Pillar Award Finalist
Jordan A. Miller Jr.
president and CEO
Fifth Third Bank
(614) 744-7661 | www.53.com
As a long-standing supporter of the Columbus community, Fifth Third Bank — led locally by President and CEO Jordan A. Miller Jr. — has shown its commitment to the community by investing in local businesses, organizations and efforts that promote economic growth and financial education.
During the past year, the Fifth Third Central Ohio Affiliate has targeted investment in high-impact, community-based organizations, developing local and statewide alliances and partnerships, supporting philanthropic efforts within the Central Ohio community, supporting leadership development for both women and youth, and strengthening its network of leaders advocating for the community.
In the past year, Fifth Third Bank entered into a three-week campaign called “Growing Together: Make a Meal.” The campaign was held in partnership with the city of Columbus and the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, in cooperation with the Institute for Active Living, the Columbus Foundation, and Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
The bank’s staff also committed itself to fighting hunger by devoting its annual May 3, or 5/3, celebration to volunteering. More than 90 employees volunteered at the Franklin Park Conservatory to help load cars with mulch, soil and other items needed by local groups to start gardens.
Overall, the Central Ohio affiliate of Fifth Third Bank contributed more than 22,000 meals to its cause through a variety of activities, also including monetary donations, food drives and other forms of volunteering.
Throughout its entire footprint, Fifth Third Bank provided more than 340,000 meals to those in need.
Taseer Badar was a fledgling entrepreneur in his mid-20s and ruin was staring him in the face. He had invested between $4 million and $5 million in four gas station/convenience stores in the Beaumont, Texas, area, and his company, the predecessor to ZT Wealth Inc., was leasing the properties to earn income. But when he chose the lessees, he failed to do an in-depth background check.
Within six months, all four stores had gone through their entire inventory and the lessees had siphoned the gas out of the tanks and disappeared. Badar closed the locations and started looking for a way to avoid bankruptcy.
He approached a wholesaler to help him restock his shelves to reopen, but he got a bonus in the form of some important business advice.
“He said, ‘You’re never going to get your money out of these stores unless you have an owner running them,’” Badar says.
As the owner, Badar gave it a shot, but his business was in Houston and the stores were 100 miles away. The experiment was short-lived.
“I was horrible — it was horrible — and I didn’t know what I was doing,” Badar says.
The wholesaler found people to operate the stores and advised Badar to give them an opportunity to own. With that opportunity ahead of them, the potential owners increased sales 50 percent, and within a year, he had sold all the stores at a premium.
Getting employees to buy in through ownership proved a valuable lesson to Badar, who went on to grow ZT Wealth and founded Altus Health Management Services, which provides support to medical facilities in administration, marketing, human resources and cash management.
Here’s how Badar, who serves as president and CEO, takes the promise of ownership a step further and engages the 700 employees at ZT Wealth and Altus Health Management Services to help generate $130 million in annual revenue.
Badar uses the analogy of an airplane to describe how to manage a company and its growth.
“Make sure that you don’t fly too high,” he says. “You take off in an airplane, and there is nothing underneath you. If it crashes, you can’t save the plane most of the time. When you grow too fast and you don’t have a foundation underneath you, it’s the same thing.”
That foundation needs to be more than statements describing the company’s core values or its mission. Instead, it should reflect a real knowledge and awareness of what is going on with your employees. Managing employees requires a bit of psychology to understand your employees, be successful and grow your business. And to do that, you need to consider the way employees view their jobs. Badar says it’s important to remember that you are dealing with human beings and their emotions, and by extension, you are also dealing with what’s going on in their families and their home lives.
You also need to understand your employees’ motivation for why they do things the way they do.
“If you understand that, you can work within the skill set of everybody,” Badar says. “And you can manage growth that way. If you come to terms with people’s skill sets, you really can manage and motivate them.”
The ownership card
The challenge for entrepreneurs after laying the foundation of their businesses is to build the first floor, the second floor and each successive one after that. If you have done your homework and discovered what makes your employees tick, the next step is to find out how to keep them motivated.
Badar says that motivation is not always about the money. Instead, it is often about the urge to keep the business growing. And the key to getting your employees to buy in is ownership, according to Badar.
“If you give someone ownership — not just options hoping that a stock price may hit one day — that will make someone work around the clock,” he says.
Then when you, as the leader, are not available and a client comes in, the employees treat the company — and by extension, the client — as their own.
Badar has given about 40 employee partners ownership in the company, and with ownership comes monthly dividends. After two years on the job, he has a pretty good feel of who is going to make it, who isn’t and who is going above and beyond the role of an average employee. If people aren’t going to rise to that role of ownership, you need to tell them so they can make the decision of whether they can be happy in their current role or if it is time to move on.
Badar says that each year, he chooses a few employees to share in ownership. And while some leaders may have difficulty giving up part of their business, he says you need to look at it another way in order to gain the long-term benefits.
“Don’t think about giving up anything,” Badar says. “You are gaining an asset by bringing an owner in. The shares that you give up mean you may just have a smaller piece of a bigger pie.”
Ensure a team approach
Once an employee becomes an owner, there often are immediate signs that the new arrangement is working. Employees become more engaged and take more initiative and begin working evenings and weekends. But underneath that new engagement remains the necessity of teamwork.
“You are as good as your people,” he says. “There is no ‘I’ in team. It’s very important. You’ve got to think ‘we,’ not ‘me.’”
When employees feel that they are in the business as part of a team, it discourages gossip and encourages employees to work together. And that should be a part of the company culture, with activities such as gossip discouraged in company policy. Badar has set a policy that identifies discussion of salaries and positions during the workday as cause for termination.
“Politics, for me, is the worst thing in a company environment,” he says. “There are politics in every company, including ours, obviously. But I have tried to shy away from it. The work environment is very important to me and kissing butt doesn’t work in our company.”
Instead, it is the engagement of employee ownership that leads to the success of the entire company.
How to reach:ZT Wealth Inc./Altus Healthcare Management Services, (713) 627-2000 Galleria office; (832) 230-8100 Pearland office or www.ztwealth.com
The Badar File
co-founder, president and CEO
ZT Wealth Inc./Altus Health Management Services
Born: Lahore, Pakistan. I have been in the U.S. since I was 11 months old.
Education: Texas A&M University. I have a degree in entrepreneurship management and finance.
What was your first job?
Mowing lawns. I learned how to ask for a sale. And if you didn’t get the edging right, someone wouldn’t pay you. I learned you have to do a good job or otherwise they wouldn’t pay you.
Whom do you admire in business?
I had a mentor who really taught me what to do and what not to do. His name was Ghulam Bombaywala. He had some 80 restaurants, he was a rags-to-riches person, and he has lost a lot of money since, but he still does OK. I learned a lot from him on how people interact.
As far as somebody that I admire in business, I would say who has leveraged a lot of relationships and who is a minority businessman is Magic Johnson. He is a great business leader. I don’t know him personally, but he is the first African-American athlete ‘near billionaire.’ Trying to help his community, doing things to give people a sense of an opportunity — that was his claim to fame.
What is the best business advice you have ever received?
Never burn your hut looking at someone’s palace. Stay within your own. Don’t try to compete with anybody. That washes away what you are good at. You’ll get there one day.
What is your definition of business success?
Contentment. Being financially free, paying off your loans and, thus, getting a great income. Business success is employing people, making a difference. But I think financially free is very important. Business is a risk. If you can mitigate that risk and still make that kind of money by employing people, that’s the success.
In executive roles at Baker & Daniels LLP over the past 10 years, Tom Froehle had weighed in on some 20 inquiries from other law firms about possible mergers with Baker & Daniels.
However, none of those led to serious discussions until the economy began its downward spiral.
“What we saw during this downturn was that clients wanted to look much harder at value,” says Froehle, who was, at the time, chief executive partner at Baker & Daniels. “Law firms were consolidating, and quite frankly, clients were consolidating in terms of using fewer law firms and looking for firms that had more extensive depth and breadth. We told ourselves that rather than be reactive, we have to try to be proactive.”
That meant going on the offense to find the right partner to create a successful merger. So the Baker & Daniels team started sorting through offers to narrow down the prospective suitors. While doing so, they came upon a firm called Faegre & Benson, located Minneapolis. Froehle said Baker spent a great deal of time trying to identify a partner that it thought would be a good fit, although the leaders could only do so much in terms of looking at websites and seeking out information. They also turned to anecdotal information that they heard from people familiar with the firm. Then they spent a lot of time evaluating and talking with the Faegre & Benson leadership team about the firm’s culture and strategic vision to ensure, before they made a move, that there would be alignment.
Here’s how Froehle, now chief operating partner, and his team scored a win at the newly merged Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, in operation one year now.
Finding a fit
When the topic of a merger comes up, the process can often seem overwhelming, especially when companies of considerable size and expertise are involved. To make the task less intimidating, start by looking at companies in complementary markets to yours, those that occupy the same market position and that serve at the top of their market.
Comparing those statistics gives you a better chance of finding the right fit, and every place in which similarities are identified increases the odds of success. After determining which factors would make or break the deal for your company, it’s time to go through the list to match potential suitors with your company.
“We looked at firms that appeared to have a similar qualitative excellence,” Froehle says. “There is some pretty good data in terms of rankings in those things that can help you identify companies from a qualitative standpoint.”
Then it’s time to look at culture to determine whether there is a good fit.
“On the cultural front, some things will stand out,” Froehle says. “Baker & Daniels was founded in 1863 and Faegre & Benson in 1886. So you had two very long-standing firms. Both firms had histories of civic involvement, with people committed to the community; they did pro bono and were diverse, and we saw really similar cultural values there.”
The next step can command the most time of anything else in the process. It’s time to get beyond the facts and figures and meet with the players face to face.
“A lot of it is just spending time with people; certainly both leadership teams should spend a lot of time together,” Froehle says. “We had what turned into an opportunity when we started discussions in 2010, but there was a client conflict situation that we just couldn’t resolve. That client conflict went away in early 2011, and we recommenced discussions. I think the fact that we had a pretty extended amount of time to spend with each other and to get other partners involved in those discussions helped us figure out whether we thought there was going to be a compatible culture.”
Froehle says it is valuable to flush out concerns early, rather than to wait until after the merger vote occurs. The goal was to combine the firms and the way they did things, so a lot of time was spent early in the process talking about how to develop the best governance structure for a new firm. But instead of taking one thing intact from one firm and another thing from the second firm, they instead approached it to determine what made the most sense so that they could tell the partners what the new firm would look like.
In effect, they built a model of the new company.
“By having that in place, and then being able to share with partners at both firms, ‘OK, here is what this new firm looks like,’ was really helpful in terms of allowing people to deal with the hard part about change, the uncertainty. Although we still have plenty of uncertainty, we tried to provide a real framework of what this is going to look like.”
Working it out
The last task is to determine the mix. This may be the most important task as you discuss common goals to reach a consensus.
“There were those who wanted to do something to not just get bigger but to actually help us serve clients better, and we saw some real synergies and opportunities to combine strong practices that would make even stronger practices,” Froehle says.
“Look for opportunities to complement and supplement strengths in each firm. We had no geographic overlap. Sometimes when you have offices in the same geography, it causes real friction in terms of how you deal with that. We didn’t have any of that, and so we had a lot of additive benefits. I think when people saw that and saw the opportunities to work together, they found that they like each other.”
Froehle says one of the fundamental underpinnings of the merger was the ability it created to serve clients better by providing broader and deeper expertise across a wider range of services. Helping employees understand that and the positive opportunities created has been an important piece of helping them get comfortable with the new organization and create a culture of excitement about being able to better serve clients. Even before the combination was complete, Froehle and his team set in writing what the expectations were of the partners.
“It has been a way for people to buy in to, ‘Here’s what we all expect of each other,’ and that’s been very useful,” he says. “This year, we are in the process of doing a similar thing for our associate lawyers in terms of trying to be much more definitive about what those expectations are, and that is going to be something that was necessarily different from what we had in either of the legacy firms.”
The other issue to address is the clients, as they need to be reassured that their relationships with the firm will not be changing for the worse.
“We went to our top 100 clients over the course of a year to talk about the combination,” he says. “It was interesting to share feedback with other folks in the firm about what we were hearing. Many clients were excited to hear about the new capabilities that were part of the combination. That has been really positive.”
Spread the good news
After the dust has settled and a single company is arising, the task turns to communication and feedback. Sharing positive news goes a long way toward reinforcing the common culture that is being developed.
“We try to open every meeting we have of any kind of group with a sharing of good news,” Froehle says. “These are things that are happening across the firm and with a real focus, at least this first year, on things that involve collaboration of people from the two different legacy firms.
“Those examples have been really helpful to others, who may say, ‘Wow! Somebody I know down the hall has been working with somebody I don’t know and that’s been a really positive thing that will help me be more inclined to step out of my comfort zone.’”
Froehle says that the effort to share good news about effective client collaborations, an additional focus on travel to allow people at the different locations to meet one another and other communication about what was happening across the firm were geared to help people recognize that there was a developing sense of a singular, combined culture. The feedback from those who have had those interactions and the opportunities to connect with each other have all been very positive and have helped to reinforce the internal message.
While recognizing that it would have been easier in some ways to maintain the status quo, Froehle says the long-term benefits of this approach are going to be very positive for the 1,600 employees.
“Obviously, it required the people and the leadership teams from both firms to have that mindset going in, but once they got that mindset, it became really exciting to think about creating something new.”
How to reach: Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, (317) 237-0300 or www.faegrebd.com
The Froehle File
Chief operating partner
Faegre Baker Daniels LLP
Born: Grand Forks, N.D., but I really only lived there for a couple of years. I grew up in and had all my schooling in Bloomington, Ind.
Education: Undergraduate degree at Indiana University in Bloomington and my JD from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
What was your very first job?
My dad operated a small store that sold hockey equipment, so from the time I was about 12 I worked there. My dad ran the business and I sort of helped. I really just learned a lot about customer service, how important each individual customer was and how you could really make an impact on each individual customer’s experience by how you responded. The individual experience of working with customers was really valuable.
Whom do you admire in business?
I really admire John Lechleiter, Ph.D., who is the CEO of Eli Lilly and Co. I admire his vision and his ability to help people in the company to understand what an important role they can play in the world in terms of a pharmaceutical company. I often think people are not all that excited about that but he really has talked about innovation and how they are helping change lives. I think he has done just a really marvelous job of doing that.
What has been the best business advice you ever received?
Two things. One, communication is important. Somebody once told me that no matter what you think, it probably takes you 10 times to say something before people really hear it, listen to it and understand it. The second is to remember that everything you do sends a message to those people around you. That is something I think we often forget.
What is your definition of business success?
Because it is a little bit different, the organizational hierarchy, I think a big part of my view of success is when my partners feel like they have succeeded or at least when they feel like they’ve been a material part in achieving that success.
Whenever Randy Reichmann needs to illustrate to his managers that what works for one person may not work as well for others — and that there may be other options — he usually talks about sifting flour.
“A mother and a daughter were making cookies at home, and they were getting ready to sift flour,” he says. “The young girl pulled out a fine-mesh strainer … and I remember, this is how my mom did it. She just pushed the flour through it with a fork.
“But the mom said, ‘Oh no, honey. That’s not how you sift flour.’ She reached under the counter and brought out a sifter with a little hand crank. Then she poured the flour in and sifted the flour while she turned the crank. The little girl said, ‘No, Mom. That’s how you sift flour.’
“The question is, if you didn’t see either person sift flour, would the cookie taste any different? The answer is no. The point is there is more than one way to do things.”
The advice that Reichmann, president and CEO of the Indiana region of Old National Bank, gives to new managers follows that mold — that they have to figure out what motivates people to do the things that need to be done in a way that they are comfortable doing.
“That’s really the message,” he says. “Young managers should not just expect people to do the things the ways they did them — but they should help them find the ways that they can do them and still be successful. That takes time.”
There is one way to deal with problems, and that is directly, Reichmann says.
“You deal with them head on,” he says. “You have to be careful, too. I learned this lesson: It is one thing to have a positive attitude, but you can’t wear rose-colored glasses because there are real problems that come up, and you have to deal with those.”
Here’s how Reichmann learned how to look at problems through colorless lenses and teach his executives to do likewise as they confront challenges at Old National Bank, an institution with corporate assets of about $10 billion and 2,300 employees.
Make over your mindset
Surviving a traumatic event can help people develop resilience and the coping mechanisms to deal with the challenge — just as it was with Reichmann.
His experience with an economic crisis gave him the tools to help him and his staff survive future crises. Reichmann was managing about 125 people at an out-of-state bank group when the real estate market crashed as a result of out-of-control speculation, and he had to take action. He was trying to keep the organization afloat while at the same time trying to continue to conduct business as usual. But it was difficult, and he says he drove to work each morning wondering which deal was going to crash that day and what the resulting losses were going to be.
Banks and thrifts had to work hard to prevent panic among the public as well as among financial organizations’ employees. To combat the fear, Reichmann called a leadership meeting.
“It was an interesting meeting to me because it had nothing to do with banking and had everything to do with helping people deal with adversity,” he says.
The whole point of the meeting was that, with the right mindset, they had the ability to stand up to difficult times.
“There is a quotation from author Wayne Dyer, Ph.D., that says, ‘When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,’” Reichmann says. “We were trying to get people to focus not on the behind-the-scenes efforts to keep the bank afloat, because we already had people working on that. We were trying to get them refocused on what we could do with our existing customers and hopefully to acquire new customers to help grow the bank — to help grow revenue at a time when we were taking some pretty significant charge-offs.”
The results of the meeting were significant. But for Reichmann, it was a life-changing moment for his mindset.
“I grew up on a farm in central Illinois and learned that if you worked hard, everything will be OK,” he says. “I found out very quickly that sometimes there are things so much out of your control that there is no guarantee they were going to be OK, in terms of what your measuring stick is for a bank.”
His transformation took some time, however, because he had some “unlearning” to do. He says he needed to switch from a fear, or a scarcity, mentality to an abundance mentality.
“I just meant that we would get through this, we would do what we had to do,” he says. “I remember clearly thinking, ‘Once I get through this, I am going to catch the next train out of banking land because I don’t ever want to go through something like this again. It was horrible.’”
But with some patience, Reichmann found a silver lining.
“As things got better, and we improved dramatically, you get to the end of it, and all of a sudden, you realize that the situation is better; the bank was going to be OK,” he says. “In fact, we were making quite a bit of money. Also, we were the only bank in town that really made it there. Then you think, ‘Jeez, I just went through all that. Why do I want to leave now?’”
So he stayed, and his career continued to grow. But that period of time has stuck with him and has defined what he is capable of in terms of enduring hardship, in terms of leadership and in helping other people to see their way through a very difficult time.
“Ultimately, you come out on the other end in a way that you never could have imagined when you were going through it,” Reichmann says.
Pull back and regain focus
While there are many times when it is important for a business to keep looking at the big picture — an aerial view of your business, if you will — there are times when you should be flying at tree-top level instead. Reichmann says homing in to regain focus will help prevent getting engulfed in a situation, which often is unproductive.
Instead, you need to take your eye off of the big picture and just do the next thing because it is too easy to become overwhelmed with the magnitude of the problems you are facing.
“I couldn’t solve all the charge-offs and nonaccruals and try to get rid of the real-estate-owned properties that we had, but what I could do was I could go work on the next problem,” he says. “I could go on a call with one of our bankers. I could make a call myself to try to develop some new business.”
Once you shift the focus away from the big picture, employee anxieties often decline. Reichmann says that if everyone is doing the things that they are able to do instead of focusing on the things they can’t, the picture starts to become clearer. He says that an improved mindset and a focus on tying up loose ends can go a long way to restore stability to a business. And that’s what happened in his situation as he and his staff finally knew that they were going to make it and that they were positioned well in the marketplace.
“We were the only bank in town that cleaned up its balance sheet, and that effort was just fabulous,” he says. “I’ve never seen a bank generate more profit in that period of time. We were much more disciplined than we had been. We were requiring equity, getting appraisals and doing all the things that we are doing now and just made it a healthier environment for everyone. It was just an incredible period of time.”
You have to bring perspective to a problem, a belief that you are going to solve that problem no matter what it takes. Reichmann says it’s easy to take on a defeatist attitude and begin to believe that you aren’t going to make it. But if you reach that point, you are never going to win. Instead, you need to remain positive and maintain the belief that you are going to come out ahead. If you lose a sale or even a customer, it’s important to adopt the attitude that it is not necessarily a loss.
“That’s not the way to look at it,” he says. “You are certainly not happy that you’ve lost the business, but you need to learn what you did wrong and what you could do differently to do better the next time. There is more business out there. Are you going to sit around and feel sorry for yourself about what you lost or are you going to focus on getting out there and seeing what you can win?”
Making the effort takes time, however, and it can be difficult. People tend to get into habits, and it takes a conscious effort. You have to make the effort to change your thought patterns and think in terms of abundance. Reichmann says that changing his mindset made him more optimistic, removed some of the fear and made him a better leader. That allowed him to step up and lead his employees to the light at the end of the tunnel.
He says that as a leader in difficult times, you have to show employees that there is a way out of the current situation. Then, as positive things occur, share those wins with them. However, you also need to share the negative, along with information about how you are going to deal with it.
Blend and make magic happen
As a challenging situation begins to improve, the ultimate measure of success is not financial achievement but personal enhancement. When you can tie a company’s level of earnings with an employee’s goals for personal development, you have what software engineers call “a killer application.”
“When you have blended those two things, you have a magic potion,” Reichmann says. “You have self-motivated individuals who feel like they are making progress not only in their roles but also in their personal goals for their lives, and that’s a pretty positive experience.”
If you can do that, employees are no longer working for themselves in one sense and working for the bank in another sense. As a leader, it is your job to find out what makes your employees tick, as everyone has their own personal goals and what works for one may not work for another.
Reichmann says he often tells new managers that they are not one of the rank and file. Instead, they have to move up the chain into a new position, which includes figuring out how to motivate individual workers.
“Typically, if I have an up-and-comer who is eager and aggressive and clearly has a bright track record, he or she may say, ‘OK, I did A, B and C, and I got here. So therefore, I need to have my people do A, B and C, and then they will get here,’ he says. “The point that you have to get through to them is that A, B and C worked for you, but perhaps X, Y and Z will work for somebody else to get the same results. To me, what leadership and management are all about is trying to figure out how people grow personally, because when you do that, they perform better professionally.” <<
How to reach: Old National Bank, (800) 731-2265 or www.oldnational.com
The Reichmann File
President and CEO
Old National Bank
Born: Carlinville, Ill., a small agricultural town about 45 miles south of Springfield, Ill.
Education: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I majored in agricultural economics.
What was your first job?
I worked on a dairy, hog and grain farm as a youngster. Aside from that, when I went to college, the first job where I got a check from somebody other than my dad was working for the university. I would fuel up the pool cars on evenings and weekends. I learned, having always worked for my dad, that it was fun to work hard for other people and see them appreciate it — for somebody besides your family. That served me well in my career because, on a dairy farm, there is no vacation from milking cows. What I found out is that, when you get into the professional world and you just work hard, you can go pretty far.
Whom do you most admire in business?
I admire Jim Morris, president of the Indiana Pacers. Being president of the Pacers is a high-profile position, but Jim is all about helping other people. Whether it is Boy Scouts or whatever else makes Indianapolis a better place to live, Jim probably is involved in that somehow.
What is the best business advice you have ever received?
I wish I could remember who said it, but, ‘Put your head down and do the next thing. And stop worrying about things you can’t control.’
What is your definition of business success?
Business success is being successful financially, and I hesitate to use the term ‘more important’ but just as important is that you are seeing people grow — that you see those things that you’ve invested in in terms of teaching and guiding pay dividends. Success is when you see them able to handle a situation that, heretofore, maybe they couldn’t have.
Chris Sutton was willing to take a chance to revitalize Clover Global Solutions LP to be in an optimum position for a comeback of the oil and gas industry after the 2007-09 recession.
He and his wife, Carolyn, were partners in Clover, the 11th company they had owned throughout the years, so taking action to secure a company’s future wasn’t a new experience.
“Business had really flat-lined,” Sutton says. “There were no new job orders coming in and we didn’t want to lay anybody off. So we huddled down and had a survival meeting for a couple of days and turned inward. We made two commitments that year. One was that we were going to try to reinvent how sourcing up occurs. The second was that we were going to understand and exploit social media.”
For the first goal, Sutton had a good handle on the problem. He and his wife had owned Clover since 2000 after coming out of early retirement to help out at the company. He quickly discovered where the bottleneck was in hiring after reading thousands of resumes and trying various technologies to match them to opportunities in the industry. He knew he needed a tool that would optimize the process. Second, he wanted the company to get on board with social media — a vehicle he didn’t understand at the time but one that he could see had great potential.
Here’s how he put it all together and grew the company’s revenue from $1 million in 2000 to $60 million largely since 2009.
Invest in the heart
When business goes soft because of an economic downturn, it’s time to put on the thinking cap. Clover had established a niche as a staffing company for the oil and gas industry, so why not exploit that niche and find a better way to serve clients?
The heart of Clover was its process to match job seekers with job opportunities. If that process were faster, the company would have an advantage in the highly competitive staffing market.
“The first to market is oftentimes the first to win,” Sutton says. “Second place goes home. Either you hire them or you don’t. How fast can you do that and do it accurately is really the race to the client’s door with the right person.”
Sutton decided to divert the company’s entire $200,000 marketing budget, plus an additional $50,000, into developing a technology tool that would accurately match job seekers with the oil exploration and production companies that had openings.
The result was a program called Clover One World that houses data and searches for matches among thousands of alumni from a number of companies. A company with an employment opening can go in and find retired previous employees who may come back as a mentor or team leader.
A key feature of the technology is that it profiles alumni with a type of intelligence that involves several factors. Software developers in Mumbai, India, and in Texas created Clover One World after about 14 months of work.
“While most people search through resumes with a tool such as a Boolean search, much like you search the Internet with words, our program matches just the exact skills with what the job needs, one to one,” Sutton says. “Much like you search on the Internet for a plane ticket and you continue to refine it with selected questions like when you are going to depart and one-way or round-trip, our system is combing the candidates to profile exactly their skills, competencies and current experiences to what our industry looks for in that position.”
Any new venture requires significant research, Sutton learned new approaches by studying the experiences of similar fields.
“We studied the medical industry, the IT industry and people buying on the Internet,” he says. “We just put how people buy on the Internet, their user experience, and applied that to how our clients and candidates meet each other for job opportunities. We coined a vision of Matchmakers.com meets the website for Classmates.com. You have company alumni who have a unique competency and a common theme, and you need to put them together in a Web-enabled process.”
Having computers do the searching has added a whole new dimension to the task.
“It’s no longer reading prose and coming up with a bunch of matched words,” Sutton says. “It is what I would call ‘hiring science.’ We rarely look at the resume itself until it is ready to present to the client.”
Once you remove the chore of reading resumes to find a match and instead have a computer system do the work, the speed of the task increases phenomenally.
“We now are able to submit a candidate in about an hour instead of two days because we are not drowning in reading resumes all day long,” Sutton says.
Think thought leadership
With the search/match tool in place, Sutton next wanted to use social media to drive the brand. However, although he knew it was an important strategy, Sutton says he had no idea going in to this project how to exploit social media.
“We didn’t even know what that meant,” he says. “Really. We didn’t. LinkedIn was just starting out, and there was a trend warming up to Facebook.”
Once you have decided that you want to head into an unknown territory, you need to find a guide. To that end, Clover turned to a husband-and-wife start-up company in New York City for help with social media.
“We were maybe one of their first customers; they helped us brand through social media,” Sutton says. “We got a lot of attention from them. We still are very close. I give them a lot of credit for bringing us along in the hike. We didn’t know what we wanted. They were fairly new to the industry, but they had the expertise.”
Sutton had questions about what he was getting, but had no doubts it was the right move.
“How do you qualify somebody to do business with them when you don’t know exactly what you are buying? You shake hands and hope it works,” he says. “We had to learn what that meant. And we do every day, if you can recognize that it is such a dynamic thing that’s developing in the business landscape. You are trying to figure out how it works every day.”
While many may think of social media as tweeting on Twitter and posting on Facebook, it may offer greater opportunities to a business. Clover utilizes it in two key ways, the first of which is to find qualified people as candidates. Sutton says that today, more than 60 percent of those coming to the company to be considered for a job are coming from a form of social media.
Profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook are a gold mine for locating the right people.
“There is a tremendous reliance today on the seasoned, professional, technical person who has the knowledge and experience but who may have retired,” Sutton says.
Social media can also provide thought leadership. Clover offers several blogs on its website that pertain to the oil and gas industry. Contributors include those in the Clover database.
Sutton says that contributors blog in their areas of interest, researching and writing information and facilitating that information to groups of a similar kind. Bloggers present the information in a way that is as forward thinking and contemporary as possible, covering topics such as, “Where is oil today, and what does that mean to the people in North Dakota?
“You try to present the contemporary areas in the particular skill sets that we support,” he says. “So we support a lot of geologists. There is a lot of information about the new geology of drilling. We have 300 people in our company that, in one way or another, are a resource. Thought leadership comes from all parts of the company. We have subject matter experts in several of the areas of the oil and gas industry. Sharing their opinions and views on topics is good for the brand.”
Get the mindset
It takes some personal fortitude to plow a field that has never been touched before. Sutton says it also takes one other significant factor.
“It takes a lot of confidence,” he says. “Our team has passion, commitment, so really, I am not needed here. I like to think I am, but when you look at everything we do, I look at whether they are committed, and that they have the passion and the idea. If I check those two blocks off, what am I going to do? Applaud them on the sidelines?
“I just ask them if the revenue is predictable, and we talk about that. I think having the capability to respond to these opportunities and the quality of the people you have is a critical success factor.”
Maintaining enthusiasm and not getting overwhelmed by trying to stay with the latest and greatest presented by the competition requires a particular mindset.
“Some of it is, ‘Don’t strike the windmill,’” Sutton says. “You just can’t compete. Know that and acknowledge that and move on. The other part of it is to be as good as you can be in the space that you are in. The space is so big in the people business. Globally, if you carved out a particular niche, it would just be to be as good as you can be in the niche.” <<
How to reach: Clover Global Solutions LP, (281) 994-5900 or www.clovergs.com
The Sutton File
Clover Global Solutions LP
Born: Burbank, Calif. I took a lot of heat in college about that. … ‘Beautiful downtown Burbank,’ as TV’s ‘Laugh-In’ show commented.
Education: Arizona State University, with a major in political science and a minor in psychology
What was your first job?
I started working at 9 years old with a paper route in Burbank. It was The Los Angeles Times, a morning daily. That meant delivering the papers before school started. All my brothers had paper routes. I really enjoyed working and that was my first business.
Paperboys got what was left of the revenue — if everybody pays you.
My first job was as a buyer and project support person for a global engineering and construction company called Ralph Parsons. It was right out of school.
I had several jobs and businesses with my wife. I probably could retire but I don’t know what I would do with myself.
Whom do you admire in business and why?
Michael Dell. He’s a comeback kid. He started with very little and built up a huge organization, brought it back into its market share, and it’s poised for good comeback. And it’s Michael Dell, that’s why.
What is the best business advice you ever received?
Maybe the best way to answer that is we try to create success through integrity, philosophy and our agility in our performance. I heard that from somebody else when I first came to Texas. I wrote it down in and live by it, as well. It’s plastered all over the walls of our company.
What is your definition of business success?
To have a team that has a passionate commitment so I am not needed, to have revenue for the company that is predictable and that we can respond to opportunities with the money and the people that we have.
Doug Parris and A.J. Montero never get tired of change. They have to deal with it every day with their clients and employees.
It’s not the kind of change that involves turnover in either of those areas or new ownership or new policies. Rather, it’s eating, sleeping and breathing the company culture built around change.
As leaders and partners of the Columbus office of global architecture and design firm NBBJ, Parris and Montero, both partners in the firm, focus on transforming their clients’ enterprises through design. Spearheading that effort requires one of the standards of management: leading by example.
“If we, A.J. and myself, and our other 15 partners don’t live our culture every day, then we are not setting the example for the staff,” Parris says. “Part of living it is communicating it and always making sure it’s at the top of everyone’s thoughts as they work with our clients.”
“Everyone” includes the 135 employees of the $52 million Columbus branch of the worldwide company.
It’s a given that change comes with the territory of the architecture and design field. Not long ago, blueprints were drawn by hand. Today, 3-D drawings sketched by computer programs are the norm. With such advances that have been made in that step, it’s only natural that the best chance to boost a company’s success is to stress to clients that if they are interested in a new building or remodeling project, they should couple it with a new and different culture.
“Design often requires cultural change within an organization — how do we make it easy for the client’s staff and employees to transition from one environment to another and basically embrace the cultural changes that are required?” Parris says.
Here are some ways eating, sleeping and breathing change all fall into place at the Columbus office of the nation’s third-largest architecture firm so that it is not feared but desired and enables the company to reach new levels of success.
Find a shoe that fits
As simplistic as it sounds, the road to the highest potential often starts with a good fit between parties — be it designer and client, supplier and client, or consultant and client.
Obviously, you should avoid ones that don’t look like a good fit. You may save yourself from a possible problem client who will wear you out, avoid a reputation hit if you can’t deliver on your promises and be able to exploit your niche better by declining someone from outside your specialty.
A system to evaluate clients is often beneficial. You should check references and compare what types of work or what other companies with which your target has dealt.
“We have a system internal to NBBJ that we use to look at potential clients and see whether or not they align with our values,” Montero says. “Having that filter very early lets us see clients that are trying to transform themselves. We see clients that understand that they want to go somewhere. That is a big first step.”
Again, don’t hesitate to be a little choosy.
“It’s not just looking at everybody who needs something to be done no matter what they’re after or what their model is, you are not judging. You are just saying that, in many cases, those are not clients for you,” he says.
This is the time to analyze the leadership and employees.
“One of the most important things that you see in terms of getting started is that they have the right leadership in place,” Parris says. “Leading a project is not a skill set that everyone comes to the table with.”
If you can categorize the participants in three types, it will give some insights to your potential partner.
“What we typically see is you have three levels of participants,” he says. “You’ll have the very top leadership in an organization. They need to be on the same page so that they have a clear kind of vision of what they need.
“Second, you have kind of a working group, the people that are responsible for getting things done every day to keep things moving forward and pushing information up the ladder to the leadership of whatever organization it is, whether it’s a corporation, a university or a hospital.
“Then you have the people that do the work, and they end up being the most critical to getting things done because you have to meet with them and understand how they do what they do,” Parris says. “A lot of times, one of the key elements of working with any organization is that they only know what they have been exposed to.”
Opening all their eyes to the bigger world out there, be it new office design, a new product to consider or a new practice to undertake, is very important. Many people only know the places where they have worked and the procedures they have been following.
Do some role-playing
One of the more effective ways to get a grip on what may need to change in your company culture involves some mental exercises. When undertaken, they often lead to some startling conclusions.
“We call it suspension of disbelief,” Montero says. “You try to open people’s minds to say, ‘OK, for a minute, let’s just pretend that we were in a different circumstance.’ We have role-playing exercises that allow us to really understand that world.
“If you take them out of it for a second and see what the possibilities are, no pressure, just being able to look at those things in a fresh way, whether or not they choose to go down that road, ultimately, is going to be up to them. But what we found more often than not is that when they go through an exercise of discovery, they find out that it isn’t as scary as they thought, that the change is really not going to be that dramatic.
“There are people who work in the trenches every day, who are really seeking change, and it opens the door for that communication between top-level leadership and the users that maybe didn’t exist before in their eyes, so that kind of engagement is really something to achieve,” Montero says.
“A good example is that you might make the CEO of a hospital role-play as one of his own patients and walk through the system or have the president of a university be a student for a day and walk in the student’s shoes,” Parris says. “I use something called ‘walk a mile in their shoes.’”
“When you design hospitals, you work with a lot of high-powered administrators and surgeons, especially, who have very strong opinions about the way things should or shouldn’t be done,” Montero says. “So they’re very well-educated; they have to run very important enterprises. So when we get into these types of role-playing exercises, they are meant to show how the way that you do something isn’t necessarily the way that it has to be forever.”
While the role-playing may sound like children’s fare, it is indeed often extremely helpful to open the mind to different ways of thinking.
“Most of the time, when you introduce something like that, you can just imagine going to the Cleveland Clinic and sitting down with the top people in the world when it comes to heart surgery, and you’re trying to propose doing something that almost seems frivolous,” he says.
“There may be a lot of pushback, but once you go through the exercise, you will be surprised how much they get into it.”
The effort to gain new insights really takes on a life of its own, Montero says, and brings engagement that is a distinctive plus.
“You have doctors and surgeons saying, ‘Well, based on that scenario, maybe we can create this device that is actually implemented in the ambulance as opposed to waiting for the patient to get to the hospital,” he says. “It’s that type of thinking outside the box that these role-playing exercises allow you to engage in. It’s a disarming environment that allows people to think creatively as opposed to the day-to-day grind that they usually are in.”
“Role-playing actually gets us and our clients into kind of a different persona so that they can see the world around them from a different perspective. And it’s actually a lot of fun,” Parris says.
In this pseudo-environment, people feel they can say what they think and don’t have to worry about making errors.
“You create an environment where you allow for mistakes to happen,” Montero says. “You allow for people to think up stupid ideas that you can discuss that sometimes actually become really interesting ideas.”
“Let people take risks,” Parris says. “Let people take chances to innovate and create new things. You can give people all the authority and responsibility in the world, but if there’s no room for them to grow, no open space there, they’re never going to achieve what they can achieve if that space doesn’t exist.”
Instituting change doesn’t come without problems. There is a point where leaders need to show empathy for talented performers who contribute to the organization but only can be pushed so far.
“In all honesty, there are people within our firm that say, ‘This is what I enjoy doing, and this is all I want to do. I love my work, so I don’t have an aspiration to do other things,’” Parris says. “We have to respect that also. We really have to make sure that we don’t push people beyond where they’re comfortable being pushed.
“Everyone has a tolerance for that kind of thing. So that’s the kind of empathetic leadership that you have to develop all around, the kind of diversity that we build because everybody is not the same.”
There is a very fine line between the creative culture and one that expounds dogma.
“You don’t want to be dogmatic about the things that you do,” Montero says. “You have to be empathetic that everyone brings something. And there’s a gradient in there — some people are much more conservative than others.”
A culture can be considered well-assimilated when the people with the right mix of skill sets, temperaments and expertise blend to make the machine work very well.
“But you can’t have everybody think the same way, even if it’s thinking creatively, because then you become very one-sided,” Montero says.
“The thing you have to guard against is being homogeneous,” Parris says. “It’s not just the diversity of people and skill sets, but it’s also diversity of thought that lends itself to greatness.
“That should apply to all businesses. In the design profession, no matter what you do whether you are an architect, a graphic designer, an interior designer or product designer, innovation comes from the ability to think in different lights. Otherwise everything will look the same and like a formula.”
Lest you tear up your book of formulas, think about uniqueness instead.
“In a lot of businesses, there are formulas,” Parris says. “If you’re making toothpaste that people buy, you’re not going to want to change that formula. In design, it’s not that way. They don’t want what you gave to the last guy. They want something that is uniquely theirs. That is an important part of that diverse thinking and not being too homogeneous within the office and the firm worldwide.”
“I think many professions are moving toward that idea that creativity and idea sharing, innovation — is a big impetus for what they do. We are finding more of that in all the different project types and professions that we touch.” <<
How to reach: NBBJ, (614) 224-7145 or www.nbbj.com
Parris: Bremerton, Wash. I’m a Navy brat — born on a Navy base and moved around my whole life.
Montero: Havana, Cuba
Parris: I graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and have a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s degree in architecture.
Montero: I have a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Cornell University.
What was your first job?
Parris: Digging and planting trees for a landscape company inFairfax,Va.I learned it was really hard work. Now they do it with machines. I had to do it with a shovel.
Montero: I think you’re going to find a pattern here. I worked in construction all throughout high school in south Florida. It was very hot, and it was very hard work. What I learned from it was that I never, ever wanted to do it again, which was one of the big reasons that I made sure that I went to college to get an education.
What was the best business advice you received?
Parris: Your career will be defined by the success of those around you. That came from one of our former partners.
Montero: I got some really great advice from a close family member: If you’re a cheese maker, then make cheese. What that means is if you’re good at something and you are passionate about it, really dedicate yourself to doing that and supporting others in that enterprise.
Whom do you admire in business?
Parris: I’m conflicted about it. I guess if I had to say historically whom I admire, it’s Frank Lloyd Wright because his passion and rigor around architecture are something that I’ve always respected. In a more contemporary sense, probably Steve Jobs because he had a kind of a boundless creativity — the ability to imagine or at least create an organization that could imagine what’s next.
Montero: I have a lot of respect for Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. The reason is not because of Facebook but because whatever he has created has influenced society in a positive and negative way. I think that Zuckerberg has been able to touch on something that is very, very relevant, that we can even put our fingers on, and I think that is the kind of definition of somebody who is a visionary.
What is your definition of success?
Parris: Transforming our clients’ enterprise through design. If we work with the client and the outcome has taken them from where they were to where they can be, it is really the definition of business success for us.
Montero: I look at that but more internally. I think that success for us is really creating a great culture where people can fulfill their professional and sometimes personal aspirations and goals. We want people to come into this building every day and feeling that they can change the world, that they can accomplish everything they want to accomplish and really make a difference. If we can provide them with that kind of environment, I think we will be a successful business.
Fred McClaine wasn't sure he wanted to go work for a big company. He was an entrepreneur who owned his own insurance agency, and he was being courted by Brown & Brown Inc., one of the largest independent insurance intermediaries in the country.
As with most buying and selling experiences, the buyers and sellers spent time going over the offers and other considerations.
“When I met [executives] J. Hyatt and Powell Brown, they brought us down to their headquarters, and we stayed overnight at their house, which I thought was kind of unusual,” McClaine says.
Even though he had received better offers, he wanted to see this one through.
“But that's when I met them and really got to know them as people. We ended up signing with them because they were insurance people.”
McClaine knew the business, and he knew how to spot a buyer who was in it for the long haul and the love of serving people’s needs versus one who was out to make a quick buck.
“Because we are a different kind of business from a bank or financial institution, we have a lot of fluctuations over the years, and to have someone at the top who understands the business and who says it'll all work out – that’s important,” he says.
While McClaine was impressed with the leadership’s positive attitude, that wasn’t his only surprise.
At McClaine’s first annual sales meeting, in 2009, he got to experience a tradition that was an effort to get people to let their guard down – a toga party.
The tradition of a Brown & Brown costume party began in 1993 when a merger with Poe & Associates was completed and the integration had started. Some of the Poe top brass was let go since their leadership style wouldn’t be a good fit. About 20 other potential leaders were identified and kept on board.
“They were entrepreneurs at heart, and they were brought into a room of about 20 of our top people – 20 of their top people and their wives, in a hotel,” McClaine says.
“They were all ‘suits and ties’ and everybody was looking good. Hyatt said, ‘OK, guys, the men come with me and the women go with my wife; her name is CiCi,’ and they separated in different rooms. In those rooms were togas. Hyatt said, ‘Everybody strip down and get into your toga, and we’ll go back into the room and have a party.’ So they did.”
The custom of a costume party has lived on ever since.
“That’s typical of how the company culture was derived,” McClaine says. “He came into the room and said, ‘We were all dressed differently when we got here, we were all different people, and we are now all looking the same. And we're going to be that way.’”
McClaine says the event was it was not only symbolic of combining the two companies but costume parties such as this were more of a humility thing than anything else.
“We want to have humble people who understand how to work with staff members, because we have a real range of incomes in the business – that's just part of our business.
“I think the experience does keep us in place, to be able to work with others. Every day those people are out there making your life better.”
Here’s how McClaine, executive vice president of Brown & Brown of Indiana Inc., takes the principles of a “let your guard down” company culture to help drive the sales of the $1.2 billion, 6,300-employee company.
Try writing a culture statement
Most companies have a mission statement. It tells about the company’s ideals. But boiling those ideals down to two or three sentences about your standards, expectations and goals can end up with a statement of unproductive phrases.
With a culture statement, it can define who you are, and it can set the principles of a unified group.
If you are an existing company, start by listing observations of success that have worked in your company in the past. Brown & Brown has been doing that since it was founded in 1939, and its culture statement is now a booklet.
“The company culture is an intangible mosaic of history, ideals, goals, sayings, signs, quotes, fables, aspirations and event which considered together, present a body of thought that is central to understanding the essence of our company,” says McClaine, quoting from the culture statement.
A major advantage of a culture statement over a mission statement is that the mission likely will stay the same over the years, but the culture can breathe, evolve and adapt over time. Take for example when a new acquisition is made … some points of their culture may be worth assimilating into your statement.
“Probably half of our culture statement has been developed newly since I have been here,” McClaine says. “Those who were responsible for some of the things that have been added are the people who have joined us. We look at every acquisition that we make and what are their strengths and how we can bring that into the whole culture of Brown & Brown. The culture has been designed over the years by taking in the strengths from the ones we have acquired and casting out the weaknesses that we had or they had to make us all stronger.”
Your company leader needs to support the continuous improvement in the culture statement.
“Hyatt came up with a lot of the sayings and the culture,” McClaine says. “Over the course of time, it’s been pushed out to all of us. Most of us really enjoy it but 80 percent of the leaders of the 190 branches across the country were entrepreneurs to begin with.
So we brought those guys in, taught them, and gave them the culture that they can buy into which is independence, decentralization, and making your own decisions but still turning a profit for the company.”
While McClaine bought into the culture fairly quickly, he says most people will decide within two or three years if they are going to buy into it or not.
“In terms of acquisition, we don't acquire them if they aren't a good fit and if it is after the acquisition that we made a mistake, then they will either get a different role or no longer be with us,” he says.
“It's few and far between that those decisions are made but those do occur and sometimes after they are here three or four years; they figure it is not the right thing for them and they go their merry way.”
Know all about your acquisition
Integrating a merged or acquired company can be made a lot easier if a good fit is determined beforehand. And the real emphasis on whether it is the right fit is on the people. While there are other obvious concerns to be considered, such as financial and geographical benefits, it’s the people that deserve the most consideration.
“If your company has an entrepreneurial spirit, look for one that is in a similar entrepreneurial spirit to yours,” McClaine says. “You have to find somebody who hasn't been in a stodgy, power-down kind of situation but has been in one of entrepreneurship.”
Should your company be more vertical, with decisions being made at the upper level and followed all the way down, it is a different story.
“If they are into making all the decisions at the top, and you want a company that’s ‘Here's the manual, here's how you run the place,’ then you’ve got to look for people who are used to that, who would have been in that kind of structure before.”
Look for a fit in the same kind of style of business more than anything else.
“Ask, what's your style? Is it entrepreneur? Is it top down? Are you structured and rigid in your accounting principles and everything you do? McClaine says.
The chances that you will find a fit are often not good.
“Maybe three out of 10 will fit,” he says. “The year they acquired our agency we looked at 920 possible acquisitions across the country. We made 43. So, not everybody fits. You may have to walk away from some deals when you don't think it is going to work. I would say sometimes make a decision more with your gut than with your head.”
When assessing the nature of the possible acquisition, look at the character of the company.
“Review their reputation,” McClaine says. “If you know them, you should be able to get recommendations from fellow companies about their honesty, their integrity, basis of who their clients are, and that they are a good fit for those statements.”
“We are looking for people who look like us, I suppose. And not everybody does, but we try to find them.”
Teach the key principles
Many say the most important thing that all employees new to the fold need is some type of training. It can be as elaborate as Brown & Brown University that was created five years ago to teach the skills or in-house training programs.
Whatever it is, three areas need to be addressed, according to McClaine.
“The biggest thing that you need to teach to your young staff is to listen to people,” he says. “When you learn the most about your businesses is from people and listening to what they have done and how they've done it.
“When to listen is one of the things that separates the big boys from the small boys,” McClaine says. A sale can be lost by an associate who doesn’t let the customer talk.
Another important aspect of learning the culture is the teamwork part.
“You feel like you're part of a team. The team is part of the pack. The support people know that all they can do to help a producer to be successful is to go and help the pack. They have bought into the idea that we have to help a new client either save the money or find a better product. It brings the team together.
Celebrate the successes of the teams. This is a time to observe your good showings.
“When we announce a new sale or acquisition, we get cheers,” says McClaine, who is the de facto chief cultural officer in Indiana. “We do a cheetah growl across PA system. We sound the bell; maybe we have a party. So we do things that bring them all in. We understand that that's a big deal, and so they are happy when deals occur. The culture of doing that is bringing the pack together of those who really help you, reward them and bring sales in the door.
Another part of your culture is employee retention. While many advisers suggest that financial reward motivates employee service, there is an intangible that helps, too.
“One of the things that does help to keep people on the job and make more things stable is to say you are built forever,” McClain says.
It takes committed and disciplined people to focus on forever.
“We’re built to last; that's another saying that we have,” McClaine says. “We will continue to acquire and grow and grow. But others will be acquired by someone else.
And so as the people go, the culture goes, then that drives them to hang around because they don't feel like there is going to be a big change.”
How to reach: Brown & Brown of Indiana Inc., (317) 228-3773 or www.brownandbrownindiana.com
The McClaine File
Executive vice president
Brown & Brown Indiana Inc.
Born: Greencastle, Ind. In southwest Indiana, between Indianapolis and Terre Haute.
Education: Indiana State University in Terre Haute. I majored in in marketing with minors in economics and accounting.
What was your first job?
Selling “Grit” magazined. I sold it for 20 cents a copy and made seven cents. It was a great rural magazine. I met my future wife at 13 when I started working for her father as a hod carrier. I know I didn't want to do that the rest of my life.
What was the best advice you ever received?
Not everything is black-and-white. I got that from a guy who ran a large multinational company. I was in my 20s back then and when you're that age, you think everything is either black or white but there's a lot of gray out there so you have to learn about that.
Who do you admire in business?
J. Hyatt Brown is definitely the guy who I admire the most after seeing a lot of different people in business. He one smart guy and has the most energy at 73 that I know of anyone. What I love about jim is that when you talk to him, no matter if there are 100 people around you in the room, he listens to you. And he asks really great questions about you personally. That to me is symbolic of his humble nature, and who he is. He's chairman of the board.
What is your definition of business success?
Balance between life, family and God. I don't think you can be successful in your life if you don't have that balance. I think if people get too stressed or into their life, one or the other too much, you get too far one-sided or the other it's just not good for your business.
Ric Campo has been Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, Indiana Jones, ZZ Top and a number of others. He’s not an impersonator, nor an actor, but the CEO of an $8 billion company trying to get all his 1,864 employees on the same page.
His company, Camden Property Trust, owns 206 business and multifamily apartment properties around the nation. For years, the employees working at those properties pretty much had allegiance to their property and not to the company. That was a big issue.
A rebranding effort solved many of the concerns. Gone were inconsistencies in naming and policies. All properties now had Camden in their names.
But as part of team-building exercises such as departmental comedy skits, Campo’s impersonations set examples on how to let your hair down, break through the walls that separate different ranks of employees and drive engagement.
“There are enough barriers between employees and the C-level people,” Campo says. “You know how people just freak out, how people are awed by that. I think the skits are sort of a leveling; they make people more approachable and more real as opposed to, ‘I’m the CEO and you’re the employee and I tell you what to do — I can fire you or hire you.’ Those kinds of breakthroughs are important to get the best out of your employees.”
The scenes for those breakthroughs are the stages of companywide meetings and events. When the curtain rises, there is a lot of employee spirit going on. Campo sets up to tell the people who make up the brand they have to get engaged, get to know the company better and get to see that one of its core values is fun.
The idea behind the skits is people have to work together, come up with a script and produce it.
“You create a tremendous amount of shared experience because that is what you are trying to do — team building,” he says.
It all leads to a united company firing on all cylinders. Here are the steps Campo finds effective in getting everyone on the same page throughout a far-flung company with annual revenue of $676 million.
Seek and enhance relationships
While many businesses may feel their most important relationship is that between the company and its customers, equally important are employee/employee relationships. You have to have the second one before you can even think about developing the company/customer relationship.
Camaraderie is your lifeblood, and without it, work and even life in general may be rather dull.
“One of your core values should be to have fun,” Campo says. “If you can’t have fun, you can’t have fun with the people you work with, why bother? We try to make it feel like employees want to get up in the morning and come to work for Camden. And they want to have fun doing it.”
Creating a culture of fun starts with research and borrowing ideas from fellow companies’ successful efforts. Once you have some plans, roll out the initial ones. The first part of the year is a good time.
“One of our big ones is at the beginning of the year. Starting in February and running throughout March, we have what are called ACE awards, which is Achieving Camden Excellence. It’s basically an employee recognition event,” Campo says.
Employees vote for other employees on how they emulated Camden’s values in the last year, and winners get prizes.
“It’s a really big deal,” he says. “Some people get up and cry when they win. They also get money, too, like $2,500, a trophy and a watch.”
You can try different formats and vary the locations. Campo finds an all-day employee event effective for rehashing how everyone did last year and what is going to go on in the new year.
“But if you think about what you have — a lot of people, maintenance people and service people and so on — don’t communicate in corporate-speak,” he says. “Communicate in normal language. For example, when we talk about how we did over the last year, we don’t talk about balance sheets or income statements, earnings per share or multiples on stock or anything like that.”
Talk about normal things people understand. Incorporate some well-produced videos and other audiovisual means if you can.
“We use a lot of fun stuff so that creates a camaraderie with the employees; it gives them a sense of pride where they work,” Campo says. “Spend a fair amount of time talking about what you do.”
As the discussions are carried on, it’s important to follow through when suggestions or requests are made. Those can be turned over to a committee structure, which you would have in place by that time.
“The key thing is you have to listen to them, and you should make changes based on their input,” Campo says. “Have various constituent groups of employees. For example, we have the maintenance advisory committee, the MAC. It’s made up of maintenance people from around the country. They meet four times a year in Houston and basically deal with issues that they get from the field.
“They go through and decide which idea or request is going to be prioritized, and then which one is going to be presented,” he says. “The key to this is making sure that there is a forum for communication from the bottom up as opposed to from the top down.”
Start with a focus on trust
Developing the employer/employee relationship depends in a big way on creating a great workplace.
“That’s the key,” Campo says. “It all has to do with how people treat each other. It starts with trust. You build trust with your employees over a period of time.”
Building trust involves some of the key issues leadership must embrace.
“Some employees say they trust; well, a lot of them don’t trust,” Campo says. “Trust revolves around things like fairness, respect and credibility, and a lot of that has to do with communication and what things you do as a management team and how you do them.”
For example, on the fairness side, if you always hire management from outside the company and never from within, is that fair?
By establishing company practices, it will be a step toward greater trust.
“Have a policy on posting a new job,” Campo says. “We always post job openings in advance on our website for our employees to see. They get two weeks’ advance notice before we go out into the marketplace.”
You earn people’s respect when you do your job consistently well, set a good example, don’t bad-mouth others and respect other people, for example.
Credibility is being credible in good times and bad.
“During the good times, the key is, if you treat your employees well and you are fair and pay them well, you share the profits — there are not two or three people making all the money and no one else,” Campo says.
“You communicate effectively — What are the goals of the organization? Then you are patient. It takes time to develop those kinds of things. It takes about a nanosecond to blow them out.”
Don’t destroy that trust even in times of financial challenge, such as with the recent recession. Campo made some bold steps that helped ensure trust.
“We cut pay for the top people the most,” he says. “I took, like, a 75 percent pay cut, my next level took, like, a 40 percent cut, and then as we got down to our managers, they basically got a zero cut in pay but we froze their salaries. That is how you get into credibility, respect and fairness for people, and that’s how you build trust.”
It’s important to build pride, camaraderie and awareness that the job is not just a paycheck. Campo makes sure employees get a piece of the action and that communicates how he cares about their eventual retirement. But it also gives them a new perspective because they become part owners.
“When we hire a manager, for example, or a service maintenance person, we give them stock,” he says. “We have about 2,000 employees, and about 1,000 own stock in the company. A lot of them own stock because we gave it to them. Some own stock because we have a pretty robust employee stock purchase program.”
So when a manager or a service maintenance person has to make a decision, such as replacing the carpet or the roof, they are making decisions as an owner and not as an employee.
“They understand you need to take care of the customer first, but they are shareholders, and they understand that every dollar they spend is important,” Campo says. “If they can make spending decisions that are efficient and drive revenue and enhance expenses and what have you, then they get that and they’ll enhance shareholder value doing that.”
What it leads to is a productive workplace, Campo says, and Camden, for example, is No. 7 in the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work for 2012 and has been in the top 10 for the last three years.
Break the ice in a big way
If your company should acquire or merge with another business and you’ve done your homework and determined it’s a good company and its culture is OK, Campo says it’s still a time to pull out your bag of tricks and break the ice.
“The whole idea on trying to engage employees is to really understand that you need to bridge the gap between the C-levels, the management levels and the front-line employees because I think the biggest mistake that most people make is that they are not approachable or that they are just too stiff,” he says.
Campo suggests taking a page from the CBS TV show “Undercover Boss.” In that reality show, the company leader puts on a disguise, takes a job in a low level of his or her company and observes the operation from the bottom up.
Campo showed up at the first merger meeting in one case dressed up like a maintenance man.
“I wore a maintenance shirt that said ‘Camden’ and ‘Ric’ on it like I’m an air-conditioning repair guy. I wore jeans, and I didn’t sit at the executive table. I sat with maintenance people and talked to them.”
About 350 people were there, and most of them were property managers and similar management. A maintenance man came up to him and began a conversation.
“He said, ‘Wow, you’re a maintenance guy from Camden?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I am.’ ‘Are you going to talk to us today?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I am.’ ‘Well, that’s pretty incredible. They bring in a maintenance guy to talk.’
“The outgoing CEO of the company was on the podium, and he was wearing a suit and power tie. He said he was really excited to talk about the merger. ‘It’s a great thing for both companies.’ And then he said my name and CEO and introduced me as the head maintenance man. I walked through the crowd, telling people what the deal was and how it affected them. I didn’t talk about the accounting details of the sale.
“I just said, ‘Look, these two companies together are better. And you guys all have jobs, and it’s going to be better for all of us.’ I talked in broad strokes so people could understand instead of saying a billion this and billion that … and people just loved it.”
The tactic was a big hit and scored points in the communication arena.
“Communication is absolutely one of the most critical things that you can do and you have to do, and you constantly have to reinforce messaging on what you want people to think about and how you want them to move forward in the current environment,” Campo says.
“I think this is something that companies really fail to do. If you don’t communicate, people feel like they don’t know what’s going on or are not part of the group, and that leads to complacency and wondering why they are working here.” •
The Campo file
Name: Ric Campo
Title: Chairman and CEO
Company: Camden Property Trust
Born: Carmel, Calif.
Education: Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore. I was the first one in my family to go to college. I met my wife there, and my son just graduated from there. I majored in business accounting. I’m actually a CPA.
What was your very first job? I worked in a laundry in Lake Tahoe sorting sheets. It was a laundry for towels and sheets for hotels. It was a good job. I was 16.
Who do you admire in business? I would say somebody like Warren Buffett. I am impressed with his business basics. He buys and owns companies long term, low debt and has just kind of a country common sense as opposed to the rapid-fire style that we have today.
What’s the best business advice you have ever received? It is something that I remember a lot. When I measure success, success is not how much money you make but how many jobs you create. Whenever we were at various levels in our development of our company, we always had the ability to cash out and take our money and go home, but we always went to the next level, which meant we got bigger and created a broader platform for our people. It was good advice because each time, had we taken the money and gone home, we always thought about what that would mean for our team, our platform and our organization. So we always took the next level. We created a company that not only is big, and bigness was never the issue, but it’s sustainable. I think that’s pretty good advice.
What’s your definition of business success? It’s how many jobs you create and what kind of value you create for your customers. It’s definitely not your total rate of return on your stock, even though I think they are correlated.
Learn more about Camden Property Trust at:
How to reach: Camden Property Trust, (713) 354-2500 or www.camdenliving.com
Dwight Smith is not ashamed or embarrassed that his Christian views drive his behavior in his business, Sophisticated Systems Inc., a supplier of information and technology solutions.
“This business is part of my testimony,” the CEO says. “So the blessings that the Lord gives me, if I live according to His will, will come to me and through me to others. I really believe in it.
“I am a very committed person. What that means is I pray about the business plan. I pray over the business every day.”
When Smith puts his life and work in God’s hands, he knows God then uses him.
“I believe in servant leadership,” Smith says. “And I think that when things go poorly, the leader should be front and center. When things go really well, the leader should be invisible.”
A serious business situation taught him that lesson. Smith’s company was about 10 years old, doing well and business was good. Then the red ink appeared, and he had to do some soul searching to find a solution.
“We had a terrible year; we lost almost $700,000,” he says. “When you are losing money that fast, that means you are borrowing money to keep afloat. So just imagine after being in business 10 years, waking up and you are $2 million in debt. And you just had a $700,000 loss.
“I remember getting on my knees and praying, ‘Lord, I’ve messed up your business. I have messed up my business. Will you take it and fix it?’”
Then he waited. He didn’t tell the people in the company the business was losing money until later. Smith didn’t want to panic them and felt confident that with some divine help, he could get out of the situation. With patience and some careful management, things started to look brighter.
“A year or so went by, and we turned it around, and we were making money again,” Smith says.
At that point, he called for a company meeting and made a confession.
“I said to the people, ‘A year or so ago, we almost lost everything,’ and I was looking at the audience, and they were horrified,” Smith says. “So I said to them, ‘How many people in this room tonight would’ve wanted to know that your company was struggling, that we were in bad shape?’ Every single hand in the room went up — and I didn’t know what to say.”
Smith explained that his experience working for IBM had taught him to share information only on a need-to-know basis.
“I just didn’t think the people needed to know,” he says. “I said, ‘The other thing is, I consider this to be a family, a big old family. So I’m the parent and you’re the child, and I’m protecting the children from bad things. I apologize. If we ever go through this again, I will be more open.’”
The following year, the company paid off the $2.1 million in debt and had a $300,000 profit. It didn’t borrow again after that for seven years.
When he heard the support from the employees at the company meeting, it got the ball rolling for another positive change in Sophisticated Systems.
“I can’t believe how many people have believed in this business, who have supported me through thick and thin, who would’ve always been there,” he says. “It is said, ‘For whom much is given, much is required,’ and that is because so many people have given to me, and I’ve asked for absolutely nothing in return.”
Smith, grateful for the support (some employees even offered to take a pay cut to keep the doors open), decided the company should pursue an employee stock ownership plan.
“I think that was the best decision I ever made — sharing the ownership with people whom I care about and whom care about their business, our business,” he says. “Why would the people who work here, who create the wealth and the value — why shouldn’t they be owners? They behave like owners. We ought to do that.”
Employees now own 40 percent of the company, and Smith owns the rest.
Smith is committed to causes outside his company as well. He and his wife, Reneé, founded the Thanks Be to God Foundation to support entrepreneurship and children across the globe. Last year, Smith went to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds. He made it to the summit in 10 days.
“We were hoping to raise $15,000,” he says. “The community came forward, and we raised $60,000 for the climb. All the stuff that I do, I kind of feel like Forrest Gump, where Forrest just ends up in all places at all times. That just made life so enjoyable, so overwhelming. It was such a humbling experience.”
A few of the organizations that have received support through the foundation include Big Brothers/Big Sisters, The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Crusade for Christ, The TBTG Scholarship fund and others. ?
How to reach: Sophisticated Systems Inc., (614) 418-4600 or www.ssicom.com
Chuck Kegler knows the three requirements for success in a service business like the back of his hand.
“You can say it 100 different ways, but there are three things you have to do simultaneously,” says Kegler, director with Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter LPA and a member of the firm since 1968.
“One, you have to provide outstanding service to your customers and clients. That is measured by what they think. Usually it is that you either have a product or service that is helpful to them. You are helping them be successful. If you don’t have that product and the people to provide it, you are not going to be successful.”
The second thing is you want to be able to supply that service in a way that provides professional satisfaction for yourself — and sometimes even personal satisfaction to people with whom you work.
“The third thing is you have to do it in a financially successful way,” Kegler says. “You have to charge enough so you can have the absolute best people provide the best service.”
If those three requirements aren’t in place and operating simultaneously — or just one of them is missing — you have a problem.
“If any one of those doesn’t work, you can’t charge a fee,” he says. “Then you won’t be able to hire good people, you won’t be able to have a good staff, you won’t be successful. It doesn’t mean that you have to charge high fees at all, but in that respect, you have to have enough sense of the whole business side of it.”
While, it may sound like you are writing a mission statement to just hang on the wall, those requirements, when put into practice, will help ensure the success of a project or company as a whole.
“It may sound silly,” Kegler says, “but you should make business decisions based on questions like these: Will this help us provide outstanding service to clients? Can we do it in a way that we will be economically successful or have a chance at least? Will we give our people professional satisfaction? Do you think they will be satisfied doing it, or will they be compromising what they are doing?”
It’s important that each decision feels right to those involved. If it doesn’t, then that’s probably a sign you should reconsider.
“Someone will say, ‘I want to do this’ and it doesn’t feel good,” he says. “If you are representing a certain kind of client who wants to do something a certain way — if it doesn’t feel good, then don’t do that.”
For example, if a client called you and said, “I want you to draft these four things exactly this way,” you might do it and they might be unhappy with the results. The reason is it didn’t satisfy his or her goals. But if you had been able to ask a few questions, it might have become something totally different.
“A client called and asked us to prepare a whole set of documents to raise money according to different concepts he had outlined,” Kegler says. “After about 15 minutes, I said, ‘You know, you can go this way, and it will cost you about $20,000 to $25,000, or you can do it 90 percent by yourself if you do it this other way. You just need to change what you are doing slightly. I think it will be more effective than some big complicated process.’”
Looking back, Kegler recalled how the advice of a college professor led him to his career as a lawyer. The professor, a Jesuit priest at Xavier University who was the head of the pre-med department, suspected Kegler really wasn’t pursuing the right field — medicine.
“He said I had difficulty understanding three dimensions,” Kegler says, remembering how astonished he was at the time of the comment, and the priest added, ‘Your fine motor skills are not very good. Surgery is not something you should be doing.’”
Still probing, the professor asked Kegler what he liked about his family doctor that got him interested in medicine.
The discussion revealed that he liked the office atmosphere and the advisory aspects of the business, so the priest advised him to do something that would help others.
Kegler took a year off from school because his basketball scholarship ran out. His family then moved to Columbus, and he transferred to Ohio State University and changed his major.
“I went into business and then law school,” he says. “My path was pretty clear then. I could see right away I enjoyed law a lot more than medicine. Pre-med is something I felt like maybe I should do or could do. I had enough skills to do it, but it was not something I loved.”
What he does love is the practice of law.
“I really like it,” Kegler says. “I love it. We are blessed to have wonderful clients, we are blessed to be in a great city, Columbus, Ohio.” ?
How to reach: Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter LPA, (614) 462-5400 or www.keglerbrown.com