Florida (1036)

A marketing epidemic, to put it mildly, has been impacting most businesses — and it’s time to think about keeping your message simple if you haven’t already done so.

The roots of this epidemic can be traced back to two events.

First, during the economic fall of 2008, as businesses looked for ways to preserve revenue streams, companies hunkered down and focused on sales to preserve existing customers. Many cutoff or significantly reduced marketing budgets, and others shifted to digital media as a “low-cost alternative.”

The second event was the rapid spread of social media and the skyrocketing use of smartphones and tablets, which provide instant access to relationships, information and communication.

The social media craze and businesses’ desire to market on the cheap led companies to flood the marketing channels with content. Sales sheets, photos, videos, web pages — companies were suddenly all things to all people because they could push content to digital channels for “free.”

The problem — our marketing channels are now very noisy. As consumers of information, we respond to this noise with limited attention spans. The result — companies have sent confusing messages to the marketplace and people aren’t listening.

This current epidemic of marketing noise distributed across all channels leads to a common marketing need for all businesses — simplification.

 

Keeping it simple

So how do you achieve message simplification? It all ties back to the business. Here are seven steps to help get you started:

1. Identify three to four key business objectives for the next two years. Do you want regional growth or growth in a new industry? Do you want to sell more to existing customers?

2. Prioritize your objectives by placing dollars or number of opportunities next to them. This will help you focus on the most important areas.

3. Brainstorm a list of marketing tactics that can help you achieve each objective. Can you generate more leads from trade shows, your website, your existing customer list? What tactics do you need to adopt?

4. Write a succinct summary, or “elevator pitch.” This should be one to three sentences on how you benefit the people you are targeting in your objectives.

5. Compare your elevator pitch to your marketing tactics and existing materials. Review your website, brochures, email newsletter, social media accounts, videos, trade show collateral, etc. Notice how many “extra” things you say in an effort to cover all your bases.

6. Rework your message. Focus on the audiences for your key objectives. Identify the benefits for these audiences. Your marketing message should speak directly to these audiences so they can understand your value and usefulness to them.

7. Prioritize your marketing tactics. It’s tempting to be trendy and market on social media or through video, just remember to consider which tactics will best reach your audiences. You don’t need to be in every marketing channel, just the ones where your customers and prospects will hear you.

 

Finally, once you’ve simplified your message, stick to it! It is important so that people understand the benefits and value that you deliver. While it might seem repetitive to you, your audience will appreciate the clarity and with time, will remember what your business does best. ●

 

Kristy Amy is director of marketing strategy for SBN Interactive. Reach her at mailto:kamy@sbninteractive.com or (440) 250-7011.

Life has a way of presenting us with difficult circumstances. Sometimes it’s in our personal lives, and sometimes it’s in our business.

If the circumstance is severe enough, it can create a crisis, which can often cause a feeling of hopelessness. When things outside your control come at you in droves, it becomes difficult to cope with them. Entire organizations can be overwhelmed and pulled down by external circumstances, which if not dealt with promptly and correctly, can destroy the company.

The CEO’s role is to right the ship and rally everyone around a solution — and it most likely won’t be easy. People are always looking for the easy way out, but that path is rarely an option. When facing a difficult situation, you have to play the ball where it lies, which means the resources you have in people, dollars or equipment are all you may have to work with.

But challenges also present opportunities. Faced with a crisis, you and your leadership team will be forced to look at your assets in new ways. You’ll be required to take a careful look at your customer base, your market and your processes. This kind of in-depth evaluation may uncover not only a possible solution to your problem, but it may open your eyes to markets or applications you never considered before.

Take Netflix for example. The company was the king of DVD-by-mail, and had already knocked off the once mighty Blockbuster. With the increase in streaming video content, however, customers began moving away from DVDs, threatening Netflix’s main revenue channel. It reacted by creating not only streaming content, but also by creating its own unique content. Customers can stream video from many outlets, but it’s tough to beat Netflix’s reputation and ease of use.

Often, the resources you need are already at hand; they just need to be used in new ways. Netflix already had the capabilities; it just needed to apply them differently.

You may find that after assessing what you have, you have started to create a new path that leads away from the crisis.

At the beginning of a difficult time, you may not be able to see a way out, which can lead to despair. By starting with an initial step and continuing, however, you’ll soon see the light. Start by calling your bank or suppliers to ask for better terms or whatever it is you need, and then build from there.

No matter what you do, though, don’t compromise your integrity. Always do the right thing in the wrong circumstances, because depending on how severe your crisis is, your reputation might be the only thing you have to negotiate with.

If you work hard, do the right thing and stay positive, a solution will likely present itself. It may not always be in a form that you anticipated — you may need to change your products or your market — but if you keep an open mind and work with what you have, everything will work itself out. ●

Most weeks I get on a plane and attempt to have an out-of-body experience to deal with all the hassles of flying as I travel from point A to point B. When flying, I have a few simple rules. One, I almost never eat the food. Two, I attempt to talk to no one other than obligatory hellos. Three, I never argue with or say a cross word to flight attendants.

One other very important practice I follow on land, sea and especially in the air is that I constantly scan my surroundings for potential troubles and new ideas.

On a recent flight, upon boarding, I quietly and obediently proceeded to my assigned seat.

As I began to sit down, a gentleman asked if I would mind trading seats with him so that he could sit next to his wife. Like most seasoned travelers I try to accommodate reasonable requests. In this case it seemed a no-brainer to agree to move.

 

Notice the details

As I started to settle in and fasten my seat belt I noted that my new seatmate was very hot. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. I mean she seemed to be flushed and radiating heat, ostensibly from a high fever. I’m thinking, this is not good, plus it proves the age-old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.

In the next minute I had an epiphany, which happens frequently as I believe that many problems come disguised as opportunities.

I rang the call button and, when approached, asked the cabin attendant to please bring me two cloth napkins. I stated that the purpose was to construct a makeshift face mask by tying the two pieces together to prevent possibly contracting some dreaded disease.

I feared that my intentions could be misinterpreted if I were to don a mask without an explanation; this could cause a well-meaning passenger to drag me to the floor thinking I had nefarious motives.

The stewardess smiled, nodding approvingly of my plan. She then summoned all her co-attendants to my seat and proceeded to whisper what I was attempting. Otherwise, she explained, they, too, could misunderstand my appearance and cause me bodily harm.

As founder and CEO of Max-Wellness, a health and wellness retail and marketing chain, I’m always looking for that next special something to share with my team. Therefore, while burying my now masked face in a newspaper so as not to frighten or offend the sick seatmate, I began dictating a memo to my merchandise product group proudly asserting that I just had another “aha!” moment, for which I am well-known, among my colleagues. For full disclosure, however, I am sometimes known for being a bit “out there” on occasion — but no one bats a thousand.

 

Turn an idea into a product

This particular predicament gave me the idea to develop a product kit that we could sell to weary travelers in our stores and in airports. I suggested a handful of complementary products, including a mask, a disinfectant spray and, if all else fails, relief remedies. I also noted that it probably would be prudent to include a cigarette pack-type “Black Box” warning stating that the mask is not what some suspicious flyers might think, but instead it’s for prevention of disease only. I even proposed we market these kits directly to the airlines to dispense as an emergency prophylactic for passengers exposed to airborne (pun intended) pathogens.

 

Fleeting thoughts have value

A key role for business leaders is teaching a management team to use fleeting thoughts as a springboard, to pair common problems with sometimes-simple solutions.

Just because it is a simple fix, though, doesn’t mean the idea couldn’t be a lucrative breakthrough.

When something sparks an idea it needs to be taken to the next level before being pooh-poohed. Most likely the vast majority of these inspirations won’t see the light of day, but that’s OK. Just think — what if one transient idea translates into the next Post-it Notes, Kleenex or bottled water?

The next time you sit by a masked man on a plane, it most likely won’t be the Lone Ranger. Instead, you might be witnessing the incubation of the next best thing since sliced bread. ●

 

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

If you are like the majority of business executives, you prefer communications by email. But is it at any price? What about some ground rules for civility? 

A recent Google search of “email etiquette” resulted in a substantial number of entries — the majority with a spotlight on protocol for the sender. Call me naive, but shouldn’t the recipient behave responsibly too?  

Let’s face it; responding to most emails has become optional due to the absence of accountability and/or real human emotion. One could even say that email correspondence is the professional world’s high-tech version of hide and seek. 

However, many employees still spend an excessive amount of time waiting for mission-critical information to be returned via email — and time equals money. 

To all senders, nothing is more important than communicating clearly and succinctly. An email beginning with “let me be brief” followed by five full paragraphs is most likely going to fall victim to the Big D.

D-lete. 

The battle rages 

Of course, the war rages on between “buyers” and “sellers” — and email is a primary weapon. However, aren’t we all “selling” something? As all recipients are senders too, practically everyone has a story of woe regarding an unanswered email. 

Maybe I’m not as popular as I thought. As a test, I recently sent 25 individual emails requesting time to discuss this specific topic. In my mind, I had a relationship with each person; therefore, I “deserved” their time and attention. Right? 

Number of responses received = 2. 

Now, inbox fear has become so great it’s also safe to assume that some simply didn’t want to risk comment as that could become the technological equivalent of an “Open for Business” sign associated with their email address. 

Understandable. However, history has proven that we now live in a business world where, if we can’t put out someone’s fire today, we can’t get them fired up about tomorrow. Tragic. 

But the real question was, what response did I “deserve” versus what had I “earned?” 

Inbox outtakes 

First, before you get all hot under the white collar, don’t assume that every email arrives at its destination — so simple yet so oft forgotten. 

Second, understand that most executives report receipt of 300+ emails per day — it is not humanly possible to respond to each one. 

Of course, despite the clever gimmicks intended to make some solicitation emails appear personalized, most of us can tell the difference between a customized email and one sent en masse. For one, I can’t think of the last time I crafted a personal email that ended with an opt-out option. 

The bottom line is: senders should never expect a personal response to an impersonal email. Instead, focus should be paid to those situations where the sender has earned the right to receive a response. 

You don’t “deserve,” you “earn” 

Recipients, please consider these questions when evaluating a sender’s request: 

•           Do you have an established relationship of value?
•           Does the sender’s appeal fit your priorities?
•           Is the sender in a holding pattern waiting for you?
•           Is the sender following an agreed-upon “next step” in communication?
•           Has the sender demonstrated a possible benefit to you or, more importantly, your organization?
•           Finally, is the sender a potential customer? 

Lest you forget: the configuration of most email addresses includes your company or organization’s name — your precious brand. Like it or not, when a member of your team chooses to ignore an email, your company’s image may be taking a beating — one blown-off potential customer at a time. 

In reality, there is no single solution that will resolve this increasingly unmanageable issue. However, a little thoughtful consideration goes a long way. Simply put, please just think before you strike. 

Speaker, writer and professional storyteller Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Fla. For more information, go to randallkennethjones.com.

The late Ed Koch, a recent New York City mayor, always asked, “How am I doing?” Marketers — as well as government leaders — need to know if their “customers” are happy.

Perhaps you head the marketing operations for your company and want to get a better handle on customer metrics. You heard about the idea of a marketing dashboard at a recent trade association meeting and think that may solve your problem. How should you proceed? What should be on your dashboard? 

Progressing beyond a single item to monitor the effectiveness of business performance, leading organizations often use a set of key metrics called marketing dashboards to understand their key performance indicators.

Just as an automobile dashboard captures critical driving information such as speed, distance, fuel levels, vehicle and engine temperature, navigation and so on, a marketing dashboard summarizes pertinent information on branding, channels, customer contact, promotion, sales performance, service profitability, the Web and customer value. 

Consider the benefits

Some specific benefits of using dashboards include the following: business intelligence, trend tracking, measuring efficiencies or inefficiencies, real-time updates, visuals (charts, graphs, maps and tables), customized reporting of performance and aligning goals and strategies with results. Major downside considerations include the cost, time and the talent needed to administer marketing dashboards.

The main value of the dashboard framework is that it consists of a multitude of practical information that is current, accessible and easy-to-understand. Dashboards can be designed for top C-level executives as well as the managers working in the trenches.

The accompanying figure illustrates an example of an executive marketing dashboard. This dashboard features the following metrics: sales levels and growth targets, the decision-makers, exceptions, key accounts (including revenues), the marketing pipeline (status of marketing activities throughout the buying cycle), and tracks leads and dollars generated over an annual period. 

Decide what to measure

What should you measure? The spectrum of opinion varies widely from a single metric such as the Net Promoter Score to 50 or more performance indicators. Just as we don’t want to be overwhelmed with our automotive dashboard, keeping the marketing dashboard simple helps measure what matters and aligns with business objectives. That said, here’s a good starting point to consider in choosing five to 10 key performance indicators.

■  Financial measures: revenues, contribution margins, turnover ratios, profitability

■  Competitive measures: market share, advertising/promotional budget, image map

■  Consumer behavior: market penetration, customer loyalty, new customers

■  Consumer intermediate measures: brand recognition, customer satisfaction, purchase intention

■  Direct customer measures: distribution level, intermediary profits, service quality

■  Innovativeness measures: new products launched and the percentage of annual revenue from these new products

■  Customer value measures: process metrics, customer retention rates, customer lifetime value, RFM (recency, frequency, monetary value) 

Realize that doing business today requires a new level of accountability for performance. Superior customer value means knowing customers’ behaviors and buying patterns.

Metrics are an important part of the strategic marketing process to understand: 1. How successful the organization is now. 2. What it needs to accomplish to become even more successful in the years ahead.

Smart marketing managers will embrace this challenge and use metrics as a planning tool to improve business strategies.

Art Weinstein, Ph.D., is chair and professor of marketing at Nova Southeastern University and author of “Superior Customer Value: Strategies for Winning and Retaining Customers.” He may be reached at art@huizenga.nova.edu or (954) 262-5097. For more information, visit his website at www.artweinstein.com.

 

 

"Business Class" by Randall Kenneth Jones

If you are like the majority of business executives, you prefer communications by email. But is it at any price? What about some ground rules for civility?

A recent Google search of “email etiquette” resulted in a substantial number of entries — the majority with a spotlight on protocol for the sender. Call me naive, but shouldn’t the recipient behave responsibly too?

Let’s face it; responding to most emails has become optional due to the absence of accountability and/or real human emotion. One could even say that email correspondence is the professional world’s high-tech version of hide and seek.

However, many employees still spend an excessive amount of time waiting for mission-critical information to be returned via email — and time equals money.

 To all senders, nothing is more important than communicating clearly and succinctly. An email beginning with “let me be brief” followed by five full paragraphs is most likely going to fall victim to the Big D — Delete. 

The battle rages

Of course, the war rages on between “buyers” and “sellers” — with email being a primary weapon. However, aren’t we all “selling” something? As all recipients are senders too, practically everyone has a story of woe regarding an unanswered email.

Maybe I’m not as popular as I thought. As a test, I recently sent 25 individual emails requesting time to discuss this specific topic. In my mind, I had a relationship with each person; therefore, I “deserved” their time and attention. Right?

Number of responses received ­— two.

Now, inbox fear has become so great it’s also safe to assume that some simply didn’t want to risk comment as that could become the technological equivalent of an “Open for Business” sign associated with their email address.

Understandable. However, history has proven that we now live in a business world where, if we can’t put out someone’s fire today, we can’t get him or her fired up about tomorrow. Tragic.

But the real question was, what response did I “deserve” versus what had I “earned?” 

Inbox outtakes

First, before you get all hot under the white collar, don’t assume that every email arrives at its destination — so simple yet so oft forgotten.

Second, understand that most executives report receipt of 300-plus emails per day — it is not humanly possible to respond to each one.

Of course, despite the clever gimmicks intended to make some solicitation emails appear personalized, most of us can tell the difference between a customized email and one sent en masse. For one, I can’t think of the last time I crafted a personal email that ended with an opt-out option.

The bottom line: senders should never expect a personal response to an impersonal email. Instead, focus should be paid to those situations where the sender has earned the right to receive a response.

You don’t “deserve,” you “earn”

Recipients, please consider these questions when evaluating a sender’s request:

■  Do you have an established relationship of value?

■  Does the sender’s appeal fit your priorities?

■  Is the sender in a holding pattern waiting for you?

■  Is the sender following an agreed-upon “next step” in communication?

■  Has the sender demonstrated a possible benefit to you or, more importantly, your organization?

■  Is the sender a potential customer? 

Lest you forget: the configuration of most email addresses includes your company or organization’s name — your precious brand. Like it or not, when a member of your team chooses to ignore an email, your company’s image may be taking a beating — one blown-off potential customer at a time.

In reality, there is no single solution that will resolve this increasingly unmanageable issue. However, a little thoughtful consideration goes a long way. Simply put, please just think before you strike. 

Speaker, writer and professional storyteller Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Fla. For more information, visit randallkennethjones.com.

 

 

 

Yosi Gil understands the pride that a person feels when he or she can point to a construction project and say, “Hey, I helped make that happen.” It’s a feeling that anyone who’s ever helped a building rise from the ground can relate to.

“The guy who built the Empire State Building will pass by and say, ‘I was one of the people who made it,’” Gil says.

That sense of pride is something Gil feels very strongly about. It’s a feeling he not only wants to share with his employees, but it’s one that he hopes his employees and customers feel too.

“You know, they say cheap is expensive,” he says. “But we always build quality. Look at my buildings; everything you see is real! Everything is real stone. Everything is quality. Nothing is fabricated.”

The accomplished real estate development executive uses that fact to make his point that quality materials and workmanship pay for themselves.

When the Pinnacle, a 246-unit luxury condominium high-rise on the ocean in Sunny Isles Beach, was launched 15 years ago, the monthly condominium maintenance fee was about $850 to $900.

“Today, the maintenance fee is $1,100,” Gil says, noting amazingly that it hasn’t climbed much in all those years. “The foundation is so good because the Pinnacle was built with quality.

 “When I tell my overseas clients that I am going to build a new building, they ask me, ‘Where?’ They don’t ask me what type of quality there will be. They know there will be quality.”

Gil, principal for condominium development and executive vice president of sales at J. Milton & Associates, sums up his biggest challenge philosophically: Everything is about achievement.

“When you wake up in the morning, everyone likes to do better and better and better; that’s what I believe,” he says.

It’s about quality talent and quality leaders and the sense of accomplishment that you get when you’ve built a Pinnacle, King David, Sayan or Intracoastal Yacht Club in a small city like Sunny Isles Beach that was vacant land 17 years ago, he says.

Here are some insights into how Gil focuses on achieving quality to be a leader in the premier rental-community market. 

Know your market

You’ve already taken a big step toward having your vision for your company if you’ve decided that you plan to focus on a quality, top-shelf product.

To finish that visualization, you have to research market conditions, seek opportunities, determine the feasibility of future expansions and then create a demand that ensures the company will make a profit.

“Look first at the location you intend to buy,” Gil says. “Then look at the needs of the market before you announce any project. Third, build something that the market can really afford in case it collapses. Fourth, make sure if the economy collapses you can make some substitutions to achieve what they want to achieve and not go bankrupt.

“Fifth, avoid taking any risk. We are not gamblers. We buy the land in the right way.”

Speaking of risks and contingencies, Gil fortunately had developed a vision well before the 2008 real estate market crash. Simply put, it was this: “Less is more.”

“You can see what we did; thank God we were smart enough to create some merchandise to fit the needs of the market,” he says. “Our company definitely creates the right inventory to fill the needs of the market.”

By limiting the size of a project, it better matches the demand and the chance of a sell-out. Every building that J. Milton has built in the last 12 years reflects no more than 100 to 120 units.

“We did it on purpose,” Gil says. “We did not want a building with 500 or 600 units.”

While others are chasing the big dollars with big projects, it can pay off if you are less willing to take risk.

“We are a very, very conservative company,” Gil says about the family-owned business. “It is better for us to be smart than bright. Smart people don’t get into trouble where others might.

“I would rather not go out and make $100 million. We might only make $25 million on a project, but we would make five or six projects. We definitely minimize our risk to almost nothing. ”

While there is competition in nearly all markets, you can’t attract all possible customers. Some may go to your competitors, but be realistic that the pool of potential buyers has its limits.

“If you are going to build 500 apartments in South Beach, with each apartment about 15,000 square feet, do you think you are going to do well? I don’t think so,” Gil says. “There aren’t enough people in the market to buy 500 apartments at 15,000 square feet each.”

A realistic look at supply and demand will offer you some guidelines. Gil expects to see certain types of customers: the primary resident who wants a vacation home, the owner of a second home or an investor.

“We only have a few people we sell to as investors,” he says, noting the possible risks that overleveraged investors may pose. “When we reach the amount of, let’s say, 25 percent, we stop selling to investors.”

As for planning for the primary resident, Gil puts himself in the shoes of the buyer.

“I don’t believe any worldly person likes to go to stay in a place three weeks a year and put up $7 million for real estate that he doesn’t use at other times.”

So his team designed an apartment in the 2,000-2,500 square foot range selling for about $800,000 — all with three bedrooms.

“The three bedroom apartment always fits the needs of the clients,” he says. “If you want to rent it out to an investor, it is easier to rent a three bedroom than a two-bedroom or a one-bedroom.”

Go the in-house route

One of the biggest questions for a company is whether to go in-house or outsource for its needs. The deciding factors often depend on the industry, but for Gil, who focuses on quality as a top concern, the choice has been an in-house staff.

“Everything in our company is in-house,” Gil says. “Everything from the architects, to the marketing, the financing, the banking, the management — everything is in-house. We are an A to Z operation.”

With an in-house staff, the chances of establishing loyalty are much greater than when you are outsourcing, Gil has found.

“It is much easier to manage quality because of the loyalty,” he says. “You will have control over correcting mistakes because the team is working together.

“My partner, Joseph Milton, is our building engineer. He knows how to build, how to create. Gina Milton, executive vice president, is the marketing director. I can’t move 1 inch without her approval.

 “I am not going to tell you that everything in our business works perfectly,” Gil says. “But if it doesn’t work, you start all over again. You have to fix it. This is your foundation. We don’t tell you that everything is just cookies, flowers and nothing else.”

Collaboration is important, especially when you have quality people doing the work.

“Gina likes the gray kitchen for a new project, and I like the white. So we picked white and gray. Gina gets the top half and I get the bottom half. We compromised to make sure it is going to look right.” 

Build your reputation

You don’t get to be a leader in any industry without establishing your reputation. You can’t buy a reputation, but you can build one through trust.

“Everything starts with the reputation of your company,” Gil says. “When I tell someone something is going to be done, it’s going to be done. Then people trust you.”

To ensure that your business continues, be professional and stand by your product, especially since in the construction business there are concerns that may arise to delay the project.

“All of us are very professional; all of us work together,” he says. “Let’s put it this way: our people are definitely very, very strong in what they do.”

A positive experience hopefully creates a return customer. Gil also focuses on buyers who follow a statistic that estimates that every four to six years, people like to move from their residence to a new location.

 “I have to make sure clients fall in love with the apartment,” he says. “They know the finishing and they know the service. So why would they go someplace else? The deal with me is better. This is the way I see it.

“We will help sell the unit. The clients are very excited because they get to move to a new unit. They made a profit from the unit they bought before and they transferred everything to the next deal. They already know the quality.” 

How to reach: J. Milton & Associates, (305) 460-6300 or www.j-milton.com

 

Takeaways
Know your market.
Go the in-house route.
Build your reputation.

The Gil file

Yosi Gil
principal, condominium development
executive vice president, sales
J. Milton & Associates

Born: Israel

Education: I attended Tel Aviv University. I was in the Israeli Army and then came to America. I moved to Los Angeles to join Crescent Heights, one of the nation’s largest condominium converters and was responsible for the company’s marketing, advertising and in-house financing. In 1991, I went to Pacific International Equities as sales and marketing director for some high-profile developments, including Sunset Harbour and the Courts at South Beach.

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

I did a lot of building in Israel. From there I moved to California and to Miami but I was always in marketing and selling real estate and development. I learned continuation in each one a different way. You have a client; you have to take care of the people, the service and everything that is leading you to do well. I also learned work ethic and work dedication.

Who do you admire?

I always admire God because he gave me the opportunity to do what I have. It was the right thing. I pray every day. I am religious, and thank God my partner is also religious. We donate to a lot of causes. My partners are helping a lot of children. We donated a synagogue; we are helping the people with everything we do. We learn how to give back what God gives us.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

Believe in God first; believe in yourself second. Don’t give up. I have learned one thing: God gave you the opportunity, and he will try you.

What is your definition of business success?

Achievement is what it is — when you see something you created and it’s already been there for many, many, many years. I promise you, the guy who went to see the Empire State Building that he built and is still there today, he will pass by and look at it, and say to himself, ‘I was one of the people who made it.’

 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 05:41

Move beyond “shiny and new”

Written by

Say the word “innovation,” and immediately you think about business legends like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, as well as the companies they created – Apple and Amazon. Too often, however, we focus on the people who have been tabbed as innovators and the companies that develop those breakthrough products, services and solutions, such as Apple’s iPod and iTunes, or Amazon’s marketplace and unique ecosystem.

True innovation goes much deeper than a single leader’s vision. It is an all-encompassing philosophy that permeates an organization and defines its purpose for being. For me, at least, I prefer to think about innovation in its broadest terms, extending its definition to include corporate cultures and innovative management styles. Think about how Facebook and Microsoft are run, and how at both organizations employees are a key factor in the idea creation, or ideation, process.

Now, think about the breakthrough products that eventually went bust. Hopefully, you don’t have a basement full of Beanie Babies, boxes of Silly Bandz, or a home library filled with laser discs. It is more common to land on a singular breakthrough product that temporarily revolutionizes your industry rather than develop a product through a process that’s repeatable or scalable. And, just as true, no matter how innovative and creative your management team’s style may be, without the proper processes in place to push ideas through a system that takes them from mind to market, you’ll eventually have trouble keeping the lights on.

It all comes down to developing a culture imbued with innovation at its core. But this also requires having a servant culture in place where every person who works for the organization thinks about the customer first.

Consider San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels, where employees strive to create “Kimpton Moments” by going above and beyond with guests and delivering memorable experiences.

Kimpton overcomes the inherent limitations for creating new innovative products that being a boutique hotel chain includes by approaching innovation through its employee interaction – and then rewarding employees for their creativity. For example, when team members put in the extra hours to ensure world-class service delivery, the hotel chain has sent flowers and gift baskets to their loved ones. And when they create an innovative service experience, the company rewards staff members with such things as spa days, extra paid time off and other goodies.

And then there’s the Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting firm that’s known for developing innovative business processes and systems for its high-end clientele. Part of BCG’s internal process is a focus on team members maintaining a healthy work-life balance. When individuals are caught working too many long weeks, the company’s management team issues a “red zone report” to flag the overwork.

Talk about innovation! And no product, service or solution was developed, marketed or sold.

And finally, few organizations are more innovative than DreamWorks Animation. But beyond plugging out groundbreaking animated movies, the studio’s culture embraces empowerment and innovation. Employees are given stipends to personalize their workstations so that they create whatever inspirational atmosphere they need to succeed. And, as the story goes, after completing Madagascar 3, the crew presented a Banana Splats party, where artists showed the outtakes.

Not only are these three companies known for being innovative in their respective industry spaces, they also share the honor of being members of Fortune’s 2013 “Great Places to Work” list.

So how do you take the first steps toward transformation or put those initial building blocks in place to begin the journey? There’s no magic formula, but there are some common traits – and they revolve around empowerment and establishing a culture that cares. 

Innovation organizations

  • Are open-minded and ask “What if?”
  • Teach team members how to see what is not there and identify opportunities in the marketplace to take advantage of those gaps.
  • Develop cultures where innovation thrives through open and honest communication.
  • Flatten the organizational structure and recognize that innovation can come from anyone and anywhere.
  • Make innovation, itself, a cyclical and continuous process.

Stop and take an internal assessment of your organization, your team and of yourself. If you can’t check a box next to each of these five traits, stop and ask yourself why. Then begin your own journey to greatness.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee recalls a time when computer users around the world were quite nervous about the power of Netscape.

“A lot of people thought, ‘Oh, wow, a clingy and controlling Web company. What do we do about it?’” says Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and inventor of the World Wide Web. “Then they weren’t worried about Netscape anymore. They were worried about Microsoft, and they worried about Microsoft for a long time. Then they woke up one day and said, ‘Wait, the browser is not the issue. It’s the search engines.’”

Today, it’s the social network that has people worried, says Berners-Lee. But whichever medium is in society’s crosshairs, he says the fear is very similar in each case.

“When you have a monopoly, it slows innovation,” Berners-Lee says. “It reduces competition, and it’s generally not good for the market. One of the most important things about the Web is it being an open platform. The ’Net is a neutral medium. I can connect and you can connect, and we can talk. That is really important to an open market and democracy.”

One of Berners-Lee’s primary missions with the W3C is to ensure the Web is being used to its full potential. But it is also to make sure it remains an independent entity so that everyone who wants to has the opportunity to tap into that potential.

“If you can start tweaking what people say or you can start intercepting their communications, it’s very powerful,” Berners-Lee says. “It’s the sort of power that if you give it to a corrupt government, you can give them the ability to stay in power forever. It’s healthy for us to not put the Internet directly under the control of the government, but to have a set of multi-secular organizations at arm’s length from government acting responsibly and taking many views.”

Still plenty of room to grow

Berners-Lee helped launch the World Wide Web Foundation in 2009 to bring the power of the Web to more people.

“Maybe now 25 or 30 percent of the world uses the Web,” Berners-Lee says. “That’s still a massive gap and a massive number of languages where there still isn’t a lot on the Web. There’s a lot of culture that isn’t represented and a lot of countries where they haven’t the backbone for a good Internet base.”

The foundation has designed and produced the Web Index, the world’s first multi-dimensional measure of the world’s growth, utility and impact on people and nations. It covers 61 developed and developing countries, incorporating indicators that assess the political, economic and social impact of the Web in that country.

“The higher level of the Web Index is looking at impact,” Berners-Lee says. “Is it really affecting the way people do politics? Is it really affecting the way you do education? Is it affecting health?”

The recent turmoil in Egypt was a wake-up call to many who are connected to the Internet, but have started to take its power for granted.

“They thought the Internet was like the air, that it would always be there,” Berners-Lee says. “And people started asking the question, ‘Who could turn off my Internet?’”

Fortunately, there are countless efforts underway from those in the technology industry not to restrict access, but to take the Web to even greater heights.

“The art is designing it to work with all kinds of devices because different customer segments are going to use different devices in different countries,” Berners-Lee says. “If you’re designing something new on the Web, you need to make sure it works on all devices.”

 

How to reach: World Wide Web Consortium, www.w3.org

The greatest challenge of opportunity is said to be the ability to take the next step and understand what it will take to maximize that opportunity and achieve growth. Amy Rosen knows the importance of that comprehension.

“The skill set of an entrepreneur involves understanding how to create a business,” says Rosen, president and CEO for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE).

Andres Cardona, who grew up in a rough neighborhood in Miami, is one of the best examples of this entrepreneurial spirit.

“He was on the verge of dropping out of school because his mom had lost her job, and he had to help contribute to the household,” Rosen says.

Fortunately, Cardona had become involved with NFTE. His natural leadership skills, along with the knowledge he was gaining from NFTE, empowered him to do something that would not only help his family, but also other youngsters in Miami.

Cardona founded the Elite Basketball Academy, an organization that would help kids hone both their basketball and leadership skills. He began with one kid and was making 70 cents an hour. Now, he’s a CEO with more than 150 kids, a staff of employees and he’s making money. He’s enrolled at Florida International University studying finance while he runs his business and supports his mom.

“I’m sure it will be the first of many businesses he runs,” Rosen says. “This is just a kid who needed to have his eyes opened to opportunity and learn some basics about business.”

A great place to start

The mission of NFTE is to work with young people from low-income communities, such as Cardona, and engage them in a different vision of opportunity and success.

“It’s basically an entrepreneurship class where they actually go through the whole business-creation process,” Rosen says. “At the end, which really gets to our mission, we want kids to actually connect school with opportunity so they stay in school. Kids start learning how to multiply fractions because they are figuring out their personal return on investments in their new company. We want them to start much earlier thinking about their future.”

Rosen points to Cardona as an example of a youngster with a great gift. But in too many cases, with too many young people, those gifts go unrealized and the child becomes an adult with nowhere to go.

“We want them to have a vision of success and whether they become entrepreneurs and create their own businesses or bring to their jobs and their employers an entrepreneurial mindset. That’s going to give them a much better chance at success,” Rosen says.

The work being done by NFTE fits like a glove with EY’s mission to drive entrepreneurialism in the business sector.

“Our cultures are so aligned around entrepreneurialism in general and we are all running competitions and promoting the notion that we need more entrepreneurs to solve problems,” Rosen says. “Now we have partners on every single one of our boards worldwide. They don’t have to be asked to do it. They really like doing it.”

Cardona was featured at the recent EY World Entrepreneur of the Year Award program in Monte Carlo. Other budding young leaders who have risen through NFTE also have been honored by EY.

“In every city where we have an operation, they feature our winning entrepreneurs,” Rosen says. “So the kids get an opportunity to network and see what success looks like and to go to the kinds of places they’ve never been and participate that way. And they get a sense of recognition for their work.”

Rosen says there’s nothing better than working with young people to prepare them for what lies ahead.

“If you’re going to give back, why not work with kids who need it the most and actually teach them and help them to be entrepreneurs,” Rosen says. “That’s what is going to grow our economy and create stability.”

 

How to reach: Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, (212) 232-3333 or www.nfte.com