Ron Fauquher has told it to his team a number of times, and the obvious sarcasm with a touch of humor always makes its point.
“I don’t think anybody gets up in the morning and says, ‘Whoopee! I get to go do crappy work today!’ he says.
“I think they want to do good work. They want to serve their customers, and they want to provide the innovation necessary to succeed,” says Fauquher, co-founder and CEO of Ontario Systems LLC, a developer of debt collection business software.
While Ontario is in the software business, the reality of the situation is that the company is also in the people business.
“Being in the software business, your creativity, your innovation, your customer service, your intellectual property — they all wear shoes,” Fauquher says. “Every day, they go home, and they can choose whether or not they come back.
“They can also choose the style of how to engage, and they can choose their own particular motivation about how they engage,” he says. “So it starts, in my mind, very much with people.”
To keep his talent from going home and not coming back, Fauquher says the key can be explained in one word — alignment. To achieve that, you need collaboration. To get collaboration, you need to understand that relationships — everyone working together — are the foundation of collaboration. And with employees, you build relationships by investing in the people: training, continuing education and the like.
Fauquher says with every that degree of alignment, you can figure out what kind of innovation has to be in your product, move it through the product management cycles in a way that gets it to the customer as quickly as possible and often before the customer actually needs it.
Here’s the scoop on how Fauquher keeps the very heart of the company from walking out the door and how he energizes the nearly 300 employees to generate more than $50 million in annual revenue.
Get in the game
Alignment in the simplest terms for a business boils down to what your customers want, what you offer and how close those two things compare. That’s it. The closer they match up, the closer your alignment is and, ultimately, the more successful your business is.
Fauquher and his team realized that Ontario’s accounts receivable software clients, which range from a small collection agency to a utility company to a hospital of significant size, have to stay on their toes to keep informed of the many new regulations, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Affordable Care Act.
The company has seen enormous increases in compliance issues across the board in the last four years for his customers. To deal with the additional issues, Ontario System has had to come out with newer and newer versions of its software.
Fauquher found one effective approach was to engage with the regulators themselves, such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington, D.C.
“We wanted to create relationships there to kind of get ahead of what’s going on — what they’re thinking,” he says. “We don’t think of them as an adversary. We think that is just another business challenge.”
Fauquher says his approach is a little different from what some companies do.
“We have a listening ear and openly embrace what they’re doing partially because I don’t think they can change it but partially because that gives us an opportunity to have dialogue with them about what they are trying to do and how they are trying to do it,” he says.
But the real trump card that Fauquher suggests CEOs should have in their hands is a person in the industry. Ontario Systems has on its staff Rozanne Andersen, considered the industry expert on compliance issues.
“She is an attorney and had been general counsel for the largest association in our industry, the American Collectors Association, and eventually had a huge impact on the laws that were being written — she wrote some of them herself — but also became the singular kind of focus person on compliance in our industry,” he says.
“Rozanne spends an amount of her time teaching, dialoguing with the regulators in the state and the federal government, dialoguing with our customers on their interpretation and especially their legal people and their compliance experts. Then she helps our product managers make the appropriate adjustments in the software to deal with whatever needs to be handled.”
Invest, invest, invest
While having a virtual trump card carries with it certain benefits, it alone won’t allow you to coast in other areas. One other major card to play involves investing in your workforce.
But on the other hand, by not making the necessary investment, you are creating a roadblock for your employees, Fauquher says.
“Often, companies put barriers in their way,” he says. “Those barriers are not driven by action but often by inaction — what I mean is not actively investing; training is the first thing that gets dumped out of the budget when times are tough.”
Educational opportunities, seminars, discretionary time necessary to track business leads and speak with customers about what their needs are — these often get thrown overboard when companies are running pretty lean.
“I just don’t think that’s a good business approach,” Fauquher says. “Overall, investing in employees pays incredible dividends.”
To keep the support in your people through professional investments, you need to find other places to make cuts, he says, for example, by trimming travel costs.
“You can always, in our business, trim the travel costs; instead of sending four people to the client site, you might send two,” he says. “Engage your team in finding the necessary cost savings, not for the sake of the cost savings but so that the investment can continue on the people’s side of the fence.
You can place yourself in the position where you get to review the ideas, in effect, to do more with less.
“You have to figure out how to embrace those ideas and how to let the best ones bubble to the top,” Fauquher says. “Some of them are about cost savings, some of them are about new revenue, but all those play together to make sure that you’re not cutting back on the really important stuff, which is your investment in your team.”
Align the employees — and the leaders
Once you are investing in your employees on a regular basis, that’s not the end of the alignment process. You have to keep the leadership team aligned as well.
Fauquher found it effective to divide the leadership into groups, such as an executive leadership team and a broader leadership team. The first team takes in the supervisors who manage the different functional areas in the organization. The broader team consists of all the individuals who supervise people or those who have an influential role in the customer base or in the partnership network such that they are impact players.
The broader leadership team meets one hour a week in the Operations Council. The group discusses information needed to run the business.
“They get a lot of information on costs, revenue, they get a lot of information on customer issues, they get a lot of information on the various product lines so they can appropriately infuse that information down throughout the team and lead their team,” he says.
Then every weekday morning at 9, the executive team meets for 30 minutes in an information-heavy session. First, the business intelligence people give an update of relevant things that happened in the industry the previous day, new regulations, items they pick up, in about a 12-minute summary.
“If you do that every day, you all start to get a different sense about the trends in the industry,” Fauquher says. “You start to hear about things that are going on, and you start to make connections in different ways.”
Next is a 10-minute update from the VP of sales on how business closed the previous day, deals that are in process, where he needs help from members of the team to close deals to get that business, and new business trends that are coming down the pike.
“Then we have two five-minute updates from our operations folks about what is going on in the business, where the issues have been escalated, and generally those are problems that need attention or at least awareness from the executive leadership team, so we can quickly respond to those customers,” Fauquher says.
“The last part is a round-robin of every member — basically where do you need help today, where are you stuck, and do you need help? And any other relevant information members of the team need to know.”
The same team meets for an hour every Thursday for a tactical meeting to deal with issues that need a little more discussion. Finally, that team spends one day a month working on strategic issues.
“What happens is the team is always in alignment. They rarely are not in alignment, and if they are not, it is a quick adjustment at the next meeting.” ?
How to reach: Ontario Systems LLC, (765) 751-7000 or www.ontariosystems.com
The Fauquher File
Co-founder and CEO
Ontario Systems LLC
Born: I am an Indiana boy! I was actually born in Evansville, but I grew up in Muncie. My dad was a Ball Corp. executive.
Education: I went to Purdue University, and got an undergraduate degree in industrial management and computer science. Then I went to work at General Motors and got a master’s degree in finance and economics from Ball State University. So I am about as Hoosier as you can get.
What was your first job and did you learn from it?
My very first job was an evening paper route. Then I figured out, ‘I know all these customers, I’ll get a morning paper route.’ And then I said, ‘I know all these people so I will get TV Guide route.’ And then you remember the newspaper Grit? So I got a Grit route. The thing that I learned most was that was back in the day of cash collections. Most people paid you freely, but often I had a collection problem. So you have to figure out what to do. But my first business was an accounts receivable and distribution business! I think I was making 10 bucks a week, and I was the richest 14-year-old kid in the neighborhood.
Who do you admire in business?
One is my business partner Will Davis. He is the architect of the company culture and very much the father of Ontario Systems because it was his idea. Two other people that I admire a great deal include Kelly Stanley who was CEO of Ontario Corp. and Van Smith, who was the chairman of Ontario Corp. — extraordinary business people, extraordinary innovators, and extraordinarily caring about people. They knew how to build businesses; they knew how to encourage young entrepreneurs like me.
What is the best business advice you ever received?
As I was a young entrepreneur going to build a business, trying to make sure that we did things right, that we did things ethically really came from Van Smith in particular. I can hear him saying it now that the way you make business decisions, in order to get them right, you must make a decision this way: people, customers, facilities and technology and money, in that order. If you think about the impact on the people and doing the right thing for them, they will take care of the customer, the customer will take care of you, which allows you to invest appropriately in facilities and technology and at the end of the day, you will make money.
What is your definition of business success?
I suppose that probably has changed since I was 20. I think it is far more than financial success. Business success is when you can have a respected organization that is respected by your customers, that is appreciated for who you are and what you do and how you help them — that is an organization in which the associates that work there are proud to say that they work there. This comes down to not just business success because if you have business success in terms of financial success, that allows you to sustain the business.
But it’s much, much more than that. It is about being a good community citizen. It is about supporting the needs and desires and educations and motivations of your team. It is about caring for the team member who might be in distress. So it’s very much about not just being a good place to work but and accountable member and an admired member of the community. If you do all that well, that’s a pretty nice place to be.