When her husband’s commercial real estate development business began to suffer in the late 1980s, Laura K.T. Schriver was concerned for the well-being of her family.

“I had three kids about to go to college, a house and a very nice living,” Schriver says.  “I had to think, me, my Savior and I, what was I going to do? I don’t have a college education, so I couldn’t fall back on my credentials. It was either I was going to open a catering business or I was going to do something with language.”

While she was trying to decide how to employ one or both of her loves, Schriver, a native of Buenos Aires who is fluent in Spanish, was called by a district attorney’s office to interpret for a case. She then received a call from Immigration and Nationalization Services asking if she could recommend a Mandarin interpreter. Immediately she recognized an opportunity and jumped on it. Schriver installed a phone line and set up her kitchen counter as an office and began to recruit and deploy interpreters for clients requesting them.

More than 20 years later, Schriver is leading a business with more than 150 employees and roughly 5,000 independently contracted global linguists. Whether it’s interpreting the spoken word or translating the written word, the company offers services for more than 200 languages.

“The entire company is open to ideas and we listen to them all,” says Schriver, Language Services Associates’ founder, chairman and CEO. “With our IT department, we dream it, and they create it. That’s the best part of knowing that you have these people who are true creators.”

Don’t limit yourself

Technology is at the core of everything that LSA does, and Schriver says her employees are trained that very little, if anything, is impossible.

“We don’t limit our client to the product that we have as is,” Schriver says. “We create a product that will completely take care of the client’s needs. If we don’t have it, we make it. Most of our software is proprietary, with the exception of the standard document, word processing and design products.”

In addition to face-to-face interpretation and text translation, LSA also offers telephonic interpretation services. With Interpretalk, LSA’s clients can access a live telephonic interpreter in less than 30 seconds.

The company continues to enhance its video remote, text translation, American Sign Language and language assessment services.

LSA also continues to find a market in the prison industry by addressing cultural language differences that may arise.

“Hispanics in particular carry two last names,” Schriver says. “So you have Jorge Fernandez-Lopez. They would go out and say, ‘Mr. Lopez?’ And none of them answer because the first last name is the legal last name. It’s Mr. Fernandez. Lopez would be his mother’s maiden name. And people in the United States don’t generally know that.”

Ready to serve

Schriver’s challenge is to stay ahead of the curve and be ready when languages that have not required her services in the past become more prominent. It’s not always easy to match up an independent contractor with the right language and need.

“We not only clear the credentials of all prospective linguists before adding them to our network, but we also put them through LSA’s rigorous verification and qualification process to demonstrate competency in spoken language conversion,” she says. “This allows us to see who the people are that we want to partner with, and who can represent our company in an interpretation situation the best. You really have to search high and low.”

How to reach: Language Services Associates, (800) 305-9673 or www.lsaweb.com

When Michael Armento talks about Philadelphia being a tight-knit community, he speaks from the heart. As a young boy, he would often take a ferry across the Delaware River from New Jersey to South Philadelphia where his father worked for the U.S. Navy.

“There is some history and there are some good memories here,” Armento says.

This memorable locale from his childhood is now the place where Armento goes to work each day as leader of the Philadelphia market for Red Bank, N.J.-based Torcon.

That sense of belonging he has always felt for the area was front and center in Armento’s mind eight years ago when the construction management firm set up shop in the City of Brotherly Love.

“What we set out to do was hire only employees local to Philadelphia with deep roots in the region,” says Armento, a vice president in the firm. “Philadelphia is a very parochial community and we knew that for us to succeed, we had to base our Philadelphia office with Philadelphia-based employees.”

Armento and John DeFazio, Torcon’s project executive, felt strongly that potential clients in Philadelphia wanted to do business with people that they felt a connection to, people who understood what they were all about.

At the same time, Torcon was not a new company. It has more than 200 employees and is one of the most active construction management firms in the Mid-Atlantic region. Torcon has done more than $4 billion worth of construction in the past decade.

“The challenge for us was to learn how to introduce Torcon to the local Philadephia community,” says Armento, who has more than 30 employees in his Philadelphia office. “In the beginning, it was a lot of knocking on doors to visit with people John and I knew from years back working in Philadelphia. It was spending a lot of time out on the street, getting out there and introducing ourselves.”

The effort has paid off in the form of 3.5 million square feet of construction work in Philadelphia, amounting to $70 million in 2011 revenue and about $105 million in revenue for 2012.

Here’s a look at some of the steps Armento has taken to build a team that could make those valuable connections and ultimately drive growth.

Set clear standards

If you’re looking to establish a strong presence in your community, make sure your employees and everyone on your leadership team is up to speed with your expectations.

“Our strategy can be very complicated if it’s ambiguous,” Armento says. “We’re in the construction management business. The reality is it’s a customer service business where our client always and without exception comes first.

“I try to provide clear and candid communication with our employees on whether they are excelling or falling a bit short. I’m forever reinforcing the importance of Torcon’s core values so that any confusion is eliminated.”

The message is often conveyed through the prism of Torcon’s own strong history of close relationships. The company was founded by Benedict Torcivia in 1965 and is now run by his sons, Benedict Jr. and Joseph.

“As far as we are concerned, in every respect and in every level of service we provide, we act fairly, with integrity and with honesty,” Armento says. “Ben and Joe are the two brothers who run this organization and through an incredible amount of hard work, they have built a stellar reputation for the company.”

But without the constant reinforcement that helps drive smart decisions, a reputation that took several lifetimes to build can collapse in an instant.

“That is so true in our industry of construction,” Armento says. “It’s very competitive and you work hard to finally win a project for a client that you have been pursuing for quite some time. It’s not just winning the project. You have to work very hard to be sure you are providing the services that the client is expecting.

“All it takes is one little error or mistake and in five minutes, that reputation can be ruined. That is what I teach and profess all the time. Try to look at things from the perspective of your client.

“Then you can understand what is important to them,” he says. “Business is built on reputation and performance and we have to show that in everything that we do.”

Performance has to be strong at all levels in order to maintain your great reputation. If a project is late in being completed, exceeds its budget or doesn’t fulfill your customer’s expectation, it’s clearly not a success.

“The definition of success is when a client says to us at the end of a project, ‘You folks at Torcon delivered on every promise and every commitment you made from the outset of the project,’” Armento says. “That is when we know we were successful in executing the project. We want to be sure that everyone involved views the project as a success and not just the construction manager.”

It’s the difference between possessing a reputation based simply on knocking out projects as quickly as possible and one that is consistently focused on a high level of customer satisfaction.

Reinforce the team concept

One key to building a team that is of one mind and can make strong connections with your customer base is to empower them to do what they do best. Build confidence in your people so that they know you see them as the experts at what they do. Create an environment where they don’t need to check in with you every time a decision needs to be made.

“We try not to be dictatorial,” Armento says. “We believe very much in allowing our people to be autonomous, to allow them to express their opinion and tell us about their findings and what they think the solution is to a particular challenge. We want them to feel like they are an integral part of the solution to problems on projects. When they do, they take ownership in solving those problems.”

Teamwork is part of the culture of the construction industry from your earliest days on the job, no matter where you work.

“Most people who are educated in construction management or construction management-related curriculum understand that every project is performed and completed by a team of those core positions,” Armento says.

“If there is a particular portion of the project that is struggling and needs some extra attention, we would expect the other team members to jump in and help out. It’s understood in our industry that it’s a group effort.”

Teamwork can easily fall apart, however, if that commitment to your team begins to waver or if you begin to provide evidence that you value one group in your organization over another.

“The key is to be consistent with your message and spend as much time listening to your people as you do talking to them and providing direction,” Armento says. “It’s essential for us to reinforce our message and reaffirm our employees’ value to our organization.”

When employees come to you with ideas or suggestions about how to do something better, demonstrate that it hasn’t been a waste of their time to come up with this new idea.

“It becomes a matter of personal pride,” Armento says. “If an employee has an idea after living with a certain situation day to day, they want to know that the time they have spent thinking about how to improve our approach is valued time and that their opinion is respected by management.

“When you hear an employee or a staff member who has a good idea on how to do something better, allow them to act on it. Give them the opportunity to take ownership if it was their idea.”

Take the time

You work each day to build a stronger team that is focused on providing the best service to your customers. Armento felt that was a winning strategy to achieving customer satisfaction.

But to drive home the connectedness that he wanted customers to feel with Torcon’s Philadelphia operations, Armento strongly encourages participation in the community.

“I’m a newly appointed board member with the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation,” Armento says.

He’s also involved with the American Heart Association and took part in the company’s effort to do a 9/11 memorial along the Schuylkill River.

“That was done gratis by Torcon along with a group of subcontractors,” Armento says.

These efforts were part of an overall push to show potential customers in Philadelphia that Torcon understood what they were all about and could relate to what it meant to be part of the Philadelphia community.

“The way we have overcome that challenge is one, to make sure everybody we employ here in the Philadelphia office comes from Philadelphia construction,” Armento says. “And two, to entrench ourselves as deeply as we can in the community and with community functions.”

How to reach: Torcon, (215) 271-1449 or www.torcon.com

The Armento File

Born: Camden, N.J.

Education: Construction management degree, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pa.

What was your very first job?

My first job as a kid was working for a local concrete contractor who did replacement sidewalks and driveways. My job was to break up the old concrete in preparation for the new. If it did anything for me, it gave me an appreciation for the difficulty of laboring on a daily basis.

What is the best business lesson you ever learned?

This is a very challenging business. We rely heavily on the performance of others in order to make a project successful. When I say others, I mean our own people as well as other members of the team.

To the best of your ability, try to manage situations on a project without emotion. Treat people the same way you expect to be treated. And that is coupled ironically with the understanding that you can’t blindly trust everyone. Remain objective and keep the clients’ interests in mind at all times.

What skills are essential for a leader?

Be firm when you need to be firm. Listen to people as much as you talk to people. Recognize it’s not always about issuing directives and establishing policies. A good leader sometimes has to be a teacher, a cheerleader and sometimes a confidant. Be open to your people when necessary, but be firm when being firm is necessary.

Takeaways

Set clear expectations.

Promote a team concept.

Be civic-minded.

 

Doug Tozour firmly believes that if you’re not really good at something, you shouldn’t futilely bang your head against the wall trying to do it out of sheer pride or a refusal to accept defeat.

It’s a lesson he learned after 10 years of unsuccessfully trying to build a new business unit at Tozour Energy Systems.

“I got into the residential air conditioning distribution business and tried all kinds of things to build that business,” says Tozour, the company’s founder and CEO. “By distribution, I mean you buy product from a supplier and you inventory it and then resell it. For 10 years, I bled trying to make it work. And in the end, I realized I’m not a distribution guy.”

Tozour Energy Systems was launched in 1979 and is now a leader in the heating and air conditioning industry for customers who have large buildings to maintain. The 190-employee company has done work for such clients as Comcast Center in Philadelphia, Ocean County College in Toms River, N.J., and Petway Elementary School in Vineland, N.J.

Tozour Energy has built a strong reputation by understanding its strengths and routinely devising innovative solutions to help customers solve their heating and cooling needs. Tozour’s past experience helped him understand the value of finding something that you’re really good at and then focusing on providing the best experience you can to every customer in that realm.

“When we leave a job and call the client or anybody asks the client how we did, if they say anything other than I want Tozour Energy Systems on my next job, we failed,” Tozour says. “That’s the ultimate measure of the job we did.”

Here’s a look at how Tozour built a culture that empowers employees to do great work and provides the motivation to continue reaching higher.

Get involved in hiring

You need to take a lead role in identifying and hiring the right employees to represent your company and provide exemplary service to your customers.

“You don’t delegate to your B and C players,” Tozour says. “You really make sure your A players are in the search, doing the search, talking to people. The minute you delegate hiring down below the top performers, you really do risk hiring more of what the interviewee is. The key is to get your best people involved in the process.”

Tozour works very closely with Kevin Duffy, the company’s president, to find those employees.

“We spend a lot of time trying to figure out what people are really good at and trying to get them to do more of that and then building teams around that,” Duffy says. “That helps us a lot organizationally.”

Testing is an important of the hiring process along with interviewing and feedback from references and referrals.

“If we’re hiring for a sales role, they go through the Sandler sales aptitude testing,” Duffy says. “We do testing of personalities to see how they will work in a team environment. We work hard to understand what their core personality is like. Do they have a tendency to make excuses? Do they step up and take ownership? It gives us perspective on what kinds of questions we should ask so that when they do come on board, we have a sense of what they are all about.”

Tozour says hiring the right people is about a lot more than just finding someone who can do a particular skill.

“People come in many stripes,” Tozour says. “The people we want are the people who in their heart, really want to be exceptional. Those folks live on challenge. They want change. You hear the cliché, ‘Don’t change. Leave it the way it is.’ That’s not who we hire.

“We tell them day one when they come into the orientation that we promise two things: Challenge and change. The day we don’t deliver on that challenge, you come see me because either we’re screwing up or you’re in the wrong place.”

In order to stay on top of your hiring, you need a strong HR department that can help you by understanding the kind of people you want to hire.

“We have a full-time human resources person whose main role in life is sourcing, finding, interviewing and developing great people,” Tozour says. “We want people who are creative, inquisitive and always questioning how we can do it better.”

You can also use your PR or marketing team to help make your hiring efforts more fruitful.

“One of the great things we’ve done in the last few years is get our PR engine working to get the word out about some of the great things we’re doing in our community and some of the great innovations we’ve got in the marketplace,” Duffy says. “We’ve got people knocking on our door constantly and the best compliment is we’ve got our employees inside that are constantly recommending and referring really smart people because they know we set the bar high.”

Be a leader

There is a big difference between management and leadership and those who fail to understand the difference will find it tough to grow their business.

“Management is the cold, hard facts,” Tozour says. “Here’s how many visits we made, how many proposals we made, how many orders we sold and how many solutions we provided.

“Leadership is the ability to inspire people to do stuff they might not do if left alone. Management is important because it’s all about measuring, quantifying and evaluating the results. But if you’re going to be a great company, it’s all about leadership.”

Effective leaders are proactively searching for both the good and the bad about how their organization works. Duffy says Tozour Energy spent time last year developing a dashboard system to help people understand how certain activities led to certain outcomes.

“Each of the business units developed a set of about five dashboard activities that we then meet about and discuss every Monday morning,” Duffy says. “We meet for a half hour to review how what we are doing will lead to results. Those activities on average resulted in close to 15 to 20 percent business growth in each of the business units for those who implemented it and followed it.”

One thing a dashboard does is provide tangible proof that people are responding to your leadership.

“Doug always says to me, ‘Look over your shoulder to make sure somebody is actually following you when you start these innovations,’” Duffy says. “It’s something we challenge all our leaders to do. Make sure it’s not just you, but that your team is following.

“This dashboarding activity was transformational for the organization. It takes everybody at every level to actually be implementing and doing it and utilizing the process to drive the results.”

There is another difference between leadership and management that effective presidents and CEOs need to keep in mind.

“I paint the picture,” Tozour says. “I paint it as clearly as I can about where we want to go, where we’re headed and a little bit about how we’re going to get there. Then I try to get out of the way. Kevin’s job is to get us there. Unlike a lot of companies, I’m trying not to reach down through the organization too much.

“I’m going to tell you where we want to be. Then I’m going to expect you to staff it properly and to be the one responsible for motivating and inspiring people to do the day-to-day things that need to be done if we’re going to get to this vision.”

Broaden your view

Tozour and Duffy value what their employees do on the job, but they encourage those employees to pursue opportunities outside the business that bolster their skills.

“About four years ago, we started reimbursing for MBAs and encouraging everyone on our senior leadership team to go back to school and start on an MBA,” Duffy says. “We put our money where our mouth is. What we started to see are people who were focused perhaps in a sales role then understood how they fit into marketing and all the business functions and the financial side.”

Tozour wants people who have the tenacity to pursue further education and training and the desire to get involved in leadership opportunities outside of the company.

“We’ve got guys who are coaching semi-pro teams and we’ve got people who are working in all kinds of nonprofits,” Tozour says. “It’s really exciting to see the involvement that you would never know about if you just met the person. You’d say, ‘Yeah, he is a salesman or a service guy.’ They are coaching teams and making stuff happen. Life is much broader than where you work.”

The lesson is that in order to get people to really give their all for your business, you have to be willing to do the same for them.

“If our individuals don’t have an opportunity to grow and develop, the company is going to be stymied,” Tozour says. “That’s going to go all the way through the company.”

How to reach: Tozour Energy Systems, (855) 486-9687 or www.tozourenergy.com

 

The Tozour and Duffy Files

Doug Tozour, founder and CEO

Kevin Duffy, president

Tozour Energy Systems

What has been your biggest leadership challenge?

Tozour: The biggest challenge, and it’s always the challenge, is finding really good people who can carry out the vision or can lead the charge. Everybody wants to claim that they have got expertise and what not. But finding expertise with leadership capabilities, that’s always a challenge.

What is your definition of success?

Duffy: There’s a quote that I live by: What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others remains immortal. That’s a real focus. When we can deliver financial success, it gives us the flexibility to do great things for other people.

Tozour: What is success to me? First of all, it’s being able to look back and see the results of our labor. To have the financial wherewithal to do whatever I choose to do going forward. To absolutely improve the life of others by giving back. And to have grown enough that I have wisdom that I never thought I’d be answering the questions you’re asking me.

How do you help your leaders grow?

Duffy: It’s common for companies to develop their vision for five years out. But we took it a step further. We analyzed what does that organization look like? What are the gaps? What are the leadership elements we’re going to need in 2015 to be that company? We went to about five different people in the organization and said we see you as a future leader here. We’re going to start challenging you with specific assignments to broaden your development.

As we grow, we have organizational leaders we’ve brought up and trained and developed so that they are ready to assume a leadership role.

Takeaways:

Don’t delegate hiring.

Inspire people to do more.

Encourage continuous development.

A lot of people gave money to help Silverado Senior Living Inc. become a national leader in providing care to people with memory impairments. Fourteen years later, Loren B. Shook felt like it was time to give them a return on their investment.

“We made stock options to many staff members through those years,” says Shook, the company’s co-founder, chairman, president and CEO. “No one got paid anything. All of the money we made went back into expanding the company. At some point, we needed to monetize peoples’ investment.”

In addition to Shook, his co-founders, James P. Smith and Steve Winner, and those staff members, investments were also made by the private equity firm Riordan, Lewis & Haden. This funding was instrumental in building a company that has 2,800 employees and provides invaluable care to senior citizens who need it across eight states.

“A lot of people think it’s just about the money, getting the equity and the debt partners,” Shook says. “But money is just part of it. The bigger part is what kind of partner are they going forward with you?

“All of them understood the vision of the company, which was to give life to our residents in our assisted living communities, our clients in home care and our patients in hospice. The vision is to give life to their families and give life to each other as associates and colleagues in the company.”

Shook knows all too well that without money, none of it would be possible and that Silverado Senior Living would have never gotten off the ground. But the financials have never been his focus and he strongly believes that is a key reason why the company is so successful today.

And so it was through that prism that Shook and his team set out to find a way to provide a return on past financial investment while simultaneously strengthening Silverado for many more years of meaningful patient care.

Find your soul mate

One of the best options that the Silverado team initially came up with was to take the company public. But as they began to look at what that involved, they quickly soured on the idea.

“Every year, you’re spending $1.5 million to $2 million for accounting and legal fees just being a public company,” Shook says. “You’re taking up a lot of time for the CFO and CEO that could otherwise be providing service more directly to our customer base.”

Soon, their thoughts turned to Health Care REIT, a real estate investment trust that had been working side by side with Silverado since its inception.

“REDIEA is an acronym that stands for Real Estate Development Investment Empowerment Act,” Shook says. “It was very new. Health Care REIT had done one REDIEA with an LLC corporate structure. We’re a C-corp. It was a very detailed process. It took a lot of action to overcome a lot of hurdles that had never been addressed before.”

One of the biggest hurdles in any business deal is the relationship between your company and the financier you want to partner with. Shook flashes back to 1996, when he and Smith were looking for financial support to start Silverado.

“Whenever I started a meeting with a potential financial partner where there was equity or debt, I always started the meeting by telling them what the vision of the company was,” Shook says. “If they didn’t have an interest in the vision and the purpose, the meeting was over because we were not in alignment.

“A lot of experts in raising money would say, ‘Don’t do that. Go down the path of return on investment, the capital you need and the numbers.’ I never believed that was the right way to start a meeting because it’s more than just about the numbers. No one I met with was upset that I started the meeting that way.”

The fact that Silverado had built an established relationship with Health Care REIT over the years made it a lot easier to move the process along with the REDIEA. But that relationship only developed because Shook and his team took the time in the beginning to find partners who shared their vision.

One of the most important things you can do to help you find that kind of partner is to talk to people who have done business with the investor in the past and ask what happened when trouble arose.

“Tell me the hard times you went through and what it was like,” Shook says. “I want to know that I have a partner that has the experience and has been through the ups and downs and is going to be by my side when we’re going through difficult times.”

As Shook looked to finalize the REDIEA deal, he wanted to make sure there was alignment and a shared vision, just as there had been 14 years earlier.

Lean on your culture

As the REDIEA deal was being consummated, Shook was also very aware of his staff and the responsibility he felt to keep them appraised of what was happening. But he also felt confident he had established a track record of trustworthy leadership.

“The culture has to be there before big decisions come about,” Shook says. “You don’t create the culture at the time you have a big decision where you need people to be confidential and you need people to come to you and say, ‘I heard what you said in the conference call. But here’s what I’m worried about, Loren.’ You have to have that kind of open trust in the company. That has to be there before those issues come up.”

Shook shared what was happening with his senior leadership team and asked them to keep it from going public since the deal was still being finalized. He shared the good parts of the deal being discussed with Health Care REIT and the cons.

“There’s always a negative side to everything we do,” Shook says. “Here are the pros, here are the cons and here are other alternatives of what we could do to capitalize.”

Shook reiterated that there was no pressure being made to enter into this kind of deal from anyone.

“Riordan, Lewis & Haden wasn’t saying that you have to recapitalize the company,” Shook says. “They were very patient. It was just the right time and the right thing to do.”

Shook says finding employees who can thrive in your culture and have trust in the way you do things requires a similar approach as when you’re doing your due diligence on possible lenders.

“Our vision is to change peoples’ lives,” Shook says. “So people who work within a company like our’s, in order for the culture to exist, would have to have an alignment or purpose in life with that. Their individual purpose in life doesn’t have to be the same purpose, but it needs to be something that is compatible with the major purpose of the company.”

In order to stay healthy, a culture needs to be such that it can allow people to leave without creating a big problem. Even the strongest culture has people who sometimes lose their connection to the organization.

“Lives will change,” Shook says. “Where it was the right place to be before, maybe it’s not anymore. We want people who get more than they give out of working at Silverado. We want the company to get more than it gives out of having that person work with us. If both are positives, it’s a tremendous source of energy coming together. If one is negative, there is a drain on that energy and a drain on that company.”

Believe in what you do

With a strong relationship with Health Care REIT and a strong culture that trusted in its leadership, Silverado was ready to make a deal. The $298 million partnership closed in January 2011.

“Technically, we did sell the company,” Shook says. “But all of us investors, including Riordan, Lewis & Haden reinvested a great deal of money back into the company. I personally reinvested 50 percent of my proceeds back into the company.”

Silverado is poised to continue growing with seven new communities under construction, joining the 23 communities, eight hospice offices and five home care offices already up and running. Another hospice office and home care office are also in the process of opening.

“Before we started in this industry, people said the model we pursued would not work,” Shook says. “They said we would be bankrupt right away because they couldn’t connect the things we do. They would say it’s either a medical model or a social model and they couldn’t understand how both could happen.”

Shook is confident the results have proven those critics wrong.

“People who invest in business want to make a difference too,” Shook says. “If you get a good return on your investment and make a difference in peoples’ lives as well, then you will win attracting that capital to your company compared to somebody else who is just giving them a return.”

How to reach: Silverado Senior Living Inc., (888) 328-5400 or www.silveradosenior.com

The Shook File

Loren Shook

Co-founder, chairman, president and CEO

Silverado Senior Living Inc.

What’s the best business lesson you ever learned?

One of them is to understand my own strengths and bring in people who have strengths that I do not have. In other words, I don’t want to spend my energy trying to do things that are not my strengths. I’m good at seeing things that can happen that are disparate or ideations, or seeing things that people don’t see and then connecting them.

I can put together the big picture deals like a REDIEA, but I’m not good at the details. Tom Croal, my CFO, he’s good with the big picture. But he’s also terrific with the details. There are enormous numbers of them and he’s very good at that. So I have a CFO who is excellent at that and I’m not.

Shook on value: People will pay for what they value, and I should not impose my financial limitations on them. I don’t know their means and I don’t know what they value. I couldn’t afford to have a person living at home 24/7 taking care of a loved one. So one would think, ‘Who can afford that and why provide that as a service?’

Well, nonsense. We have a number of people we take care of at home 24/7 and there are plenty of people who can afford that. It’s expensive, but it’s not a problem for them. If they can afford it, they should be able to have access to that service.

We’ve taken someone’s mother with Alzheimer’s on a cruise to Mexico. We staff it 24/7 and make that cruise possible and she has a great time. Don’t put your limitations on what other people want.

Takeaways:

Vet your financing partners.

Stick to your culture.

Don’t give in to doubt.

Brennan Mulcahy likes to keep it both simple and smart when he thinks about his growth strategy at American Solar Direct.

“It’s about providing high-quality, photovoltaic rooftop solar systems for residential customers in California,” says Mulcahy, the company’s co-founder, chairman and CEO.

“That’s it. So we’re focused clearly on that. There is a lot of opportunity for our business in other states and other jurisdictions, but we’re very focused on getting that part of our business right. I’ve seen too many companies try to be everything to everybody.”

The measured approach that Mulcahy takes toward growth at his 170-employee company is an effort to get it right the first time and prevent unnecessary mistakes.

He wants to get the right people in place, build a strong culture of empowerment and have an operational process that everyone understands. That way, when the business does take off, there will be far less uncertainty about what needs to happen.

“You’ve got to grow in a prudent manner,” Mulcahy says. “Companies that try to do too much, too fast risk destabilizing the business. So it’s finding a balance between high growth and controlled growth. We strive for high growth, but we also want to achieve controlled growth so that we’re managing the business and our resources responsibly.”

Develop your team

As you seek to prepare your company for a higher volume of business, you need to take a good, hard look at the team you’ve got in place and see how it matches up with your vision and company goals.

“You need to take a formulated approach so you understand not only where your weaknesses are in the organization, but also your opportunities,” Mulcahy says. “Identify those high-performers who are likely going to advance in their career.”

Mulcahy holds a weekly executive committee meeting where his department heads talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the organization from many points of view, including personnel.

“We look at how we’re performing across the organization on a regular basis,” Mulcahy says. “You have to identify, as you’re growing, the key positions you are going to want to fill six months, 12 months, even two years down the road. You can’t just go out and hire everybody you want on day one. So we work together to create that prioritization based on what we need in order to hit the goals and objectives of the organization.”

You need to keep your team engaged in this discussion so that everybody is moving forward with the same information and the same goals in mind.

“You work together to set those goals and everybody on your executive team has bought in to them,” Mulcahy says. “You want to create an environment that allows them to contribute and feel that they really can contribute meaningfully.”

One of Mulcahy’s priorities with regard to personnel decisions is to see if a need can be filled internally. Just as you want your leadership team to feel part of the high-level decisions, you want your employees to feel connected to the growth plan at their level.

“I’m a big believer in growing organically and offering opportunity for advancement in the organization to the extent that you can,” Mulcahy says.

Keep the makeup of your company’s work force in mind on a regular basis and think about how the players could be moved as your company grows.

“Identify who your superstars are, those folks who are going to advance in their career in the short term,” Mulcahy says. “Understand each department and who you have coming up in that department. The way I look at it is very formulated. I look at each department and who the critical senior positions are and then I look at who in the organization is below that could fill it at some point. Who may need additional training or support to continue to advance? Where do you have gaps in the organization?”

When you have a clear understanding of what you’ve got, you’ll be able to make smarter decisions when you have to reach outside your own walls to make new hires.

Be a good listener

As you build your talent level or do a better job of maximizing the talent you already have, you have to make sure you keep your ears open to the ideas your people bring to the table.

“You have to listen to people,” Mulcahy says. “That is something that is hard for a lot of leaders who have their idea and just do it. If you bring high-performing people onto your team, you have to listen to their ideas. You may not always agree with them, but you have to listen and weigh and consider their perspective. Engage as a team and allow people to feel comfortable challenging and debating ideas.”

This kind of engagement makes people feel like they are part of the plan to make the business grow. It also gives them comfort that there is a plan and that the work they are doing is building toward bigger goals.

“If you respect peoples’ perspective and you respect their point of view, you make them feel valued,” Mulcahy says. “Then as a team, you come together and draw conclusions. At the end of the day, once you’ve had the discussion and the debate, it’s important that everybody gets on the same page to execute a decision. But again, you have to allow for that opportunity to be heard.”

It starts with you. If you openly demonstrate that you value the perspective of the people on your leadership team, they will be more likely to do the same with their direct reports. The result is a group of people that don’t just view your business as the place where they come to work and collect a paycheck.

“I want to have a culture at American Solar Direct where people feel like they helped build it, not just that they work there,” Mulcahy says.

This willingness to listen and consider other opinions is another opportunity for you to show that you want the company to be successful, but you want it to be done the right way.

“It’s a culture you have to embed in the organization,” Mulcahy says. “It’s not a process, not a policy you put up where you say we’re going to listen to our employees. It’s something you actually do and you start by doing it.”

Build customer relationships

Relationships are a key component of any organization, whether it’s between fellow employees, employees and management or a company and its customers.

“For our business, it’s not a one-stop sale,” Mulcahy says. “You can’t walk in, drop off the product and take a check. When we enter into a relationship with a customer, it’s a 20-year relationship because we lease them the solar equipment for 20 years.”

Customers make monthly payments for the equipment that allows solar energy to power their homes. In return, they expect responsive service if anything goes wrong.

“So when they visit for the first time and give them that presentation, it’s not just a quick in and out, see ya later,” Mulcahy says. “We have to come back and inspect the roof. We’re going to send installation teams in and put that system up on the roof. We’re going to have a long-term relationship so the salesperson has to do a good job in order to be successful.”

Whether you’re in the solar business or a different industry, you need to promote the philosophy that happy customers lead to confident salespeople.

“Salespeople who have a happy customer, they feel good about what they have done,” Mulcahy says. “That gives them a lot of confidence and helps them get more business because they feel proud of the job that they are doing. The second thing that happens is if you do a good job for a customer, you get referral business.”

Referrals have been especially strong in the past couple months and Mulcahy says that bodes well for the future.

“It makes their job easier,” Mulcahy says. “Anybody in sales loves a referral because you don’t have to go out and work as hard to get that customer. It indicates to them that we’re doing a good job with our frontline customers.”

Mulcahy wants American Solar to be viewed as a company that is reliable and committed to great customer service.

“It’s easier to get staff excited about doing a good job than it is going and doing a low-cost job or a mediocre job,” Mulcahy says. “We’re not setting out to be a high-volume, low-quality, low-cost provider. We’re setting out to be a high-quality, superior customer service product with a personal touch. We think that is something that makes everybody excited to be part of the team.”

American Solar Direct is expected to hit $60 million in sales this year and Mulcahy is confident that his team is in a strong position to satisfy the demand.

“We can educate the customer, provide the personal touch and make them feel comfortable with what they are getting,” Mulcahy says.

How to reach: American Solar Direct, (855) 765-2755 or www.americansolardirect.com

 

The Mulcahy File

Brennan Mulcahy

co-founder, chairman and CEO

American Solar Direct

What’s the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Communicate openly and honestly.

Why is that an important lesson?

It just saves so much time and energy. So often people spend hours or days beating around the bush and not getting down to the most important issue. I think you’ve got to really drill down to the nitty-gritty of what is important. Just be open and honest.

There is never anything to be gained by beating around the bush because you just confuse other people around you. Be very clear in what you think about something and what you want to do and just really get to the point in a respectful way if you don’t agree with somebody.

What traits are essential for leadership?

No. 1 has got to be the ability to listen. That’s critical. You often hear communicate, communicate, communicate. I agree with that. But I think the first pillar of communication is listening. People often get that backwards. They think communicating means you have to be doing all the talking. To be a good leader, you have to listen to people.

You need to be able to make decisions as well. I’ve often seen people who aren’t good at making decisions; they often spin their wheels around in circles. At a certain point, you have to make a choice and forge ahead. That doesn’t mean you always make the right decision. But you do have to make a choice sometimes and hopefully get it right more often than not.

Who has been a big influence on your life?

My brother, Tim Mulcahy. He got me started in sales when I was very young, and we started many companies together.

Takeaways:

Know what your team can do.

Engage others in decisions.

Get to know customers.

Trina Gordon looked at her company’s clients and could see that they wanted more. It wasn’t that Boyden World Corp. had done a bad job of meeting their needs. They just had more needs to be met.

“What we began to notice out of this downturn was challenges in the macroeconomic environment continued to persist globally,” says Gordon, president and CEO at the professional services firm.

“Clients, particularly global clients and emerging global clients all over the worldwide landscape were becoming more demanding about greater consistency and quality of service from their advisers,” she says. “What that meant was we needed to take a really hard look at what was an effective client advisory relationship.”

It can be a tough pill to swallow when you feel like you’re giving maximum effort to help your clients and then you find out that you could be doing it better.

“There’s a little bit of that in your psyche that says, ‘I want to hear the great things I’m doing,’” Gordon says. “I’m not sure I want to hear where I didn’t do as well or where I need to improve. But it’s the only way we’re going to get better at what they want us to do and deepen the relationship.”

Sometimes, you’ve got to set your ego aside, even when you’re a top 10 global executive search firm with 250 associates in more than 70 offices and 40 countries around the world.

“Sometimes partnerships tend to be more process-driven and internally focused and concerned with the practices and processes of how we do our work,” Gordon says. “In this case, we had to turn that perception completely around and push our organization facing outward at potential and existing clients. We had to build a foundation for how everything we did focused on what they told us they needed and how we performed against those needs and requirements.”

Get to the point 

In the simplest terms, clients were looking for more bang for their buck with Boyden.

“Clients were no longer saying we have talent or human capital needs in emerging markets and anybody sitting in an emerging market can help us,” Gordon says. “What they began to say was we want real sector expertise, sometimes even deep functional expertise. You need to understand our business in a unique way. We began to see as a board, as a partnership, a real tipping point in how clients look at the professional services sector.”

Gordon wanted to respond swiftly, but methodically to this change in the marketplace. It needed to be done, but it needed to be done right.

“The challenge for a firm like our’s is how do you respond to those trends in a way that really adds differentiating value to clients,” Gordon says. “How were we going to uniquely stand apart from our competition and ensure that we could meet those client needs at an increasingly and more complicated demand level?”

One of the first things Gordon did was meet with all Boyden’s global partners and her leadership team. It would serve as a foundational meeting to begin developing a strategy to transform the firm.

“The message was we have this opportunistic window in our own retained search business to drive this concept forward and lead it as a premier global search firm, the first to do so,” Gordon says.

One of the next steps was a global conference in Asia where many of the firm’s key leaders sat down and defined the things that they felt the firm needed to represent going forward. These leaders had spoken with clients and gathered feedback. Now it was time to lay it all out there so Boyden could begin to shape its strategy.

“Part of what clients have shared with us is we want to have a singular kind of experience with you,” Gordon says. “That means you need to understand who we are and what our business strengths are. Understand our business. Get under our skin. Be sector specific with us. You have to demonstrate a genuine understanding of who we are, which meant the difference between a robust client relationship and one that isn’t robust.”

Know what you don’t know

There is a word of caution that must be addressed for any firm that is looking to adapt what it does for its clients. You better have a good idea of what you stand for before you begin the transformation.

“When we stray from our core expertise and we stretch out and try to do something we’re not capable of doing, we’re no longer acting with integrity and it ultimately will affect the client relationship,” Gordon says.

“We have to be able to know what our strengths are, be true to them and have the courage to say, ‘This is how we can best help you.’ We also have to be honest with the client and say, ‘This is what we can do and this is what we can’t do well.’ We’re not going to risk our relationship for the sake of saying we can be all things to a client.”

If you don’t know what your core beliefs and expertise are, then how will you know whether the thing you’re being asked to do fits in? You have to be clear about it so that you can give your best effort and performance on the project.

“It’s one thing to stretch in an area where we have done some work and there’s expertise elsewhere in our firm to help us and guide us and draw upon and bring into the client equation,” Gordon says.

“It’s another when it’s completely further afield from the core expertise of the firm. That’s where you can get into trouble with a client. And it’s very hard to recover a relationship that you’ve damaged.”

Be methodical

Boyden is a big firm and so there was a ton of information and data to sort through as this transformation took place. It was incumbent upon Gordon to not let it overwhelm her team.

“It’s important to take a step back, center yourself and think through what’s really important,” Gordon says. “Prioritize and move in steps. You’ll overwhelm the organization if you try to do much too soon without a coherent message, without responsible buy-in and without a very clear approach to staying true to who you are. “We’re still evolving as an organization because change is not always an easy thing. What I’ve learned is to take a deep breath and make sure you’re confident in the people around you and confident in what your clients are telling you.”

You want to please your clients and that’s obviously the most important thing. But don’t let it affect your work and force you into a pace that will result in a substandard final product.

You also need to make sure you’re cognizant of your personnel resources. What skills can your people jump right in and take on and which ones will require some level of training?

“You can’t just assume you have a completely homogenous organization that all can move forward at the same time toward this enhanced approach with clients,” Gordon says. “One of the things I tried to do very early with our leadership team was reach out to those key voices inside our firm who embody this work already and who are our greatest client advocates.”

You undoubtedly have some people in your company who can be trainers and who can help their peers grow. Tap into that resource and put it to use. And for other people who need to learn some new skills, do what you can to help them.

“There’s a lot going on inside a complex organization,” Gordon says. “Not everybody can drink from a fire hose at the same time. So you need to be able to call upon your leadership, those individuals that people respect and know that already embody this expertise with clients and utilize their knowledge base and their talent to train, teach and enrich younger partners or partners that are new to the profession. That is a continual process.”

It’s a process that will likely never be completely wrapped up. There’s always more to learn and more to figure out and Gordon says they’ll just keep on trying to do the best they can for their clients. But this process has already put the firm in a better position to serve those clients.

“Our dashboard is built, our metrics are built, so all of it is now launched,” Gordon says. “We’re at this exciting period where you’re diving off the board hand in hand with your client into this brave new milieu. I see it as a continual evolution that our own firm and each and every one of our partners will sort of continuously travel together.”

How to reach: Boyden World Corp., (312) 565-1300 or www.boyden.com

 

The Gordon File

Trina Gordon, president and CEO, Boyden World Corp.

Born: Alliance, Ohio

Education: Bachelor’s degree, political science; master’s degree, public administration, Auburn University

What did you want to be growing up?

From the time I was little, I always wanted to be an equine veterinarian. So my interest in Auburn, at least prior to going there, was they have one of the finest equine veterinary schools in the country. When I went there, I fell in love with the philosophy of the university, the campus and the people. But I found that the pre-veterinary program, I didn’t have the constitution for invasive medicine. So my dream of becoming an equine vet versus the leader of a professional search firm is quite different. So I switched majors, I stayed and I loved it.

What was your very first job?

In the summer, my brother and I ran a custom car detailing business part of the day out of my parents’ garage. Then in the afternoons, I ran a daycare nursery school for kids in our area. I had about 10 to 12 kids at a time and they were ages six to 10.

Who would you like to meet and why?

I love history, so if I had the opportunity to sit down with anyone, it would be Elizabeth I. I would like to know how a woman who was the first leader of a powerful, yet fledgling nation was able to bring a divided country together and bring them to global prominence. How she was able to unify them behind an individual who heretofore in their history, had never been a woman and reign long and lasting over a very respectful populace. She was able to gain the credibility of all the men around her and win respect around medieval Europe.

Takeaways:

Be clear about your goals.

Understand your limitations.

Don’t rush just to get it done.

cle_cs_autosidebar_0513Cleveland is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, has a world-renowned theater district in Playhouse Square and is clamoring for one of its beloved pro sports teams to finally win a championship.

But do you know how close Cleveland came to being known throughout the land as the Motor City?

“Cleveland turned out the most automobiles in America between 1896 and 1907,” says Derek Moore, curator of transportation history for the Crawford Auto and Aviation Museum at the Western Reserve Historical Society.

“Between 1892, when (Achille) Philion built the first steam carriage in this area, and 1932, when Peerless Motor Car Co. closed its doors, there were more than 115 automobile manufacturers in Northeast Ohio. It was a significant factor in the development of the early automobile.”

Founded in 1900, Peerless began producing cars when Cleveland was the center of automotive production in the U.S. Peerless even employed race car driver Barney Oldfield to pilot its Green Dragon.

So why is Detroit known today as the Motor City? Henry Ford obviously had a lot to do with it when he started Ford Motor Co., built the Model T and came up with a way to mass produce cars on an assembly line.

“Detroit started to have more automobile companies and a big chunk of them were aimed at the lower-middle-class range,” Moore says. “Cleveland had the higher-end cars. More people could afford the cars coming out of Detroit, fewer people could afford the cars coming out of Cleveland, so Detroit’s business started to boom.”

Those realities aside, Cleveland has still done quite a bit to shape the automotive industry worldwide.

Doing their part

Mike Thompson has been selling cars in Northeast Ohio since 1975. It was a time when auto manufacturers employed a lot of people in the region — people who needed cars of their own to drive.

“People from the plants, they bought lots and lots of cars,” says Thompson, who is now the CEO at Montrose Auto Group. “Cleveland was heavy steel back then, and that’s why the ports were so important. We were in the top three of steel-producing cities in the country back then.”

The world has changed, but much of the work to support the cars and trucks we all drive continues.

“We’ve got Lordstown,” says Lou Vitantonio, president of the Greater Cleveland Automobile Dealers’ Association, referring to the General Motors assembly plant. “You’ve got the EcoBoost engine being built in Cleveland, which is Ford’s most popular and most fuel-efficient vehicle. You’ve got Toledo that is heavy into Jeep because of the Jeep production plant. And you’ve got Honda in Central Ohio.”

Lubrizol Corp. is another big player with its work in oils and lubricants along with Eaton Corp. and TRW. But Moore says the ties don’t end there.

“Sherwin-Williams has been a big supplier to the industry with paint,” Moore says. “Down in Akron, you’ve got Goodyear. Lincoln Welding supplying welders to the repair shops. Ohio Technical College is training the future body mechanics and training people in alternative fuels. And the Cleveland Institute of Art — which is in an old Ford assembly plant — they have an automotive design program that is one of the best in the country.”

And so the evolution of the auto industry continues, says Frank Porter, president of Central Cadillac in downtown Cleveland.

“I think we rank second in the nation with the group of suppliers that produce parts that go into cars,” Porter says. “It was just sheer mass that made Detroit what it is today. At the same time, it’s maybe not as diverse as Cleveland is, and I think Detroit suffers because of that.” ?

To learn more about Cleveland’s automotive history, visit the Western Reserve Historical Society

at www.wrhs.org.

Laura K.T. Schriver did not have a vision for Language Services Associates when she launched the business in 1991. She felt strongly about the opportunity that the company offered its customers to eliminate communication barriers, but that wasn’t what was motivating her to start the company.

Her more immediate concern was the well-being of her family.

“My husband was in commercial real estate development and the industry kind of went belly up,” Schriver says. “I had three kids about to go to college, a house and a very nice living. I had to think, me, my savior and I, what was I going to do? I don’t have a college education, so I couldn’t fall back on my credentials. It was either I was going to open a catering business or I was going to do something with language.”

More than 20 years later, Schriver is leading a business with more than 150 employees and roughly 5,000 independently contracted global linguists. Whether it’s interpreting the spoken word or translating the written word, the company offers services for more than 200 languages.

“The entire company is open to ideas and we listen to them all,” says Schriver, the company’s founder, president and CEO. “With our IT department, we dream it and they create it. That’s the best part of knowing that you have these people who are true creators.”

Don’t limit yourself

Technology is at the core of everything that LSA does, and Schriver says her employees are trained that very little, if anything, is impossible.

“We don’t limit our client to the product that we have as is,” Schriver says. “We create a product that will suffice and take care of the client’s needs. If we don’t have it, we make it. We never buy outside software from anybody. All our software is our own.”

In addition to face-to-face interpretation and text translation, LSA continues to expand its service capacity. Interpretalk allows anyone to get instant telephone interpreting services from anywhere in the world.

“Say you’re in Paris and you want to tell your cab driver, ‘Please take me to the Eiffel Tower,’ but you don’t know how to say it,” Schriver says. “You push the app and the interpreter tells the cabbie, ‘Take this man to the Eiffel Tower.’ The cost of having an escort interpreter go with you to all of those places is gone. It’s obsolete.”

LSA is developing a robot that will walk with a client and provide instant interpretive services wherever they need. The company continues to enhance its video remote, text translation and American Sign Language services.

LSA also continues to find a market in the prison industry by addressing cultural language differences that may arise.

“Hispanics in particular carry two last names,” Schriver says. “So you have Jorge Fernandez-Lopez. They would go out and say, ‘Mr. Lopez?’ And none of them answer because the first last name is the legal last name. It’s Mr. Fernandez. Lopez would be his mother’s maiden name. And people in the United States don’t generally know that.”

Ready to serve

Schriver’s challenge is to stay ahead of the curve and be ready when languages that have not required her services in the past become more prominent. It’s not always easy to match up an independent contractor with the right language and need.

“You have to clear their credentials to see who the people are that you want and who can represent your company in an interpretation situation the best,” Schriver says. “You really have to search high and low.”

How to reach: Language Services Associates,

(800) 305-9673 or www.lsaweb.com

Can you imagine a world without Oreo cookies? Anyone who has taken one and dipped it into a glass of milk before popping it into his or her mouth to savor the flavor would shudder at the thought of such a scenario.

But when Irene Rosenfeld returned to Kraft Foods in 2006, she found that the company was on verge of delisting the Oreo brand in China.

“We took a U.S. product and jammed it down the throats of the Chinese consumer,” Rosenfeld says. “We were losing money, and it was a very unattractive proposition. We had a $60 million factory in Beijing, which was sitting empty because sales had not materialized. So we were about to delist the product.”

Rosenfeld and her team at Kraft decided to reach out to people in China before taking such a drastic move. They asked what it would take to make the Oreo brand a success in their country.

“They very quickly told us that the product was too big and too sweet for the Chinese consumer,” Rosenfeld says. “When we allowed our local managers to redesign our product for the local taste and local customs, we had a phenomenal turnaround.”

The Chinese Oreo is smaller and less sweet and actually comes in a green tea flavor. It’s not at all what American consumers want when they open their package of Oreos, but different cultures have different tastes. Rosenfeld knew in that case she needed to adapt to earn the business of the Chinese consumers.

The effort has paid off thanks in part to China’s own Yao Ming, a former star basketball player in the United States.

“Who is the best symbol in China but Yao Ming?” Rosenfeld says. “He’s our spokesman, and we actually go to the local guy. It has been a phenomenal business in China with almost $800 million of the $2 billion business from Oreo worldwide,”

The willingness to adapt played a large part in the move completed last fall to split Kraft into two groups. Kraft Foods Group now holds the company’s North American grocery business, which is led by iconic brands such as Oscar Mayer and Maxwell House.

Kraft Foods Inc. is now Mondelez International Inc. and will focus on high-growth global snacks.

“Our dream for this company is to create delicious moments of joy,” says Rosenfeld, chairman and CEO for Mondelez. “The opportunity for us is to create a $36 billion start-up. It’s an opportunity to take an incredible roster of brands that are household names, brands like Oreo, Ritz, Chips Ahoy, Trident and Cadbury, and put those together.”

 

Getting to the market fast

Rosenfeld does not go so far as to say that the grocery side of the business was holding back snacks. But the two sides did require a different approach, and that created a challenge for leadership.

“North American grocery needs to be managed for cash and for margin,” Rosenfeld says. “There is a big focus there on maintaining the moderate growth but making sure it’s a very cost-focused company.

“Our global snacks business is all about growth. So the focus is on global platforms for each of our brands. The focus is on capabilities and the supply chain and sales, which will drive these products more rapidly around the world.

“The opportunity for us to be able to scale up very quickly if we are properly structured and have the proper communication from one part of the world to another is the main idea for our new company.”

The ability to make smart acquisitions of new brands and make strong connections in emerging markets will go a long way toward determining the ultimate success of Mondelez.

“The rate of consumption in the emerging markets is a fraction of what we see in developed markets,” Rosenfeld says. “So that whole investment thesis behind Mondelez is this idea of a growth company because of our geographic footprint and our category participation. It’s really depending on explosive growth, and we’re growing at a double-digit rate in these emerging parts.”

 

Focusing on health

It’s hard to talk about snacks and the love that people have of them without talking about obesity. Rosenfeld says the problem of people being overweight and out of shape is big in the United States, but it’s also a concern in other parts of the world.

“It’s every bit as challenging in India, and it’s on its way to markets like China,” Rosenfeld says. “It’s an issue we take quite seriously, and we look to address it in a couple of ways.”

The first part is looking at calorie intake. Efforts are ongoing to formulate products in a way that they taste good but can be enjoyed without guilt or risk to your future health and well-being.

“We continue to focus on taking things out like calories and sodium and sugar and replacing them in our products, as well as increasing the level of fiber,” Rosenfeld says. “We’re not pretending chocolate is going to be something other than it is.

“What we’re doing with products like that is to make sure the consumer has portion control. We’re making more of our candy bars scored so you can break off a piece at a time. We have resealable packaging. We’re doing a lot more single-serve products, which is good for price value and consumption.”

As for burning calories, Rosenfeld says she and her company will always do what they can to promote exercise and an active lifestyle for consumers young and old.

“We have been working very actively in partnership with organizations like KaBOOM! and with playgrounds in inner cities in this country and in programs like Healthy Schools in the U.K.,” Rosenfeld says. “We’re helping to educate children about good nutrition and the value of exercise.”

The key to being successful in providing nutritional foods to consumers, whether it be children, college students, young professionals or senior citizens, is easy to understand. But it’s often a lot more difficult to achieve in actual practice.

“Healthier products like Triscuit and Wheat Thins are growing at twice the rate as the base products,” Rosenfeld says. “There’s a clear business opportunity as well as the social responsibility. It’s not a tough sell, but what’s hard is to make sure these products taste delicious. Because at the end of the day, if it doesn’t taste good, the rest of it doesn’t matter.”

 

Staying in touch

From the outside, it seems like it would be a nearly impossible task to manage 100,000 employees. And while Rosenfeld has a proven track record of effective leadership and is regularly named one of the most influential leaders in the world, she agrees that managing that many people is impossible.

“The fact is I can’t manage 100,000 employees,” Rosenfeld says. “What I can do is inspire as many of the leaders of the company, then, in turn, to inspire their teams. It’s a cascading process.

“The single biggest role I play is in communication and talking about where we are going, why we are going there and what it is I need the organization to do. Then I really need the leaders to grab that and translate that mess into what it means for their folks on the ground.”

Rosenfeld spends about two-thirds of her time on the road meeting with employees and assessing whether they have what they need to succeed.

“I spend an enormous amount of time thinking about talent,” Rosenfeld says. “I look at our key roles, and I want to make sure they are operated by our top talent and that we have good career paths for those individuals as well as good succession plans behind them.”

The name change from Kraft to Mondelez has required a restating of what it means to work for this new organization.

“A lot of the work we’re doing right now is creating an employee value proposition and being explicit about what Mondelez can offer you as the prospective employee that you might not get elsewhere,” Rosenfeld says.

Empowering women to grow and succeed is another area of focus for Rosenfeld. Half of her management team is female and a third of her board is women.

“For many companies, they can legitimately say they have no one in the pipeline because they didn’t focus on that,” Rosenfeld says. “It’s a multilayered process, and it has to be a commitment from the top. I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made and we continue to talk with peers about what sort of actions we’ve taken that have contributed to our success.”

If you ask Rosenfeld for advice on how to succeed in life and in work, she says to just be yourself.

“If you’re not comfortable in the environment that you’re in, get out of it and do something else,” Rosenfeld says. “We all work too hard at what we do to not be comfortable and to feel like we have to be somebody that we’re not.”

 

 

The Rosenfeld File

Name: Irene Rosenfeld

Title: Chairman and CEO

Company: Mondelez International Inc.

Education and memberships: Rosenfeld holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, an MBA and a doctorate in marketing, all from Cornell University. She is active in a number of industry and community organizations including The Economic Club of Chicago. She also serves on the Grocery Manufacturers Association board of directors and Cornell’s board of trustees.

The path to Mondelez: She began her career in consumer research, later joining General Foods, which itself became part of Kraft Foods. Rosenfeld led the restructuring and turnaround of key businesses in the United States, Canada and Mexico. She served on the team that spearheaded the company's IPO in 2001, and successfully integrated the Nabisco, LU and Cadbury businesses.

Rosenfeld took a short break from Kraft Foods in 2004, serving for two years as chairman and CEO of Frito-Lay. While there, she accelerated growth in better-for-you products and health and wellness offerings.

She returned to Kraft Foods, the predecessor to Mondelez International Inc., in June 2006 as CEO and became chairman in March 2007, following Kraft’s spinoff from Altria Group.

How to reach: Mondelez International Inc., (855) 535-5648 or www.mondelezinternational.com

It’s a fairly common approach when taking on a new job to talk to those people who have been there for a while to learn what the company is all about. Harold Edwards tried this approach at Limoneira Co., and he didn’t like what he was learning.

“To be pretty direct, a lot of complacency and apathy had crept their way into the organization,” says Edwards, president and CEO at the Santa Paula, Calif.-based grower and provider of lemons. “We literally had situations where the people who had worked for the company for the longest period of time were probably doing the least amount of work.”

As Edwards looked at the financial numbers, he could see that the company wasn’t really on the upswing. But it was the attitude of senior leaders at Limoneira that concerned him even more.

“Most evident when I showed up was just a lot of senior-level managers and people who had been with the organization for a long time were not only not aligned with the objectives of the organization but also were very clearly and very evidently complacent about their day-to-day duties and responsibilities,” Edwards says.

The work culture and environment had become a big problem. Edwards needed to act swiftly to get things turned around at the company, which employs 226 people and has been producing lemons since 1893.

“The area where a lot of companies go wrong is they don’t stay current with their dynamic environment and they don’t consistently go through and define those objectives and focus on the alignment or realignment of those objectives every year as the environment continues to change,” Edwards says. “That’s where many companies fall down.”

Edwards hoped his plan would keep that from happening at Limoneira.

Laying out a new course

The changes on the leadership team were first up for Edwards. They were not easy moves to make.

“There were some pretty strong and big power struggles that had bred themselves within the organization,” Edwards says.

“One of my first orders of business as I was building my senior management team was to attempt to eliminate those power struggles. I wanted to get everybody’s full commitment to the vision of the organization and the new, very decentralized structure that we were putting in place to foster better teamwork.”

Edwards made it clear that he wanted to identify new growth opportunities and assess what was working and what wasn’t working to help Limoneira function to its full potential.

“We never had the vision that maybe the way to manage the company in a better way would be to really focus in on the growth of the business,” Edwards says. “And by growth, I mean really make it our business to transition from our focus from just being a producer into becoming a supplier of lemons.

“Surround ourselves and our assets not only with our own fruit but eventually with the fruit of other growers that would allow us to take advantage of our strong brand reputation in the marketplace.”

Those who weren’t committed to pursuing this new path didn’t stick around long, which turned out to be a good thing.

“In a way, it was very emancipating and helpful for the overall organization because as some of those people who were hanging onto their turf exited, you could almost hear the overall organization breathe a big sigh of relief,” Edwards says. “It was viewed as very empowering for many of the other people who were in essence held down or oppressed by some of these former managers.”

To those who feared they might be ousted by this new leader, Edwards worked hard to get them to see that he wasn’t there to conquer Limoneira. He was there to give people the freedom to help the company grow.

“My style is not to micromanage anybody on my team,” Edwards says. “It’s really just to position myself as an enabler and a supporter and to try to see that each one of these individuals is able to have success with the objectives that they’ve laid down for themselves and their teams.”

Building communication channels

The next step for Edwards at Limoneira was not a painful one, but it was a big challenge. His goal was to have his managerial team identify the top five objectives for the entire organization.

“They weren’t financial goals,” Edwards says. “They were more specific strategic objectives. Once they were created, we methodically went through each person in the senior management team, down through the management team, down through every salaried employee and then down through the rank-and-file employees.

“When the exercise was complete, the goal was everybody in the company had their own top five objectives that if they were successful accomplishing, the organization would have the best chance of achieving its top five objectives.”

It’s obviously a lot more challenging in practice than it is on paper. You have to accept that while there may be some hiccups along the way in developing all these objectives, they will lead you to a better outcome if you stay disciplined with the process.

“It really takes a commitment,” Edwards says. “Not all organizations are able to embrace that. There is a downside to innovation. There’s a downside to being really entrepreneurial and, in this case, intrepreneurial. It can be very disruptive. But if you’re willing to embrace some choppiness and disruption to do things better, it will work.”

With everyone committed to pursuing new growth opportunities, Edwards says the past five years have provided a consistent flow of new ideas from employees who previously weren’t involved in such talks.

“We have laid down very specific and very measurable growth targets that have really helped us smooth out the cyclicality and volatility of our business,” Edwards says.

“It’s also gotten all the employees who are involved in this part of our business very specifically focused on what their role and responsibility is. We can determine if we were successful or not. That is a specific objective that really has helped us transition the company and helped us grow.”

Edwards says it’s a message he repeats over and over again that great ideas at Limoneira do not have to begin in his office.

“Encourage people to think outside the box and come up with ideas about how to streamline efficiencies and how to get things done in a more efficient way,” he says. “Don’t just assume or accept that there is only one way to do things.”

Stick to it

When you think you’ve finally driven home the idea that you want employees to feel empowered to share their ideas, you need to resist the urge to stop talking about it.

“Part of the performance management program has a quarterly evaluation process that makes each employee better connected with a greater sense of consistent purpose with his or her manager,” Edwards says. “That allows them to do a better job of determining when an employee is getting it done and when they aren’t.”

Most employees want to make their supervisors and managers proud and want to do their part to help the business. But you have to maintain the dialogue and keep talking about it to make it work.

“The skill of the manager is to make sure that the things that aren’t going to be good objectives and goals, that those aren’t implemented,” Edwards says. “The ones that will really drive the organization forward are used.”

The discipline is not just a means to keep employees on task. It’s to help keep you and your management team on task as well.

“It’s very easy to see if we didn’t stay vigilant and diligent on quarterly evaluation and the communication of those evaluations, that it could very easily become just another thing that the organization was doing and the whole purpose would really be lost,” Edwards says.

One of the final pieces of the transformation at Limoneira has been to make sure the board of directors and company leaders understand the difference between management and governance.

“Part of the board’s responsibility in good governance is to help define and lay out good strategy for the organization as it moves forward,” Edwards says. “What had happened was the board had begun to get involved in personnel decisions. It had actually started micromanaging certain managerial posts sort of at the expense of the authority of the CEO of the company.”

Edwards shared his thoughts that the board needed to focus on strategy and let leaders like himself deal with day-to-day operations.

“By getting the board back to being a part of the governance structure and the management team really focusing in on the management of the company and keeping those roles and responsibilities separate and distinct and very disciplined, we’ve allowed both to operate at excellent levels that have really pushed the company forward,” Edwards says.

The result is a business that has grown consistently, with revenue leaping from $52.5 million in 2011 to $65.8 million in 2012.

“It’s much clearer the level of collaboration and teamwork that is necessary in order for all the employees to be successful,” Edwards says. “It’s forced people to play their roles and responsibilities more in concert as a team rather than as individuals. It’s that new alignment and fostering of teamwork that really set the company in motion.”

How to reach: Limoneira Co., (805) 525-5541 or www.limoneira.com

 

The Edwards File

Name: Harold Edwards

Title: President and CEO

Company: Limoneira Co.

Born: San Francisco

Education: Undergraduate degree in international affairs, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Ore.; MBA in global management, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Glendale, Ariz.

What was your very first job?

Working on a ranch in Santa Paula. It was physical labor. I was hewing weeds, chopping suckers off trees or laying down mulch and fertilizer. I’m five generations deep in one of six families that represent the largest shareholders of this company. I grew up on one of the ranches that is one of different 15 ranches that the company manages.

What do you enjoy about the work?

I’ve sort of committed myself to making the world my canvas and taking opportunities to be living in a global world that produces and distributes product all over the world. The part of my job that gives me the greatest level of satisfaction is to, in a very small way, play a part in feeding the hungry world.

Why do Europeans consume so many more lemons than the United States?

You correlate it with obesity and the quality of our diets here versus the diets in other parts of the world. Then you look at life expectancy and health and you start to see some trends that are very compelling. If we were just to reach parity with Europe in terms of their lemon consumption, we don’t grow enough lemons here in the United States to accomplish that today. So we spend a lot of time trying to convince people to use lemons in their everyday lives here in the United States. So far we’re starting to see the results of a lot of these efforts take place.

 

Takeaways:

Be clear about your intentions.

Build channels to communicate.

Stay disciplined with your plan.

Page 1 of 47