afraid. People want to be led and know that the person leading is making decisions for the good of the company. The slow economy means more difficult decisions lie ahead. Be prepared to make them.
2. Manage profit. To exist today, a company must be profitable. Focus on areas that bring in revenue and re-evaluate those that don't. Drop less profitable products and services.
3. Be innovative. Know what separates you from your competitors. In order to serve your customers, it is critical to offer something that differentiates you from the pack.
4. Be patient. Good things come to those who wait. The farmer sows the seeds and has to wait the entire season to see the results of that labor. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.
A new year brings new opportunities, and with new opportunities come new challenges. The economy may improve or it may get worse, but either way, it's up to you to remain calm.
You are the pilot of your business, and people's livelihoods are depending on you. Stay the course, and good things will happen.
The year was 1504, and a young Spanish aristocrat was biding his time in the southern ports of Spain. The wealth of the New World was pouring in from lands discovered by Christopher Columbus.
His attention seized, the young man, at the age of 19, set off for Hispaniola. Seven years later, he helped the Spanish conquer Cuba and was the first mayor of Santiago. Not content, he yearned to do more. So in 1518, at 32, he sold everything and acquired six ships and 300 men. Less than a month later, he set sail for the mainland of the New World. En route, he acquired more ships and men and landed on the Yucatan peninsula with 11 ships, 608 men and 16 horses.
Here, his men were welded into a cohesive force. But soon, fear and discontent grew among his men and they wanted to turn back. In their ships, they saw their escape to safety and comfort. At this point, Hernando Cortez committed to the unknown land, ordering the ships burned, cutting off their only escape. The rest is history. Cortez conquered the Aztec empire with his 608 men and 16 horses.
Cortez had three advantages over his much larger Aztec opponent: commitment, vision and leadership.
How committed are you to your company? Are you willing to burn the ships of your escape?
Cortez realized that a great empire, the Aztec empire, was within his reach. He committed himself and his men to conquest. Cortez, with the help of his new Indian allies, faced Aztec armies 100 times larger than his force.
The problem with many companies is not the lack of good ideas. It's the lack of commitment. With an escape route, we won't fully commit to our companies. We look at the opposition (competition) and give up, surrendering our plans. We want to go back to our ships and escape to comfort.
How many times have you had a great idea, only to find someone else had the same idea? The only difference between you is that the other person acted on it. Lack of commitment leads to mediocrity. We might succeed at the endeavor, but our success is never what it could have been had we been committed.
Lack of vision breeds lack of commitment. Without vision, it's hard to know what your commitment is. Without a target, how can the emotional, physical and spiritual resources of your organization be focused? Ask yourself, 'What am I trying to accomplish?'
Does your company have a mission statement? Do your people know that mission statement?
Once the vision is known, people choose to commit or not. Cortez, unlike many of us, forced his people to commit to his vision by burning his ships.
Leadership is key to vision and commitment. The sayings, "The blind leading the blind," and "A fish stinks from the head," fit this model. Great companies with dynamic vision and growth are not accidents. The leaders had vision and commitment, and welded their employees into a cohesive force to conquer their plan.
Cortez, before his march on the Aztec capital (present day Mexico City), drilled his troops into a fighting unit. Without a leader willing to lead, the company flounders. Success is haphazard and the result of chance rather than any concerted planned effort.
If your company has problems, look at yourself first. Employees tend to model their boss. If you won't believe in your company and products, you can't expect your people to. If you are not willing to commit, you can't expect them to.
Michael Dell, 35, has assembled the fifth largest computer manufacturer in the United States. Through his leadership, Dell Computer grew faster and smarter then its rivals.
So what can you do?
First, know that you are the head and your people are following your lead.
Second, know your vision.
Third make a commitment to your vision.
Lastly, be willing to burn your ships to reach your full potential.
Fred Koury is CEO of Small Business News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the 1996 presidential election, there were more people of voting age that stayed home than went to the polls. The numbers continue to dwindle and the polls reflect it. People are disgusted with both Democrats and Republicans and no longer feel a strong allegiance to either party.
The number of voters listing themselves as other doubled from 1992 to 1999, leading to a fractured political landscape full of questionable candidates and extremist views.
Voter apathy continues to grow, caused by broken pledges and the feeling that one vote doesnt matter. People dont take the time to study the candidates or the issues, and cast their votes based on name recognition alone. Too often, a lot of money and a campaign based on telling people what they want to hear wins the election.
There are too many career politicians recycling the same rhetoric and not being held to their promises. You may be asking, What does this have to do with me? The answer is, Everything.
Each of us needs to stand up and be counted. We do have the ability to make the difference. We need to demand more from our politicians than a good marketing strategy that tells us what we want to hear. This is where you can make change happen.
First, it is important to recognize that the ability to vote is a privilege. People here take the right to vote for granted and dont see its value. In some Third World countries, where democracy is seen as a privilege, voter turnout is close to 100 percent. For us to make a difference, we must exercise our right to vote.
Second, we need to be well informed on the issues and the candidates. Yes, there is work involved to become an intelligent voter. However, it is beneficial to take the time and do things right while we still have a voice. Just because we have the ability to be heard today doesnt mean it cant be taken away tomorrow.
Lastly, your vote can make the difference. The other category will attract more and more candidates such as Jesse Ventura a former pro wrestler and now the governor of Minnesota a man with questionable credentials. Ventura won a three-candidate race with only 37 percent of the popular vote, meaning the majority of people in Minnesota are represented by someone they didnt vote for.
Unless you want people like this representing you, you need to take your vote seriously. If you dont stand for something, you stand for nothing. Please vote.
Fred Koury (email@example.com) is president and CEO of SBN.
This could mean increasing revenues within the core business, decreasing expenses, making new acquisitions, beginning new startups or conducting mergers. Being in a leadership position, our audience carries the responsibility of what direction the company should ultimately go to keep moving forward. Below are five simple steps to ensure that your company continues on the road to success.
1. Fail to plan, plan to fail. Too often, companies operate on a daily basis, with no real vision of where the company is going. Everyone needs a plan. A football team wants to win the Super Bowl. A movie star wants to win an Oscar. What are you trying to accomplish? Regardless of the size or scope of the plan, until we have one, we are operating with tunnel vision.
2. You are only as good as the people around you. Once you have assembled a plan, whether it is big or small, it is important to look at the people around you to see if they can implement the plan. A football coach needs an offensive and defensive coordinator to carry out the game plan. They, in turn, delegate to their subordinates. A weak link at any level can derail the entire effort.
3. No one is above it all. Once you feel you have the right plan and people in place to implement it, it is time to bounce it off your advisers. We all need advisers with experience, who are not caught up in the day-to-day operations and can offer an objective second opinion. Whether it is a family friend or a board of advisers, get outside advice. It is important that we take the time on the front side to do things right to ensure our success on the backside.
4. Create checks and balances. Once a plan has been established, the team is in place, and the advisers have signed off on it, there must be mechanisms in place that reward the successes or failures. This is very important to measure progress. There is a famous proverb that says, He who gathers money little by little will make it grow. The same thing applies to your business. It is all the little steps that get you where you want to go.
5. Know where are we going and what are we going to do when we get there. Once all of the above has taken place, measure your progress and effectiveness. Decide where you want to go from here. For some, this might mean selling the business and moving on to other challenges. For others, starting the process over with even greater goals for the company will be the answer. Just know what you want to do before you arrive so youre ready when it happens.
The road to success can be a long one, but with proper planning and the right people helping you, the ride will be a smooth one. Enjoy the trip.
Fred Koury (firstname.lastname@example.org) is CEO of SBN.