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Throughout its history, vanpooling has been very good to Ann Fandozzi’s company.

For more than 35 years, VPSI Inc. — which is now branded as vRide — has grown and profited from running vanpools for commuters who want an alternative way to negotiate rush-hour traffic. After becoming the company’s CEO this past June, Fandozzi likely could have continued focusing solely on vRide’s vanpooling expertise with no ill effects to the company’s bottom line.

But Fandozzi saw more. She saw vRide’s potential to grow outward from its staple business, with a goal of becoming a comprehensive commuter solutions company. So Fandozzi challenged her company to expand and employ its expertise in new ways.

“My vision, and something that is palatable for us, is really broadening what we do,” Fandozzi says. “There really isn’t any type of commuter solutions company that does what we do, so that made it kind of exciting.

“When you think about it, we are really at an all-time peak of forces coming together, be it congestion in cities, be it gas prices, be it people’s time worth more of a premium than ever before. All of those forces coming together is something that allows us to come in and really offer a unique solution for commuters.”

To make her vision a reality, Fandozzi has needed to develop and implement a methodical approach that helps vRide — which generated $75 million in 2011 revenue  —  identify its target customers and create new ways to serve them by employing internal resources in the most effective way possible.

“If you have a commute of, say, 45 minutes or longer, you might come to us because of our vanpooling reputation,” she says. “But as we grow, we’ll be able to offer you a multitude of different solutions. We can certainly still put you in a vanpool, but we might also be able to put you in a carpool if you have a smaller group. No matter the service offering, the goal is commuter focus.”

Form a vision

To expand your company into new areas, you need a reachable vision, guidelines for achieving that vision, building blocks that will help you turn the vision into a reality and metrics that will help you measure your performance in relation to the guidelines and building blocks.

“Your vision has to be both broad and targeted,” Fandozzi says. “It has to be broad enough to capture the various value streams that the business model can deliver but focused enough that you’re not trying to be all things to all people.

“When we thought about broadening our company from a vanpool company to a commuter solutions company, our vision was significantly broader, but it was also very targeted from the sense that we are going to go after commuters and focus on solving their needs.”

To formulate an achievable vision for vRide, Fandozzi and her leadership team had to connect with the needs and pain points of current and potential customers. It required vRide’s representatives to gather customer data and conduct market research with an eye toward finding the holes in the marketplace that vRide could capably fill.

“A lot of it really has to do with delving deep into the customer’s world,” Fandozzi says. “In order to know where you want to go, you really have to take a step back and see what needs there are from a customer standpoint, areas that being underserved, and those are where the juiciest opportunities will usually present themselves. You go where the needs exist and where potential customers are being underserved.

“In our case, we’ve been looking at traffic congestion, people who are becoming frustrated with commute times, the state of the economy and gas prices, and people wanting more money in their pockets,” Fandozzi says. “We know those are the pain points, and from there, we dig a little deeper and get a read on whether we can expect those factors to increase or decrease over time.”

With traffic congestion and high gas prices remaining as fixtures of day-to-day life, Fandozzi’s team felt comfortable building a vision around how to address those needs. Then, she moved her company into the implementation phase.

“You don’t need to know every step of the 100 steps you’re going to take to get from here to there, but in general, you need to have a pretty good plan for how that vision can be achieved,” she says. “For us, a big fundamental building block has been the Web and mobile technology.”

Under Fandozzi’s leadership, vRide has taken steps to create a mobile-device app that can give would-be commuters instant access to potential solutions provided by the company.

“It’s the nature of addressing consumers who are on the go,” Fandozzi says. “You need an on-the-go solution. You need to automate instantaneous answers for consumers. For 35 years as a vanpooling company, that is a competency we didn’t have. So then the question becomes, ‘How do you scale to add those competencies?’”

It was a question of whether vRide needed to add new resources and competencies, or find new ways to utilize what was already in-house. Through rounds of organization analysis, Fandozzi’s team realized the company had a great deal of physical infrastructure already constructed, meaning scalability would be a mixture of the old and new.

It was a matter of creating new technology platforms and plugging them into what already existed in terms of vans, people and facilities.

“Currently, we have more than 5,000 vans, and there is a set of solutions that works really well there,” Fandozzi says. “So the question to the leadership team is, how do those get scaled? Anything from the way the vehicles get serviced and delivered, and anything or everything in between. That is why it really becomes a function of having those building blocks and being very honest with your assessment of whether you have them in-house, versus the items you need to bring in.”

Develop a marketing plan

With a vision and implementation plan in place, you need to get potential customers interested in your organization’s new direction. That is where a comprehensive marketing campaign comes in.

Fandozzi divides vRide’s marketing campaign into various phases focused on educating consumers and driving traffic. Once those phases are fully implemented, marketing can become an effective tool to spur further growth.

“You need to develop a phased marketing strategy that is appropriate for where you are in your development cycle,” Fandozzi says. “For us, we are kind of in a heavy learning mode right now, because we are still in the process of putting our fundamental building blocks in place.

“The next phase is once those building blocks are in place, you want to take what you’ve learned and use it to educate consumers. Then, once everything is place, you can expand your marketing efforts as you grow.

“For instance, we could then say that every man and woman in America who commutes more than 45 minutes to work is our target consumer,” Fandozzi says. “But that is a different kind of marketing effort from where we are now.

“The trick is in knowing what phase you are in at that moment but planning for the next one as you are in the current one.”

Developing a successful marketing effort around your vision often requires a combination of developing internal expertise and utilizing outside resources. Your internal marketing experts have an intimate knowledge of your business and your customer base. Third-party marketing firms will bring an outside perspective, along with data gathering and research capabilities that your company may not possess.

However, Fandozzi says external consultants should not drive your marketing philosophy. Though third-party firms bring useful skills and resources to the table, you and your team know your business the best.

“You want the latest and greatest, but you want it centrally managed with internal resources,” Fandozzi says.

“That is why you assign and train a leader who is centrally responsible for your marketing vision, because that is the person who is going to really understand where you’re going as a company, what building blocks are in place and what phase of marketing you’re going to need to be in for each phase of growth — are you in a heavy learning mode, or a heavy execution mode, and so forth.

“Those are the people who will be in charge of bringing in experts along the way to help them execute on each of those facets.”

If you make a misstep in your marketing, learn from it quickly and correct it — and have those systems in place from the outset.

“You’re testing along the way, fully preparing to fail,” Fandozzi says. “One of the things we do here is we like to learn fast-forward. You want to do something quickly and you want to learn from it quickly. Failure is OK if you learn from it, but you want to do it and correct it quickly. You are trying to fast-forward the entire process so that you develop definite answers on what you can move forward with.”

How to reach: vRide, (248) 597-3500 or www.vride.com

 

The Fandozzi file

Ann Fandozzi

CEO

vRide

More from Fandozzi on self-assessing as a business: There are several modes of self-assessment. One is having some conversations about just looking in the mirror with the leadership team and saying, ‘Hey, this is where we need to go and this is where we are.’ Another is bringing in experts, because sometimes you need a fresh set of eyes since you are just so close to the business, and it’s tough to see. One of the hallmarks of good leadership is knowing when to ask for help, and looking at experts instead of thinking that you have all the answers.

The third method is looking around at adjacent industries and seeing how they’ve been able to solve similar problems, to also free up your thinking. So, you may be stuck, but they’re going to bring in an expert and give you an expert solution along the lines of how you’re already thinking.

Fandozzi on hiring and retaining top talent: That is always the silver bullet to a business, having the right people. It comes from a multitude of sources. First and foremost, it comes from having the right screening techniques in place to make sure that as we’re bringing in people, they’re the right people. There is a lot of ownership on the part of the leader to make sure the vision is exceptionally clear, that people aren’t hunting in the dark and hoping they find the right answer.

There is a lot of personal ownership, for example, in order to develop and work with my people, I overinvest. People tend to underestimate how much investment this takes, but overinvesting on tools, resources — making sure we’ve put the right metrics in place. Then, it’s taking a step back and seeing if they can do it. It’s guaranteed you are going to make mistakes along the way, but you want those mistakes to be smaller-sized, and you want the wins to be bigger, and you want to course-correct as you go.

Published in Detroit

Jim Litten has a saying that sums up his approach to operating F.C. Tucker Co. Inc.: “We are a success today, but nothing is guaranteed for tomorrow unless we have our game face on.”

But it’s not the only line of attack that helped him guide the largest Indianapolis-area residential real estate agency through a real estate market that dropped 32 percent between 2007 and 2009.

“Look at most businesses; if their business was off 32 percent, that would require monumental change to everything they do,” says Litten, president of F.C. Tucker. “Do you quit matching on the 401(k)? Do you put a hiring freeze on? Do you evaluate every single expense line that you have? We went through all those different processes, and as we saw the market continue to contract, we continued to cut. If we saw the market dropped 10 percent, we cut 10 percent.”

While cutbacks were necessary, it was disheartening for Litten to make them and to see his family of agents suffer as a result. Nevertheless, he knew he had another job on hand — to keep up the spirits of his employees.

“As a CEO of a company, you have to be realistic about what’s going on, but you can’t be pessimistic,” he says. “In a sales-driven organization, there has to be a cheerleader that keeps the organization moving forward.”

Litten’s 40-year career in real estate sales has taught him that he needs to keep his associates focused when facing challenges. He says that means not backing off and staying engaged.

“And it’s letting the agents know that we were in it with them,” he says. “The downturn wasn’t something that was their problem; it was all of ours.”

Here’s how Litten leads 1,500 agents across Indiana to stay engaged, focused and on top, with more than $2 billion in annual sales.

Empower, but don’t micromanage

Many leaders understand the value of empowerment. You give your employees more responsibility, they have more control of their position, and they start looking for solutions rather than making excuses.

With empowerment, however, comes the ability to delegate. It doesn’t work if the leader is a control freak. Litten says that he doesn’t micromanage the company’s business units or their leaders. When someone is hired to run a unit, the first thing he tells that person is that he expects him or her to run the operation as if it were his or her own. That doesn’t mean that Litten is unwilling to answer questions or offer guidance.

“But if I have to come out and micromanage it for you, I’ve got the wrong person in the seat,’” Litten says.

While empowerment means more authority for employees, it also means more responsibility — and being accountable. Leaders need to have quarterly reviews with each of the division heads and branch managers and review metrics to evaluate where they are, where the market share is and the growth they’ve experienced in the position. Litten also discusses every agent in the office with their managers to see how they are doing and find out where they may need help.

He says that one of the best indexes of performance is productivity, and if your managers keep an eye on individual productivity, they will be able to manage more effectively where it is needed most.

“You may get fooled by some who can sing a pretty good song,” Litten says. “But the reality of it is just productivity. When I look at the offices, are they doing comparable to what they did the prior year? If not, why not?”

In a smaller office, if there are just a few big producers and they are having an off year, it can impact the entire office. A leader who is tuned in to what is going on will be aware of why that office’s sales are off, and instead of thinking it may be a leadership issue in that office, will be aware that agents are simply having an off year.

“You’ve got to know what is going on in your business,” Litten says. “If levels of management just go through the motions, those days are numbered for them because you can’t do it anymore. You’ve got to know what is going on, what the trends are, what the strategic issues facing you are and how you are going to deal with them.”

Communicate, but don’t hover

While it may seem to be at odds with the practice of empowerment, staying in frequent touch with employees is vital to a company’s success. However, the leader needs to draw a fine line, because if it appears he or she is hovering, employees will not feel truly empowered.

Litten says that coaching is critical. Spend time with associates not only to help them but to simply check in and see what is going on with them. If you fail to do so, it may send a message that you don’t really care enough about them to ask or that you are making assumptions about their situation.

“The worst thing that you can do is to assume that somebody is OK,” Litten says. “You have to touch them regularly. Often, unless you are checking in with them, you really don’t know if there is something going on attitudinally on which you need to work with them or just be a good listener to them and let them come in and vent.”

Your leadership team, and thus the company as a whole, needs to understand what the fuel is that runs the engine. In the case of F.C. Tucker, that fuel is the agents, which is why Litten says it is critical to be plugged in to their needs.

In any business, employers try to retain their top performers. Litten says doing so is even more critical in real estate, as the top performers are usually independent contractors with the option to go elsewhere. Litten uses a sports analogy to make his point.

“Imagine the Indianapolis Colts having a stable of superstar players, with virtually no contracts with them, and those players have the ability to take their talents to any team in the NFL,” he says. “As an owner of the team and coach of the team, you would make sure that you bring value to them every day in what you do and the systems that you put in place, the platform and the tools of differentiation that you give them.

“In our case, if an agent doesn’t like what management is doing, he or she can pick up and move across the street in a New York minute. You don’t want that. Our only real asset is our sales force.”

Use tools to be proactive

Businesses today have to be proactive, says Litten. If they just react to what’s happening around them, it can be fatal.

“And never, ever, ever, ever be satisfied with the status quo,” he says. “One of two things happen in life: you grow or you die. The same thing happens in business. You either grow or you die.”

Business is continually evolving, and if a business tries to rest on its laurels, it will find itself left in the dust, because there is always someone behind you looking to take your market from you.

“Certainly it would be nice to be able to sit back and catch your breath, but business today is just so competitive that if you back off, you become vulnerable.”

To help agents stay on top of trends, changes and sales techniques, F.C. Tucker Co. established Tucker University to offer tools of differentiation for the agents who are interfacing with the consumer and keep the management team’s skills at a game-day level. Tucker University recently started a new sales training class. During classes, Litten usually talks to agents about the company culture, its values and its belief system. He also tells them that the only things they can really control are their attitudes and their activities.

He says that if you can control those two things, you are going to get your share of the market that you are operating in. But if your activity level isn’t top-notch and your attitude is bad — whether it’s because of the economy or worrying about what will happen if the mortgage interest deduction goes away — you will find yourself struggling.

“And if you play the best you can play by being on top of your game every day, you’re going to win,” Litten says. “If you don’t, shame on you; you are going to lose.” ?

How to reach: F.C. Tucker Co. Inc., (888) 588-2537 or talktotucker.com

The Litten file

Jim Litten

President

F.C. Tucker Co. Inc.

Born: Dayton, Ohio. I was raised in a small town called Martin’s Ferry. It’s on the Ohio River by Wheeling, W.Va.

Education: I went to Ohio University on a football scholarship. I studied physical education and was going to be a football coach. When I tell people that, they look at me and say, ‘You’re doing what now?’

What was your first job?

When I was 15, I delivered groceries for a small grocery store in Bridgeport, Ohio. When I became 16, I could drive, so I could go further on the route. I was very blessed. My dad was a salesman for an oil company, and he had a tremendous work ethic. Every morning by 7:30, he had his suit and tie on and was out making calls to steel mills. I also think athletics instilled a discipline in me so that if I were going to get ahead, there were no shortcuts.

Whom do you admire in business?

I have friends in the Realty Alliance. There is a man named Ron Peltier who is president of HomeServices of America, a Berkshire Hathaway company. Ron and I have been friends for 25 years. He’s a good businessman and an exceptionally good person. I have a friend who is a U.S. senator from Georgia, Johnny Isaacson. He used to run a real estate company in Atlanta. I have tremendous respect for Johnny. He is a very, very bright and a very compassionate individual.

What is the best business advice you ever received?

Our office used to be in the OneAmerica Tower (formerly AUL Tower) in Indianapolis. When we bought the company, we were on the 25th floor. My mother and father came up to visit, and my dad was always scared of heights. He walked into my office and looked down. It was shortly after we bought the company. We were sort of all starry-eyed about it, and he looked at me and he said, ‘Son, be nice to everybody on the way up because on the way down, you're going to need friends.’ He was holding on to the side of my desk and looking out the window at the time. My father was just a wise, wise man and just a very good person.

What is your definition of business success?

To be respected by the people who you serve and to be respected by your competitors. You go about doing things the right way, and you treat people the way they are supposed to be treated.

 

Published in Indianapolis

Mark Carr was operating Christian Brothers Automotive in Houston when a Chevy Suburban driven by a woman from Michigan gasped its way in to the repair shop. It was giving off the telltale knock, knock, knock that even novice mechanics know means the engine is dying.

But what infuriated Carr was not the sad shape of the rusted-out vehicle but the fact that the woman had just paid $750 for repairs at another shop, and the engine was still clunking. He smelled a fresh rip-off for the unlucky victim.

“Her husband was disabled, and she was on disability,” Carr says. “She was trying to take care of her husband and was crying. She said, ‘I just paid $750 to get my transmission fixed and the car’s making the same noise that it did before.’ So I patted her on the hand and said, ‘Come on; let me take a look at it.’”

His diagnosis was on target. She needed a new engine.

“But this guy took $750 that this poor woman didn't have to fix a transmission instead,” Carr says. “I got in the car and I drove down to the guy and I said, ‘You know what? The guy who sticks a gun in your ribs in an alley is more honest than you are because at least you know he is stealing from you. I don’t know how you get up in the morning and look yourself in the eye in the mirror. You disgust me. I am going to tell everyone that I know not to come here. I don’t know what you are going to do for this woman because I can’t control that, but you should refund her money.’”

The man just stood there, not knowing what to do with Carr.

“And I left,” he says. “But that is how I stuck up for her. That’s not the only time that I have done that for my customers.”

Did she get her money back?

“I don’t know if he gave it to her or not,” he says. “But I hope he did; I hope I shamed him enough to give the money back. How would you like somebody doing that to your mother, and there was nobody to stand up for her?”

The incident is a reflection of the simple but powerful mission Carr has for his company — love your neighbor as yourself. With Christian Brothers Automotive, Carr’s goal is to distinguish his company in a field in which a number of lesser shops have often taken their lumps for poor customer service.

“A lot of times, you get a customer who walks in the door, and he thinks that you are a crook,” he says. “He may even say it before you even touch his car. It was a challenge for me to change that person’s mind, to show that that wasn't true.”

In 1997, the company began selling franchises that promoted family values. Today, there are 750 employees and 109 franchises in 14 states, and 25 more are in the planning stages.

“I did start out with a partner, and I bought him out about two years into it, so that is where the ‘Christian Brothers’ came in, using my Bible study,” he says about one of the most frequently asked questions.

Here’s how Carr, president and CEO, set Christian Brothers apart from other companies in a field that is often viewed suspiciously and how he generated $160 million in revenue in 2012.

Walk in another’s shoes

Not every company is founded upon what you might call a divine “nudge,” and other types of inspiration have led entrepreneurs to found enterprises. But no matter where the inspiration comes from, if that nudge becomes the heart of your company — and if you believe the company will only continue through a strong connection to that inspiration, superior customer service and a spirit dedicated to strengthening the community — you will be successful, Carr says.

He founded Christian Brothers Automotive in 1982 with the help of fellow church members, after he spent months praying about how he should change his life. One of the first steps he took to stand out above the rest was to take inventory of market perceptions of the industry.

“I sat down and I made a list of 20 reasons why people hate to get their car repaired,” he says. “I went through every one, checked off all 20 on that list and said I can solve every one of those.

His first goal was to be a light in the community. To do that, establish your operation as fair and reliable, he says. When you make honesty and integrity the foundation of your business, word gets around. Word-of-mouth is everything, and it spreads rapidly, be it positive or negative.

“People are talking about us, which makes me proud in a good way,” Carr says. “It’s all about, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ That is our motto. Whatever race, color, creed, country — no matter where you’re from, everybody wants that.”

Another “image lifter” was a new design scheme. Carr created a positive culture shock when he installed an upscale home-charm décor that includes hardwood floors, leather couches, artwork and decorative lighting in the waiting rooms. The scheme was a hit among women, who had a negative perception of dingy auto shops and the possibility of questionable practices.

Don’t skimp on training

Training is a large part of jobs today, and few organizations can afford to skimp on educating their carefully selected employees. In service-related businesses such as car repair, a business often comes out ahead if it starts with a manager or executive who doesn’t have skills in the service field but instead is strong in business operations, Carr says.

“We do not want any of our franchisees knowing anything about cars,” he says. “If they know about cars, they can be in the running, but 90 percent of the time, we turn them down. We turn down by probably a 2-to-1 ratio.”

Instead, for his company’s franchises, Carr looks for businesspeople who know how to manage people and manage money. To get around their lack of knowledge of the industry, Christian Brothers hires all the employees for the new franchisee because that person doesn’t know what to look for. Then, after about a year, that person will have a better understanding of what to look for, says Carr.

Because no amount of training can address every possible task or situation for a new manager or executive, the education process has to be as thorough as possible.

“We go through extensive training with these people,” Carr says. “I actually have an exact replica of what my store looks like inside my office. It’s got the lobby and all the point-of-sale software so they are in the environment that they’re going to walk into. It is exactly the same — the waiting room, the counters, the whole thing.”

Carr has employees play the roles of customers during training sessions, both good customers as well as mean ones.

“We banter with the trainees to see how they are going to handle that particular situation,” he says. “We are in a lousy business. People are already walking in thinking we are crooks if they are a first-time customer. You just try to deal with it the best you can. If we screw up the car, you say that you were wrong, you take it back in, you fix it.”

Build an image of a cheerful giver

Companies that have become a better corporate citizen in the community are not likely to abandon those efforts, as the good will they achieve can’t be bought at any price. That good will can be especially beneficial in an industry segment that has taken its licks over the years.

And while Carr says a company can offer any number of promotions, those that have staying power in a consumer’s mind are optimal.

“I have a tremendous heart for single moms,” he says. “We hold a nationwide day for free oil changes for single moms. We served over 1,000 people last year. We hope to make it double what it was last year.”

Such events build the image and the brand of your company, but it can’t just be the event. Your core values of honesty and integrity have to be woven into the event or it may come across the wrong way and damage your image more than it will help it.

“It is not to get business,” Carr says. “It’s just to show who we are as a company and who I am as the leader of this company.”

Hosting philanthropic events making contributions and donations to the community result in positive feelings about the company not just from the community but from the employees, as well. Carr says Christian Brothers give away 10 percent of what it grosses across the entire company, donating to charities and other organizations.

“On the 30th of the month, when I call the controller and ask how much money do we have in the account to give, that’s the day I am the happiest,” Carr says. “I love it. I just love it.

“If you give from your heart, He blesses you 100-fold, and that’s what He has done with me.”

 How to reach: Christian Brothers Automotive Corp., (281) 870-8900 or www.cbac.com

 

The Carr File

Mark Carr

President and CEO

Christian Brothers Automotive Corp.

Born: Syracuse, N.Y.

Education: I barely made it out of high school. There were 32 kids in my class and I graduated in the top 30. I skinned out, although I did get accepted at three of the top art schools in the Northeast.

What was your first job?

I had a paper route when I was about 10. I used to clean toilets in a bar before I went to school in the morning, and I was a garbage collector on the back of a truck because I refused to collect unemployment. I also delivered fuel oil in upstate New York in 20 degrees below zero weather.

Whom do you admire in business?

Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines is one of the smartest businesspeople that I read about. The guy is so smart. All his planes are the same. The maintenance is low. He treats people well. It’s not flying first class, but they treat you well. The customer service, everybody’s got a smile. Nobody likes to fly anyway, but I just think that his whole philosophy, his whole concept of business and his making it so practical in the industry – he’s the only one out there that’s profitable. I also admire Lee Iacocca. He took something that was a mess and turned it into something that was good. I think that is why I like what I do. I’m trying to take something that is really crummy and make it into something decent. And it works so far.

What is the best business advice you have ever received?

My dad said to me, ‘Mark, credit is everything. Pay your bills, pay your employees and pay yourself last.’ I think that’s been really good advice. The credit has gotten us where we are – never defaulting on any loans. He was right. I have paid myself last, and not very much. There wasn't much left. But it took care of the employees.

What is your definition of business success?

It’s not size. It’s getting to a point where you don’t have to worry about paying your bills, you don’t have to look over your shoulder to worry that something is going to come up that you did dishonestly. You really enjoy getting up in the morning and going to the office. And if it is one employee or 1,000, it doesn’t really matter. Just because you are bigger doesn't mean you are more profitable – if you make $1 million a year and your expenses are $999,999, you didn't make any money.

 

Published in Houston

During the first four years of his now decade-long stint at the helm of Tenet Healthcare Corp., Trevor Fetter spent a lot of time putting out fires. The company was embroiled in a couple of delicate litigation issues left over from its previous regime, and those cases drained the newly appointed CEO’s energy and focus.

Unfortunately, the legal entanglements left Fetter with little time to address a significant problem that had begun to affect both his company and the health care industry at large: a long-term growth slump that began in 2003 and persists to this day.

“From 2003 to 2006, I was focused most intensely on fighting fires and resolving legacy problems,” Fetter says. “But you could see the early signs of the slowing of growth in our industry around the beginning of 2003.”

The slowdown was largely being driven by a conscious initiative of employers and insurance companies to reverse the tide of ballooning health care costs. Companies were beginning to shift a portion of the health care costs they had traditionally borne onto their employees by increasing out-of-pocket payments such as co-pays and deductibles.

“Behind the scenes, employers’ HR departments were fixated on the percentage of total health care costs being borne by the company versus the employee,” Fetter says. “They were trying to move it from, say, an 80-20 ratio to a 70-30 ratio. And that made a big difference in the take-home pay of employees across American industry.”

It also started to make a dent in the revenue of companies such as Tenet, which owns and operates 49 hospitals and about 100 outpatient centers in 11 states and generated $9.58 billion in revenue in its most recent fiscal year.

“That and other factors have resulted in a prolonged reduction in the growth rate for our industry,” Fetter says. “And if that weren’t enough, when the recession came along in 2008, the suppression of growth expanded, and it has persisted. So our big challenge over the past few years has been how to overcome these pressures against growth.”

Tenet has faced that challenge by launching a handful of initiatives that, taken as a whole, have transformed the company into an innovator and a model for a more sustainable way to deliver health care services in the coming decades.

React to shifts

The first of these new programs, kicked off in 2007 and was dubbed the Target Growth Initiative. The program’s goal was to revise the Tenet hospitals’ menu of services to better fit the changing demographics of their communities, thus making them more competitive in their markets.

“What we did was to deconstruct our hospitals and look at them as a collection of service lines within a fiscal infrastructure,” Fetter says. “When you look at a hospital that way, you realize that some of the services you’re providing to the community are in a permanent state of decline, generally fueled by demographic trends.”

As an example, Fetter cites a hospital serving an aging community. In that type of market, the demand for maternity services will naturally decrease while the demand for cardiac services will naturally rise.

Tenet’s Target Growth Initiative enabled it to get out in front of these types of trends by investing more in service lines for which the demand was growing, even though that often came at the expense of cutting service lines for which the demand was shrinking.

“An example of this was at one of our hospitals in Los Angeles where they needed more space for operating rooms and equipment related to treating cardiac disease, while they had excess capacity for maternity and obstetrics,” Fetter says. “Another factor we had to consider is that in Los Angeles it takes forever to get permission to change a physical facility. It’s very difficult and very expensive.”

Tenet’s leaders also realized that there were competing hospitals nearby that had large, established maternity and obstetrics departments. So the company solved the puzzle by shutting down its maternity services at the Los Angeles hospital and using the freed-up space and resources to expand its cardiology capabilities.

“We repurposed those facilities to satisfy the need of the growing cardiology business,” Fetter says. “A change like that can make a huge difference if, for example, someone is having a heart attack. It might shorten their ambulance ride by 10 to 15 minutes. That can make a real difference in saving lives.”

Standardize services

Another program launched by Tenet in 2008, the Medicare Performance Initiative, is aimed at motivating physicians to standardize their treatment methods to cut costs, increase efficiency and improve patient outcomes.

Fetter and his team put together this initiative to address a number of inefficiencies they had observed both at Tenet’s hospitals and at other health care providers’ facilities: wide variations in the treatment of patients with the same condition, physicians ordering duplicate tests, overuse of supplies, keeping patients hospitalized longer than necessary and keeping patients on medication longer than necessary.

“Basically this initiative, which is ongoing and permanent, is a massive exercise in collecting data in order to show physicians that there’s tremendous variation in the ways they treat one person versus another who have the same medical condition,” Fetter says.

“In our business, lower cost usually equals better quality. Getting somebody out of the hospital sooner is better than leaving them in longer. You get them active again; you get them out of an environment where there are other sick people. The same goes for excessive amounts of tests and medications and everything else.”

The result at Tenet’s hospitals has been a gradual standardization of physicians’ patterns of care and treatment and the emergence of a set of best medical practices.

“What we are trying to do is to look at those variations, and where the variations do not help patients or help the cost of care, we are addressing them,” Fetter says.

With a system as large as Tenet’s — the company estimates that its hospitals and treatment centers amass 4 million patient encounters a year — the resulting standardization and efficiencies have produced a bounty of positive results for Tenet.

“We’ve had some staggering results,” Fetter says. “From 2009 to 2011, we saved $145 million. And we project that over a six-year period, going all the way through 2015, the cumulative savings will be about $375 million. So we’re talking about a tremendous amount of money.”

Go inside out

Among the other initiatives Tenet has launched in recent years, the company in 2008 formed a subsidiary, Conifer Health Solutions, to offer revenue-cycle services and patient communications to other hospitals and health care providers.

“Conifer represents a significant part of how we’ve dealt with our growth challenge,” Fetter says. “The idea for this came from the recognition that our company — and our headquarters in particular — was basically a service center serving 50 hospitals across the United States with a variety of services, and there was no reason we couldn’t provide those services to hospitals other than ours — and that this could be a vibrant business for us.”

The Conifer subsidiary has indeed proven to be a vibrant business for Tenet. Bolstered by several acquisitions, the fast-growing unit now serves almost 400 health care entities across the United States.

“Sitting here today, we have built the leading company in our industry that serves hospitals in the revenue cycle,” Fetter says. “This company that we started out of Tenet is on track to do more than $150 million a quarter in revenue, and it’s growing very rapidly.”

A lesson to be drawn from Tenet’s Conifer venture is that business leaders would be wise to keep their eyes peeled for opportunities to convert an in-house service into an outside revenue generator.

“The idea for taking these services outside of our company really germinated here within the leadership of our company,” Fetter says. “I’d had some prior experience doing something similar to this, and we decided to take it outside in a serious way at the beginning of 2008.

“So I’d advise other CEOs to examine the skills you have within your company and ask yourself if those skills can be used as a stand-alone line of business. That’s a concept that could work well in a lot of different markets.”

Ultimately, Fetter attributes his company’s emergence as an innovator in its field to his leadership team’s laser-like focus on Tenet’s customers’ needs and wants.

“It’s imperative to understand your overall business environment from the customers’ perspective,” Fetter says. “There’s no point of view more valuable than your customers’ point of view.”

To reach that point, Tenet’s leaders had to accept that the company’s customers were dissatisfied with both the high prices and the low quality of the services they were receiving and then put together an action plan to deal with that blunt realization.

“Our strategy for addressing that was to institute major improvements in quality and to attack our costs aggressively so that we could provide a cost and quality advantage relative to our competitors,” Fetter says. “That’s applicable in any business. You have to understand the customers’ point of view, understand what your competitive advantages and disadvantages are, and design strategies in order to build competitive advantage.” ?

How to reach: Tenet Healthcare Corp., (469) 893-2000 or www.tenethealth.com

The Fetter File

Trevor Fetter

President and CEO

Tenet Healthcare Corp.

Born: San Diego, Calif.

Education: MBA, Harvard University; bachelor’s degree in economics, Stanford University

Looking back at your years in school, can you identify a business leadership lesson you learned there that you use today?

The most important thing that applied to business and to my work is fact-based analysis — the importance of seeking the facts and trying to make decisions based at least partially on factual analysis. In the end, it doesn’t mean that every decision can be reduced to something analytical and quantitative, but you ought to have the best possible fact-based information you can get before you make an important decision.

What was your first job, and what business lessons did you learn from it?

My first job out of college was as an analyst in an investment banking firm inNew York. Among the lessons I learned, and this sometimes drives some of my colleagues crazy, is the importance of making a great presentation and having it be accurate and delivering it on time. When you’re in a customer service business, presenting your ideas in a coherent, persuasive and high-quality way is really important.

Do you have a main business philosophy that you use to guide you?

I think it’s embodied in the values we have at Tenet, which are very transparent: The patient comes first; having integrity in everything we do; and the fact that we don’t mind being measured. We are eager to provide quality data to every legitimate organization that wants to measure it. We welcome that degree of examination and transparency.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

One pithy bit of advice came from a gentleman early in my career, a wise investment banker whose name I can’t remember. He said, “A perfectly good way to answer to a question is, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out.’ ”

Published in Dallas

By Mark Scott, Dennis Seeds, Gregory Jones, Laura Green, Erik Cassano and Pete Fehrenbach

(Numbers in parentheses are 2012 rankings.)

When you look over this year’s Power 100 list, there are 10 new faces, 90 familiar faces and a good bit of movement. That’s not to say that the Smart Business Columbus editors could only find 10 rising stars in the power landscape, but the stable of influential leaders of Central Ohio had a full year of ups and some downs, some wins and losses, and a general sense that economic conditions are improving.

As the years go on, perhaps most would rather forget they are aging, but not so with cities. Columbusmarked its 200th birthday in 2012. Ty Marsh headed the planning committee forColumbus’ party, which included exhibitions and educational programs honored the city’s founding as well as more than 40 events, including the “Red, White and Boom” fireworks celebration.

Eric Fingerhut, already well-known in Greater Cleveland as a legislator as well as chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, is now helping a train a new crop of science and technology leaders as vice president, education and STEM learning, for the Battelle Memorial Institute.

New addition Tom Lennox is the founder of theColumbus- based nonprofit organization that plans and promotes an annual bike tour of the same name, Pelatonia, which sends all of its proceeds to The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center-James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

As for politicians new to the list, we add one — Andrew Ginther, president of Columbus City Council, who has worked closely with Mayor Michael Coleman to bolsterColumbus’ image with tourists and conventions. He’s chaired council’s finance and economic development committee and supports building safe and strong neighborhoods, too.

Many of the other influential leaders have also been busy in 2012 creating new jobs, growing their businesses and making positive contributions to Central Ohio. They’ve not been standing still. They’ll be in their roles until it is time for the changing of the guard. And that’s part of the evolving landscape the editors hope you will see as you look at the most influential business, civic and political leaders for 2013.

 


1. Les Wexner

chairman and CEO, Limited Brands Inc. (1)

Wexner will mark an impressive milepost in 2013 — his 50th year of running The Limited. From opening his first Limited store in 1963 in the Kingsdale Shopping Center in Upper Arlington with first-year sales of $160,000, to leading what today has become a $10 billion business, Wexner, 75, is enthusiastic as ever about growing his business and philanthropy efforts. In recognition of a $100 million pledge from his family and the Limited Brands Foundation, The Ohio State University renamed the Wexner Medical Center in his honor. This was the largest such single gift the university had ever received.

Wexner announced in June that he was stepping down as a trustee at OSU after serving 18 years, including several years as chairman of the board.

 


2. John F. Wolfe

publisher, Columbus Dispatch; chairman and CEO, Dispatch Publishing Co. (3)

Wolfe was given a special recognition award in September from the Associated Press Society of Ohio for “exemplary service to print journalism.” Given to “those who surpass their peers in their dedication and accomplishments,” the honor adds to the Dispatch’s influence on delivering the news. The newspaper was named best newspaper among Ohio’s largest papers and Dispatch.com was named the best website. Dispatch staffers won 39 other awards in the annual AP competition honoring work done in 2011.

 


3. Michael Coleman

mayor, Columbus (2)

When a New York Times Magazine article in September detailed the economic recovery steps that Ohio has been taking, the author noted that Coleman had been mayor for 12 years and “can probably keep the job for life if he wants to.” But that’s just one reason why he tops our list this year.

Coleman continues his efforts to improve the economic strength of Central Ohio and played an important role in ending the gridlock that stalled the Hollywood Casino Columbus project.

He also created a new taxpayer-funded nonprofit development group, the Columbus Next Generation Development Corp., to encourage development in the city’s most needy areas. A similar group folded three years ago after being $4 million in debt. Not to be left out, the Columbus City Schools also received attention from Coleman. He announced an effort to assess and improve the schools and named former Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut to advise the city in the program.

 


4. John Kasich

governor, Ohio (5)

From May to July, Ohio added more jobs than every state but California. In just two years in office, Kasich has helped create more than 120,000 new jobs in the state. It’s all part of a gradual turnaround fueled by several factors, including Kasich’s pro-business policies. Kasich gave Mark Kvamme and JobsOhio credit for the 120,000 jobs, but that claim has been clouded by questions of constitutionality that have held up JobsOhio’s deal with the state for liquor department profits as a dedicated source of spending money for the next 25 years. Kasich has actively pursued various revenue streams for the state, including leasing the Ohio Turnpike. He also supports the use of compressed natural gas in state vehicles to create a market for fuel that energy companies are starting to extract from Ohio’s Utica shale.

 


5. Steve Rasmussen

CEO, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. (4)

Nationwide spent much of 2012 recovering from the $582 million lost in 2011 on storm claims and investments, but it was able to make a major acquisition — Harleysville Mutual Insurance Co. and Harleysville Group Inc., an $834 million deal.

Rasmussen says the transaction sets Nationwide apart from the competition as a top independent agency partner in the United States while maintaining its strong commitment to agency partners. Rasmussen and his wife, Cindy, were named co-chairs for the 2012 United Way of Central Ohio campaign, which has a goal of raising $52.55 million.

 


6. Ron Pizzuti

chairman and CEO, The Pizzuti Cos. (6)

A collection of contemporary art owned by Pizzuti is being housed in a new 20,000-square-foot building on North Park Street. But that’s not all Pizzuti, who was ranked by ARTnews magazine as among the world’s top 200 art collectors, has in mind for the Short North site. Construction has begun for a new public parking garage, Class A office building and boutique hotel, to be called The Joseph.

 


7. E. Gordon Gee

president, The Ohio State University (7)

Called “Ohio’s best politician” by Gov. Kasich, Gee, finds himself involved in yet another effort — to develop a new funding formula for the state’s colleges and universities. Gee was also reappointed to the board of directors for JobsOhio, the Kasich administration’s economic development arm. But Gee, 68, came under fire as Ohio State has spent $64,000 since 2007 on bow ties, bow tie cookies and O-H and bow tie pins for Gee and others to distribute as was revealed in a Dayton Daily News story. In his defense, supporters said university presidents, such as Gee, should spend more time and energy fundraising to compensate for the decline in government support for higher education.

 


8. Don Casto

partner, Casto (8)

As one of the investors in improvements to LeVeque Tower, Casto received $4 million in July in property-tax breaks for the location to continue over the next 10 years, with an additional $2 million for streetscape improvements around the tower. This includes areas on Broad Street, Front Street and the adjacent alleys. The project also received $5 million worth of Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits through the Ohio Department of Development. Casto also began work on Secur-It building in downtown’s RiverSouth district after several years of speculation on the former Adler Building’s future.

 


9. Tanny Crane

president and CEO, Crane Group (9)

Crane, noted for her support and encouragement of the Columbus community, gave $1 million to the Southern Gateway neighborhood for revitalization and redevelopment. The contribution, in recognition of the plastic company’s 65th anniversary, will help renovate the closed Reeb Elementary School into a neighborhood center, which will offer social programming and house the South Side Learning Center. Earlier in the fall, Crane sold one of its biggest companies, its TimberTech decking division, to Scranton, Pa.-based CPG International Inc.

 


10. Dr. Steve Allen

CEO, Nationwide Children’s Hospital (17)

Nationwide Children’s Hospital celebrated the opening of its new $430 million, 293-bed inpatient hospital, the center of its massive expansion project, with a black tie gala that raised $3.8 million for pediatric research, but that wasn’t the only news last year. Under the direction of Allen, the hospital was listed on U.S. News & World Report’s annual honor roll for the first time in its history, recognized as one of the nation’s best pediatric centers. The hospital ranked eighth on this prestigious list. Nationwide Children’s also made the magazine’s overall best hospitals list, marking the seventh year in a row on that list.

 


11. Steve Steinour

chairman, president and CEO, Huntington Bancshares Inc. (11)

Steinour, a cheerleader for Central Ohio’s recent recovery from the recession, touted the region’s successes on CNBC and Bloomberg TV — and he didn’t have to look far for proof. Huntington racked up significant gains in 2012. Huntington is seeing its strategy to attract new customers and get them into several bank products at once pay off. The bank has committed $1 million over the next three years to help the Columbus Urban League energize economic growth and create jobs in Columbus’ urban core.

 


12. David Blom

president and CEO, OhioHealth (13)

Blom’s $3.02 million in deferred compensation for 2012, along with base salary and benefits topped the $2.3 million earned by Dr. Delos “Toby” Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic. OhioHealth noted the figure won’t be recurring, but it’s an example of Blom’s clout in the region and his ability to meet performance targets. In April, OhioHealth and the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine signed an agreement for OhioHealth to partner with Heritage College at a new Dublin extension campus.

 


13. Larry James

partner, Crabbe, Brown & James (12)

James, fresh off his defense of OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor for NCAA violations, helped defend linebacker Storm Klein on misdemeanor domestic violence and assault charges. Klein pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct, was put on 18 months’ probation and was suspended for two games. The alleged victim recanted her story, and after Klein’s guilty plea, coach Urban Meyer reinstated him to the team. Larry and his wife, Donna, received the prestigious American Red Cross Humanitarian of the Year Award. He also received the Distinguished Alumni Award by Cleveland State University, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. James was also selected by the King Arts Complex as one of the 24 Living Legends in Central Ohio.

 


14. Alex Shumate

managing partner, Squire, Sanders and Dempsey LLC (10)

Gov. Kasich appointed Shumate in June to serve the remainder of the term of Les Wexner, who had resigned from the board of trustees at Ohio State. Shumate served previously on the board from 1989-1998 and from 2006-2012, including a term as chairman of the board from 1997-98 and as vice chairman from 2011-2012. Shumate has been consistently selected by his peers for the annual Best Lawyers in America listing and as an Ohio Super Lawyer.

 


15. Jay Schottenstein

chairman, Schottenstein Management, American Eagle, Retail Ventures, DSW (16)

Schottenstein, chairman of American Eagle Outfitters, took over as executive chairman of the company in 2012 to devote time to groom its new CEO, Robert Hanson. For his work with Hanson, he received an annual base salary of $500,000, performance incentives potentially worth up to $1 million and additional company stock. Schottenstein has been chairman since 1992 and had been CEO for 10 years. A Los Angeles real estate investor with ties to Columbus purchased a large piece of Schottenstein Property Group’s industrial portfolio in Central Ohio. Hackman Capital bought 12 flex office-warehouse properties and 32 warehouse and distribution centers.

 


16. Curtis Moody

president and CEO, Moody-Nolan Inc. (20)

Moody-Nolan clinched a big win when it secured a contract to design the expansion of CenturyLink’s headquarters in Monroe, La. The $60 million project will be designed at Moody-Nolan’s facilities in Columbus and calls for a technology center, parking garage and cafeteria. Among other recent additions to the firm’s portfolio are Columbus Commons, the Downtown Hilton and the 17-story cancer and critical-care tower that, once completed, will anchor Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center as the tallest building on campus.

 


17. Donna James

managing director, Lardon and Associates LLC (14)

The Center for Healthy Families, which James founded in 2007, marked its fifth year in operation. As a former teen parent herself, James became a Fortune 500 corporate executive, a director for five corporate boards and a leader in the Central Ohio community. She continues to chair the National Women’s Business Council to which President Obama appointed her.

 


18. John P. Beavers

partner, Bricker & Eckler (15)

Beavers specializes in counseling and representing governing boards and executives, and he wrote an article titled “A Chronology Showing the Penn State Board of Trustees Acted Appropriately,” a review of the steps taken by the school’s board following allegations of criminal sexual misconduct.

 


19. Curt Loveland

partner, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP (18)

Loveland penned an article titled, “JOBS Act: New Law Facilitates Raising Capital,” a review of how the new law makes significant changes to how businesses can raise capital. He has been recognized in The Best Lawyers in America in the area of corporate law for more than 10 consecutive years and in Chambers USA in the area of corporate law/M&A.

 


20. Jeffrey Wadsworth

president and CEO, Battelle Memorial Institute (28)

In June, Wadsworth won the 2013 Acta Materialia Inc. Materials and Society Award, which he will receive in March. Wadsworth has authored or co-authored nearly 300 scientific papers and one book, has been granted four U.S. patents and has received numerous awards.

 


21. Abigail Wexner

chair, KidsOhio.org, Family Violence Coalition at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (44)

As Wexner concludes her seven-year stint as chairwoman of the board of trustees at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, she can look back on a remarkable period of progress. Nationwide Children’s has appeared on U.S. News & World Report’s list of America’s Best Hospitals every year since 2006 and for 2012-13 was named among the top 50 in 10 different specialties. With the June opening of a new state-of-the-art, 12-story hospital, Wexner now will turn the reins over to Alex Fischer, president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership and a Nationwide Children’s board member since 2011.

 


22. Michael Fiorile

president and COO, The Dispatch Printing Co. (21)

Broadcasting & Cable named Fiorile the 2012 Broadcaster of the Year. He was also named to the 2012 governing committee for the Columbus Foundation

 


23. Dr. Steven G. Gabbe

CEO, OSU Medical Center (22)

OSU Medical Center conducted research that showed the injection of a tiny capsule containing heat-generating cells into the abdomens of mice led those animals to burn abdominal fat and initially lose about 20 percent of belly fat after 80 days of treatment.

 


24. Doug Kridler

president and CEO, The Columbus Foundation (32)

Limited Brands gifted $163.4 million to The Columbus Foundation in September. The donation is believed to be the largest financial gift to a 501(c)(3) in Ohio history. Giving to the foundation reached an all-time high in 2011, with more than $249 million donated to new and existing funds and supporting donations.

 


25. Ty Marsh

chairman, Columbus200 (19)

Marsh left his post in 2010 as CEO of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce to head the planning committee for Columbus’ bicentennial birthday bash. More than 40 events, exhibitions and educational programs honored the city’s founding. He’s also owner of Ty Marsh Associates, a consulting firm focused on economic development.

 


26. Roger Geiger

Ohio executive director, National Federation of Independent Business (35)

Recent NFIB legislative victories in Ohio include the “Right to Cure” House Bill 275, legislation that allows a business to make an offer to a consumer who has filed a consumer sales practices act (CSPA) lawsuit against a business for a product or service that did not meet the expectation of the consumer, and also Senate Bill 202, the Trespasser Liability Act, which codifies Ohio’s long-existing common law protection afforded to private property owners.

 


27. Boyce Safford III

director, Columbus Department of Development (36)

With support from Safford, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman approved forming the Columbus Next Generation Development Corp., a nonprofit development group aimed at developing some of the poorest areas of the city.

 


28. Michael Dalby

president of Columbus Chamber of Commerce (38)

The chamber is placing more emphasis on the services and expertise that it can provide to businesses, Dalby says. Under his leadership, the Columbus Chamber has transformed into a business development and advocacy organization focused on expanding and retaining existing businesses.

 


29. James Malz

president of Columbus market, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (46)

Chase, the region’s largest private-sector employer, plans to add 350 or more employees in Central Ohio during the next five years. To accommodate its employment growth, the firm will invest more than $18 million to refurbish leased office space at two Polaris Parkway locations. When this new wave of hiring is complete, Chase will have added more than 6,000 new jobs and a million square feet of real estate in Central Ohio since its 2004 merger of Bank One and JPMorgan Chase. Last year alone, Chase added about 2,500 jobs in Central Ohio.

 


30. David Milenthal

co-chairman, Milenthal-DelGrosso LLC (43)

Milenthal-DelGrosso was the local sponsor for American City Business Journals’ first annual Social Madness challenge, hosted locally by Columbus Business First and sponsorsed nationally by Capital One. The company took top honors in the eHealthcare Leadership Awards.

 


31. Mary Taylor

Lieutenant governor, Ohio (56)

Taylor has been working to improve job creation in Ohio through her role leading CSI Ohio, the “Common Sense Initiative,” to reform Ohio’s regulatory policies. She is also serving as director of the Ohio Department of Insurance. The hope is that these two assignments provide an effective launching pad to make Ohio a friendly state for creating jobs and new business.

 


32. Alex Fischer

president and CEO, Columbus Partnership (64)

As a leader of the Columbus 2020 economic development initiative, Fischer has already helped the organization exceed its five-year, $30-million-fundraising goal to have $30.2 million pledged. The money will be used to fund economic development efforts and comes from partnership members and 125 new investors.

He was an integral part of a two-year plan to save the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets this year. In 2012, he succeeded Abigail Wexner as the chairman of the board of Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

 


33. Jordan Miller Jr.

president and CEO, Fifth Third Bank, Central Ohio (55)

Miller helped Fifth Third Bank present two $50,000 checks. One was to Janet Jackson, president and CEO of United Way of Central Ohio, to fund The Neighborhood Leadership Academy. The other was presented to Homeport Housing Advisory Center to help support Homeport’s community life programs.

 


34. Rob Portman

U.S. senator, Ohio (25)

Portman introduced a bipartisan bill with Sen. Sherrod Brown aimed at protecting the historic integrity of the village of Zoar in Tuscarawas County as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studies ways to manage the village’s aging levee. Portman also actively supported the failed campaign of Mitt Romney throughout 2012.

 


35. Peter Geier

CEO, OSU Health System; COO,OSU Wexner Medical Center (24)

The center has consistently been ranked one of America’s best hospitals. Ohio State’s College of Medicine ranked 14th in the country on the 2013 U.S. News & World Report list of America’s Best Graduate Schools.

 


36. Linda Heasley

president and CEO, The Limited (27)

In April, Heasley delivered a lecture to students at the Savannah College of Art and Design as part of the college’s “SCAD Style” annual event.

 


37. John P. McConnell

chairman and CEO, Worthington Industries Inc.; majority owner, Columbus Blue Jackets (29)

Worthington Industries finished its fiscal year with flat profit and an increase in sales. Worthington reported profit of $115.6 million for the fiscal year that ended in May, up from $115.1 million, and sales of $2.5 billion, up from $2.4 billion. The Blue Jackets finished the 2011-12 campaign with a 29-46-7 record and their third consecutive last-place finish in the NHL’s Central Division.

 


38. John B. Gerlach Jr.

chairman, president and CEO, Lancaster Colony Corp. (34)

Lancaster Colony reported $1.13 billion in net sales for fiscal 2012, a 4 percent increase over fiscal 2011.

 


39. Kurt Tunnell

managing partner, Bricker & Eckler LLP (45)

In late 2011, Tunnell received the “Champion of Diversity Legal Award” from the National Diversity Council. As managing partner, Tunnell has played a key role in continuing the tradition of an organization that has a strong history of groundbreaking diversity.

 


40. Russell Gertmenian

managing partner, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP (30)

Gertmenian, now in his fifth year as managing partner of the firm, was named to 2013 Best Lawyers in America list in corporate compliance law and corporate governance law.

 


41. Melissa Ingwersen

Central Ohio District President, Key Bank (23)

Ingwersen has been a member of the Columbus Partnership since 2004. The Columbus Partnership is a nonprofit, membership-based CEO organization with the primary goal to improve the economic vitality of the Columbus region. She has served on community boards and organizations, including the YWCA of Columbus, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, Franklin University, the OSU Health Plan board and the Capitol South Urban Redevelopment Corp. board.

 


42. Jane Grote Abell

chair, Donatos Pizzeria LLC (52)

The Grote family made a $1 million contribution to seed the rehabilitation initiative of the Southern Gateway neighborhood’s Reeb Elementary School, which will offer social programming and house the South Side Learning Center.

 


43. Maureen O’Connor

chief justice, Ohio Supreme Court (33)

In a 4-3 vote, the Ohio Supreme Court voted to throw out the murder conviction of Toneisha Gunnell of Columbus, on the basis that she was unconstitutionally subjected to double jeopardy due to an improperly declared mistrial.

 


44. Tom Lennox

founder and CEO, Pelotonia (new)

The grassroots organization was founded in 2008 with the objective of funding cancer research. It sponsors a three-day bicycle riding “experience” that in its first four years has raised more than $42 million. All the proceeds go to The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center-James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

 


45. Elaine Roberts

president and CEO, Port Columbus International Airport, Columbus Regional Airport Authority (48)

Port Columbus partnered with Arconas to create power units that have been retrofitted into airport seating. Additionally, more than 40 recently installed workstations provide convenient electrical and electronic connections for passengers. Port Columbus became one of the first airports in the U.S. to install PowerMats, which are wireless charging docks for electronic devices.

 


46. Andrew J. Ginther

council president, Columbus (new)

Ginther is working closely with Mayor Michael Coleman to bolster Columbus’ image with tourists and conventions. He’s been able to bring different groups to the table to talk about solutions that can help the city.

 


47. Jack Ruscilli

chairman, Ruscilli Construction Co. Inc. (40)

Ruscilli associates participated in the 2012 Komen Columbus Race for the Cure in downtown Columbus raising $1,000 for cancer research. Three bowling teams from the company raised more than $5,000 for the 2012 Bowl for Kids’ Sake event, which is the largest and most important annual fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio.

 


48. Gene Smith

associate vice president and director of athletics, The Ohio State University (41)

Smith will serve as a member of the NCAA Division I Administration Cabinet through July 1, 2014. The group oversees and recommends membership to NCAA committees. Smith is active in the Columbus community and is a member of the board of the YMCA of Central Ohio and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Columbus and the governing board of trustees of the Lincoln Theater Association. He also is active with the Bell Center for African-American males on Ohio State’s campus, where he sponsors a mentoring program called Team Smith. On the athletic front, the hiring of Urban Meyer paved the way to a perfect 12-0 season for the football team, a great season even without a bowl berth.

 


49. Nancy Kramer

founder, chairman and chief culture officer, Resource Interactive (49)

The trade publication Advertising Age named Kramer one of the 100 most influential women in advertising.

 


50. Michael Gonsiorowski

Central Ohio regional president, PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (37)

PNC announced in December that the bank would contribute another $1 million to help boost the arts in Central Ohio. Grant proposals for $20,000 or more were accepted from qualified arts organizations with the next round of grants set to be announced in June.

 


51. Michelle Kerr

co-founder, chairman and president, Oxford Consulting Group Inc. (57)

Oxford was named to the Inc. 5,000 list of fastest-growing companies in 2012. And the Columbus Chapter of the National Association for Women Business Owners recognized Kerr as a finalist for the prestigious 2012 Visionary Awards.

 


52. Bill Ingram

CEO, White Castle Systems Inc. (58)

Ingram and his wife, Marci, recently announced a $10 million pledge to Ohio State and Nationwide Children’s Hospital to establish the Marci and Bill Ingram Comprehensive Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders. The Ingram-White Castle Foundation has also contributed $1.25 million in each of the last four years to other charitable causes in the region. On the business front, the hamburger chain announced plans to build a new frozen-food facility creating 100 permanent jobs in Vandalia.

 


53. Tom Katzenmeyer

senior vice president of university communications, The Ohio State University (new)

In addition to his work keeping the public informed about what’s happening at OSU, Katzenmeyer serves as chair of the city’s funding review advisory committee. He’s been another key player in the effort to drive growth throughout Columbus and is also a vice chair for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.

 


54. Dwight Smith

founder and CEO, Sophisticated Systems Ltd. (51)

A 2012 Junior Achievement Laureate, his company recently bought Square One Technology Solutions. Square One provides managed services, virtualization and information security services for organizations in the private and public sectors throughout Central Ohio.

 


55. Emil Brolick

president and CEO, Wendy’s Co. (65)

The company has dramatically transformed its world headquarters and restaurant support center. After construction on a $17 million project is completed in early 2013, the Dublin campus will house more than 600 employees. The company also renovated the largest office building on campus and is constructing a new 75,000-square-foot office building and conference center, named for Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas. Wendy’s is also in the midst of a comprehensive transformation to contemporize the brand and dramatically improve the customer experience. Consumers are responding, as evidenced by five consecutive quarters of positive same-store sales.

 


56. Denny Griffith

president, Columbus College of Art & Design (66)

The college now has an enrollment of more than 1,300 students from 40 states and 35 foreign countries and a 12-1 student to faculty ratio.

Griffith has also maintained a vigorous commitment to his work as an artist. His work has been included in more than 90 group and solo exhibitions domestically and abroad. He’s part of the collections at such public institutions as The Butler Institute of American Art, the Columbus Museum of Art, the Columbus Metropolitan Library and the China Academy of Art.

 


57. Brian Ellis

president and COO, Nationwide Realty Investors Ltd. (67)

In September, Nationwide announced it would construct a new office building near Nationwide Arena, which will house 1,000 employees whom the company plans to relocate downtown.

 


58. Sandra Harbrecht

president and CEO, Paul Werth Associates (68)

Harbrecht continues to add to her extensive community involvement resume, which includes a position on the dean’s advisory council for the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State.

 


59. Matthew Kallner

attorney, Law Offices of Matthew G. Kallner (26)

Kallner still serves on the board for the Center for Healthy Families. He also serves on the board of directors for the Jeannie B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts in New Albany.

 


60. Eric Fingerhut

corporate vice president, education and STEM learning, Battelle Memorial Institute (new)

The former state senator from Greater Cleveland is making a concerted effort to improve education policy in Columbus. He served four years as head of the Ohio Board of Regents and is now working to inspire and train the next generation of science and technology leaders.

 


61. Robert Weiler Sr.

chairman, The Robert Weiler Co. (53)

Weiler is serving a three-year term on the board of trustees for the Central Ohio Transit Authority until 2014. He remains on the board of Ohio Capital Corp. for Housing as its secretary

 


62. Nick Akins

president and CEO, American Electric Power (new)

Akins became the sixth CEO in the company’s history in November 2011, replacing the retired Michael Morris. He serves on a number of industry-related boards, as well as boards for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the Wexner Center for the Arts.

 


63. Cindy Hilsheimer

founder and managing principal, BeecherHill (new)

The executive search firm changed its name this year from SC Search Consultants to BeecherHill. Hilsheimer is very involved in Pelotonia and also serves as a member of the board for the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

 


64. Matt Habash

president and CEO, Mid-Ohio Foodbank (new)

The former Columbus city councilman presides over a network of more than 550 member agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. Mid-Ohio Foodbank handles more than 40 million pounds of food each year and provides more than 100,000 meals every day to the hungry in Central Ohio.

 


65. Cameron Mitchell

founder and president, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants LLC (73)

In October, Cameron Mitchell Catering partnered with the Memorial Tournament to serve as the exclusive on-course hospitality caterer for the prestigious tournament hosted by golfing legend Jack Nicklaus.

 


66. Joel Pizzuti

president, The Pizzuti Cos. (77)

A 1.4 million-square-foot business park recently opened in New Albany, and The Pizzuti Cos. built three of the park’s seven buildings. The company also announced a $59 million Pizzuti project in the Short North that includes an 11-story, 135-room boutique hotel.

 


67. Sheri Tackett

founder and president, Delta Energy LLC (81)

Delta Energy ranked first in the Top 100 Woman-Owned Businesses in America, Top 100 Diversity Owned Businesses in Ohio and Top 100 Privately-held Businesses in Ohio by DiversityBusiness.com. She was also recently named to the 2012 class of the Enterprising Women of the Year by Enterprising Women magazine.

 


68. Beatrice Wolper

co-founder and partner, Emens & Wolper Law Firm LPA (54)

Wolper serves as the Ohio president for the International Women’s Forum and serves as a director of TB Investment Properties and Insight Bank. She is on the legal advisory board of the Columbus Foundation and a member of Central Ohio Planned Giving.

 


69. Michelle Heritage

executive director, Community Shelter Board (new)

She has been featured as one of the 12 Women You Should Know in Columbus and provides visible leadership in the effort to end homelessness. She serves on local, state and national boards for human services, diversity, homelessness and community research and is a key strategist in the effort to improve life in Central Ohio.

 


70. David Harrison

president, Columbus State Community College (70)

After several years of solid growth, the Columbus Dispatch reported that enrollment at Columbus State Community College had dropped by 16 percent last fall. Officials are blaming the enrollment decrease on the switch to semesters. More students are taking fewer credit hours, a factor that, combined with the drop in enrollment, could result in as much as a $15 million budget shortfall.

 


71. Janet Jackson

president and CEO, United Way of Central Ohio (75)

The United Way of Central Ohio plans to reduce funding for education programs, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Education programs make up the biggest share of its grantees, but funding would be reduced by 10 percent next year as the agency aims to stabilize allocations and make more money available for broader community work.

 


72. Guy Worley

president and CEO, Columbus Downtown Development Corp. and Capital South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp. (79)

Worley has been named to a new 24-member Town and Gown Advisory Committee for the Arts. He’s also playing a key role in reshaping downtown Columbus through a number of projects that are in the works going into 2013.

 


73. Kenny McDonald

senior vice president, Columbus Partnership; chief economic officer, Columbus2020 (85)

McDonald spoke last summer about some of the progress that has been made creating jobs in Central Ohio. Columbus 2020 has a goal of adding 150,000 net new jobs by 2020, along with increasing personal per capita income by 30 percent and adding $8 billion of capital investment.

 


74. Barbara Kunz

president, Health and Life Sciences Global Business, Battelle Memorial Institute (84)

In September, Battelle unveiled a new lab that allows researchers to observe and evaluate how real-life patients and clinicians both use and interact with medical devices. The User Research Lab (uLab) is located at Battelle’s Columbus headquarters, next to its medical device development building. The uLab allows researchers to conduct usability studies, an activity that has become increasingly critical to medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturers as they launch new products.

 


75. Neil Mortine

president and CEO, Fahlgren Mortine (74)

For the second year in a row, Bulldog Reporter, a national news source for the public relations and communications industry, named Fahlgren Mortine its gold agency of the year. The agency won in the midsize category, a step up from the small agency category in which it competed last year.

 


76. Robert M. Eversole

principal, Stonehenge Partners Inc. (62)

Eversole continues to serve as a board member of Advanced Drainage Systems, as well as Nationwide Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce. He was also a 2012 judge for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

 


77. Joe Alutto

executive vice president and provost, The Ohio State University (69)

Alutto will step down from his post as OSU’s exec VP and provost and become a special adviser to OSU President E. Gordon Gee on June 30. As Gee’s special adviser, Alutto will work on distance education and university advancement initiatives. He will also return to the faculty.

 


78. Michael Glimcher

chairman and CEO, Glimcher Realty Trust (72)

Glimcher Realty made a couple of acquisitions during 2012. The company bought a lumberyard in Malibu, Calif., and a retail center in Leawood, Kan. It was also named one of the best places to work in Ohio by the Ohio Society for Human Resource Management.

 


79. Bruce Hagen

regional executive and president, Dublin Methodist Hospital and Grady Memorial Hospital (89)

Dublin Methodist was named one of the nation’s best hospitals by Thomson Reuters. The honor was announced in May as Dublin was recognized in the small community hospitals category.

 


80. Doug Morgan

attorney; bicycling advocate (83)

Morgan continues to practice law on a full-time basis, but he has taken on a new venture working for the Mt. Vernon Barn Co., making furniture from reclaimed wood found in barns and log houses. He continues to serve on the boards of Consider Biking, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Columbus Club. He was a founding board member of TechColumbus.

 


81. George Barrett

chairman and CEO, Cardinal Health Inc. (82)

Barrett’s company ranks No. 21 on the Fortune 500, and Barrett himself is involved with numerous boards across Central Ohio, including Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the Ohio Business Roundtable and the Columbus Partnership. Barrett was also named a co-chair on the mayor’s education commission to help “reimagine” the Columbus City Schools.

 


82. David Bianconi

founder, Bel Lago Restaurant, (88)

Bianconi has been busy with his restaurant in Westerville, which promises patrons a “casual-luxury dining” experience. The restaurant has received very positive reviews for its Italian-American cuisine and the picturesque views of the Hoover Reservoir.

 


83. Claus von Zychlin

president and CEO, Mount Carmel Health System (new)

Mount Carmel is the 11th-largest employer in Central Ohio with nearly 8,000 employees, more than 1,500 physicians and 1,000 volunteers. The hospital system broke ground on a $58 million project for expansion of health services in Grove City, starting with a freestanding emergency care center.

 


84. Craig Marshall

risk advisory partner/Columbus office managing partner, Ernst & Young LLP, Columbus office (59)

Marshall continues as a member of the boards of directors for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio and the United Way of Central Ohio. He is also a member of the business council for the Columbus Chamber of Commerce.

 


85. David Meuse

principal, Stonehenge Partners Inc. (61)

Meuse sits on the governing committee of The Columbus Foundation and several other boards including Central Benefits Mutual Insurance Co., ORIX USA Corp. and The Columbus Partnership.

 


86. Michael Petrecca

managing partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Columbus office (60)

Petrecca is the board chair for the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts and continues to serve on the boards of the Greater Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau/TechColumbus.

 


87. Tom Krouse

president and CEO, Donatos Pizza (92)

In May, Donatos was listed as the leader of the fast-casual sector for pizza restaurants with an estimated $166 million in 2011 sales. The pizza chain also hired a new vice president of marketing, filling a position that had been open for a couple of years.

 


88. Jon Milenthal

CEO, Milenthal-DelGrosso LLC (95)

The firm launched its new website and was honored with a national health care marketing award.

 


89. Yvette McGee Brown

former Justice, Ohio Supreme Court (new)

Brown became the first African-American female justice on the Ohio Supreme Court when she took office Jan. 1, 2011. While she lost in the November election, she is expected to remain active in the Columbus community through the many boards she serves on, and she will continue to serve as a role model for her pioneering spirit.

 


90. Larry Hilsheimer

president and COO, Nationwide Retirement Plans (39)

Top leaders have switched roles as part of the company’s plan to develop executive talent. Hilsheimer will retain oversight of Nationwide Bank while Anne Arvia will lead Nationwide Direct, Affinity and Growth Solutions, which includes Nationwide’s property- and casualty-insurance sales operations.

 


91. J. Richard Emens

partner, Emens & Wolper Law Firm LPA; chairman and executive director, Conway Center for Family Business (63)

Emens continues to work with his team at Conway Center for Family Business to build programs that help family-run businesses succeed.

 


92. Robert Schottenstein

chairman, president and CEO, M/I Homes Inc. (76)

A big jump in sales helped M/I Homes report its first quarterly profit since 2009 and only its second since the beginning of 2007.

 


93. Robert C. White

co-founder and chairman, The Daimler Group Inc. (86)

White continues to be a devoted supporter of Flying Horse Farms, a no-fee camp for children with serious illnesses that The Daimler Group helped build in Mount Gilead.

 


94. John McEwan

managing partner, Deloitte LLP’s Central Ohio practice (91)

Deloitte is a major supporter of the Ohio State Center for Entrepreneurship Business Plan Competition, which provides a forum for faculty, students and entrepreneurs to win approximately $130,000 in cash and pro bono services to use as start-up funds to transform an idea into a thriving business.

 


95. John (Jack) Partridge

president, Columbia Gas of Ohio (94)

Partridge continues to be actively involved in the effort to conserve energy in new construction that takes place in the Central Ohio region.

 


96. Debra Penzone

president, Charles Penzone Family of Salons (96)

Penzone was active in the community in 2012 speaking to women about the importance of discovering their “true beauty from the inside out” and what they need to do to gain the tools to succeed in their professional careers.

 


97. Philip R. Smith II

office managing partner, KPMG (97)

Smith serves as the partner champion for KPMG Columbus’s Green Initiative. Under his leadership, the firm has reduced its carbon footprint by more than 25 percent in the past four years.

 


98. Sue Zazon

president and CEO, FirstMerit Bank, Columbus region (98)

Zazon was announced as a speaker at the 2013 Leadership Summit hosted by The Ohio State University Institute of Industrial Engineers. The event is scheduled for Feb. 2, 2013.

 


99. Frank Kass

chairman, Continental Real Estate Cos. (80)

The Hand Center project at Polaris took the top honors in the Best Office/Medical Project category in the annual awards presented by the Central Ohio chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties.

 


100. Robert Trafford

managing partner, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP (87)

Trafford had another solid year as his firm welcomed two new partners in 2012 and a number of attorneys were honored for their continued stellar performance in the courtroom.

 

Published in Columbus

Four years ago, PBD Worldwide was on a roll, tearing through its eighth consecutive year of hand-over-fist growth. Then, in the second half of 2008, a hard one-two combination knocked down the Atlanta-based storage and distribution company.

The first blow that staggered PBD was the recession. The broad downturn rocked all the market sectors in which the company does business, forcing customers of all stripes to pull on their reins and cut their budgets.

Second, and more ominously, PBD’s core business — distributing books and other printed educational material — began to shrink noticeably. Customers that had been dipping their toe into digital media started jumping in with both feet. The shift cut into PBD’s core revenue dramatically.

“In 2008, we had our best year ever,” says Scott Dockter, president and CEO. “We’d had eight straight years of double-digit growth. A phenomenal amount of new clients had come on board. Our Chicago distribution center had opened the year before, and it was growing fast. We had a lot of good things going on.”

PBD’s leaders were aware that the print-based book business’s best days were behind it and that digital media was the wave of the future. But they weren’t as prepared as they wish they’d been for the speed and impact with which that wave would hit.

“The thing that had been lurking before the economy took its turn was that our company was very dependent on books — in particular educational material — to achieve that growth,” Dockter says. “There were a couple of groups who were starting to talk about moving to a digital opportunity, and they were looking to change their program.”

PBD had originally stood for Professional Book Distributors. The company changed the name in the late ’90s because it was starting to diversify its product.

“But we hadn’t really diversified all that much,” Dockter says. “Then, in late 2008, we started to see our core business effectively disappear due to some changes some of our clients were making in their business models.”

Those changes involved a couple of shifts that were happening simultaneously: Schools were buying fewer books, and some of PBD’s major clients were being acquired by companies with new and different ways of looking at the business.

PBD had a division, the Georgia Schoolbook Depository, which shipped books to schools mainly in the state of Georgia for grades K through 12.

“We also had a nice contract going with Harcourt — we were doing all their distribution throughout the Southeast,” Dockter says. “Then a couple of things happened. No. 1, Harcourt was purchased by Houghton Mifflin, and No. 2, schools quit buying books. Their budgets effectively changed overnight. A lot of this was economy-driven.”

Suddenly, PBD was facing some core changes that, while it had been aware they were coming, it was not fully prepared.

“Frankly, when you’re going through a long period of double-digit growth, you think you’ve got it all figured out, and you don’t worry so much about what may be coming,” he says.

The long string of robust growth turned to double-digit contraction in the blink of an eye. Between 2008 and 2009, PBD’s revenue dropped 10 percent. It was time for the company to get serious about diversifying its business base.

Broaden the base

By 2008, PBD had built itself into a $50 million-a-year business with five distribution centers around the country. At its peak, the company employed more than 500 people. PBD attained this growth mainly by distributing books and other printed material using a traditional distribution model: pick, pack and ship.

But with the sharp business downturn that PBD experienced between 2008 and 2009, Dockter and his leadership team realized that the company needed to branch into new areas to broaden its base — to put its eggs into more baskets so it wouldn’t be as vulnerable to market downturns in the future.

After looking at what they do well, Dockter and his team talked about applying those revelations to other related businesses.

“We said, ‘We’re good at inventorying items. We’re good at taking orders. We’re good at building e-commerce. We’re good at integrating all of that. So what else can we distribute?’” he says. “It sounds simple, but when you’ve been doing books for 30-plus years, you’re pretty much siloed in. Prospects are out there thinking, ‘Well, they’re really good at book distribution, but I can’t see my product in there.’”

One of the first areas that PBD expanded into was distributing protective cases for handheld electronic devices.

“We got a new client that was really growing their business,” Dockter says. “They had a product that was related to iPhones and BlackBerrys. That was a great diversification for us. It gave us a chance to show outside groups that we could distribute practically anything — anything that could go in a box — that became our mantra.”

PBD’s new philosophy also encompassed a move into an area that — in light of the overall trend of print dying off and digital media booming — seems counterintuitive: printing and mailing acknowledgments of donations for nonprofit organizations.

“We have a lot of not-for-profit clients, and when they receive donations, the IRS requires that they send out a printed acknowledgment,” Dockter says. “There were a lot of printing companies going out of business, so we saw this as an opportunity. It was a chance for us to basically extend our markets within our current client base.”

It was a wise move. PBD’s printing and mailing service, bolstered by the 2012 acquisition of a similar company that was looking to get out of the business, has grown exponentially since PBD began offering the service in 2008.

“It was a natural fit for us,” Dockter says. “We just had to get the right equipment and the right people in place that knew what they were doing. And lo and behold, [last] year, we had a company that went out of business that we absorbed. So now the revenue we’re getting from that part of our business is 300 times what it was in ’08-’09 when we started it.”

PBD has diversified into other areas as well. Among the operations that are bringing in substantial new revenue are electronic distribution, consumer products, gift catalog items and logo promotional items, such as clothing and pins to be distributed at conferences.

“We’re excited about all of these new lines, because they all have a tremendous amount of capacity to grow,” Dockter says. “Plus it gives us more sales points, both within the current organizations that we work with and with prospects.”

Expand offerings

As the economy has fitfully rebounded from the recession, all of this diversification and spreading into new markets has begun to pay off for PBD, according to Dockter.

“The economy has gotten a little bit better, and as a result, some of our sales are coming back naturally,” he says. “Our clients are putting more money into their marketing and into new product.

“These newer services we’ve expanded into have really helped us to right our revenue ship. We now have a better array of services to offer and a wider range of products. That’s allowing us to win new business at a better clip. And it’s helping offset the decline in what was our traditional core business — pick, pack and ship fulfillment.”

Dockter says he’s learned a lot from guiding PBD through this ordeal, and he and the company will be better prepared the next time they face a similar set of circumstances.

“One of the key things I learned, from a leadership standpoint, is that you can’t let yourself get too comfortable when things are going well,” he says. “You have to always be challenging yourself and your team with some what-ifs.

“When we were flying high, we weren’t challenging ourselves as hard, because we felt great about what we were doing. But there were some signs that we missed. So even when things are going well, you have to make sure you’re challenging yourself on things that might not go well going forward. Sometimes it’s hard to force yourself to think in that mode when you’re hitting on all cylinders.”

Dockter also says he believes that when PBD runs into a similar challenge in the future, he and his team will recognize the signs of impending change and react more quickly to counteract them.

“Of course, as a leader, you want to show confidence — you want to exude confidence — but you’ve got to be careful not to lose sight of the changes that can happen,” he says. “We knew certain things could happen, but we didn’t want to admit it while everything was going well.

“And, of course, the most important thing is when you do get to that place — when those changes are starting to happen — how do you react? You’ve got a couple different ways you can do that. I think we were slow. You’ve got to be fast. That doesn’t necessarily mean working harder. It means putting your strategy in place as quickly as possible, and then executing it, decisively.” ?

How to reach: PBD Worldwide, (770) 442-8633 or www.pbd.com

The Dockter File

Scott Dockter

President and CEO

PBD Worldwide

Born: Chicago

Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics, University of Virginia

 

Looking back over your years in school, can you pinpoint a business leadership lesson you learned that you use today?

I played tennis at the University of Virginia. A big part of doing that was creating leadership within my team, especially in the small-team environment. And the work balance was important from a time-management standpoint.

What was first job, and what important business lessons did you learn from it?

I had two jobs that were tied together — delivering newspapers and cutting lawns. The premise was to be able to earn my own money that I could spend the way I wanted to, and to do it without anybody telling me what to do. I learned a lot about responsibility from doing this. And I learned that figuring out how to create an avenue to make money can be a lot of fun.

Do you have a main business philosophy that you use to guide you?

Communicate as often as possible in a face-to-face mode with both your clients and your employees. Our company has a no-email policy on Fridays. We’ve had it for six years. The idea is to communicate at the highest level and to build relationships in order to get things done. When you communicate in that mode, you tend to create partnerships and true teamwork. That’s something we feel strongly about.

What trait do you think is most important for an executive to have in order to be a successful leader?

You need to be trustworthy. Your customers need to trust you, and your employees need to trust you. It comes down to this: Do you look them straight in the eye? And do they look back at you straight in the eye? When you’re able to create that bond, that means you’re truly a trusted partner and leader.

Published in Atlanta

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.

Managing growth

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

Taseer Badar

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.

 

 

 

Published in Houston
Thursday, 03 January 2013 14:28

The 2012 Weatherhead 100

When voters in the Cleveland school district approved its first operating levy in 16 years, it wasn’t an anomaly. It was recognition that Cleveland is and has been in a progressive mode — and the region is in motion as new projects are being planned, developed and launched.

Just as a first-ever coalition of business, labor, civic and clergy groups joined to support the schools, area companies have been hard at work to ensure this revival of Greater Cleveland.

Entrepreneurs have been innovating. Economic development has been on the front burner. Projects have been completed — such as the Horseshoe Casino. The Cleveland Browns have a new owner. And towering supports dot the downtown sky as the new Innerbelt Bridge starts to take form.

On the following pages, you’ll find the names, facts, figures and stories of 126 area companies that have also contributed to the resurgence by accomplishing outstanding percentages of growth. We recognize them for their contributions to our communities and their demonstrated strength of the entrepreneurial spirit in our region.

For instance, Magnus International Group Inc. grew an amazing 2,736 percent in the past five years. Most of that growth has taken place since 2010. Magnus at that point started concentrating on creating products for a new market segment – animal feed ingredients — and its business took off.

When Joe Pulizzi left a media company some six years ago to found what is now the Content Marketing Institute, he knew a change was in the air for marketing. The digital world was facing companies, content was king, and they had to get on board. CMI has grown 1,684 percent in the past five years, largely through its events, including Content Marketing World.

The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University and the Council of Smaller Enterprises are proud to honor the Weatherhead 100 class of 2012. Here are the class members.

Published in Akron/Canton

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

Tom Froehle

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.

Published in Indianapolis

Robin Sheldon had reached a critical point in the life of her business.

Through her strong will and determination, she had built Soft Surroundings from a small business that produced a single catalog for women’s clothing in 1999 to one that has seasonal catalogs, a chain of retail stores and an e-commerce website.

She didn’t do it entirely on her own, but Sheldon was definitely the driving force behind the company’s growth. However, she was beginning to realize that if she wanted the company to continue to expand, she was going to need some help.

“When you are part of a creative process as well as the traditional business side of the business, it’s very hard to let go of getting your fingers into absolutely everything,” says Sheldon, the company’s president and founder. “But there comes a point when you realize that you’re putting your business in jeopardy by doing this.”

Sheldon needed to get more people involved in the management of the 530-employee company. She also had to find a way to prioritize the really important things that needed to be done and separate those from the tasks that either could wait or didn’t need the same amount of effort to complete.

“So what that led to was the assessment of the type of people we needed to be hiring with what particular skill sets,” Sheldon says. “For myself, it was a matter of setting up my goals with parameters and guidelines that would get me to the point where I could let go.”

The challenge for Sheldon would be setting up that structure so she could get more comfortable with delegating tasks.

Know your priorities

Part of the problem Sheldon has when it comes to delegating is the high level of confidence she has in herself.

“I have an expectation of myself that is probably way too perfect and hard for anybody else to achieve,” she says. “I’m going to expect more from myself than I am from anybody.”

The result is that Sheldon believes she can do it all. And she saw no reason why it couldn’t be done to the absolute best of her abilities. But she finally started to understand that perfection isn’t always necessary.

“I realized I have to be satisfied with ‘good enough,’” Sheldon says. “I have to identify the few areas where it had to be great.”

There are certain tasks in any business that don’t have anything to do with the customer and have a negligible effect on the bottom line. These are tasks that just need to be done.

“You’re not going to drive yourself over the edge of the cliff trying to make it perfect,” Sheldon says. “You can get it ‘good enough,’ and that’s going to be good enough.”

Then there are things such as the photography that appears in her seasonal catalogs.

“We spend a great deal of money and time on our photography to give the customer an aspirational experience that is emotional so she forms a connection with the product,” Sheldon says. “She understands we are trying to do more for her than just sell her stuff. That’s a place we don’t give. You don’t want to settle on things that are integral to your brand.”

The solution for Sheldon to determine what requires maximum effort and what just needs to get done is a formula known as good, better, best.

“When people come to me and say, ‘I have 10 things that I’m supposed to have done in 48 hours,’” Sheldon says. “I’m being told that all of them are equally important. I ask them to go back and discuss it and come back and tell me if it’s a good, better or best. That helps people a great deal. Sometimes you have to talk to other people involved to see if you’re headed in the right direction.”

It was a lesson Sheldon wanted to impart on her team, but one she also needed to try to follow herself.

Have a plan for delegating

The next step for Sheldon was to accept that within those priority tasks that need to be done right every time, it would be OK to delegate.

“It’s a process,” Sheldon says. “You have to put some good planning behind it. But in order to do that, you have to have the right people. You have to have a very clear understanding of what motivates each individual person. They are not the same. You can’t treat them the same.

“You have to learn each person and figure out how you’re going to make them happy in what they are doing, productive and wanting to do more.”

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in business is assuming that with a few brief words in your office, an individual can take a task and run with it.

“You can ruin a perfectly good career if you take somebody who is a super performer for you and you elevate them into a management position and don’t give them any management training,” Sheldon says. “Before you know it, you have a perfectly good person who has such good skills, but now is floundering in the job because you didn’t give him or her any management training.”

Develop a plan for the person you want to give responsibility to and then share your plan with that person. Take the time to see how the person feels about it and go over areas that you’ll need to work on with the person.

“I have high hopes for being able to give you some new responsibility and I know you’re up to it,” Sheldon says. “I’m thinking this is the area that we will work with and here’s the goal. Let’s sit down together and come up with how we’re going to do this.”

A key barometer that helps Sheldon know if she’s done her job training or if she needs to do more, or perhaps has chosen the wrong person, is whether she hears her name invoked as tasks are being worked on.

“‘Robin says,’” Sheldon says, repeating the phrase she doesn’t want to hear. “If I’m hearing that too much, it means people aren’t taking responsibility for their own work and they aren’t becoming their own experts. They are having to rely on my name to get their jobs done.”

Sheldon’s goal is to make sure the person has all the knowledge and skills to make it happen on their own.

“They don’t need to use my name,” Sheldon says. “They will build their reputation and their confidence by saying, ‘This is what we need to do, and I believe this is the way for us to do it.’”

Help your people

If you run into a situation where you have a leader who isn’t invoking your name but is struggling with the role of leadership, you need to step in and give them some support. Sheldon recalls a manager he was training who wasn’t getting respect from the people she was trying to lead.

“She had to follow up on projects and things that needed to be taken care of regularly,” Sheldon says. “She just couldn’t get their respect. We worked on that for six months together.”

What Sheldon found was that this new leader was struggling with the language she used to engage people in tasks.

“One of the areas we dug into was, ‘How do you get your point across in a pleasant way? How do you get people to want to help you and want to do what you need them to do?’” Sheldon says. “There’s a whole psychology there, and we studied it. Now she is a power negotiator, and she’s still here.”

The act of delegating has to be about more than just you saying to your employees, ‘Hey, you need to do this now.’ It’s a process that you have to be actively engaged in if it’s going to be successful.

“For me, things get tested,” Sheldon says. “It could be our clothing design. It could be our creative print design. It could be copy. It could be many things. As soon as I can get to a comfort level where I’ve seen it go the way I’d like it to go three or four times in a row, then I back off. I only check every now and then.”

When you do check in on how your people are doing, don’t just look for problems.

“None of us probably give positive feedback as often as we should,” Sheldon says. “If your business is moving fast, chances are you might be leaving that out and that’s so important. Along with positive feedback is making time to care about these people.”

The numbers show Sheldon is making the right moves with her business as the company hit $120.8 million in 2011 revenue. Two new stores were announced in Boston in September, and Sheldon feels good about the future. She says keeping it fun will be a big key.

“If you don’t allow people to feel they are having some fun in their job, you may lose them sooner than if you give them a little relief now and then,” Sheldon says. ?

How to reach: Soft Surroundings, (800) 240-7076 or www.softsurroundings.com

 

The Sheldon File

Robin Sheldon

president and founder

Soft Surroundings

 

Born: New York

 

Education: University of Denver. I was actually working on an English lit degree, which had nothing to do with what’s happened the rest of my life. I wanted to write, but not in journalism. I was not a business person or thinking about business much at that time. It’s an unusual situation, not one that most women would find themselves in today. It’s interesting how somehow the business finds you.

 

What was your first job?

I was a research assistant to a newspaper in Long Island, N.Y. I started to fall in love with the written word. I have a book that I’m working on and I do it when I get a moment to breathe. Maybe I will get to finish it someday. It’s a mystery, certainly fiction.

 

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?

In the world of business, it’s, ‘Know your customer.’ I guess that came from Dennis Pence, who is president and chairman of Coldwater Creek. If you can put yourself in your customer’s shoes and see what you’re doing from their perspective, it will change the way you do things and it will make you more successful. We all get lost in our own little world and think we know why we’re doing things. Sometimes we’re doing things that the people we’re trying to do them for don’t want.

 

 

Takeaways:

 

Know what tasks require maximum effort.

Help your people achieve their potential.

Make sure you praise a job well done.

Published in St. Louis