Steve Jobs was the master of spotting trends and the opportunities that go with them. He was so good at it that he could see trends when they were still in their infancy. This allowed him to create products that kept his company at the front of the waves of change and ultimately drove massive profits and stock growth for Apple.

While not many people possess the uncanny sixth sense that Jobs had, it’s important to spend time studying your industry and what’s happening at various levels, from customers to suppliers to competitors.

You need to recognize when the trend is pushing positive growth and when it’s not. The additional challenge is to know the difference between a trend and a fad. A trend is more long-lived and drives a lot of long-term opportunity, while a fad tends to burn out quickly. This isn’t to say that trends last forever, because they don’t. An important part of studying trends is to know when to jump off the wagon and find the next opportunity, because if you ride a trend too far, you may find yourself in a rapidly declining industry or an area of waning interest.

For example, Y2K was a fad. For those who don’t remember, the Y2K boom was caused by old computers that only saw years as two digits instead of four, and widespread computer issues were predicted if systems weren’t upgraded. A giant boom in computer consulting and sales resulted from this issue, but it was short-lived. The moment 2000 rolled around, the need for Y2K upgrades dried up.

The dot-com boom, which was partly fueled by Y2K, was a trend. For a number of years, a ridiculous amount of money was being thrown at any project that contained the word “Internet,” regardless of its business model or competitive factors. While it was active, there were plenty of online growth opportunities for businesses to take advantage of.

Those who recognized the trend were able to capitalize on it, and more importantly, those who recognized the end of the trend were able to cash out before it went bust. Not every trend will be as big as the dot-com boom, and depending on your industry, they may not be so obvious.

Finding and recognizing trends starts with studying your industry. You need to stay in tune with what’s happening with competitors and constantly read about not only your industry but related ones as well. Talk to suppliers and vendors to get their opinions as to what direction your markets may be headed. But the most important thing may be to have an open mind. Don’t assume that because something hasn’t changed for 20 years that it isn’t ever going to change.

With an open mind, you are more likely to recognize an emerging trend before everyone else has rushed to capitalize on it, putting you ahead of the curve. Once you are exploiting a trend, you have to be equally diligent to know when it’s going to end, and that’s done in a similar fashion to identifying it in the first place: Stay plugged in to your industry.

These are exciting times and change is all around us. Look for the hidden clues that can lead you to the next big opportunity, and never stop challenging your own beliefs. The CEOs who do the best over time are the ones who don’t accept the status quo.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 01 May 2012 11:37

The inner circle

If you had the choice of growing at a 5.8 percent compound annual growth rate in a five-year period or declining 9.2 percent, which would you choose?

While the answer is obvious, the real question is, what does it take to end up on the positive side of the equation instead of the negative? Simple: some trusted friends.

The numbers above illustrate the difference in compound annual growth rates for members of Vistage, an organization for CEOs, and the average U.S. company. On average, just by belonging to Vistage, you are going to see much better growth. Why? Because you get insights about your business from CEOs who aren’t lost in the day-to-day issues.

Vistage, and other organizations like it (Young Presidents’ Organization, Entrpreneurs’ Organization — there are others as well) help you run your business better by putting you in contact with other CEOs.

Let’s face it; being in charge can be a lonely experience. At the end of the day, a lot of responsibility falls onto your lap, and if you fail, a lot of lives are affected. Some of us are blessed to have an inner circle of people we trust to bounce ideas off of and know that if an idea is bad, someone will speak up. But there are others out there that for whatever reason don’t have that trusted inner circle.

To be successful, you need to be willing to open up about problems before it’s too late to do anything about it. Telling someone you need help isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s the opposite. The increased success rates of companies that participate in peer groups bear that out.

You don’t have to have a giant network of other CEOs to be successful. Having two people that you trust and value their opinions is probably all you need. Two trusted friends can help you navigate through tough decisions and act as a sounding board for your ideas.

Working with your peers to review your ideas and goals is a great way to eliminate stress. They can provide the confirmation and validation you are looking for as you move your organization forward and can point out potential pitfalls you may have overlooked.

Sometimes, just having someone else say, “Yes, I think that will work,” can go a long way toward putting you at ease.

So what do you do if you don’t have a couple of people whom you trust? That’s where the professional organizations like Vistage come in. They can provide the same sort of feedback in a group setting and also offer a great way to network with other CEOs. As you build your network, you will most likely find a few people you are comfortable with and can build a closer relationship with them.

The most important aspect is to not try to go it alone. Whether you have a trusted inner circle of a few people or prefer a larger group setting, it’s important to have some sort of sounding board for your ideas. It’s also important to have people who understand what you are going through. Other CEOs can relate to the challenges of leadership and talk about what keeps them up at night. What you’re likely to find is that many of the same issues that bother you are also bothering others. Work together to find solutions or at least talk it through. You might discover a new approach to an old problem.

After all, two heads are better than one.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or

Published in Akron/Canton
Monday, 01 August 2011 13:28

The heart of growth

There’s a lot of talk about core competencies in the business world, but people often don’t understand what the term really means.

Some CEOs think their core competencies are the things that generate revenue, so they set off on a wild goose chase of looking for the next great thing in areas where they have no expertise. A true core competency is typically defined as having three general traits: It’s hard for competitors to imitate, it can be leveraged widely across products and markets, and it provides benefit to the consumer.

For example, at Smart Business Network, our core competency is content. We started off as just magazines, providing content tailored to CEOs and other senior-level decision-makers. But as the market started to evolve from analog to digital, we changed with it. Our core competency of content didn’t change, just the way we presented it. We moved into events (presenting content via live speakers), e-mail newsletters (presenting content on a certain topic to a narrow niche), webinars (presenting content via interaction with an editor and subject-matter experts), custom magazines (presenting content from experts to their constituents) and websites (presenting content in digital form.) The common thread among all of these is content.

Content for us meets the three components of a core competency. It’s hard for competitors to imitate what we do because we have a 20-year track record of working with some of the top CEOs in the country to provide insight, advice and strategy to other leaders. The popularity of our magazines with senior-level executives gives us the access that others cannot duplicate. As illustrated by the number of places where our content is delivered, it’s being applied across several products and markets. And finally, our content provides a benefit to both the buyer and the consumer — the buyer gets a professional message delivered to a specific audience, while consumers get information that helps them run their businesses better.

It’s OK to change your products, just don’t change your core competency. We evolved from a magazine-only approach to deal with changing technology. People were consuming information from areas outside of print, and we had to adapt to survive. But through all the incarnations, we never lost sight that, for us, content is king.

Think of your product the way Coca-Cola looks at its soda. If you want a Coke, you can find a vending machine and get a 16-oz. bottle. You can go to the grocery store and buy a 12 pack of cans. Or if you are at a ball game, you can buy a cup from one of the vendors. It’s the same product delivered in a variety of ways. Wherever the consumer wants a Coke, there’s a way to get it.

This is similar to how we have approached content. If you want it in print, we do that. If you want it digitally through a website, we do that. If you prefer e-mail newsletters or microsites, that’s not a problem either. Custom content? We provide that, too.

Now look at your product or service. Are you making it available in every way possible? Are there avenues where customers are looking for your service that you haven’t taken advantage of? Would Coke be as successful if the only way to buy it was in a can from the local store? No. Are you limiting your own success by limiting the ways your product is distributed?

And in a similar vein, are you going outside of your core competency? Coke is a beverage company. It has its flagship products and has added on flavored waters and sport drinks as consumer tastes have evolved. But those market changes were dealt with by staying with its core competency. When people started becoming more health conscious, the company found a way to provide healthier drinks; it didn’t start a line of health clubs.

There are many other examples of companies that leverage their expertise without deviating from their core competency: UPS applies its logistics expertise through consulting and management services for clients; Dunkin’ Donuts sells its popular coffee in grocery stores.

If you truly understand what you do best and can find ways to apply it across multiple markets, success will naturally follow. Just be true to who you are and stick with your core competencies.

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or

Published in Akron/Canton