Erik Cassano

This past November, Andrew Liveris went to the White House for a meeting with the president. That in and of itself is a pretty significant life event, but in Liveris’ case, it was as much about the journey as the destination.

Liveris is the chairman, president and CEO of The Dow Chemical Co. A native of Australia, he’s held numerous positions at Dow over the span of nearly 40 years — roles that have taken him to places such as Hong Kong and Thailand, before eventually moving to Dow’s Midland, Mich., corporate headquarters, where he became CEO in 2004 and chairman in 2006.

As the head of a $57 billion corporate giant, Liveris was among a group of influential CEOs invited to the White House to take part in a meeting on jumpstarting American business with President Barack Obama.

The Australian who came to America by way of Asia now sat in a room with the leader of the free world, among those tasked with helping to chart a course to rebuild key economic drivers as the country — and world — continues to recover from the recession.

“The conversation we had, with a dozen CEOs across various business sectors, it felt like a different meeting than any previous we have had,” says Liveris, who spoke as part of a presentation at the 2012 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum.

“The president has had a lot of things written and said, and he takes it pretty personally when he hears that he doesn’t know business. Frankly, the evidence over the past 3½ years is that he doesn’t work with business and doesn’t know business.

“So in this meeting, he didn’t talk all that much,” Liveris says. “He let us give it to him, and we let him know what it would take to create a growing America again.”

For Liveris, it was an opportunity to step back, reflect on where his company had been over the past few years, and where it was headed —  and what steps he and other influential business leaders would need to take to ensure that their companies, and the whole of American business, would remain strong into the future.

Understand the landscape

By his own admission, Liveris was kind of naïve in his first couple of years as a CEO, particularly when it came to the business community’s relationship with government.

“I thought I would go to Washington, talk about the things that matter to my company, then I would leave and something would happen,” Liveris says. “That clearly did not work.”

After a number of trips to Washington with little progress in developing the business-government relationship to the point that it produced results, Liveris realized that no one on either side truly had a grasp of the game they were playing.

“I remember when I was watching TV and hearing about how American manufacturing had to die, how it had to move overseas because of labor costs,” he says. “That’s when I realized that absolutely no one was getting this.

“No one understood innovation, technology, or how one invents. No one understood the business models of creation, of new wonderful things that help humanity, things that are an American right.

“We have done this for over 200 years and yet we’re saying we should no longer manufacture, and we should just be a service economy,” he says. “If you want to be a service economy, go to the U.K. and see how it worked for them.”

Liveris says Silicon Valley is a hub of innovation, in large part because it is full of big companies who try to maintain a small-company mindset. If you can marry the resources of a major corporation with the flexibility and creativity of a smaller enterprise, you can hit an innovative sweet spot. It’s a position Liveris has tried to assume at Dow.

“Silicon Valley is an intersection of incredible academic institutions and entrepreneurs inventing, innovating and allowing startups,” he says. “That’s what I do. I have $1.7 billion in R&D, and I’m doing that every day. I’m innovating and trying to scale up. That is manufacturing.”

Liveris wants Dow to set a tone for innovation throughout the country. He wants companies, both large and small, to think in terms of innovation and developing ideas.

“This country needs dozens of Silicon Valleys,” he says. “It needs innovation hubs throughout the country. That was recommendation No. 1 from the meeting with the president. The president will give legs to an advanced manufacturing partnership, within which we have identified 11 technologies that America can win on a global basis.

“We have picked the technologies where America can win, not by creating winners and losers among companies, but by designing an innovation hub so the best minds in America can participate, including entrepreneurs, big companies and some government money to stimulate creativity and scale things.”

Invest in human capital

Innovation needs fertile ground. It needs companies that invest in the resources that enable innovation. It needs executives and managers that sustain a culture capable of promoting innovation. You need programs that reward and promote innovative thinking.

But those factors alone won’t drive an innovative mindset. You need to recruit the talent to innovate.

Even if you don’t budget for R&D the way Dow does, Liveris says innovation-minded talent is a must for any organization that wants to grow and evolve.

“I am a great believer that rigor mortis sets in unless you create a burning platform,” Liveris says. “People get comfortable and complacent quickly, especially the larger you get as an organization. You have to change things.”

When Liveris was named CEO of Dow, he called up a number of successful CEOs who had succeeded in driving large-scale change throughout major enterprises, asking for advice on preventing complacency and enabling innovation.

“One of them gave me this great piece of advice,” he says. “It had to do with the phases of change that cause the human pipeline, the talent pool, to respond and be its very best.

“It’s about the moon shot, the mission. If I can be inspired by the mission, be energized by that, that’s the key. I have to create that dynamic inside the top and middle ranks of the organization, and more importantly, the front line people.”

To Liveris, leaders get elected every day. Each day is an opportunity to create buy-in throughout the organization, an opportunity to inspire employees to follow the path blazed by leadership.

“You lead change,” he says. “You build a team around change. You have to do it with the long vision in mind, but with the idea that the short-term needs have to be met. We all suffer from ADD.

“We have become an ADD society where everything is breaking news, so the dynamic around a company — particularly a public company — can kill the long vision. You have to deliver in both the short-term and the long-term, and if you live those two paradigms, you need a unique type of human talent.”

Liveris calls it “living intersections” — finding and developing talent that can achieve both short-term and long-term goals.

“No longer do we do single-lane highways,” Liveris says. “We’re living intersections all the time. The intersections between the short-term and long-term require a unique type of talent — sometimes we call that change manager a change leader but that’s too high level.”

The managers you bring in to help spur change and formulate a vision for the future while delivering short-term results have another important set of opposite-end factors to master: They must understand the business from a global level, while still grasping the effect of the vision and goals of the organization on individuals working at ground level.

“You do still have to get down to the three-foot level,” Liveris says. “What does it mean to the person on the floor? What does it mean to the R&D leader? What does it mean to the salesperson?”

And no matter what position a given person fills, that person’s talent will only reach its potential if you can tie their individual and department goals to the overall goals of the organization, and then reinforce innovation-centered values that emphasize a willingness to create, experiment and learn from mistakes.

“You can’t box people into something and say, ‘Go invent,’” Liveris says. “You have to give them a chance to fail. You have to let them be a part of the entrepreneurial activity. You need to motivate them to see how their project, their work, can change humanity.”

How to reach: The Dow Chemical Co., (989) 636-1000 or www.dow.com

The Liveris File

Liveris on Dow’s history of success: We’re actually one of nine companies that are still around from the inception of the New York Stock Exchange. There are only eight others who were there since the beginning. We’re not afraid of change. I didn’t get this gray hair easily; it came hard. We have in our DNA the willingness to face reality and take the change and bet the company. To be companies of size, that’s a lot of heavy lifting. I’d like to say we’re in the seventh inning … from a portfolio point of view. We have the technologies. We have the weapons but we’re in the second or third inning from a cultural point of view.

Culture is every person in the company, and Dow has a value proposition at the personal level. As a young chemical engineer, I had a lot of offers, but I chose to leave my great country of Australia to live in this great country, not because I think you’re greater but the company called Dow has a better value proposition to a human being. I was attracted by the people.

Liveris on sustainability: One day Dow Chemical won’t be known as Dow Chemical; it will be known as Dow. Dow sticks to the brand of the diamond (logo). The brand will stand for … our commitment to sustainability, but not sustainability as a noun, sustainable as an adjective. Sustainable business, sustainable profits, sustainable planet are the same things. How you actually marry the intersection between environment, economy, society, business, government, society.

Takeaways

Understand your industry.

Value innovation.

Find and retain great talent.

Michael Kaufman has the people who made his company. And he has the people who will make his company.

It’s Kaufman’s job to know the difference.

“Can the heroes of the past become the heroes of the future?” says the president and CEO of Specialized Education Services Inc. “You have to assess if you need the heroes of the past around anymore or if they can become the future of the company.

“It’s hard, because you might really like and respect somebody, but they might not be able to come with you on the journey you’re beginning. It’s tough to move someone along because it’s just not working anymore — especially when they were there to help you grow from the beginning.”

With approximately 1,000 employees throughout the SESI organization — which conducts programs for special-needs students in public school districts throughout 11 states and Washington, D.C. — Kaufman and his leadership team have an ongoing task as they continually analyze the people within the SESI organization, determining what puzzle pieces they have and how they can best fit together to strengthen the organization moving forward.

“When you hire someone, you want to start from day one thinking not only that you hired them for a job, but you start thinking about what they can do here in their career,” Kaufman says. “You start thinking about their leadership trajectory. If people see and feel that, they’re going to want to work for your organization.”

Determining the trajectory of people within the organization means evaluations of their strengths and weaknesses, ways that the strengths can be optimized and ways the weaknesses can be neutralized — either through skill compensation from others or skill enhancement of the individual via training.

“To me, that all comes with building relationships,” Kaufman says. “You need to be very comfortable talking to people about what they’re good at and what they need to work on. If you spend time with people, you can tell them that tough feedback, because they’ve seen that it’s in their own best interest. You want them to do well.”

Assess your people

Not many people like performance reviews. Whether they’re monthly, quarterly or annually, no one relishes the idea of sitting down with their boss and having their work critiqued.

You might not like the fact that your company has to conduct performance reviews. Depending on how many employees you have, it can become a lengthy process involving many different people. It’s man-hours that could be put to use running the business instead of making sure your employees are doing their jobs at an optimum level. But standards have to be maintained.

That’s why Kaufman and his team try to navigate what can be a less-than-pleasant process by continually coming back to the concept of continuous improvement. At SESI, performance reviews focus on the positive aspects of an employee’s work as much as the areas for improvement. Any need for improvement is phrased in the context of the employees’ growth as an individual and a professional.

“We have different areas we look at to assess how a person is doing,” Kaufman says. “Since we are an educational company, we call it ‘A-plus performance.’ That A-plus performance comes around different things that we look at and test. It could be students growing from the beginning of the year to the end. It could be staff assessments of the leaders, district satisfaction surveys or financial targets. We communicate around those regularly.”

In all cases, Kaufman wants his employees to buy in, which makes what he and his staff communicate and how they communicate it vital to the continuous improvement of the organization and the people who work in it.

“I feel that if you create rules and goals from the beginning and you can create buy-in, and you can assess the progress against those goals, nobody feels that they’re getting cheated,” Kaufman says. “It’s very fair.”

One of the ways Kaufman facilitates communication is by creating a sense of ownership between an employee and his or her progress. He doesn’t want supervisors simply dictating an employee assessment. He wants employees to take an active role and look within.

“I love to do self-assessments,” he says. “You ask someone to assess how they are doing, and it’s interesting to see how most people will be tougher on themselves than you will be. It’s great to get someone to look at themselves and acknowledge what they need to work on before you even need to tell them yourself.”

Individuals are often their own worst critic, so in some cases, you need to paint a realistic picture. You don’t want to sugarcoat your assessments, but you don’t want employees to develop an excessively negative view of their performance. It’s something Kaufman reinforces when he brings the leaders of his organization together at meetings.

“When I bring our leaders together — and that’s all our middle and senior leaders, which I do a few times a year — I really try to teach them that communicating with employees is all about authenticity with affinity. You have to be authentic, but you have to have affinity for the person.

“I used to be a big sugarcoater. I only wanted to tell people the positives, and I realized that people liked me, but their respect for me was somewhere in the middle. I found out the more honest I got, it’s what people wanted.

“If a person doesn’t feel like you know them, it feels like criticism when you give them feedback. The glass is only going to be half-full if they know you want them to do well. And you should want them to do well. Your company is only successful if your employees are successful. If they can’t perform, you’re not going to look good.”

Develop new leaders

The practice of assessing the skills, strengths and weaknesses of your team members will only matter if you put your findings to use. Your assessment methods can help identify areas of focus for training and improvement, but it is also going to help you find individual roles that will allow your company to best leverage the skills and talents that each person brings to the table.

Great talent can look less than stellar if people in your company are utilized in roles that don’t properly suit their skills or personality.

“We had one of the most credible people in the company running a school,” Kaufman says. “He was outgoing and gregarious; he loved people and loved the company. But he really struggled with giving tough feedback. If someone was struggling, he would pretty much ignore it and only highlight the positives. That led to a bit of a free-for-all at the school.

“But as far as the school districts, he was amazing. He’d check up with them to see how they were doing, and the people who ran the districts absolutely loved him.

“So I created the position of outreach director for him. It was really where he needed to be. He was so good at it; we’ve added other outreach directors in other parts of the country. He basically created the position by assessing his strengths, and we were able to work with him and find a suitable role in the organization.”

If someone is struggling in their current role, you may or may not have another place for that person in your organization. But before you cut ties with a mismatched piece, you should always step back, look at the landscape within your company and see if there are other places where a given person might make a better fit.

Cutting good talent loose should only come as a last step. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and if your company gains a reputation as an organization that treats employees as interchangeable pieces, you’ll have a more difficult time attracting good talent and making quality hires in the first place.

“You really are only as good as your employees,” Kaufman says. “You have to look at that and find ways to develop them. As a CEO, if you’re going to grow and you want to have more operations, you have to create a replicable model that can be run by other people besides the CEO. That’s why the best gift you can give to somebody is to believe in them before they believe in themselves.”

You believe in your people by giving them the structure to improve their skills, move up in the organization, and continually learn — both in formal training and on the job. You often learn on the job by making mistakes, which is why you can’t be quick to punish someone who commits an error.

“You have to be extremely generous with praise and really allow people to do their jobs,” Kaufman says. “Don’t micromanage them. Allow mistakes.

“If you can find an incredible talent who believes they were put on this planet to do what they’re doing right now and you can get them to see that they are capable of even more than that — that they can become an amazing leader creating more leaders — that is the whole idea of believing in someone before they believe in themselves. It’s the greatest gift I ever got as a leader.

“And it really is the greatest gift you can give to someone in the business world.”

How to reach: Specialized Education Services Inc., (215) 369-8699 or www.sesi-schools.com

Takeaways

Assess the competencies of your people.

Critique with the goal of improving your people.

Identify and develop new leaders.

The Kaufman file

Michael Kaufman

President and CEO

Specialized Education Services Inc.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned? To create leaders from within. Always make sure you are doing that. When you interview somebody, don’t just interview the person for the position that you’re seeking. Interview people for all they can be.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader? You need strength, compassion, accessibility and accountability. You need to be someone who is well-rounded and understands what it takes to lead an organization. You need to be able to look at the numbers. Don’t run from them, and don’t make excuses. Let everyone know what is going on in the organization, because there shouldn’t be any surprises for anyone. The strongest leaders are transparent. Don’t act differently based on whoever is in the room.

What is your definition of success? If someone thought I was an incredible CEO, that’s nice, but the real question is whether I lived my life with dignity and class, and have I earned the respect of others. Not just that I got respect because I ran an organization, but that I earned it because the people knew I had the best interests of the organization at heart.

Roger Andelin believes in the power of storytelling — so much that even an e-commerce business composed of people from the impersonal sales and technology fields can benefit from the skills of a good storyteller.

Andelin had served as the CIO of Internet retailer Buy.com for six years before leaving to take the same position with The Washington Post, one of the most famous and influential newspapers in the country. It was during his stint with the newspaper that Andelin, an executive with a commerce and technology background, discovered how to take good storytelling and apply it in the world of commerce.

“I became a lot more aware of the power of storytelling and the power that can have in a business, especially on the commerce side,” Andelin says. “Commerce was missing that.”

When the opportunity arose for Andelin to return to what had, in the interim, been renamed Rakuten Buy.com, he felt he could utilize the sum total of his experience as an executive, splicing together his e-commerce background with a newfound knowledge and appreciation of storytelling to open new doors for the company.

“When I sat down for the first time and heard about our chairman’s vision, it resonated through and through,” Andelin says. “The idea was [that] we want to give merchants a voice in our marketplace. Let’s connect our merchants with their customers; let’s bring a new shopping experience to the table.

“It was very different from the typical model in our space, which is you come in and search for a product, put it in your cart and check out. It really brought back a lot of the nostalgia in the commerce business, which was missing on the Internet and electronic side. We had a chance to bring that back to the whole process.”

After accepting the president’s role at Rakuten Buy.com — which was rebranded as Rakuten.com Shopping in January — Andelin set out to tell the story of the company’s new vision and how it would be realized. He wanted to get every executive, manager and associate in the Rakuten system to believe in the vision and to feel motivated to carry out the plans that would make the vision a reality.

Define your drivers

Any retail business — whether in the e-commerce space or reliant on a bricks-and-mortar network of stores — will always be driven by the numbers. The number of customers you can get to your site or store will convert to a number of sales, which will convert to a number of repeat customers.

But to realize the new vision for Rakuten.com Shopping, Andelin needed to promote something else. He needed to promote loyalty. It’s something that can’t be directly quantified on a balance sheet, but Andelin realized, soon after he took over, that it would be an essential ingredient in the success of the vision. It would be, in short, a primary driver of the business moving forward.

“The business really boils down to the number of visitors that come to our site and our conversion rate to how many of those visitors buy from us and what the average value of that order is,” Andelin says. “So once you look at those drivers, those KPIs [key performance indicators], you look into it and see what is it that drives that component. Traffic, or visits, are driven a lot by advertising but also by loyalty.”

As such, Andelin wanted his team at Rakuten.com Shopping to focus on driving customer loyalty and merchant loyalty. Since the staff at the company is, in large part, composed of people with technology backgrounds, it was a different concept.

“What happens is that technology departments often get focused on a feature,” Andelin says. “They’ve been asked to deliver A, B and C, and at the end of the day, they deliver that, but it doesn’t always yield the business value that was expected. So by shifting the emphasis away from the actual feature we’re delivering and getting the teams focused on delivering business value, it fundamentally shifts the whole project pattern in a very meaningful way.”

Andelin and his team began to implement initiatives, such as a reward points program, as a formalized way of building merchant and customer loyalty. But he also wanted to see his team deliver value in more fundamental forms.

“One of our objectives, for instance, is to increase the voice of our merchants online, to help them connect more with their customer base,” he says. “That is one of the main things that is going to separate us in a meaningful way from our competition. That technology stepping in and facilitating that communication is something that would be pretty unique for a merchant.”

Give people a voice

You can craft a well-thought-out vision that aims the company toward new heights of prosperity, but none of it will matter if you can’t achieve buy-in from everyone in your company.

It’s something that Andelin acknowledged early in his tenure, and it’s why he embraced the role of storyteller from his first day on the job. Employees can hear about the vision, they can learn the drivers, but until they see tangible ways that the vision will lead to a better, more profitable company — and by extension, more earning potential and job stability at their level — they won’t completely buy in.

“Alignment can be challenging,” Andelin says. “But I have found the best way to do it is to very clearly articulate the problem or very clearly articulate the vision and then explain why the solution we’re all working toward will resolve that.

“You start to get individuals to understand the vision or the problem by articulating it very clearly. They see it and recognize what you are doing and why you’re doing it. People generally get that. It’s when the communication isn’t there that the team starts to falter and lose the passion for what they’re doing.”

In order to tell a story, you need a means of communication. Authors have books, journalists have mass media and directors have the cinema. At Rakuten.com Shopping, Andelin has, among other things, weekly “asakai” meetings that utilize technology to bring together people from Rakuten’s U.S. operations and beyond.

During the weekly meetings, senior management reinforces the vision and values of the organization to employees throughout Rakuten’s footprint. The meetings are another way Andelin is using technology for storytelling.

“What we say at the weekly asakai meetings goes all the way down to daily huddles, where each department will get together and talk about their departmental issues,” Andelin says. “The thing to remember is the teams you are leading have to get it. The business leader has to be open enough and accessible enough, to the point where if the team has questions, they feel able to ask those questions.

“If they have concerns, they have to get those concerns out on the table and walk through them.

“One of the most powerful ways to reach consensus is not by reducing the conversation but by increasing it. It is through conversation that leaders and managers are able to convey the vision and get individuals to come on board with the direction of the organization. Communication is absolutely key.”

Show your wins

Every story has a beginning, middle and end. In Rakuten.com Shopping’s case, the story is still in progress. If you don’t have final results to show your people, you need to show them progress and trends. Keeping employees in the loop is another essential way to bring them on board with your vision. You have to demonstrate the wins you are tallying and the progress you are making toward realizing your vision.

“As an example, we ran one of our summer sales at the end of August, right after I started,” Andelin says. “We measured the sale based on year-over-year performance — so, how we did on these days versus the same days the prior year? That event ended up giving us a fairly sizeable increase in our number of orders, in visitors coming to the site, all of the key metrics that we’re looking at. Those wins really help focus the team.”

If you’re going to tell a story that it’s going to serve as a motivator for your people, the story has to inspire. That doesn’t mean your people have to leave the meeting or conference call ready to climb Mount Everest, but it does mean that they leave as believers in what the company is doing.

“It’s a fairly basic idea that winning is contagious,” Andelin says. “It builds confidence; it helps you to solidify a repeatable process. It shows us what we need to do to drive sales during a particular event. If we get really good and learn those things, we can repeat it, and we can grow our business to improve step-by-step, by improving those processes. Everybody gets excited, and it really becomes a companywide initiative, because everybody has a little piece of it. So when you start to achieve your vision, everybody feels good.”

How to reach: Rakuten.com Shopping,

(949) 389-2000 or www.rakuten.com

The Andelin file

Roger Andelin

President

Rakuten.com Shopping

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned? You want to take accountability for when things don’t go smoothly and perfect. At the end of the day, if you screwed up, take responsibility for it, figure out what happened and move forward. That is one of the most relieving principles in business. It’s a liberating principle for all leaders, as opposed to passing blame and making excuses.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader? Having a vision and being able to communicate it on both an individual and group level. Leaders have to be approachable, accept criticism and be able to defend their positions with logical, rational arguments backed by data and facts. Authoritarian leadership doesn’t fly nowadays. You have to win the minds of intelligent people who are used to thinking for themselves, are well-educated and have fabulous opinions.

What is your definition of success? There is a sense of irony around it, because as soon as you start to define success, you limit yourself. If you define success as you see it, you just cut yourself off from other areas where you could be a success. You have to kind of know success when you see it, just like knowing what art is, or knowing what sounds good in music. So many things drive success, to define it is almost impossible.

 

Takeaways

Tell a great story.

Communicate it to your people.

Show evidence of success.

Nobody in Alan Jay Kaufman’s field is looking for the insurance industry to develop the same professional glamour appeal as a movie star, professional athlete or international spy — but they are looking to get on the same recruitment footing with banking, finance and just about any other area of business.

The insurance industry is fighting that kind of an uphill battle. It’s primarily because college students, in many cases, don’t view insurance as an appealing career choice, which hinders the recruiting efforts of firms such as Burns & Wilcox, a 1,000-employee insurance brokerage, which Kaufman leads as chairman, president and CEO.

“The effort from our industry to go to universities looking for the best and brightest isn’t there,” Kaufman says. “It’s also not a profession that universities are encouraging people to go into. They think about banking, finance, marketing but not insurance. It’s not emphasized as a great opportunity or a great career.”

But without attracting, training and retaining great talent, a business in any field can’t hope to flourish. So Kaufman and his staff must swim against the recruiting current, challenge the preconceived notions about life in the insurance business and give bright, talented people reasons to want to come to work at Burns & Wilcox.

“That’s my biggest challenge,” Kaufman says. “We need to acquire the best and brightest talent that can take the company from one good level to the next higher level. And after you’ve acquired them, after you’ve trained them, you face the issue of retention. How do you retain the best talent you have so that you can continue to improve your team?”

It has required Kaufman to help spearhead recruitment efforts and formalize training programs, all with an eye toward making Burns & Wilcox not just an attractive place to work but an ideal place to build a career.

Find your selling points

To understand how your company can best appeal to potential employees, you have to understand what sets your company apart from the competition. You have to know what you can uniquely offer to the people you recruit.

If you are aiming to hire young talent, as is the case at Burns & Wilcox, you have to develop programs and facilitate opportunities that appeal to recent college graduates who are mobile, both in a geographic sense and corporate-ladder sense. Young employees value career advancement, and many of them also value the opportunity to live in different areas of the country and world before settling down.

It’s something Kaufman and his HR staff have carefully considered as they have built their company’s recruitment and training programs.

“The recruits we’ve brought in have been impressed with our training, that we have a course that helps them get their careers off the ground,” Kaufman says. “We can move them around to different regions. They can spend some time here in our corporate headquarters in Michigan, and we can move them to different offices where we have training programs operating. They can understand how the office in Atlanta works versus the office in Dallas or Los Angeles.”

Not every office in the Burns & Wilcox system is set up for training but enough are equipped with training staff and capabilities so that a newly recruited employee has an opportunity to experience living in different cities and learn about the work environment in various company offices.

Kaufman and his team have developed the company’s recruitment and training platform, in part, by observing the competition and analyzing the holes that competitors weren’t filling in the recruitment game.

“We don’t necessarily react to what the competition is doing, but we do certainly pay attention to it,” Kaufman says. “We’ve realized, for example, that our competition has been more focused on compensation, as opposed to training and career advancement.

“I believe that the right leaders are going to realize that compensation is important, but training and providing promotion opportunities is more important to career advancement. We do meet the competition as far as compensation is concerned, so I’m not trying to undermine the fact that compensation is important, but the education and training aspect is critical.

“I’d like to see more of our competitors in the industry implement some programs for advanced training. It would be better for us and better for the industry. I consider it a weapon in our arsenal, but it’s not a secret weapon.”

Build a training program

To sell recruits on your company’s ability to advance their careers, you must develop a comprehensive and formalized training program that lays out a process for how your company can help its employees achieve their career goals.

At Burns & Wilcox, the company formalized its training program under the acronym KELP — the Kaufman Emerging Leadership Program, which is administered by Burns & Wilcox’s parent company, Kaufman Financial Group.

“We formalized the program to a greater degree by actually hiring a recruiter internally, just for university graduates, just for the program,” Kaufman says. “We have one person on staff who is devoted to that. That’s all she does. We’re constantly trying to improve our formal approach through the KELP program and other programs that we have. That’s one way we have of searching for the best talent — and I emphasize ‘best,’ because it’s not just a matter of hiring people. We need people who fit the insurance culture, who will embody the best aspects of our company.”

Employees in the KELP program have usually graduated college within the previous five years. The three-year program is selective, with approximately 30 people gaining admission each year.

“We hire many people with the hope that they’ll get into the program, because it’s not guaranteed that they’ll get entrance into the program,” Kaufman says. “We first hire them, then after a period of time — maybe six months to a year working for us — they can potentially get entry into the program.”

But the size of a training program is less important than its quality, measured in the success rate of its graduates. A successful training program is usually successful because the leadership of the company committed resources to it and made it an organizationwide priority.

To build great leaders, they need to be taught by great teachers who understand the principles of effective leadership and how those principles fit into your company’s culture.

“It certainly has to start off with the right leadership in the training program, and the company has to put that on the list of priorities,” Kaufman says. “You can’t have an internal program without the support of the senior executives and management, which is why we always try to involve the best leaders in our company in the implementation of the training program.

“For two weeks, we bring our best leaders into the program, people who work in various disciplines throughout the company — whether it be underwriting, brokerage, property, professional liability or any other area. Without the support of those people, the program wouldn’t be successful, and the company wouldn’t be as successful.

“If you look at the people in our company, the people who have historically been the most successful are the people we have trained.”

And that training has to be open to all areas of the company. You might have certain departments that you view as more essential to your company’s success than others, but the next great leader could emerge from a department that’s on the edge of your radar screen.

“Open your training to people in every area,” Kaufman says. “Our training program also includes assistant underwriters and other people through all levels of the company. It’s across the board because you can’t just train certain individuals. You need to have a macro approach. And that goes back to having someone on staff who is entirely devoted to training on an ongoing basis.”

Consider other factors

Your recruiting efforts can get talented employees in the door, and your training programs and compensation packages can get them to accept the job. But once you have them, how do you keep them? That is a question with a multipart answer that involves additional factors, including the work environment, networking opportunities and the way in which the job contributes to — or detracts from — quality of life.

“There is not a magic formula, but those items are all part of the formula,” Kaufman says. “How you balance it and mix it is an ongoing process. It’s never perfectly right, so you just have to keep looking at the ingredients.”

It’s why Kaufman makes it a point to personally keep his finger on the recruiting pulse of Burns & Wilcox. He empowers his HR staff to do their jobs but remains in tune with the company’s ongoing recruiting efforts.

“I participate in recruitment and the interviewing process,” he says. “I interview hundreds of people a year and certainly anyone on the management level. And I expect that standard of other people in our regional offices. You need to maintain a strong leadership team that works together and comes to a consensus on what to do. You want a consistent approach.”

How to reach: Burns & Wilcox, (248) 932-9000 or www.burnsandwilcox.com

The Kaufman file

Alan Jay Kaufman

chairman, president and CEO

Burns & Wilcox

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned? The lesson I learned from my father (Kaufman Financial Group founder Herbert W. Kaufman) about his door being open to anybody. You didn’t have to go through different layers to get to him. That is the way I am, and I encourage my executives to be the same way. If you want to know something, you have to go right to the source, and with our management style, you can talk to anyone in the company — and our employees do that. Regardless of your size, you want your company to keep that part of the culture, keep that feeling that people can talk to anyone.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader? Humility, honesty and hard work. That, and you have to lead by example. I can’t expect someone else to work hard if I’m not working hard. I set the pace for everyone, and I expect, from my level on down, to keep that pace. As an example, I expect everybody — clients, insurance brokers, agents — to understand our history and what we’re selling.

What is your definition of success? The quality of the team around you. The better the team you have, the more it will be able to carry you through thick and thin. A company isn’t one or two people; it’s the total team. A great team leads to success — it’s true in business, it’s true in government, just as it is in athletics.

Takeaways

Sell recruits on your company.

Build a strong recruitment strategy.

Formalize your training program.

Five dollars a share.

That was the new reality when Michael Barry became chairman, president and CEO of Quaker Chemical Corp. in 2008. The manufacturer of specialty industrial chemicals, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange, had a stock worth $30 a share just several months before.

Then the economy’s bubble burst, and almost as quickly as a lightning strike can fell a tree, Barry was left staring at the shattered remnants of his company’s once-healthy stock.

Five dollars a share. And the end of the free fall was nowhere in sight.

“We went from making money to losing money, almost immediately,” Barry says. “And nobody knew how bad this would get. Nobody had perfect visibility about how long this was going to last.”

With less than a year on the job, Barry was immediately thrust into the crisis of a career.

“We had to take some really dramatic action,” he says. “We pulled together our senior management team, trying to get everyone involved at the senior-management level, helping us to make some of the important decisions we would need to make.”

Barry and his leadership team made the decisions that many leaders made in that time frame: They slashed the global workforce of Quaker Chemical, eliminating between 10 and 20 percent, depending on the region.

They cut the company’s 401(k) program, eliminated all bonuses and tried to spread an even coating of adversity throughout the entire organization.

Along the way, Barry acted as a guiding hand for his reeling team, keeping them as informed as possible, every step of the way.

“We communicated all the steps we had to take and did it continuously,” he says. “Maybe people weren’t happy with the news, but they felt we treated them fairly. They felt we did a good job of keeping them informed.”

Don’t clam up

In a time of crisis, your instinctual reaction might be to perform damage control on your company’s reputation. While you should take steps to salvage your company’s good name, if your methods of reinforcing your company’s reputation extend to sugarcoating, half-truths and other opaque messages, you’ll end up creating more harm than good —particularly if that’s your communication strategy with your own employees.

It’s difficult to swallow your pride and tell your people that you don’t have all the answers, to admit that the future is uncertain, but it’s a necessary step in maintaining long-term trust with your people.

Barry realized that early on and made it a point to maintain a frank, honest and ongoing dialogue with his team. It’s something that has continued throughout Barry’s tenure.

“Making communication a dialogue is, admittedly, something we have struggled with,” Barry says. “What we have done is, during our meetings, myself or my direct reports are talking, and we try to get people engaged and involved with the conversations. We turn it into a town-hall type of meeting. That concept evolved, and then we started bringing together smaller groups of people, including the people who report to my direct reports — so a couple of layers down in the organization.”

The people on that level then bring the messages from those meetings to their own teams, and facilitate dialogue within their area of the company.

“In a smaller group with their manager, your people might feel more comfortable asking questions,” he says. “So we try to give all those managers talking points and answers to frequently asked questions.

“With those kinds of sessions happening all around the globe, we’ll gather the questions people have been asking to see if there are any underlying themes — something everybody is asking, but we’re not doing a good enough job of telling them. But you need to keep that dialogue going, make those meetings a two-way street.”

When enduring hardship, particularly on a global level, culture becomes an increasingly important topic to address as the storm clouds gather. When your business is in survival mode, you might find yourself focused on the financial steps you need to take in order to guarantee your company is still operating at the end of the month or end of the year.

But neglecting to focus on your core values, mission and vision for the future — even if that vision is years away from realization — can have damaging effects to morale, employee confidence and, by extension, your company’s ability to keep its talent pool intact.

“We have spent a lot of time on culture,” Barry says. “We communicate it frequently because it is such a critical aspect of how we operate, how we feel, how we collaborate. You have to consistently reinforce what you are as a company, and we’re a very collaborative company. It’s a key to our business model.

“So during that time period when we were going through the worst of the recession, we talked about it a lot. We even put it on our computer screensavers, highlighting messages that reinforced the core values of the company.”

But messaging on your values and culture is like a booster shot. The real dosage of medicine comes from your actions.

“If you don’t live the culture, people will figure that out pretty quickly,” Barry says. “If you have people in the organization who don’t live the culture and you don’t take steps to correct that, it becomes a problem. A large piece of this is the ability of you and your leadership team to walk the talk.”

Add to the momentum

Though some of them were unpleasant to endure, the initial steps that Barry and his leadership team took in late 2008 and early 2009 helped Quaker Chemical to not only weather the worst of the recession but to quickly emerge from its down cycle in an aggressive growth mode.

Within six months, the company had started to grow again. After employing a workforce of about 1,300 in mid-2008 and dropping below 1,200 after the rounds of cutbacks, Quaker Chemical now employs about 1,600. Net sales for 2011 topped $683 million, an increase of more than $139 million from 2010.

Whether your recovery takes six months or six years, you need to show your people the progress that the company is making. Victories and milestones, however small, can help increase employee confidence. During the recession, you played not to lose. The victories your company gets on the rebound can change that mentality. You want to play to win.

“I think people saw our progress mainly through our performance,” Barry says. “We’re a public company, so they saw right away that we went from losing money to breaking even and that we did it in the span of a quarter.

“Then after breaking even, we started making money, and in each subsequent quarter, we started making more money. That was the biggest encouragement we could have given them, because it gave everyone in the company evidence that we were doing the right things and taking the right steps. People started to feel more secure in their positions.”

As you begin to see daylight, you can use opportunity to take stock of where your company is and what your growth strategy should be as you move forward. Throughout 2010, as Quaker Chemical began to add momentum to its rebound, Barry and his team continually analyzed the company’s strategic position and where it needed to be in order to continue to prosper in the future.

“We used it as a period of time to step back and look at our whole business strategically,” Barry says. “We did a very large strategic planning exercise. We evaluated the markets we are in, as well as adjacent markets we should think about entering, all with an eye toward taking our business to a different level.

“It was a process that involved a number of our associates, certainly on our senior management team but also a good number of people from our middle management. It allowed them to have an impact on how we were going to move the company forward.”

It comes back to the atmosphere of collaboration that Barry tries to perpetuate. Collaboration is a major component of engagement, which is a major component in companywide momentum and long-term success. It’s also an effective way to spread best practices throughout your company’s footprint.

“That is a key aspect of our company that we used to help us as we moved forward,” Barry says. “We have people all over the world, in every industrialized country, and we are working very collaboratively to help each other out. That is critical for your success.

“If we have a person in China who is having an issue with one of our steel customers, that person can rely on others within the company. They can tell another person through various company avenues that they’ve been having an issue with a customer.

“You want to develop a nonpolitical culture, where you are focused on doing the right thing and doing the ethical thing, where you’re not consumed with who gets the credit and who gets the blame.”

How to reach: Quaker Chemical Corp.,

(610) 832-4000 or www.quakerchem.com

 

The Barry File

Name: Michael Barry

Title: Chairman, president and CEO

Company: Quaker Chemical Corp.

Education: B.S. in chemical engineering, Drexel University; M.B.A., Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

You need to get buy-in whenever you are making a significant change in a company — whether in strategy, direction or anything else. You need to get buy-in from senior management and any other key people who are influential in the organization. There are two reasons for that. One, you need to get your best thinkers involved in any major change. Two, you need to get buy-in from the people who will make the change happen and instill the change in the organization.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader?

You need to be able to listen. You need to be able to make a decision and stick with it. You need to create a vision and a strategic direction for the organization. Part of that is establishing appropriate goals and holding people accountable to that, and creating the right culture for what you’re trying to achieve. You also need to be able to get the right people in the right places, and let them do their jobs, because it’s not about you, it’s about the people in the organization.

What is your definition of success?

It’s achieving your goals, be they business or life goals. Establishing a goal, and then achieving it, is success to me.

 

Takeaways

Communicate during a crisis.

Create a dialogue with employees.

Use your wins to generate momentum.

Every company has its baby photos. Monoprice Inc. is no exception.

A decade ago, the Internet electronics retailer was a small start-up. The company’s owners wore many hats, dictating almost every aspect of the company’s culture, strategy, systems and processes.

That was then. The “now” for Monoprice is the company that CEO Ajay Kumar has fronted for the last two years. It’s a $121 million player in its space, growing at a rate of 25 to 30 percent every year. With rapid growth and a workforce of 250, Kumar can’t possibly dictate every angle and nuance of the company’s day-to-day operations.

“When you start a small company and grow it, you can manage every aspect of it,” Kumar says. “You can be hands-on, making every decision, involving yourself in every detail.

“But now, we have to have all the appropriate controls in place to manage the company. We have to have the right organization, accountability, reports, metrics, all that stuff, so that it’s not just the top person running the whole thing. You need the structure and controls in place to make it all work.”

By the time Kumar took over, the CEO’s role had evolved into a global-view position. Instead of laboring in the trenches, Monoprice needed its CEO to define a vision, work with his leadership team to put goals and processes in place to achieve the vision, create metrics to measure progress against the goals, and build a team that could achieve and exceed the goals.

“My leadership style is that I am hands-on but not a micromanager,” Kumar says. “I want people who are capable of executing what I need done in each functional area. In addition to the goals and metrics, we need the right people in the right places throughout the organization.”

At its heart, Kumar’s biggest challenge has been to harness the ability to look ahead and anticipate what his company will need in the coming years.

Create a vision

Vision equals direction. Without a well-defined vision, a company is operating without a compass or a rudder. That’s a recipe for turning growth into stagnation and eventually into mere survival.

That’s why Kumar’s first job upon taking the CEO’s role was to define a vision and ensure that the vision and the reasoning behind it could be adequately explained to the Monoprice team.

“I was able to have a vision for the company coming in, since I had a lot of experience in this industry,” Kumar says. “I had a lot of experience in terms of sourcing products from Asia, getting products made rapidly. The consumer electronics business is something I’ve been in for a long time, so I had a good idea of what the vision needed to be for the type of company we are.”

Kumar’s vision was to produce products equal to or better than big-name brands in terms of quality and compete on price.

“We didn’t want to get into selling any product line if we didn’t feel we could generate at least a 30 to 70 percent advantage over the retail selling price,” he says. “That creates a certain amount of discipline as far as launching products. We don’t want to be randomly launching products.

“We want to launch products where we have a price advantage. The way we do that is we don’t sell other brands. A lot of Internet retailers are selling other brands. We don’t do that, so we are eliminating a whole layer of markup.”

By not carrying outside brands, Kumar and his team also attempted to make a statement about their belief in the quality of their products — a move made, in part, to bolster consumer confidence in the product lines.

“If we sell other brands, we’re, in effect, saying their brands are as good as ours, but they are much pricier, so why are we selling them?” Kumar says. “It’s like saying their products are a step up from ours. That is a key part of our vision: The products we make need to be as good as the famous brands. If the quality is the same but the price is lower, people aren’t going to go anywhere else.”

Related to that, Kumar incorporated a sense of focus into the vision. Monoprice would compete on price and quality but would also compete by becoming an expert retailer in a focused space, as opposed to carrying a broad spectrum of seemingly unrelated offerings.

“A lot of Internet retailers carry tons and tons of products that all seem kind of random,” he says. “It doesn’t feel like a portfolio.

“Our goal is to pick product lines that we want to be in. If we want to be in the Apple accessory area, we need to come up with the right mix of products in the portfolio. Not too many, not too few, because our goal is to become a destination for each product line that we want to be in.”

With the vision focused on those three factors, Kumar then had to roll it out to the company at large — complete with a compelling set of processes and incentives aimed at motivating people throughout the company.

Make them follow

To drive the entire company toward realization of the vision, Kumar had to give all 250 people a reason to get on board. He had to show everyone in the company how their performance related to the company’s ability to achieve its overarching goals and turn the vision into something concrete.

Kumar and his leadership team started by rolling out the vision with a companywide presentation, with an opportunity for dialogue and feedback. That planted the seed, but Kumar says the seed sprouted thanks, in large part, to the company’s bonus plan.

With a bonus plan anchored in corporate-level metrics, Kumar steered every person in the organization, regardless of department, toward the goals that would help Monoprice realize his vision.

“I think a bonus program is always tricky,” Kumar says. “Do you measure people based on department results or overall company results? Some companies go down one path and some go down the other.

“Early on, I decided our path should be aligned along one set of metrics at the corporate level. We decided to focus everyone on three metrics that drive our bonus program: sales, profit and cash flow. Some people in some functions might not be able to directly impact all three of those, but we wanted everyone thinking about all three.

“The thing I like about having the metrics at the corporate level is that everyone in the company is focused on the same thing. It’s the same bonus program whether you are a warehouse worker, customer service person, IT or even myself. It keeps everyone working in the same direction.”

The disadvantage to developing a bonus plan driven by corporate-level metrics is that some people in certain areas of the company might not feel a high level of urgency to meet the company’s goals.

To avoid coasting, Kumar and his team have devised department-level metrics. Since those metrics don’t directly impact the bonus program, Kumar relies on a culture of accountability to enforce them.

“They’re producing against those department-level metrics, they’re showing plan versus actual against those metrics, so there is a little bit of accountability and professionalism at stake when you’re executing on that plan in front of your peers,” Kumar says. “That, in and of itself, will drive a certain level of motivation.”

Find the talent

You can have a well-defined vision, and you can develop metrics and incentives that ensure people are working toward realizing that vision. But your people provide the momentum that will really power your company toward the goals you have set. Without competent employees, nothing gets done.

Kumar believes in attracting top-notch talent but not without first understanding the roles that he needs to fill. He wants talent, but he doesn’t want to simply stockpile talent for talent’s sake, without a plan for utilizing it.

“One of the key things before you go recruit people is making sure you have an understanding of what, exactly, you want from a particular role,” Kumar says. “Some folks may go out there and hire a generic person for a generic role. What I try to do is figure out exactly what I want to get from a particular role.”

Then, when you bring a candidate to the office for an interview, make sure your line of questioning aims to ascertain whether the candidate is a match for the criteria you have established.

“One of the things I like to do is get into the details of what they did at their past job and how they did it,” Kumar says. “When you look at resumes, sometimes it will say a person saved 30 percent or grew sales by $50 million, but you start digging, and they didn’t do it all themselves. They didn’t drive it. I’m looking for people who generated benefits at their previous jobs, and I want to know if they can do the same thing at this company.”

How to reach: Monoprice Inc., (877) 271-2592 or www.monoprice.com

 

The Kumar file

Name: Ajay Kumar

Title: CEO

Company: Monoprice Inc.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

I am a big believer that what you don’t work on is as important as what you do work on. It’s important to know when you should pass on an opportunity. In most companies, it is too easy to get bogged down on doing too many things. It is the nature of a high-performance person. You want to get things done, but you can’t do everything.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

Having a vision that makes sense, creating a sense of buy-in, recruiting the right people, drive, performance, being a good two-way communicator, facilitating teamwork, and providing a coaching and mentoring approach to growth. One of the primary things people want to get out of a job is what they learn from their boss.

What is your definition of success?

For me, it is setting goals and then achieving them. That might seem very metrics-oriented, but if you don’t achieve goals, it won’t be a fun place to work. People won’t feel like the company is successful. If you set goals and don’t make them happen, you don’t get that sense of accomplishment. People start to feel like you’re wishy-washy.

Takeaways

Develop a strong vision.

Create buy-in on the vision.

Hire the right people.

It took three tries over the span of five years to make the merger of Radiancy and PhotoMedex a reality. So when the merger was finalized in 2011, Dolev Rafaeli was determined to make all aspects of it a success.

Rafaeli had been the CEO of Radiancy and was assuming the CEO’s position in the combined company — a manufacturer of medical treatments for skin conditions and other skin-related consumer products, which would carry the PhotoMedex Inc. name.

In terms of their history and DNA, the two companies had starkly different backgrounds. Radiancy, the larger of the two companies, was privately held, focused on consumer sales and had developed a presence in the international marketplace.

PhotoMedex was a public company, sold mostly to other businesses and was heavily focused on domestic sales.

From 30,000 feet, the companies were complementary parts, bringing different areas of strength to the table. The merger was a puzzle-piece fit. But at ground level, things were a little more complicated for Rafaeli and his management team.

“The biggest challenge, and the reason it took us five years to make it happen, was what you would call an HR challenge,” Rafaeli says. “Usually, when you look at mergers and acquisitions, everybody can understand the very objective analysis of numbers and the very subjective analysis of how things might look if we merge the two companies. The biggest challenge was, how do you get two teams engaged when at least part of the two teams thinks they don’t have a future in the company?”

Rafaeli had to combine two cultures from two different backgrounds, and once he had everybody on board, he had to set the stage for the company’s continued success or any momentum gained during the merger process would be lost.

Create alignment

In any large-scale change, alignment starts at the top. Nobody in the company will adopt the changes if he or she sees any type of negative or mixed reaction from those in charge. To that end, the management teams at Radiancy and PhotoMedex began the process of finding points of consensus nearly five years before the merger took place.

“We actually had known each other since 2007, so there wasn’t too much change in the transition for the management teams,” Rafaeli says. “We put together a project team that was running the two companies as if we were merged, about eight months before the merger happened. We were making decisions and considering things together, and we built our plan to make changes both before and after the merger.”

As the larger company, Radiancy had the majority of the resources that would be needed during the merger process, but since the combined company would be publicly traded and carry the PhotoMedex name, PhotoMedex served as the basic template by which the new company would be constructed. It was a matter, in many cases, of the combined leadership team creating operational alignment by building more efficiencies into the previously existing PhotoMedex processes.

“A lot of it happened before the merger was even consummated, so for example, we took apart all of the logistics philosophies in the old PhotoMedex but reassembled them based on the old PhotoMedex while using Radiancy’s resources,” Rafaeli says. “Since Radiancy was bigger, we had better costing to do things, resulting in a savings post-merger. We did the same thing with our insurance platforms, payment processing platforms, and with our PR and advertising companies.”

With an aligned leadership team creating aligned strategies, systems and processes, it became much easier for Rafaeli to bring the rest of the company’s workforce on board with the merger. An important first step was letting the company at-large know that no layoffs were planned as part of the merger.

“The scale and geographic diversity really required that nobody leave,” Rafaeli says. “We needed to keep all the finance teams that both companies had pre-merger. Each side had to learn what the other was doing and develop a way to combine the systems. We had to become SOX-compliant and handle a very coherent reporting system.”

In some areas of the company, the best solution was a combined one, implementing practices from both pre-merger companies. But in other areas, Rafaeli and his team decided to take an either/or approach to implementing best practices, aligning the company with one standard or the other.

“The operations team in both previous companies had two complementary sets of knowledge, and we had to merge the two of them in a way that took advantage of all the areas of strength,” Rafaeli says. “What happened was, we had the quality manager of the old PhotoMedex oversee the quality system of the combined company. The supply chain manager of Radiancy took over material supply for the whole company, because Radiancy was doing it more efficiently.”

It is crucial that you paint an accurate and complete picture of your vision for the post-merger company and that you do it early in the process. If you are going to create buy-in and subsequently create complete alignment throughout all levels of your organization, everyone has to know where they fit and what will be asked of them.

“We have very talented and experienced people, and we wanted all of them to stay and be engaged in the process of the merger and remain engaged post-merger,” Rafaeli says. “The important part there is keeping them engaged throughout the process of the merger.”

Announce your arrival

Even if you’re keeping the identity and product lines from both companies, as the relaunched PhotoMedex did, it won’t be business as usual for your customers. They’ll see a new company with a future in flux, which is why you need to connect with your customers and paint the same clear, accurate and candid picture that you did for your employees.

One of the ways Rafaeli and his team sought to announce the arrival of the new PhotoMedex and affirm the company’s identity to outsiders was through its marketing efforts.

“It was a very interesting process,” he says. “We took two companies — one that has the knowledge of how to advertise, and the other with knowledge of the business. One of our main business lines is in the area of psoriasis treatment, and the PhotoMedex people knew a lot about psoriasis and psoriasis treatment. They knew about the view in the market, the conditions of the marketplace, how physicians view it and the market’s view of that.

Through a unified effort leveraging the areas of expertise that now existed in the combined PhotoMedex, the company’s advertising specialists developed an advertising strategy based on the selling points of the company’s products.

“We had work sessions where we drilled down on the information,” Rafaeli says. “Because of what we sell, we deal with a lot of FDA regulations, so we have to be very regulatory-conscious in the way we advertise. Our quality and regulatory affairs manager oversees a lot of that.”

Advertising — especially in a time of change — is a risky proposition. You really don’t know how the market is going to receive the change until you see some reaction. You don’t really know what is going to appeal to customers. If you had a high trust factor between consumers and your product or service, you have no real way of knowing if that trust factor will survive a transformational change like a merger.

It’s a fact of business life that has been in the front of Rafaeli’s mind as he has watched PhotoMedex roll out its new advertising campaigns over the past year-plus. All you can do as a business leader is stick your neck out, observe the results, gather data and make adjustments.

“Because we’re so involved in advertising, we get questions about advertising from other businesspeople on almost a weekly basis,” Rafaeli says. “We tell them that they have to be very careful and diligent, because advertising can be a very, very risky business. You can go out and spend money, get no results and have no idea why you didn’t get results. You don’t know if it’s because you failed to choose the right targets or the right price point or some other factor.”

Early in the process, Rafaeli and his team decided to focus on a straightforward and positive approach to advertising. PhotoMedex ads can vary greatly in how the message is conveyed, depending on media and geography, but the clarity regarding the product and the company behind it are constant themes.

It’s an approach that has helped galvanize PhotoMedex’s marketing strategy and has helped to make the merger an overall success. The company generated $110 million in sales for the first half of 2012, with full-year projections of more than $230 million.

“Consumers can be exposed to hundreds of different types of ads every day, and many of them are either negative or misleading. They can try to tear down what the competition does, or promise results that they can’t deliver.

“But what I think is truly effective in an ad campaign is a straightforward approach that doesn’t create unrealistic expectations. And what an effective ad campaign really means is that when the need arises, you will trust our company. You will pick up the phone or go on the computer, and you will look for us.”

How to reach: PhotoMedex Inc., (215) 619-3600 or www.photomedex.com

The Rafaeli file

Dolev Rafaeli, CEO, PhotoMedex Inc.

Born: Haifa, Israel

Education: Bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering and master’s degree in operations management, the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology; Ph.D. in business management, Century University

More from Rafaeli on the advertising strategy of PhotoMedex: Our advertisements might look a little different, perhaps even awkward, to some people. We have an advertisement in a number of magazines where we show a woman shaving her face with a blade.

The reason we do that is, one of the products we sell is called no!no! hair removal, and we saw that one of the key drives for buying the product was female facial hair. There is not really any other solution to that besides a hair removal product. A woman isn’t going to put a razor blade to her face. And when we were testing this, we knew the reason we had bought and sold over 3 million units. We knew why people needed it, but we didn’t know how to convey the message.

We went about doing this very carefully, having clinical ads and physicians talking about it, and it didn’t work. So we decided to try something that might be perceived as awkward, having a woman shave her face. We put that on, and six months later, in a number of major magazines, you see our ad.

When it came to psoriasis, the key discussion also became, ‘What do we show? Do we show people with psoriasis? Or do we go to the other extreme, like ads for erectile dysfunction medications in the U.S.?’ Obviously, they’re not going to show anything like that in a literal sense. They show couples on the beach having fun and so forth.

We tested it in certain ways, and we ended up not showing the psoriasis treatment at all. People who have psoriasis know what they have. They don’t need to see it. People who don’t have and who will never have psoriasis don’t care to see damaged skin.

Takeaways

Align your management team.

Roll it out to the rest of the company.

Advertise with a direct message.

 

Smoothie budgets were drying up everywhere, and Frank Easterbrook was one of the first to realize it.

The owner and CEO of Juice It Up! — a chain of juice and smoothie bars, franchised by LLJ Franchise LLC — watched throughout the recession as the discretionary spending of consumers slowed to a trickle. With less money to cover bills and groceries, many households could no longer afford trips to the ice cream parlor or smoothie shop. It didn’t take long before Juice It Up! felt the pinch.

“As people lost their jobs, they stopped purchasing discretionary products, like things that were considered treats,” Easterbrook says. “Items like smoothies were just not being purchased at the level they were prior to the recession.”

The downward spiral only picked up steam throughout 2009 and into 2010. Cash dried up, forcing about half of Juice It Up’s locations to close. What was once a chain of 180 stores had dwindled to 90 by last year.

“My company was on many of those store leases as a guarantor,” Easterbrook says. “So in many cases, I became the last resort for the landlord, and I had to negotiate millions of dollars’ worth of lease settlements to get through the recession. It was something we never could have anticipated.”

The company has emerged from the recession intact and is attempting to re-enter growth mode, but the effects of the recession remain. Easterbrook’s skills as a leader were put through a severe test over the past four years. He and his staff had to find new and creative ways to market their products, boost morale for all 1,200 corporate and franchise employees, and protect the corporate culture that he and his leadership team had worked so hard to build and maintain.

Take initial steps

As revenue started to dry up, Easterbrook took some steps to try to solidify the company’s financial outlook — most significantly, he suspended some franchisee royalty payments to the company, and he negotiated rent reductions with commercial landlords, saving money for about 85 percent of the remaining Juice It Up! franchise locations.

But perhaps the most critical action taken by Easterbrook and his team involved advertising. Saving money in the form of reduced expenses gave franchisees some relief, but no retail entity survives without a steady supply of consumer dollars. Despite the steep uphill battle in front of them, Easterbrook and his franchisees had to lure customers in the door and get them to buy the product.

“Though we reduced royalty payments, we kept the advertising payments and fees coming in, because we felt we had to advertise heavily if we were going to get through this tough time,” Easterbrook says.

“Simply put, we had to have the means to let people know that we are still here. So we added to the advertising cash pool, and advertised using methods such as billboards and local television ads. We wanted to maximize the reach into our communities, to maintain our presence with consumers.”

Easterbrook gives his franchisees some degree of control over their advertising approach via a local store marketing, or LSM, program. The program allows franchise owners to tailor local advertising to their market.

“We have a lot of templates there for franchisees to use, where they can incorporate their own name and local information into the advertising template, then take that to the printer,” Easterbrook says. “It includes items such as coupons that they can distribute, posters to hang in the store and some other materials. We do try to give them a great deal of freedom with what they can use and materials they can create.

“But the freedom only comes after we’ve looked at the material and reviewed it, and decided that it fits the look and feel we want to see in our stores. The control we exercise is strategic-level control, but the specific implementation is up to the franchisee.”

Giving your field associates a reasonable amount of control over the marketing of your brand is important, because they know the customers the best. You do want the message to remain consistent with your brand and values, but you need to allow some flexibility regarding how your brand is related to potential consumers in a given geography.

“You need to understand who your core customer is, and focus your advertising on reaching that customer,” Easterbrook says. “But it is an awfully broad question, because each product can have its own demographic. Previously, I had worked in the food industry for Mars and Nestlé, two big companies that do a lot of advertising and spend a lot of money. We worked hard to understand who our customers are and to identify the most effective ways of reaching those customers.”

Throughout his career, Easterbrook has focused on an advertising strategy that creates multiple touch points with consumers. It’s something he brought with him when he came to Juice It Up!, and he continued to develop that strategy as the recession created an even more pronounced need for the company to appeal to consumers.

“In some cases, your strategy might consist of media coverage like radio and television, and other times, you might find it more useful to go the print route with coupons and Valpak mailers,” Easterbrook says.

“One area where we found some traction was bus stops, which kind of goes hand-in-hand with advertising on billboards. In most areas, the public bus stops have small shelters, so people can wait under a roof if it’s raining. Inside those shelters, there are places for paper advertisements, and we started advertising in there. It’s about finding a lot of methods to connect your brand to consumers.”

Illustrate your vision

During a crisis as severe as the recent recession, you’d be excused by most for going into survival mode, eschewing any large-scale plans in favor of merely reacting to whatever the economic climate throws at you.

That might help your company weather the storm from a financial perspective, but it won’t do anything to salvage team morale or reinforce your culture. In those areas, you still need to show your people that you have a vision — not just for getting out of the crisis but for prospering once you’re on the road to recovery.

At Juice It Up!, Easterbrook wanted to reinforce a message of stability throughout his franchise network. He wanted his franchisees to know that the tools and infrastructure for future growth were still in place and that the company planned to expand when the climate was right.

But for the duration of the recession, and despite the fact that Juice It Up! was losing franchises, he wanted his remaining franchisees to know that the corporate entity was stable and still capable of supporting its franchise network with whatever resources deemed necessary.

“As this recession started to cover us like a blanket, they just needed to know that we were going to be there,” Easterbrook says. “So we had a series of meetings, some in a face-to-face setting, and I found those to be very important.

“As the leader of the company, you need to be visible. You need to demonstrate your interest and concern for them and their businesses. Some of our franchisees have effectively invested their life savings in the company, in their stores, so I needed to assure them that we were going to be there, and we’re going to get through the recession together.”

Easterbrook used the meetings, and other communication opportunities, not only to reinforce his vision and promote a feeling of stability but to also maintain a dialogue aimed at developing a constructive relationship between the leaders at the corporate level and franchise operators. Strong interpersonal bonds form the basis for the working relationships that can help your company endure a crisis with its culture intact.

“Relationships are really critical to withstanding the kind of thing that we went through,” he says. “It becomes a function of establishing your core values and communicating those core values and maintaining a very high level of professional and personal integrity. If you are a person of high values and you practice and communicate those values and you live those values and you combine that all with honesty and integrity, people know you’re genuine.”

External marketing and internal communication produce the combined effect of reaching all three of the constituencies that Easterbrook needed to reach: consumers, franchisees and corporate associates. With all three constituencies engaged and aware of Easterbrook’s plans to bring Juice It Up! through the recession, the company was able to endure the crisis and is now emerging with a focus on the future.

“Our core values that we follow are quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency and freedom,” Easterbrook says. “We feel that each one of those impacts one of the three stakeholders that we have, which really leads to us establishing the way we operate. We strive to provide value for the money that our consumers spend with us and to assist franchisees in maximizing their investment. All of the programs we have and the communication we do is aimed at achieving both of those objectives.”

How to reach: Juice It Up!, (949) 475-0146 or www.juiceitup.com

 

The Easterbrook file

Frank Easterbrook, owner and CEO, Juice It Up!

History: I started as a small investor in Juice It Up! when the company was founded in 1995. The company had 25 stores by 1999, and in 2001, I bought out all the shareholders and focused on becoming a franchisor. We had grown the company to 180 stores in 2008, just before the recession hit.

What is the best business lesson you have learned?

Accept failure. Treat it as a lesson. When you open a store that doesn’t survive, you don’t look for someone to blame. You look to discover the lessons that you need to learn, and you debrief everybody on those lessons. You learn the things you did right and the things you did wrong. When you have a problem, don’t avoid it. Face the problem, make a decision and learn from the consequences.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader?

You have to be a person of values and integrity. If you have that, you will be someone that people will respect and listen to, so those are very important traits to have.

What is your definition of success?

Everybody has a different definition. Mine would be continual improvement. If you are better tomorrow that you were today, you will naturally become more successful. Things can’t stay the same. They’re either improving or declining, so if you want to survive as a business, they have to improve. As the head, you have to identify those areas for improvement.

Takeaways:

Diversify your marketing strategy.

Understand your customers.

Refine your messages.

Twenty years ago, McKinley Inc. was a company with 450 employees. Ten years ago, the company, which specializes in real estate investment and management, had a single operating platform for all of its businesses.

That was then, this is now.

Today, Ann Arbor-based McKinley has more than 1,400 employees and six different divisions contributing to its $273 million annual revenue figure.

It’s a long way of saying that growth has been a fact of life for CEO Albert M. Berriz. That’s a good problem to have, but it still comes with a series of challenges that must be met and overcome if Berriz is to have a financially and culturally healthy company on his hands for years to come.

“There are a couple of basic disciplines that we are very methodical about,” Berriz says. “One is we maintain a very flat organization. I believe that the distance from where I am sitting to where our customers are sitting is really no more than two heartbeats. I have six divisional CEOs who report to me, and they are flat with the people in the field, who are our customers.

“The second thing is, the six individuals who run each of the businesses have a lot of autonomy. They really get a lot of freedom to run their businesses as their own.”

For Berriz, managing growth is about managing the distance between people. Though he oversees a company with assets in 25 states, he wants as few levels and geographical barriers as possible to exist between management and field employees, between management and customers and between peer-level employees in the field.

But to maintain that type of connectivity, Berriz has needed to constantly work on strengthening his company’s cultural values and refining his communication strategy.

“Anything we do is really not top-down; it’s really integrated throughout the organization and is customer-driven,” Berriz says. “Everything we do needs to be driven by our responsiveness to our customers.”

Promote your core values

Though Berriz gives his division heads a high level of autonomy regarding how they manage, he still requires them to hire, make decisions and lead based on McKinley’s core values and core purpose, which is posted on the company’s website: “To enrich the quality of life in our communities.”

Berriz wants his executives to lead with their own leadership styles, but he has learned that a company will not be able to grow and adapt effectively without every employee’s compass arrow pointing in a common direction. That fact only becomes more critical as your company continues to expand and add people.

“While I’ve basically given them liberty to run their businesses, and I’m not a micromanager, we do still have a commonality regarding what the core values are and what the core purpose is,” Berriz says. “Even though each member of my team might be hiring differently, their standards are the same and the core values that they’re hiring for are the same.

“That is how you continually promote your core values throughout the organization. Even though we’ve grown to 1,400 people, when we do employee surveys, it’s not uncommon for 90 percent of our employees to have a full understanding of what our core values and core purpose are.”

When McKinley’s management talks about those values to the company’s employees, they use individual examples whenever possible. Berriz says if you can put a face on the behavior you want emulated, it has a much better chance of taking root and becoming something that your company embraces as it grows.

“It has to be something that is done throughout the organization, as opposed to top-down,” Berriz says. “If you look at our core values and the things that signify our core values, we helped to reinforce them by talking about individual people in the organization. We didn’t just write it on the wall. We actually took examples of great people in the organization and used those examples to help fashion our values.

“Say we have an employee named Jeff, and we want to have Jeff as our positive example. We ask what makes Jeff a great person in the organization. That is how we got our core values. We didn’t do it backwards, just by coming up with things and writing them on the wall. You take a look at your seasoned people in the field, people who are successful and embody certain positive characteristics, and say ‘That is how we want our people to be.’”

Hire with a purpose

If your culture is both formed and driven by your people, you need to hire managers and employees who embody the traits and principles you want to emphasize. Technical skills can be taught, but values, ethics, adaptability and a willingness to put the customer first are, in most cases, a product of personality before training.

Identifying and hiring the best possible management team members is a crucial first step. If they are on board with your cultural principles, they’ll hire like-minded people as part of their teams, and those people can, in turn, attract more of the same — a factor that can work to your advantage in a big way if you are eyeing a period of aggressive growth.

“Great people attract great people, and that’s huge, because you can’t have an organization like ours with mediocre people,” Berriz says. “And once you have great people, they expect to retain the great people they’ve hired.

“I think one of the biggest reasons people leave or stay with an organization is their boss. The six CEOs I have serving under me all have very high standards, so they serve as the litmus test. They are going to be the ones who expel mediocre people and attract great people.”

Berriz says you should never forget that any given person’s impression of the company, its mission, its values, its growth plans, and his or her relevance to accomplishing it all is predicated largely on the boss-employee relationship. It’s why each person at every level of your organization needs to strive to embody and lead by your company’s values.

“Associates can know the name of a company, they may understand what a company does, they may know their job,” Berriz says. “But at the end of the day, the real relationship is with their boss.

“If it’s a sour one, their view of the company and what the company does will be sour. If it’s a good relationship, their view of the company is a good one. That’s why people stay with or leave a company because of their boss. It’s rarely because of other issues.”

Berriz takes that philosophy a step further, trying to promote a positive relationship between upper management and all McKinley’s employees in the field. He sets the tone himself by setting up multiple channels for communication and dialogue focused on the company’s present and future growth plans.

“There is a difference between autonomy and not having a common culture,” he says. “One of my most important responsibilities is attracting and retaining great people, and I need to do that culturally — not just with my six CEOs, but I have to do it right down through the organization.”

Berriz describes himself as an “old-fashioned guy” when it comes to communication. He prefers in-person interaction whenever possible, but given the number of people McKinley employs and the size of the company’s geographical footprint, it’s impossible to maintain a consistent level of personal contact with every associate in every corner of the company.

Berriz has needed to find other ways to engage his people. One of the primary ways he’s attempted to bridge the gap is by embracing social media as a communication tool.

“For instance, if you go to my Facebook page now, you will see news about what is happening in the company,” Berriz says. “I’m making four or five posts today to Facebook, and my Facebook page is tied to our company website, as is Twitter. So if you are a team member and you want to stay in touch, you can go to my Facebook page. If I didn’t put that effort out there, if I didn’t utilize those social media platforms, I don’t think my communication would be as effective.”

Berriz has recognized that a large percentage of his workforce is composed of those who came of age in the era of the Internet. Younger employees have lived their entire professional lives in an environment that includes high connectivity through electronic media.

If you are going to connect the company’s purpose to younger workers and maintain a dialogue with them, you need to consider the value of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other electronic media platforms in your communication strategy.

“A big portion of our population at McKinley is in the 18-to-35-year-old category,” he says. “That means social media and how we are communicating in real time can be very powerful in terms of developing and maintaining a common culture. I travel around, but there is no way that I can touch every person in the company through traveling. You have to make other efforts, otherwise you’ll be out of touch.”

How to reach: McKinley Inc., (734) 769-8520 or www.mckinley.com

The Berriz file

Albert M. Berriz, CEO, McKinley Inc.

History: I was born in Havana, Cuba. My family moved to the U.S. in 1959, when I was three years old, as a result of the revolution in Cuba. I grew up in Miami, where I graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in architecture and engineering. I later received an MBA from Northwestern University.

What divisions do your CEOs oversee?

We have five real estate divisions — two commercial and three residential — and one division that covers acquisitions, finance, partnerships and new ventures. Five of them are based out of the Ann Arbor office, but they are never here. They are always out in the field. We have one individual covering the Carolinas, Texas, Nevada and Arizona; we have one individual who does Florida, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois; and another one who has a third overlaid geographically.

For me, nowadays, it doesn't really matter where they live. I have one CEO who works down in Florida and actually keeps an apartment down there, which is great because that person stays closer to our people and closer to our customers.

What are the keys to staying in touch with your direct reports?

It is all personal. I am on the phone with a few of them every day, or talking in person once every couple of weeks. I am very connected with those people. I am not a micromanager, it is not my style, but we have an understanding and expectation of what the results need to be and what the culture needs to be. But after that, it is really up them to lead in their own style.

What are those conversations like?

It is very high-level. We have a very transparent organization, so you are either on or you’re off. We have dashboards here that are always available in real time, so I am always aware of good or bad developments. So the results part is easy, and the culture part is easy too, because I have a good sense of what is happening in the organization.

We have a well-run organization, so I am mostly focused on the future, where we are headed in 12 months, in five years and 10 years, as opposed to the problems of today. If there is an occasional problem today, I will deal with it, but to be candid, the problems are infrequent, so they are seldom an issue.

Takeaways

Define your company’s purpose.

Hire people to fit that purpose.

Utilize multiple avenues of communication.

For Dan Roitman, much of business is science.

Since founding specialty Internet retailer Stroll LLC in his University of Maryland dorm room 13 years ago, Roitman’s career has consisted of an ongoing series of hypotheses, experiments, data analysis, adjusting of hypotheses and formulation of theories.

Roitman’s scientific approach to business-building has developed a highly entrepreneurial culture at Stroll, in which team members are encouraged to share ideas, innovate and test their assumptions. It’s a mentality that has helped the company sustain a period of rapid growth — 80 percent in 2008 and 50 percent in 2009, followed by a year-over-year 100 percent growth margin from 2010 to 2011. In 2012, the company surpassed $80 million in annual revenue for the first time.

But maintaining a forward-thinking mindset throughout the entire organization isn’t something that just happens. It requires CEO Roitman to hire, train and empower his people to achieve the desired results. It’s something that was driven home to Roitman during the recession, when he had to suspend the growth of the company for a year due to a lack of additional financing from Stroll’s bank.

“That was my biggest concern, because we had always been a growth company,” Roitman says. “Then, due to circumstances beyond our control, we had to put a specific order volume cap on the business.

“It really became more about communicating that this is the challenge, everybody knew what was going on in that environment, you had a lot of economic hardship, you heard a lot about layoffs that were going on elsewhere. I have to imagine everyone was happy that we were doing well, but frustrated that we couldn’t do better.”

Through it all, Roitman has had to focus on motivating his employees, maintaining a sense of transparency, while still encouraging open thought, experimentation and the scientific mentality that had made Stroll a success in the first place.

Embrace best practices

It’s easy to say you embrace best practices as an organization. Actually discovering, selecting and implementing best practices from another entity are another ballgame. Even if you are able to discover and select an outside idea that you think will help your business, there is a good chance you wouldn’t implement it — at least, not in the form in which you discovered it.

“I once heard a speaker talk about the idea of cloning best practices and how most people don’t have a so-called cloning gene,” Roitman says. “If I told you, right now, the secret to making a million dollars in 90 days and if you followed my instructions exactly, you’d make a million dollars; most people wouldn’t be able to follow it exactly. They’d start to think about how to improve upon what you’re telling them.

“Sam Walton would go into any competitor’s store, and even if it was a really shoddy store, he’d find something they were doing better than he was doing. Through that process, through a million little optimizations, he became a formidable competitor and then an industry leader.

“So if someone is doing something better than you are, you should at least recognize that they are and be willing to try it in your business as well.”

But it is a double-edged sword when it comes to adding new policies and processes to your organization. You don’t want to corrupt the external idea, because it was successful elsewhere for a reason, and that is why you want to on-board it at your company. But you also want to give your people an opportunity to think of ways they can improve upon the idea or alter it so it better fits your company’s specific situation.

For Roitman, that is where the need for a culture that utilizes a testing-based, scientific approach becomes critical. His team members at Stroll can propose new ideas and changes to existing ideas, but they have to back the proposals up with supporting data.

“If you have a constant, iterative testing philosophy, the barrier to testing is very low,” Roitman says. “So if somebody is doing something on, say, the marketing side, you ask yourself about the probability of something similar working in your business. What is the probability of this one idea being more successful than another?

“Ultimately, you have finite resources for your various departments, so you do have to have a mechanism for prioritizing — some kind of filter for what you believe the contribution or change will be.”

Roitman ran into a best-practices testing scenario when he and his leadership team noticed marketers in his company’s space were having success with video marketing initiatives. Through testing and quantification of the results that Roitman’s team believed Stroll could expect, the company was able to implement its own video marketing initiatives.

“Since then, we have won two major awards for our video marketing,” Roitman says. “That is an example of us taking a best practice from outside and utilizing it in a way that betters an area of our company.

“In another area, we’ve also brought in an industry expert to advise us on our shipping costs. It led to us having a 30 percent reduction in our shipping costs (in 2011), and we should have another 30 percent reduction (in 2012).

“We didn’t directly adopt a best practice from somewhere else in that case, but the insight from the industry expert that we brought in allowed us to take things to the next level in that area, and it’s information we wouldn’t have gotten any other way.”

Learn from mistakes

Another aspect of having a culture that is focused on experimentation and learning by doing is a willingness to accept mistakes and failure as part of the process. That is, as long as the failure is part of the process and not a part of employee underperformance.

With entrepreneurship as a key building block of Roitman’s culture at Stroll, often he is willing to take new products to market, and let the market determine whether the idea was good or not.

“Obviously, it depends on what level you’re talking about making mistakes,” Roitman says. “But if you inherently have a testing culture, you know you’re going to have failures, and it’s simply going to be a part of the experimentation process.

“But there are failures of concepts or improvements, and there is failure of performance, which is an entirely different category. The performance category isn’t just a matter of experimentation. It’s a matter of setting up support structures so that people don’t set themselves up for failure. You have to work with them to define goals up front that are realistic and all the general management concepts around that.

“Once you’ve defined the goals, you need to check in with your people to make sure they are on track and setting up workable project plans.”

If you’re working with your people to set achievable goals and realistic project plans, it becomes much easier for you and your leadership team to separate a bad idea from a bad performance.

“It’s all in the mechanics around your execution, which you need to have in your processes,” Roitman says. “If someone just isn’t performing, there is an issue there. But if it’s an idea itself that is failing, but everyone thought it was worthwhile to pursue and a reasonable move to make at the outset, there is no problem in that case. And you have to cultivate that mentality within all layers of management.”

To help guard against large-scale mistakes that could have wide-ranging implications for your company, Roitman says you should put platforms in place that allow you to test new ideas on a smaller level, then scale the successful ideas to larger projects involving more people.

It is a tactic that allows you to commit fewer resources to a project initially, while still getting a sense for whether the idea will work — which is a critical factor as many companies are still struggling with resource management in the wake of the recession.

“That can definitely be something you’re doing; we’ve done that ourselves,” Roitman says. “For instance, in our call center, we’ve rolled out a small-scale test in one area, see how that does, then roll it out on a larger scale.

“In some other areas, we’ve broken down into teams across different areas of the company and tried different things in each area. That allows us to gain some insight into how we can work with different needs and different management methodologies.”

As you go through these processes, you have to keep in mind that your role as the leader is to serve as the traffic cop who ensures that the right type and right amount of resources find their way to the right areas of the organization, into the hands that can best use the resources to produce the ideas and product that turn the highest profit.

“Everything is interrelated,” Roitman says. “Departmental activities roll up to the company at large. So my job is to make sure the plan we have communicated is clearly on track, everybody knows the most important things we have to focus on, and there are no other distractions. We have a lot of ideas flying around, which is a good thing, but we still have to maintain focus. As far as the direction you are going, you have to define what is in and what is out — you have to define both.”

How to reach: Stroll LLC, (215) 701-3300 or www.stroll.com

 

The Roitman file

Dan Roitman

founder and CEO

Stroll LLC

Born: Germany

Education: International business and German degrees, University of Maryland

First job: Unofficially, I mowed lawns and shoveled snow. Officially, I had an internship with the Department of Defense after my first year of college.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

The earlier you can establish the elements of a strong culture, the higher the probability of success of the organization. It starts out with just getting revenue and having a business in the first place, but after that, you need to have a vision and clear goals around that vision, and the right people on board with the proper motivation. Having the right operating conditions helps that immensely.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

One thing that we really focus on in our organization is transparency. After that, you need to be able to develop a really strong vision that influences the organization years into the future. People have to know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

What is your definition of success?

Success comes at a couple of different levels. On a micro level, it’s accomplishing something meaningful within the organization. On a macro level, one of the greatest forms is giving back to the community and creating jobs. As we all know, our economy needs sustainable, productive jobs today.

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