Laura Green

Sunday, 31 July 2011 20:54

Strategic gains

Whenever Bill Sadataki looks at a new real estate investment for his firm, SB Equities LLC, he considers numerous factors, including access to labor, transportation, infrastructure and market stability. All of these come into play when he and his partners evaluate investments in the Akron-Canton region, and a prime example is the company’s investment in the Akron-Canton Regional Airport (CAK) industrial business park in Green, Ohio.

“We believe that the CAK park is a logical choice, because it’s really got a prime location, provides economic incentives and foreign trade zone benefits,” says Sadataki, a founding and managing member of the SB Equities. “It’s got great highway access and it’s also adjacent to the Akron-Canton airport. All of those things make it attractive.”

Sadataki adds that one of the most important considerations in a new investment is: Is it going to appeal to the market and its users in future years?

“We’ll look at the market as whole and try to identify which areas have historically been the most viable and the most attractive to users,” Sadataki says. “Then we also look at going forward; is that likely to continue or has there been a shift in the market? So when we looked at the current and existing tenants in the park [and they] are all high-grade and mostly national companies like Goodyear, Diebold, InfoCision, ASC Industries — all of the buildings in the park are kind of an institutional quality. It seemed logical to us that as that park builds out and extends into future phases, we wanted to be involved with it, because it’s clearly an area that’s going to be a growth area.”

The benefits of investing in Akron-Canton’s pro-business environment have spurred Sadataki’s and his partners’ continued investment in the area and their strong advocacy of the region’s investment potential. In addition to purchasing the leasehold interest in the CAK park as well as two buildings within it, the firm also became the property manager and leasing representative for the balance of approximately 40 acres of vacant land. Having this vertical structure has positioned SB Equities to both attract and accommodate new users but also to participate with local and regional public entities such as the city of Green, Summit County Port Authority and the Akron-Canton Airport in the future.

“We try and be pretty vocal proponents of the Akron-Canton market whenever we get a chance,” Sadataki says. “We also, through brokerage activities, are in a constant state of promoting the region to client companies, trying to attract new business to the area. We’ve kind of put our money where our mouth is in terms of investing right in our core markets of Akron and Canton. I think that that, if nothing else, as you are talking to people, it shows confidence. And you’re not asking them to be pioneers. You’ve already done that. The pioneering work has been done by others. We’re just trying to keep it moving along.”

Ongoing and improved cooperation between the city, county and other entities continues to stimulate a more positive environment in the Akron-Canton region for existing businesses as well as start-ups and prospective investors or business entities looking at the area. For example, new businesses seeking to shorten project timelines are aided by the region’s focus on economic development, which makes it easier to accomplish tasks such as securing building permits or looking at economic incentive packages.

“In some areas of the state, it’s very difficult to get things moved from the conceptual phase through realization,” Sadataki says. “It’s been my observation that in the Akron-Canton area, people are really interested in getting things done, not just prolonging the process. So projects can either move forward or not move forward, but they can do it in a more expeditious manner. I think that’s pretty key to anyone who is looking to make an investment.”

How to reach: SB Equities LLC, (216) 831-3310 or www.sbequitiesinc.com

Investing in an evolving world

It’s a well known fact that the United States and most of Europe face significant headwinds. So what can an investor do to withstand them? Go global. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that the U.S. and developed Europe will struggle to eclipse 3 percent and 2 percent real GDP growth respectively. It also projects that new industrialized Asian economies and other advanced economies will grow by between 4 and 5 percent per year. What does this mean to you? It means you must embrace a global perspective when investing for growth.

Although the United States still has the largest and most dynamic economy in the world, the current political and fiscal challenges remain problematic. Today, new and changing economies in countries like Vietnam, South Korea and various South African countries are quietly experiencing rapid growth. China and India are often in the forefront of the news, but these peripheral countries stand to benefit as the global middle class expands as well as recovers.

Now more than ever, you need to focus your portfolio on the global economy and domestically look for corporations that derive the majority of their revenue from outside the United States. Although the U.S. economy is vast and growing ? albeit slowly ? we face an array of challenges in the immediate investment culture.

John Y. Kim, J.D., LL.M. is the principal of Symphony Financial Services Inc., located in Akron, OH. Symphony Financial Services, Inc. which was recently featured in the March, 2011, Forbes magazine. John was honored as one of the “40 Under 40” successful businessmen by Crain’s Cleveland Business News in December, 2003.

Sunday, 31 July 2011 20:12

Tearing down silos

As he sat in a meeting to discuss the future of his organization, Vince McCorkle had another one of his aha moments. However, he soon realized the revelation was something his team had noticed for a while.

“I had been in one meeting — it was part of the strategic planning process — and said, ‘You know, we behave too silo-like within our health system,’ and I’ll never forget someone said, ‘That’s because we’re structured like silos.’ says McCorkle, CEO of Akron General Health System. “And that person was right.”

When McCorkle join AGHS in April 2010, the organization had recently completed a revitalization process following several tough years. While it had accomplished great strides since, as the dust settled, employees realized it was time to take another look at a developing a plan to move forward.

“The improvements they made were operational improvements, refining the systems, some of the basic blocking and tackling that needed to be done had happened, but everyone was really looking and saying, ‘We want to know where we are going,’” McCorkle says.

Though Akron General hadn’t had a strategic plan in years, the problem with getting anywhere wasn’t just with the lack of a strategic plan, it was the way the organizations itself was set up. McCorkle knew well that if your structure isn’t driving function, then culture can eat strategy. So AGHS was going to develop a new strategic plan, and it needed the combined, united support of his 5,700 employees and a participative culture that could enable one.

“So we’re saying, we want a common mission, common vision, common value systems,” he says. “Certain things are going to make sense to be done at the system level, but we have to respect the uniqueness and the different gifts we have in different parts of the system. It’s not centralization; it’s system thinking.

“If you say we want to behave like a system, then structure will drive function. We have to structure ourselves or restructure ourselves so we don’t behave like silos. For me the ‘aha’ was the structure was forcing us to behave like silos. It wasn’t the behavior. It was the structure.”

Encourage participation

Before you can unite people in a vision, you have to first recognize what is keeping them fragmented in the first place. McCorkle knew he needed to understand why and how his employees operated within their own constraints and rules to see where there was opportunity to connect them.

“The great challenge was having the discipline not to just come in and intuitively start doing things but to really go through a defined process involving both internal and external stakeholders to really architect the future of the organization, reaffirm its mission and redefine its vision for the future,” he says.

If your organization is made up of silos, you can’t just write a new rulebook that applies to everyone. As a new leader, you won’t know about all the various cause-and-effect relationships that exist within your organization unless you dig a little, which is why McCorkle decided to spend his first months as CEO seeking input from people who knew the ropes at AGHS, including employees, patients, community members and the board of directors.

“My goal for my first three months was really to listen and learn, to speak with as many people as possible and get their insights,” McCorkle says. “I believe that everyone is 100 percent in their point of view, but that point of view was shaped by where they sit in the organization. So I felt like I had all of these mosaic pieces and I needed to really carefully assemble them together to get an accurate snapshot of current reality as well as the aspirations, these different individuals, clinical leaders, management, trustees had for the future not only of our organization but the greater Akron community.”

To find out what his people think, McCorkle’s strategy has been simple: Ask them and they’ll tell you. And as a new leader, he says if you see something you don’t understand, ask why. There’s probably a good reason why it is the way it is.

Also, in order to get accurate information at the management level, it’s important to eliminate any feeling of organizational or management hierarchy that could inhibit or isolate some people from offering their input or giving honest information.

“I think every one of us in the organization has an important job to do,” McCorkle says. “We are privileged to be able to care for people at some of the most vulnerable times in their lives. Because we have different titles or a nerve chart, it doesn’t mean what I do is any more important than what you do. We’re a community of inspired people wanting to make a difference, and so I don’t believe that we should use the hierarchy of titles.

“I was convinced that our plan would have much more applicability and sustainability if we had that genuine involvement versus someone like myself who comes to work in a business suit saying, ‘This is the direction I think we should go in.’”

Give feedback

It’s important to encourage your employees to share their opinion, but if you want your culture to enable strategy, you also have to make sure employees and stakeholders feel like that contribution makes a difference. This means showing them that their ideas for improving the organization aren’t just heard, but considered and appreciated.

“If you go through a process where individuals can have input and you honor that input — you are upfront and say, ‘We may not be able to do or we may not think what you are suggesting is one of the critical things we need to concentrate on this year or the next three years, but we want your input’— then people generally will feel that they have ownership in the direction of the organization and they can buy into it,” McCorkle says.

His goal at AGHS has been to help every person feel connected to the larger goal of helping patients. He often tells people the story of a group of people who were touring Cape Kennedy at an off time. When they noticed someone sweeping the floor, one visitor asked, ‘But what are you doing here?’ The man sweeping replied, ‘I’m helping to put a man on the moon.’

“It’s that sense of greater purpose; you’re not being a bricklayer but building a cathedral, not being a technician but being a healer,” McCorkle says.

To show people they are part of the vision, you have to make that vision participative. Whether or not a team member’s idea seems actionable or actually pans out, it’s important to show that person that you aren’t just blowing it off. It’s better to tell someone, ‘This idea won’t work,’ then give no feedback at all or worse, say something negative. Just as respecting input is the key to promoting ideas, criticism is the quickest way to kill them.

One way McCorkle ensures he gets a reliable picture of where AGHS stands, positive and negative, is having guidelines for handling feedback. These guidelines ensure his people embrace even the most unpopular ideas with kindness and equitable consideration.

“I didn’t use this language, but essentially, here are the rules of engagement,” McCorkle says. “We want to assume that people always have good intentions, and even if they do something that you say, ‘Well, that was a wackadoodle move,’ you have to say, ‘I’m assuming they have good intentions.’ You do not attack or criticize the person, but you work to better understand their ideas or their behavior.

“I’ve asked many people I’ve met with, ‘If you see me doing something that makes you pause or I’m not doing something that you think I should be doing, would you please tell me, because that’s the only way that I can learn. I have had occasions where people have come in and said, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to want to hear this or not,’ but then they tell me and I thank them. There’s amnesty in that, and that builds trust, I think, when I’m open to that feedback and they are mutually open to that feedback.”

Still, even though a participative management style can help you motivate and unite your team, at the end of the day, you have to remember a collaborative culture is not a democracy.

“I really like a lot of participation,” McCorkle says. “I think it’s healthy for people to be able to disagree, but you can never abdicate your role and responsibilities as CEO of the organization. So you listen. You try to incorporate the best thinking, but then as Howard Sherman said, ‘The buck stops here.’ You have to make that decision. Hopefully, it’s always a well-informed decision and I would say directionally correct. Generally there is more than one way to do something, and when you have the clarity in terms of values, purpose and goals, those decisions usually will be directionally correct.”

Share as you go

Despite working in health care, McCorkle doesn’t believe in the saying “no news is good news.” Rather than being confined to his office as a CEO, he knows it’s important that the engagement and participation of his people is matched by his own willingness to share what he knows.

“I’m convinced that people love to handle good news, they can handle bad news, but it’s really hard to handle no news,” he says. “So [it was] giving feedback on my learnings as I was going, or maybe even saying, ‘This is what I sense. Could you please help me understand it from your perspective?’ There were many ‘ahas’ in that process.

“You might go into one group and you have a position leader and you might have someone that’s a secretary in the same group pulling oars in the same direction. I also believe it’s important not to hunker down in the CEO’s office, but to get out in the organization — talk to people. I try to allow time in my schedule when I do that rounding that I can stop and engage in discussion, see how people are doing, because it’s those personal relationships that I know are critical to forming the culture of the organization.”

As the head of the organization, you have a bird’s eye view of how different areas and teams operate. So the more you learn about what makes each these areas unique, the more you can find ways to bring out their commonalties. Building a two-way dialogue between you and your team can help you identify commonalities and partnership opportunities together that you wouldn’t see just sitting behind a desk. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll be able to connect people in a plan that suits the organization’s best interests.

“I think every day you can look back and say, ‘What did I learn from that?’” McCorkle says. “And it brings fruit to bear. So if I’m working with a group of talented people I might say, ‘Let me share some scar tissue with you. This is something I’ve learned and you may want to consider it as you are forging and architecting this plan.’ That’s maybe something I can bring to the table given my tenure in health care. But there are many ways to accomplish the goal. It’s not Vince’s way that’s important.

“I believe that it is through relationships that we all reach our fullest potential. I am committed to lifelong learning. You can’t have an attitude that because you have a title and a role, you know everything. It’s really valuing people and walking the talk in terms of authentically letting them see you value them and value their insights. It tends to be very, very energizing for me and I think very energizing for the people serving in the organization.”

How to reach: Akron General Health System, (330) 344-6000 or www.akrongeneral.org

The McCorkle File

Vince McCorkle

CEO

Akron General Health System

Born: Wilmington, Del.

Education: Bachelor of arts degree, St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia; MBA and master of health and medical service administration, Widener University in Chester, Pa.

McCorkle on making mistakes: If I make a mistake, I think it’s inherently important that I say, ‘I made that decision, and if I had to do it over again, I would make a different decision because X, Y or Z. They always say hindsight’s 20/20 and maybe my rationale for making that decision then was because of X, Y or Z, and either we couldn’t foresee this or I should have done more homework.’ People will respond to that … because we’re human, and we’re not perfect and we’re going to make mistakes. Try to minimize them and move forward. I had a meeting just yesterday with a major consulting firm, and they were coming in and they had made a mistake, and they were there to apologize and, quite frankly, hopefully not lose the account. I had to stop and say, ‘OK, thank you, but let’s not look backward. Time is too important. We’re going to concentrate on the future.’ And they said thank you, and they were immediately energized. I think rather than play defense, they are going to move rapidly forward and help us.

On setting goals: You have to set bodacious goals to say this is where we aspire to be. If we don’t set those bodacious goals, we have no chance of getting to them. If we make a step backward or we make a mistake, it’s not to finger point and assign blame, but to say, ‘What can we glean from this as learnings and how can we minimize the chance that this is going to happen again?’ It’s in that spirit, we’re all in this together. We’re a team and we’re looking to improve having personal mastery but also mastery in terms of the clinical and total system of care that we provide to patients and their families.

Eileen Gittins knew creating an online book publishing business meant she wouldn’t have physical stores where she could her meet customers face to face. And yet, she’s found other ways to reach out, from sponsoring international events to opening temporary pop-up stores in London and New York.

“Without having permanent retail locations, when you are an online brand like this whose product makes physical things, how do you get out there in the physical world?” says Gittins, founder, president and CEO of Blurb Inc.

And by answering the desire of digital consumers for shared, interactive experiences, she’s grown Blurb to $45 million in revenue in five short years.

Smart Business spoke with Gittins about how to build relationships with consumers as an online brand.

Focus on your customer. You are just uncommonly focused on the people, on your sweet spot. And just staying ahead of that is the way that you continue to become the one that matters.

For us, it’s the creative enthusiast and the creative professional markets. So we’re explicitly not focused on what others call the ‘chief memory officer,’ the mom at home who’s got 40 minutes to whip something out before the baby wakes up. That’s not our market. Our market is people who are creative at some level and who are really enthusiastic about their photography, their design — whatever it is, they’re into it — all the way up through creative professionals. When you focus your efforts like that, it becomes possible to stay ahead of the curve because you’re not spread too thin.

Build an experience. Instead of looking at this challenge as: We print books, so that’s the business you’re in, we said, ‘No, no, no.’ What this is about is experiences increasingly for people who are digital natives and they want an experience of making the book that frankly helps them relive the content, whatever it was — their trip to Jamaica, their family reunion, a recipe book, when they had that fabulous meal for Christmas every year when they were a kid.

We knew if we built an experience, where the experience of making the book was frankly as fun and rewarding as getting the book, then this would be the kind of product that people would talk about and it would get its own viral adoption.

Create opportunities to connect. Every year we have a big, worldwide competition called ‘Photography Book Now.’ It invites people all over the world at all levels of skill to submit their books in different categories. And it’s not just a competition online. … Last year we had meet-ups in 11 cities all over the world, so that there are opportunities for people to come and meet us and frankly for us to talk to folks who are customers or would be customers about their experience.

They feel a personal connection to this brand, and I think it’s because we enable them to do something that makes them look better than they ever thought.

This last year we had almost 40 percent of the entries from outside of the United States, which is why we go to Paris and Berlin and London and New York and L.A., Toronto, just all over the place in these meetups. So that’s a huge part of our approach to the markets. We joke here — but it’s not a joke — that offline is the new online for Blurb. Our books are physical, tangible things, and people want to meet up in physical space and check each other’s books out, look at books, hold books — hold them in their hands.

Share your passion. I joke that my title should really be chief storyteller not chief executive officer, because that’s how I manage and lead is through stories, great stories that help people understand why things matter, instead of just the data telling them why things matter. When there’s an emotional component to that, it’s memorable and actionable.

The first thing that we look at in terms of hiring people is passion … and the reason for that is if you are passionate about something, anything, whether it’s skydiving or making cupcakes, then you are going to have a lot of empathy for our customers, who are extremely passionate about the thing that they are making. You get it. You just get it. So that’s like music is to you. That’s like skydiving is to you. This is somebody’s passion.

How to reach: Blurb Inc., www.blurb.com

Barry Shevlin spends a lot of time talking to customers to find out what they like and don’t like about his business. It was in one of these discussions that Shevlin confirmed his longtime suspicions that his company’s name, Network Liquidators, was costing him business.

“They said, ‘We just weren’t comfortable buying new equipment from a liquidator,” says Shevlin, founder and CEO of Oldsmar-based Vology Data Systems.

After losing several deals because of branding, Shevlin realized that as distributor of new and pre-owned telecommunications equipment, the company needed to eliminate the negative label of “liquidator” and find a new name that could help it excel with more IT services.

Smart Business spoke with Shevlin about the keys to rebranding and how it’s benefited the $72 million business.

Obtain outside help. We made the decision in October 2009 and we really didn’t know how to go about that, so we hired a firm to help us. … They helped us go through a process to help us come up with a new name, Vology.

If we’d tried to go about doing the name change ourselves, it would have had a very different outcome. I think the smartest thing we did as part of the process was engage Schifino Lee to help us, because they do that for a living. We sell hardware for a living or IT products and services for a living. We’re not experts on naming and branding. So getting to someone who knows more about that than you do was definitely the right move for us.

Be open-minded. Their initial list was hundreds. They gave us a final list of nine; Vology was one of nine. They [Schifino Lee] recommended it and our initial reaction was, ‘Well, let’s keep going.’

The first time they presented it to us, it just didn’t feel right, but it turned out to have one characteristic that was very interesting. The name grew on every one of us over the subsequent week. That apparently is the trait of a really good name.

Build enthusiasm. A lot of people were partial to the old name; that’s what they knew us as. Now 100 percent of the people here recognize it was the right decision, but that wasn’t the case day one.

The idea was to get the employees involved in the process a little bit. So we told our employees about six weeks before we told our customers, and we kind of made a big deal about it. Every week we gave them an idea of what we were doing. We unveiled the name one week and the logo the next week and tried to build some excitement up around it.

Communicate change to customers. The customer piece is something we’re still struggling with. There are still some people who know us as Network Liquidators and haven’t adopted the name change yet, but it’s only been a year. Over time, I’m sure we’ll get through that.

[It’s] just constant communication. Right now, we talk to 50,000 customers a month and so [we are] making sure that’s part of every conversation; part of every e-mail is helping to drive the Vology brand as opposed to the Network Liquidators brand.

Embrace improvement. I met with a VP of IT from one of our largest customers about a year ago and they were looking for a vendor to help to do some monitoring and management of the network. His comment to me was, ‘There’s no way I would have brought a proposal from a company called Network Liquidators to our management team.’… So now it opens the door for those opportunities with existing customers, who’ve been part of our evolution.

It goes back to having a continuous improvement philosophy is the best way to go. We kind of look at ourselves and say, ‘We made the decision more than a year ago, and we haven’t revisited it on why we made that decision. It’s probably time to take a look at it again.’ And that results in an awful lot of change, but our culture embraces change, so that’s not something we’re afraid of. I would recommend that approach.

It’s fighting complacency. A lot of people think people are happy with the status quo, and you want to show them ways that it can always be better. That’s what continuous improvement is all about.

How to reach: Vology Data Systems, (888) 486-5649 or www.vds.com

Eighty percent of Court McGuire’s communication with clients is done either through Facebook or texting.

“Our clients kind of know how we communicate, because it’s not like it’s the fax, the typical phone call, the typical e-mail,” says McQuire, president of Boca Raton-based Green Advertising. “Nowadays it’s a text. It’s a Facebook message or it’s a privatized YouTube channel.”

By keeping Green Advertising on the pulse of the new media and marketing initiatives that resonate with today’s consumers, McQuire and Green’s founder and chairman, Phyllis Green, have both kept the firm relevant as well as grown the business to $42.5 million in revenue in 2010.

Smart Business spoke with Green and McGuire about how new media has changed the advertising industry and how it’s changing brand communication.

What are the advantages of advertising in today’s media environment?

McQuire: What’s happening is that interactive or online or social media has a new layer to it that traditional advertising and broadcast never had. It doesn’t play a passive role. It has to play as a participant.

To reach your very specific consumer will be a little bit more homework and a little bit more challenging, but the good news is you can do it better and more effectively and find out what kind of analytics and performance tracking we have in their consumption of that media.

Interactive has a very unique thing. It levels the playing field. So if you’re Joe Shmoe with a concept and a business or you’re a multimillion-dollar New York Madison Avenue company, you can compete head to head with paid search, with the big dogs.

What’s on the horizon for brand communication?

Green: Our clients used to say, ‘Oh we need a brochure.’ Now we’re telling them, ‘No, you don’t need a brochure. You need a video.’ That’s how people are consuming content. They are reading it less. They want to see it. They want to understand it better.

McQuire: Video in social media is huge. A lot of people just think, ‘Oh, it’s my status on Facebook,’ but people are so interested in videos that make them laugh or think or educate them. … We bust our butt on lots of video content, because that’s what’s really emerging as the best return on investment for brand communication.

What is the key to a successful online media strategy?

McQuire: It’s performance tracking. If you are doing interactive and you’re doing social media, and if you are even doing broadcast, you have to be able to performance track your media. Years ago it was much more difficult to do, but with the online component you know where [customers] are coming from, when they’re interested in buying, who they are, where they are located.

Court McQuire, president, Green Advertising

Should companies try a social media strategy on their own?

McQuire: It doesn’t take one person. It really takes a team. … Often I have that problem where it’s, ‘Eh, we don’t want to pay a social media retainer. We’re fine with just these fees for broadcast.’ And we have to say, ‘Well look, you’re going to create an orphan to your brand. We need to know that mommy and all of her kids have the same message and the same mission.’ So we really have to convince them that to take on social media, ‘Yes, we can make it affordable for you, but no, you can’t do it as well as we can.’

What advice would you give clients and firms in regards to advertising today?

McQuire: They have to embrace new media, emerging media. They have to embrace interactive advertising. They have to be very open to the idea that there’s not just one way to reach my market. Now there are many ways and I need to spend some time and understand it.

Green: The market tells you what’s happening and the economy tells you and clients tell you, and you have to be a good listener — keep your ear to the ground...In today’s competition, our vision is ‘We’re only as good as we are today.’ And everyone here has bought into that.

How to reach: Green Advertising, (561) 989-9550 or www.greenad.com

Jon Yob’s company is filled with talented, capable people. Yet when building a team, he looks for more out of his employees than just, ‘Do they have the right skill set?’

“[It’s] a passion for what we do and a commitment to the company and the ability to be a strong team player, because ultimately you can have the best A player, but if they won’t work as a team, you’re not going to meet your objectives,” says Yob, founder, president and CEO of Tampa-based Creative Recycling Systems Inc.

It’s through strong teamwork that Yob and his 237 employees have grown the company in the midst of a global financial crisis.

Smart Business spoke with Yob about how he fosters a culture of teamwork.

Give people time to fit in. We have a culture where people really like each other … but it’s a process to bring them on board and it’s a very important time; they have to understand and see that this is maybe a little bit different culture than what they were used to. Physically, within six months, you’ve got a pretty good sense, and maybe sooner.

There’s a certain amount that they have to take the initiative for themselves and they have to really care and commit themselves to really doing an excellent job for the company. It’s just a process of bringing them on board and being fair to them, because the first period of time is a significant adjustment.

Be clear about people’s roles. With my employees I’m very forthright. I do not try to sugarcoat because they expect from me what I really think. I think [2008] was a time of uncertainty, and we did not know necessarily all of the issues we would deal with as a result of the financial crisis. What I did know is that we were in a very good position and that with a plan for incremental growth we would be fine.

These people are looking for someone to help them understand where it is going, and that, to me, is the critical role of the leader ? it’s for people to have a sense that ‘I don’t know everything that’s going on, but I believe in the leadership and I’m going to do what I need to do as my part of it, because I believe that we’re going to do what leadership is telling us we can do.’ That tie in is critical for every organization.

Show you care. Any leader in any organization faces challenges in regard to building their team and really making sure that you value and you care for your employees. Those are very important things ? that you are genuine, that you care. People see that. When you care about people, you’re going to get one level of return back to you. You’re going to get one level of dedication. If you cannot care, you will not get it.

I believe that my team really gets it done, and I can’t say enough about how good they are. They are a great group of people, but I think it takes a leadership, and that leadership should really excite, a passion and the sense of what we are capable of accomplishing – they truly believe in that.

Look for team players. I’ve seen people who maybe work better as loners, and that’s OK in maybe some aspects of business, but when it comes to your core team, you really need good team players. And it’s really more about the character and the ability to work as a team really than it is if you have all A-plus people. That’s my opinion. Those are the ones that stick with you, that are loyal.

To me, I know that I have total confidence in my team. Part of that is because we’ve worked together for so long … I think for me what it has really done is allowed me to be the leader and spend a lot more time on the overall plan and on innovation and interacting with people who can really help the company go to the next several levels.

HOW TO REACH: Creative Recycling Systems Inc., (813) 621-2319 or www.crserecycling.com

It used to take a lot of work for Don Ascione and his sales team to secure new business for his $15 million distribution companies, Continental Steel & Tube Co. and its subsidiary Continental Chemical USA.

“We were calling people up and soliciting their business, trying to find out … who would be buying titanium? – OK aerospace,” says Ascione, president and founder of the Fort Lauderdale-based companies. “Then we’d have to go find all the aerospace companies and say, ‘OK, Boeing, and try to find a buyer in Boeing, and get them to talk to you. It’s daunting.”

Ascione saw he could no longer rely on print advertising to generate leads as more and more buyers of industrial products moved online.

“People get impatient and you are talking to them on the phone and they want to see a picture of something – they’ll send you an e-mail and if it’s not there in 30 seconds they’ll say, ‘Where is it?’… The world has changed to instant gratification,” he says. “There is no waiting anymore.

“We looked at it and said, ‘OK, we’re not going to do print anymore,’ and decided to put all of our eggs in the Internet basket.”

Ascione’s online strategy was to make Continental’s online presence more credible but also more accessible to potential buyers. Without print, the Internet would be his sole sales channel.

With the help of long-time sales partner ThomasNet, Ascione approved a complete website redesign for both Continental businesses, updating the sites’ capabilities to include online product catalogs, SEO-driven language, e-commerce shopping carts and user friendly search functions. Each also developed a web presence on ThomasNet’s online distribution portal.

By utilizing the web effectively to showcase its strengths, a smaller company, such as Continental, built a niche for its specialty products.

“It provides an avenue for people to find us and to know what we do and what we are capable of providing,” Ascione says. “We have always been exporting for a long time, but our Internet strategy has allowed people in other countries to find us.

“It sets us in our niche products so that we can compete with the big guys. We’ve developed a relationship with our sources [so] that when somebody wants those particular items, we can be competitive that we can get the delivery. We can satisfy the end users’ requirements. We know that our price and delivery is going to be just as good as a Ryerson, or an EMJ or Alliance or any one of these billion-dollar companies.”

It also brings the customers to you.

“With the strategy that we have now, what happens is people call us,” Ascione says. “When they call us we’re in a better position. They found us and they’re looking for us to provide something for them. So they are receptive when we call back, when we respond back to them. When they do, we actually put a markup on it and try to make a profit.”

As more customers make purchases through your site, you can use web tracking to monitor which products are most popular with which customers, making changes to your online strategy as customer demands change.

“We’re updating on a regular basis our catalog and our content on our website. … As we develop more sources and better sources, and we have more information, we evaluate what kind of information we are able to provide to the customer and what they want,” Ascione says.

“We want customers to come to our site and find useful information and help them achieve their job and to make them and their company profitable. That will help us become profitable because they’ll find value in what we do.”

How to reach: Continental Steel & Tube Co., (954) 332-2290 or www.continentalsteel.com

What some business leaders might consider risks, Amanda Huntington sees as opportunities. She knows that to position her company for long-term growth and success, she’ll sometimes have to make decisions that, short term, seem rather daunting.

“Probably the biggest challenge that we’ve had is really being faced with decisions that weren’t always simple decisions. They would have put us in a position or they did put us in a position where we might have had to lose market share in the short term or spend money that we didn’t really want to spend at the time to make those decisions, but it was because we knew that in the long-haul they would be the right things for us,” says Huntington, co-founder and CFO of  IntegraClick LLC. “They would give us the longevity that we were looking for, and it was the right thing to do for our publishers or for our advertisers and for the people we serve and work with every single day.”

Business decisions are rarely black and white, but the key to setting your company up for growth and market competitiveness is knowing how and when to make the tough calls or take calculated risks that will better your business. It’s by making these decisions that Huntington and her business partner, John Lemp, have built IntegraClick and its operating cost-per-action (CPA) network, Clickbooth LLC, from a start-up in 2002 into a thriving online marketing solutions business, topping multiple lists as one of Tampa’s fastest growing companies and generating 2010 revenues of $120 million.

However, before you make any big decision affecting your business, you first need evidence to back it up.

Build a case

There’s a big difference between being a risk-taker with your business and just making risky decisions. To determine where there is potential to improve your business you have to keep a constant watch on changes, trends and issues affecting your industry.

“We spend a great deal of time trying to keep our finger on the pulse of the industry and looking at ‘What have we heard? What are publishers talking about? What’s the next thing coming down the pipeline?’” Huntington says. “But also, ‘What are our competitors doing that maybe we could do better? How can they challenge us?’… It gives us a great ability to better ourselves all the time, because the competition is pretty fierce.”

For example, several years ago Huntington and Lemp noticed a certain type of incentivized marketing being used was making some advertisers unhappy. After looking into the issue further, they realized it was also losing them some clients and volume by not converting well to customers.

“We would talk regularly and it keeps coming up,” Huntington says. “Every month from an accounting side, I can see that clients didn’t like having to pay for the traffic, weren’t happy with the quality etc. … It just became sort of an obvious thing.”

Often when she’s facing a major decision affecting the company, Huntington brings in her top people from key departments to think through the issue from all sides.

“We’re trying to really integrate all of the relevant parties into the bigger decisions, because they’ve been here a long time,” she says. “They’ve escalated to these positions that they are in. They know how things work. They know the industry better than most, so I want their opinion, and at the same time, I want them to know mine so we can come together on the best thing for the network as whole.

“If it’s a marketing-related issue, I’m going to bring in the heads of the marketing team and John and say, ‘OK, tell me what you know, because I want to get this from all angles. What are the possible rewards that this could bring us?’ I may be able to say, ‘Here are some of the concerns I have, but tell me more about what you think of this long term.’”

When considering how to move your company forward, it’s important to understand the risks and rewards of making a change, but also the consequences of doing nothing. Huntington says she always weighs the long-term benefit over the short-term setback when making a tough decision. In the case of incentivized marketing, the benefit of eliminating the marketing type at IntegraClick seemed to outweigh the setback of losing a few clients.

“We did some homework and we looked at how much it was going to affect us or what we thought it would affect,” Huntington says. “We felt like we could come through it, because it would probably be a fairly short-term issue.

Adapt proactively

Being among the first companies to make a change seems scary when you’re thinking about how it can impact your revenue, customers and growth. But you can’t simply wait for change to happen; you have to drive it yourself.

“The industry is constantly evolving,” Huntington says. “So what we might have been accepting of in 2004, we’ve realized that’s not a good long-term plan now.”

Though there’s nothing wrong with conservative thinking, simply going with the status quo can be the biggest risk of all, because if you wait too long to adapt your business as needed, especially in a competitive industry, you’ll be left behind.

“We try very hard to proactively look at what our customers need,” Huntington says. “Where are the holes that need to be filled? Of those holes, can we fill all of those? And if we can’t, what is the one thing that we can do most successfully, or the two things that we are going to be the best at?

“That’s the reason we’ve been successful, there’s always been that push. In order to survive in this industry, and what’s really kept us going, is the ability to adapt. I think that’s something any new business needs to recognize and not be afraid of. It’s recognizing that there can be room for improvement, learning from mistakes, adapting and not letting yourself get buried by the fact that maybe you can’t, or you don’t want to or that it’s a scary thing.”

Once you’ve discovered an area where your business can be better, whether it’s in customer service, employee relations, best practices or processes, you’ve got to be willing to take the steps necessary to act when action is needed, even if it means doing it alone. It’s by adapting proactively that companies set the pace for their competition and become industry leaders.

After Huntington and Lemp saw that customers were increasingly unhappy with the incentivized marketing, they didn’t wait for their peers to take action, they went ahead and eliminated it from IntegraClick’s network completely.

“We were the first network to go out and say, ‘We’re going to stop this,” Huntington says. “We don’t want to be involved with this type of marketing anymore. It’s just not a long-term success plan for any of our clients. They are not happy with it. Even though it lost us a significant chunk of our revenue at the time, all the other networks followed suit within a year. As a whole, it’s just not even on the map anymore as a marketing type. It’s really cleaned up and improved the industry.

“While it did hurt for a little while, it actually gave other advertisers and our current advertisers a little more faith in using our network versus another one that still allowed it, because they knew that the quality they would get from us was going to be significantly better. So in the long term, it brought us additional volume and made up for that short-term lag.”

However, change can’t just be a reaction to something that’s wrong. Even successful business models can become stagnant and obsolete if they aren’t set up for continuous improvement.

“Within the company we always train for that: ‘If this isn’t working, what else can we do?’” Huntington says. “Be creative. Find those alternatives so that you are never having to shut a door or close out a client. If we can make it work, we will.

Stick to your guns

Sometimes a good long-term business decision carries some short-term hardship, and as your company experiences a negative effect on profits, client retention and so on, you may start to question if you made the right choice. Yet by doubling back on a tough decision, you risk losing even more, such as the trust and confidence of your employees and customers as well as credibility. If you can’t trust in your own decision-making, how will others?

That’s why it’s extremely important to research and be clear about the consequences of a decision upfront, so once you’ve looked at the evidence and weighed the risk, you can commit to the decision either way, 100 percent.

“If we make a change, we just really stick by it,” Huntington says. “We go out there with a firm stance and do a press release. We push forward as a team and as a unit. Everyone is on board and anybody who wants to come back to us or wants to work with us will have to abide by the new policy.”

For instance, when Huntington and Lemp recognized the lack of compliance standards in CPA advertising, they ultimately decided to release their own compliance guidelines for IntegraClick clients. Though the partners knew none of their competitors had compliance guidelines, they confidently enforced the new guidelines strictly with every client, no exceptions. Those clients that didn’t or couldn’t comply were no longer in the network.

“When we changed over to the next compliance standards, everyone pretty much told us we were crazy,” Huntington says.

“We did lose clients, who just may have been in the pipeline already just getting something going, and they didn’t want to have to make the changes and someone else would pick them up without those changes.”

It’s not easy to take risks when you know full well it’s going to cost you a client or a chunk of revenue, but if you’ve done your research, you’ll take comfort in knowing that the decision is the best one for your business in the end.

“That’s one of those decisions where it’s not an easy decision, but you know you have to do it because at the end of the day, you want to be around,” Huntington says. “When some of those other competitors might take the traffic, you might lose the market share to them, but they may not be around.

“We released those compliance guidelines, and anybody that came into the network had to stick with them. That’s just an example of the difference between us and some of our competitors. We make those proactive changes and it’s to be able to better our network for our advertisers. We are known throughout the industry as the network with the best quality, because we have done those things proactively to try and reduce any fraud that might happen, keeping any sort of garbage out of the network.

“I absolutely feel that we’ve found our direction and we’ve been able to rise to the top of the network market because of the way we’ve handled so many of these situations. …We’re still changing. We’re still adapting. We’re always trying to better our network.”

HOW TO REACH: IntegraClick LLC, (941) 584-6543 or www.integraclick.com

The Huntington File

Amanda Huntington

Co-founder and CFO

IntegraClick LLC and Clickbooth LLC

Born: Glens Falls, N.Y.

Education: State University of New York at Geneseo

What do you like most about your job?

I love everything. It’s kind of hard to pinpoint because I’ve been here from the beginning. It’s amazing to actually see what this has become. Going from an apartment and working out of an apartment when we first got going to be able to look at all this. … I feel a lot of pride just because I’m proud of the people who have come on board and actually helped build this, all the people that have been with us for a long time, all of our executives that have risen to their positions. For me, it’s kind of watching this grow up. That’s really the most rewarding part of this job.

What is your definition of success?

Success is being true to yourself, and being happy with that at the end of the day. I also think the most successful people are probably very tired, because my most successful moments are usually the culmination of a great deal of hard work and many hours spent, whether I'm working to implement a new process at the office or putting together a family dinner, when it's all said and done well and as I planned, I sleep the most soundly. ... It’s never defined by money or a job title, but by whether you can look at yourself in the mirror when you are alone or in a quiet moment, and feel happy with who you are and the effort you give to whatever you do every day.

Jay Chaudhry knows from experience that there are many considerations involved with bringing a new product or service to market. How you handle matters such as timing can be the difference between success and failure.

“That’s the toughest thing,” says Chaudhry, founder and CEO of Zscaler Inc. “If we had a crystal ball to figure that out, we’d be off doing very good.”

Though he doesn’t have a crystal ball, Chaudhry has managed to grow Zscaler – his sixth company ?  from a startup cloud security provider to 120 employees in four short years. Yet, timing is just one obstacle in capitalizing on new market opportunity.

Smart Business spoke with Chaudhry about how business leaders can set their companies up for growth in new markets by overcoming these initial challenges.

Strike before the iron is hot.

The most important thing I look for in a new opportunity is: ‘Is the timing right?’ The right timing and the right area are the most important stops. Many times people start too early. It’s a little market. It never evolves and that’s tough. Then they get stuck and are swimming upstream. But that’s few. I think the majority of people end up entering in the market that’s too late. They are already in Times Squares with the product. If you enter a market when the market is already that hot, by the time you are able to deliver a reasonable product, it’s a little bit too late. If you look at all the products I’ve done … I look for a new market opportunity. The market is still not there, but feels like it’s going to happen in the next 12 to 24 months.

Go with your gut.

If we are too early in a new market, we could be starving because the market doesn’t take off. If we are a little too late, then it becomes a ‘me too.’ So first, I do my homework. I work in adjacent markets quite often and not in totally different markets, so there’s a feel for the markets … I’d not be accurate if I told you its all spreadsheet driven numbers and that stuff. It’s not.

Is there an easy way to quantify timing? Not really. A lot of gut feel goes into it. I need to listen from the market and from the customers, what and how they take it. But at the same time, I also keep in mind [the] saying, ‘Don’t listen to your customers; otherwise, you’ll never innovate.’

Don’t fear mistakes.

We push people to push the envelope and try to new things and make mistakes. I often say if you don’t make any mistakes, you are playing too safe. If you are playing too safe, you are never going to achieve anything significant.

We are the only company that doesn’t require any hardware and software. It’s because we gave people enough time and freedom, and didn’t really kill any of the ideas to say this is no good. In the process, I realized that some of these things may not work, but that’s part of trying and learning new stuff. You don’t want to kill those ideas up front as if you know the answer, because you don’t.

Look ahead, and behind

There’s a cost or there’s a benefit of getting ahead of the market and becoming significantly large. If you throw too much money and add too many people, are you creating indigestion?  Because it’s not just hiring. How do you really get those people trained to become productive members of the company? If you are a little slow, you’re behind, your sale got ahead, your support function is behind, your other stuff is behind, then your customers suffer. So it’s constantly watching and monitoring and adjusting to make sure you’re putting enough resources in investments.

We’re pretty pleased with where we are, but we’re executing the way [businessman] Andrew Grove said, ‘Only the paranoid will survive.’ As confident, comfortable and less paranoid it makes you it as a leader … they are shooting at you from behind. How do increase the gap between you and the second party out there so they can’t shoot at you, so you are out of the shooting range?

How to reach: Zscaler Inc., (408) 533-0288 or www.zscaler.com

Dan Benning gets that fitness is hard. That’s why, when he took over as president of 24 Hour Fitness’ North Division in 2007, he wanted to help his company make it even easier.

While 24 Hour Fitness’ mission of “easy and accessible fitness” was simple, Benning saw that it wasn’t always translating into the fitness experience of customers and employees.

Potential customers and fitness club members often had to jump through hoops to find, join and use the facilities. His noticed some of the 10,000 employees at the clubs struggled with a lack of leadership and were either scrambling to solve problems for customers or passing off responsibility with little accountability. To grow the company,  he wanted to take the mission and really put it to work at his 200 clubs.

“From a vision, it’s not really complicated,” says Benning. “It’s ‘Fitness is hard enough. Let’s make it easy for people coming into fitness to make it easy to join and make it easy once they have joined; once they have joined, make it easy for them to use our clubs, and then for our team members, make it easy to run so they can spend time with our members and their team members.’”

Simplify the sale

The first problem was, when it came to buying gym memberships, consumers were conditioned from past experience to anticipate a hard sell, run-around pricing games and an overall negative experience. Making fitness easier and more accessible started with changing the negative perceptions consumers had about fitness clubs in general.

“They hated the sales process,” Benning says. “They hated it because it was a lot like a timeshare. It was a lot like buying a used car 20 years ago.”

Because much of customer’s alienation stemmed from the pricing games involved with buying a membership, Benning decided to getting rid of price negotiation completely. The clubs would offer one fixed membership price for everyone.

“Buying a gym membership five years ago – and even today with most of our competitors – is not a pleasant experience … We’re very focused that from a pricing standpoint, you know what the price is,” he says. “There is no high-low, ‘Let me go talk to the manager’ type stuff. We think we offer a great value. We go out with that great value and we give that to the consumer.”

If you don’t have transparency in the information you give customers, it’s hard for them to trust that they’re getting a fair deal. So Benning also spearheaded improvements to the 24 Hour Fitness USA Inc. website to include actual membership prices and better information about club locations. The company also became the first fitness club to let consumers sign up for membership online or by using a mobile phone.

Making these kinds of customer-centric improvement in the sales process benefits customers as well as employees. When customers are armed with more knowledge upfront, they are more empowered coming into the sale. They can spend less time weeding through information and more time getting answers to their questions. Pricing transparency also takes pressure off employees to sell, so they can really focus on helping customers, who are again, more receptive to the information they’re receiving in the first place.

In other words, when you make it easier for customers to buy your product, you make it easier to sell.

“The makeup of our sales force – it’s not about the art of the sell – it’s about interacting with friendly people who are in tune and focused on helping you achieve your fitness goals versus what’s in it for them,” Benning says.

“[It’s] taking away those barriers so that the consumer that already has enough trepidation about walking through the door…and take what the consumer is expecting, which is a high-pressure sale, and turning that into a ‘Here’s how we can help you,’ and introducing them to the folks in our clubs, and showing them all the things that they are going to be able to do to help them achieve their goals. That’s been a difference-maker for us.”

Listen to your customers

Making the customer experience easier starts with the sales process, but once customers buy your product or service, it’s the experience they have after that that determines the reputation and success of your business.

To find out how to improve the customer experience – making the clubs easier and more convenient for members to use – Benning decided to go straight to the source.

In addition to using customer surveys, 24 Hour Fitness became the first company in its industry to start measuring customer satisfaction scores through J.D. Power and Associates. Benning and his senior managers also dedicate most of their time to visiting clubs in person to get feedback from employees and members.

“The difference between today and four years ago in our clubs – there’s a significant difference in the way that we’re focused on the member experience,” Benning says.

He says the answers to a more successful company can be found in the clubs by talking to employees and customers.

“That’s where we find out what we’re doing that’s working and what we’re doing that’s not working. Some folks have the principle of you call the plays as the officer from the tower and you hope it gets run. We believe that you find the answers out in the clubs, you make some decisions and then you spend time with your team members and your customers, listening to their questions, concerns, getting them to understand why you’ve made changes. You’ll often find that you’ll tweak what you do based upon members’ and team members’ feedback.”

When it comes to making changes to improve your business for customers and employees, Benning quotes Will Ferrell’s fictional race car driver, Ricky Bobby in saying, ‘If you’re not first, you’re last.’

“As soon as you start waiting for someone else to do something, you’re going to lose,” he says. “That’s in everything. That’s in business. That’s what’s going on in your office or your club today. Don’t wait for someone else to talk to that member. Don’t wait for some other company to beat you to the punch because you’re worried about will it work or not. It’s ‘Figure it out, involve a bunch of people and be first, because if you’re not first, you’re last.’”

For example, when club feedback indicated that members found it a hassle to carry membership entry cards, 24 Hour Fitness implemented cardless check-in using fingerprint IDs. As the first fitness chain to do so, it has already enrolled around 2.5 million members in the program.

“Our members love it,” Benning says. “Our team members love it because it allows them to focus on the member versus the actual card checking experience. So the actual interaction of team members with our members has gone up based upon that process.”

The more opportunities you have to get customer feedback, the more data you have to use for continuous improvement.

“Our members know that if there is something going on that they really like, they’ll serve it up,” Benning says. “If there’s something going on that they don’t like, they’ll serve it up and we’re quick to act on what those are. We have ways for the consumer to communicate with us if they have an issue, and that is whether they just want to recognize a team member in a club or whether they want to say ‘Hey, this is going on in this club and I don’t like it.’ We have it built so that the consumer can do that via the phone. They can do that through our website. And as it relates to how we react to that – there’s all a mechanism around that that makes sure the consumer’s issue is handled, good or bad.”

Empower your team

Because most of the clubs are open 24 hours, keeping the clubs clean, equipment working and customers satisfied is an around-the-clock job for 24 Hour Fitness employees. Benning recognized that the new vision couldn’t just apply to customers; he needed to make fitness easier for employees too.

“I’m a big believer if you make our clubs easier to run for our team members, they can spend more time with their team members and with their members versus trying to figure stuff out. We’ve taken a lot of the junk out of running the clubs and work hard to make it easier through systems, processes and technology, so that our team members can do what we want them to do, which is serve those who serve our members and serve their members,” Benning says.

For instance, having different leaders in different parts of the club was confusing because it fostered a pass-the-buck mentality among employees in aligning goals and handing issues. So Benning first added one leader in each club to have final say and authority over decisions.

Secondly, he increased opportunities for employees to learn about the organization, implementing new programs such as 24 Hour Fitness University and management interest days to show employees potential career paths, and increase internal transparency about how the company operates.

“Transparency is sort of a cornerstone to trust,” Benning says. “We do everything in our power to make sure our team understands what our vision is, where we are trying to take the organization, what role we play in it, and if they want to play a bigger role, to have an opportunity to do that.”

Building that trust is the key to getting honest feedback from employees. The value in connecting with your employees on a personal level doesn’t just come from sharing your vision firsthand, but  opening up communication so you can find out what they need and provide them with the resources and support need to be successful.

“What people forget is when you’re 20 years old and you see the president, or regional vice president, or division president, or CEO or whoever walks into their store, there’s a lot of scary mystery associated with that person … and that gets in the way of creating a great experience for our team members,” Benning says. “I spend a lot of time connecting with team members, getting to know them, getting them to understand that I’m a real person, and I need their help and that they’re important.

“Sometimes people look at that as taboo, that you shouldn’t get to know people past a business standpoint. I think that’s a bunch of malarkey. I believe that the more connected you are to your team, the better off that you’ll be.”

Not surprisingly, as the company’s employee engagement scores have improved, its J.D. Power customer satisfaction scores have also gone up. In spite of a recession, Benning has led 24 Hour Fitness to grow in workouts, improve in membership and consistently increase its satisfaction scores of members and team members, even achieving an A-plus rating from the Better Business Bureau.

“We are the first club chain to achieve that rating,” he says. “We’re proud of it. Our team members are proud of it, and it goes back to if you focus on the consumer, you focus on your team members and you have a simple strategy to deliver on your service promise, great things can happen.

“You have to have a plan. You’ve got to share it, and you’ve got to share it a lot. And you do that in lots of different ways. You do that in big meetings. You do that in town hall forums. You do it in small team meetings. You do it on phone calls. You do it in your written communication, but that communication of what you are trying to do is clear. Whatever you communicate, tie it back to what your vision and plan is so people understand that it’s not a poster on the wall, but it’s the way that you operate.”

How to reach: 24 Hour Fitness, (800) 224-0240, www.24hourfitness.com

The Benning File

Dan Benning

North division president

24 Hour Fitness USA Inc.

Born: Des Plaines, Ill.

What was your first job?

I’m a high school graduate. My dad died when I was a junior in high school and my brother was in college, so I worked through high school and then after high school to help put my brother through college. At the same time, I figured I’d get him through college and then I would go to school. The circumstances came where I had the opportunity to be a police officer, but I decided, based upon my grandmother not wanting me to go do that … I started selling on the sales floor.

I was a sales counselor at Circuit City and I was making a lot of money and the rest is kind of history. I did 20 or so jobs at Circuit City. I’d call myself self-educated because I was fortunate, from everything to being at the right place at the right time to I believe I work harder than anybody else. I may not be able to always outthink you, but I promise I will outwork you.

What do you do to regroup on a tough day?

I love sports, and that’s why I think I have the best job in the world, because I get paid to work out and I get paid to help others lead a healthy lifestyle and workout. So I do. It is an amazing stress reliever and to relax and do something positive for yourself. I’d also tell you that I love team sports. I was fortunate enough to make some time to coach my son’s high school football team this year. It was an unbelievable experience. I will play you in anything. I like the team the best, but I’ll play you in tiddlywinks. I’ll play you in flag football, but I will play with you and compete with you on anything that you want to compete on.