1. Lead through innovation
Tiffany Olson makes it perfectly clear that innovation is the key to the growth of Roche Diagnostics.
“It allows us to not only stay competitive but, I would say, stay ahead of the market,” says Olson, president and CEO. “We feel that we are in a position where we can help to shape the industry and to shape health care.”
The medical field is extremely competitive, and innovation in all parts of the organization isn’t a luxury it’s a necessity if you want to succeed and grow.
A culture of innovation begins in the executive offices.
“It starts with making sure the senior leadership team ... shares the same type of passion for innovation and guiding principles,” she says. “It’s about expecting failures, taking risks, making sure that you have people that are committed to change and that are dedicated, this is their life’s work, and to reward that type of thinking.”
2. Satisfy the customer
The threat of national chains forced the leaders of hhgregg to find a way to differentiate the retailer from competitors. As a then-small company, executives dedicated themselves to a world-class commitment to customer satisfaction an area in which they thought they could exceed the competition.
“As the company grew, we demanded that the new people we brought on had the same level of commitment as us and understood what we were about,” says CEO Jerry Throgmartin. “At the end of the day, it’s our people that give us a competitive edge. We have a very good culture here, and the way we do business reflects that.”
Getting there was only the first step, though. Throgmartin makes sure team members maintain their commitment.
“We talk about customer satisfaction frequently,” he says. “And with all the employees we hire, we train and convince them that their success is dependent on customer satisfaction. If a person believes that, he or she will perform better. Really good people’s attitudes rub off on others. As long as we maintain that culture, we’ll be successful.”
3. Hear employees
William Corley strives to ensure every employee voices his or her opinions to managers and supervisors especially when there are complaints.
“Frustration causes burnout, not overwork,” says Corley, president and CEO of Community Health Network. “Most people leave because they can’t get along with a boss or co-worker and to get more money. But the major reason is the relationship issue. We want people to speak up. You use other people’s ideas and give them credit. If you do, they will stay with the organization for a long time.”
Corley pays more than lip service to the notion. In fact, speaking up is critical to his employees’ futures.
“You could be terminated if you don’t express your opinion,” Corley says. “I really want people to talk back to their managers.”
4. Keep an eye on the cash
When Robert Laikin co-founded Brightpoint in 1989, he encountered a skeptical financing community hesitant to back his fledgling wireless telecommunications distributor.
“The theme bankers kept giving me was that car phones were a fad, like the pogo stick,” says Laikin, chairman and CEO of Brightpoint.
Laikin turned his attention to securing a small line of credit and worked closely with his suppliers’ credit managers to keep his business afloat. “We honored our commitments,” he says. “Money was tight, but we communicated openly with the manufacturers about our situation.”
Five years after its founding, Laikin’s perseverance paid off as Brightpoint became one of the industry’s rising stars. And as the company grew, Laikin no longer had trouble landing capital to fuel its expansion.
“We were able to attract and retain talent and design our infrastructure and systems, while balancing our spending,” Laikin says. “Companies in this industry that were able to expand and invest in the future were the only ones to survive when the economy got rough.”
Today, Brightpoint operates in 13 countries and employs more than 2,000 people, and its clients include Nokia Mobile, Sony Ericsson, LG and Motorola. In 2005, the company posted sales of $2.14 billion.
5. Make the relationship count
If there’s one thing in the real estate world that matters more than location, it is the power of relationships.
John Kite, president and CEO of Kite Realty Group Trust, knows this well and relies on it to fuel his company’s growth.
“We have strong relationships with national retailers built on delivering what we say we’re going to deliver,” he says.
Kite says he recognized that to realize the company’s full potential, he needed to do more than just deliver for clients. He needed to partner with them, making the relationship a two-way street that would provide an opportunity to leverage one success to reach the next.
“We started to understand what these companies were looking for and today know them well enough to anticipate their needs,” Kite says. “We can go out and buy land. ... We have a good sense of where they want to be and have convinced them that we’re doing it with an expertise of knowing there’s future growth coming in a specific location or region.”
6. Focus on quality
“If you don’t have quality, you’re out of the game,” says Steve Cage, CEO of Product Action. “We have standardized work processes. If you go to a job in Ohio for a client, you have to set it up the same way you would in Indiana or Canada. It cannot be different.”
Cage uses an old-fashioned but very effective tool to keep his staff motivated rewards.
“Quarterly, our inspectors earn quality chips for doing good work,” he says. “They can turn those chips in for prizes, and they’re really nice ones, like televisions and DVD players. So the inspectors are very quality-oriented.”
But before they get started, an Indianapolis-based coach reviews every project. “The coach reviews the work standards and makes sure the flow is right and if it’s going to work,” Cage says. “We are constantly working to reduce the chance of error in our work. We’ve built a reputation for delivering perfect parts or as close to perfect as you can get.”
7. Share responsibility
As businesses grow, CEOs are faced with an increasing number of decisions. At some point, an executive must learn to share the burden of leadership.
“We have a lot of internal committees throughout the company that monitor all of the company’s functions,” says Dennis Oklak, CEO of Duke Realty. “For example, our weekly business committee meets to review significant transactions.”
During those meetings, all significant property transactions are reviewed and approved by senior managers, as is the company’s balance sheet.
“We have solid internal accounting controls,” says Oklak, a former public accountant. “Most of the committees have their own separate area of responsibility, so there is not a great need to interact. When interaction is required, issues are discussed by committees whose input is required. Generally, there is a consensus built among members of the committees.”
FOR MORE INSIGHTS from CEOs in Indianapolis and 14 other cities, visit Smart Business online at www.sbnonline.com.