Super User

Sunday, 25 November 2007 19:00

Robert J. Herbold

Robert J. Herbold had been at Microsoft Corp. for less than two weeks when Bill Gates called a meeting with his senior executives for a review of Microsoft Word. Herbold — now a retired Microsoft executive vice president and chief operating officer — went into that meeting interested to hear what Gates had to say about Word, which, at that time, had gained huge ground over a six month span to pull even with its main competitor, Word Perfect. But instead of highlighting the achievement, Herbold received 65 slides for the presentation and all but one had the title “lowlights.” The point was clear: Gates was not going to let success stop Microsoft from being even

more successful.

Today, Herbold is the managing director of consulting firm The Herbold Group LLC and author of “Seduced by Success: How the Best Companies Survive the 9 Traps of Winning.” Smart Business spoke with Herbold about why it’s so tricky to stay successful and how building consensus kills creativity.

Don’t seek consensus on creativity. You have to charge individuals with generating innovation, not groups of people. When someone comes up with a bright idea, if it becomes exposed to a complicated process where there are a lot of teams involved, your chances of coming up with something distinctive are greatly reduced.

What happens with organizations when they get more complicated is that everyone senses that they’re supposed to have input in all these decisions. That leads to you going to work in the morning and seeing that your calendar is full of meetings. That’s the kiss of death.

A good place to start is to make sure the troops understand that so-and-so is responsible for this design and, yes, we expect that individual to seek input, but that one person is going to use their judgment in getting things done.

You need to form two piles of decisions. One pile gets made by people who are accountable for that particular area, and the other pile can benefit from group input and consensus — things where you are refining a process.

When you are trying to generate creativity, the last thing in the world you need is a team

— they just chip away at the distinctiveness of an idea, and innovation is all about distinctiveness. So, you explain to the organizationhow uncompetitive it can be if you slow everything down to make sure everybody is involved with everything.

Stay simple, stay successful. The big challenge is trying to harness people from making things

complicated. When I started at Microsoft, we could hardly close the books at the end of the

quarter, it was so messy.

We ended up reducing the size of our IT organization because people just hire and hire because they think they deserve it. That happens not just at Microsoft, that’s a human trait. As organizations meet with success, they think, ‘Oh, I have to have some of this, some of that,’ and they open up more projects than you can imagine.

The primary challenge during growth periods is to keep it simple, keep it like it was when it was a small company. You need to look at the organization and say, ‘What are the processes that we use that aren’t going to give us competitive advantage but we need to do efficiently?’

Those things need to be done with simplicity, accountability, leanness and discipline. Those are typically the way you report your finances, the hiring and evaluations process, moving superstars along and making sure you’re dealing with poor performers. The simpler you can do those and the more disciplined you can do those, the better off you’re going to be.

Don’t let success make you stagnant. You have to create a culture that avoids the loss of sense of urgency and avoids being protective of what you’re doing currently.

Look at a company like Kodak. Over the last decade, they have been frozen in their tracks, and they missed the digital revolution because they were so protective of film. They even produced a digital camera that used film, which demonstrated how protective they were of their expertise. The thing was the laughing stock of Wall Street — who would buy a digital camera that uses film?

That demonstrates how dangerous it is to be successful — how you can be so protective of the thing that got you there, and you believe will serve you well in the future. Success can destroy an organization’s ability to understand the need for change. It destroys the motivation to creatively attack the status quo.

You have to constantly face reality and tackle your vulnerability. You need to dwell on the issue of where are your weaknesses, what are the bright ideas in your industry or other industries that could apply here, and force yourself to constantly think of the ways improvement can be made. ... You constantly tell an organization that it’s all about the future; it’s not about past success.

Review your challenges with objectivity. Be objective in regard to what you see as positive and what you see as the challenges to the future — and don’t be so anxious to say things right away because you better be right when you say something.

I always admired [former IBM CEO] Lou Gerstner, the way he entered IBM. The press was after him constantly for his strategy, and he’d constantly say he didn’t have a strategy. During the first two months, he focused on talking to customers, going out and understanding what was going on.

Then he emerged with a very objective assessment of their problems, their advantages and what they needed to do. It appeared the place was going to go bankrupt, but he came out with this strategy from that assessment.

A leader needs to make an assessment, then take a position and be open with the gang and say, ‘I’m here to constantly listen and modify.’ You need a plan at all times, and it needs to be flexible and updated all the time.

HOW TO REACH: The Herbold Group LLC, (425) 453-9796 or

Tuesday, 25 September 2007 20:00

Kurt Treu

Kurt Treu is a leader in flux — his leadership style is constantly evolving as he learns new things and talks to new people. That’s because Treu, regional chairman Northeast and Central Ohio for U.S. Bancorp, the parent company of U.S. Bank, knows that the best leader is one who continues to learn how to pilot an organization. So while Treu takes pride in the way he leads his 1,300 employees, he continues to study other leaders and read books on how to improve company culture. Always ready to hear new ideas for improving his leadership style, he is constantly adapting to his staff to produce better results at the country’s sixth-largest commercial bank. Smart Business spoke with Treu about why it’s your job to make employees understand how they help the company and how to create a winning environment.

Help employees by explaining their roles. The most important thing for people is to answer the question of why — ‘Why should I be great at what I do? Why does what I do matter?’ You have to answer that for people.

Help people understand why what they do matters, how it fits in to the bigger picture of the team. We need to trust people with that information. I think the old style of telling people, ‘Do this because I said so,’ doesn’t give people enough intellectual integrity. From the entry-level person to the most senior-level person, they need to be trusted with the ‘why’ to fully understand their role.

If you stop there, you have a piece of it, but the next step is making the emotional connection. You really help people to understand how they fit in to the bigger picture and how what they do truly does matter, not just to the company but hopefully to the customer they serve. When you do that, now you have the opportunity to inspire people, and it is the leader’s responsibility to provide that inspiration.

I believe that people want their lives to have meaning, and it would be a pretty shallow, empty career for most of us if we went in every day, putting in the hours that we do at our jobs, and not feel that there is some real, true meaning to that. To the extent that you can help answer that for people, it gives them meaning and makes them feel relevant every day.

Create a winning environment. A leader needs to create a winning environment. Nobody likes to be part of a losing team. The leaders create a new future and inspire people to be better than they would have been if that leader wouldn’t have been there.

We have a real coaching culture here, so there is an absolute requirement that all of our managers are not just meeting with staff annually but there is continuous coaching going on. And that can be formal and informal. In a lot of areas, we have weekly coaching sessions, and then something more in-depth on a monthly or quarterly basis.

If that’s done properly, it’s huge. Coaching isn’t always about, ‘Golly, are you hitting your goals, and how can I help you do that?’ Part of it has to be career development, personal development and professional development. Most people don’t leave their jobs because they don’t like what they’re doing, it’s because they are not feeling personally and professionally fulfilled. They don’t feel like they’re developing, or they don’t see an opportunity for the future.

Build up your community. We are made up of communities like Cleveland, Akron and Columbus, and people may know the name U.S. Bank, but they bank with people. So to the extent that we can tell the story of who we are and be out there in the community and supporting the things that are important to this community, that says a lot about our organization.

It’s leading by example, and it’s role modeling. Not only do we tell people that it would be a nice thing for you to be involved and be on board, we expect it.

From a selfish standpoint, the more we can make the community strong, the stronger we’ll be as an organization. So it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also a smart business thing to do.

Combine cultures for the best ideas. When there is an acquisition, you are acquiring a group of very proud people, and proud people are proud for a reason; they’re proud of what they are doing, they’re proud of what they’ve done.

First of all, you have to respect that. You can’t have so much ego that you think what you’re doing is right just because you’re the buyer.

You need to listen, and you need to take the best of both worlds, if you will. When it’s all said and done, you need to inspire people about what the new future is going to look like. You need people to be convinced that they can create that new future, and that they’re not going to be the victims of whatever happened to them, but instead, they are going to control that to create what tomorrow is going to look like. You have to help paint that picture for people to understand how they fit in to it.

Hire people who fit. The most important criteria for someone here is fit. In real estate, it’s location, location, location; here it’s fit, fit, fit. It’s all about cultural fit, so you have to test for that, you have to get a feel for that in the interview process.

My litmus test isn’t scientific, but if I’m in an interview and I find that I end up trying to sell the bank as opposed to the candidate selling themselves to me, then somewhere in there I’ve made the emotional connection that, that candidate fits. That’s a hard thing to put on an interview sheet, but you can ask them some behavioral questions that will help get to that.

It’s really trying to find out about that person, and what makes them tick, to see if their values match those of the organization.

HOW TO REACH: U.S. Bancorp, (800) 872-2657 or

Thursday, 26 July 2007 20:00

Mark Lefanowicz

Mark Lefanowicz doesn’t want to stay stagnant; so the Michigan native has been all over the country with the hope of gaining one thing: perspective. Lefanowicz, president of E-LOAN Inc., has seen many leaders succeed in one position, at one place, and become unwilling to adapt to new trends or new ideas. Instead of staying immobile, Lefanowicz takes time to listen to his 850 employees at E-LOAN to try to understand where they are coming from. With that attitude helping push his vision, the $130 million online mortgage Web site has been named the top mortgage Web site by Keynote WebExcellence for three straight years. Smart Business spoke with Lefanowicz about how to give employees the right kind of attention and why you have to roll up your sleeves from time to time.

Give employees the attention they want. I focus on making sure that I stay involved with my people. I have a regular schedule of one-onone meetings, and it’s not just putting those on the calendar just to do it, it’s how you act during the meetings. The most important thing to me is to listen to make sure people know that I care.

There are a couple of things you have to think about when you’re listening. You should never make an immediate decision. There’s no possible way that if you meet with someone for 45 minutes, and they bring up something substantial, you can resolve it. One of the things I’ve learned to do is say, ‘You’ve got eight things you brought up, and six of them are really easy, but two of them are really complicated, so we need to set up something else, and we need to involve other people. Here’s who I think we need to involve to resolve this; what do you think?’

And I’ll work to get the meeting set up sooner rather than later. They don’t get the instant gratification that it gets resolved, but they definitely get the gratification that you are paying attention to it.

Roll up your sleeves. I feel I have to lead by doing. I can’t ask somebody to do something that I wouldn’t do or that I couldn’t offer to help with. People are busy and they have a lot to do, so if I have to roll up my sleeves and help, I have no problem with that. If people here are successful, that means I’ll be successful, so I like to be as involved as possible.

If I can impart that on my direct reports, and then they can impart that on the people under them, then it can quickly get to a point where everyone in the company can say, ‘Jeez, the guy that leads the company understands what we’re doing, which is great because he can help us, and he’s really concerned about this company, which makes it a great place to work.’ When the leader is concerned about making sure the company will succeed and is willing to do whatever it takes to push that to his closest people — who are the future leaders — others are willing to do the same.

Share the vision. I make sure I have one-on-ones with my key direct reports, and I’m going to make sure that those people have one-on-ones with their direct reports. I get 10 to 12 people in that meeting, and I give everyone a chance to talk about the last two weeks and then tell us about what they’re focusing on in the next two weeks. And, in that, I can get a really good flavor as to if people understand what we’re trying to accomplish.

It helps because people have to understand, people are more excited about their work if they know what’s going on at the top — at least people you want to have work for you are more excited about doing things if they understand the vision at the top. You want people that are excited about coming to work every day, and if you can get them to do that, they’re going to work harder, and they’re going to work smarter, and they’re going to work better.

Keep your head up. One of the things that I believe has made me successful is perseverance. The attitude is, ‘Yes, I can do it.’ You have to do it smart, but you have to believe that you can do it.

That’s something you can develop. You have to stay focused on the fact that you’re committed to those responsibilities that nobody else has.

You agreed to effectively say, ‘I’m going to try to make this company as good as it’s going to be.’ Being at the top, at any company, it can be quite lonely at times, but you have to stay loyal to those commitments you made to the people under you, and you have to maintain the positive attitude, and you have to persevere.

You get a lot of good, but you get a lot of bad, too. You have to remember when you’re in those bads that you’re not in the goods right now, but if you persevere, the goods are going to come back even better.

Cut the cord gracefully. The hardest thing is making the tough decision about people themselves. I have eight to 10 people working under me at any time. I can almost guarantee that one of those is just doing an OK job and will move from that to doing a not OK job. That’s the hardest thing is saying, ‘You did a good job in this position for two, three years, but you’re not the right person for this job anymore, and it’s time for you to move on.’

You want to try to do it so they can move on gracefully. To me, it’s important that if people leave, that you show them dignity and respect.

It’s important because the basic ways you can motivate people, generally, are around reward and fear, and fear never works as well. If everybody thinks they can just get fired on a whim, and it won’t be dignified, that’s not a good thing.

If everybody feels that the company itself treats everyone fairly, effectively you are rewarding and motivating them with that culture. Reward isn’t just money, it’s also a good feeling where they can say, ‘Yeah, I enjoy going to work every day and the people around me. We’re working toward the same goal and successes.’

HOW TO REACH: E-LOAN Inc., (925) 847-6200 or

Thursday, 26 July 2007 20:00

Timothy A. Blett

Timothy A. Blett didn’t want to leave college. From the intellectual stimulation to his time on the baseball field as a collegiate athlete, he loved the whole experience, so when it came time to enter the real world, Blett decided that he’d take the fundamentals that made him successful as a student athlete into the advertising field. Now the president of Doner Advertising Co.’s Newport Beach office, Blett pushes more than 110 employees to use a student mentality to study their clients while convincing the employees to employ an athlete mentality to stay on top of their game. Smart Business spoke with Blett about how to find self-starters and why you get two points for an idea but eight for its execution.

Be a student of your industry. The student part is the insatiable need to learn more about everything. It’s based on a curiosity, and that leads to a sincere list of questions that allows you to get to know the people that you need to know: your employees, your colleagues, business partners, whatever the case may be.

The need and desire to know not only about them and their businesses but about what is impacting their businesses, what’s influencing change in business, leads to knowing about trends and what is motivating purchase decisions and certain behaviors and certain actions.

Raise the bar for yourself first. It’s about commitment; it’s about the relentless pursuit of perfection. I raise the bar on myself higher than any of my colleagues, and they recognize that. So, I’m not just asking them to jump higher than is possible; they witness me trying to jump higher than is possible.

Environment plays such a key role in motivation. It’s just like working out at home versus working out at the gym. When you have a bunch of people around you, pushing hard, it’s a completely different environment. When you come here and get a sense of the leadership of this organization pushing hard, and not just pushing hard, but everybody participates and works together, it helps you feel attached to this cause.

Build your culture with students and self-starters. The culture of this company is we want to create ideas, so you’re going to start with who you hire. There are going to be certain characteristics of these people, and one is that they are going to be a self-starter.

When you were playing football, the coach would throw a ball out onto the field, and everybody was supposed to stop what they were doing and jump on the loose ball. That kind of instinct, knowing one group is heavy under pressure, but they’re walking over and saying, ‘What can I do to help?’ as opposed to saying, ‘That’s not my job.’ You can preach that all day long, but if you’re talking to a self-starter, they’re going, ‘Yeah, I get it, keep your eye on the loose ball.’

Second, you want someone who wants to learn. You dig in to why certain experiences were important, what they got out of those experiences, how they learned from those experiences. I just interviewed a candidate, and when I walked up to the interview, she handed me The New York Times and said, ‘Have you read this article this morning? It’s very relevant to what we’re going to be talking about.’ The first thing I told other people about her is, ‘Now, there’s a student.’

Make sure your people are on top of their game.

We encourage people to be on top of their game, and that goes back to the student piece. You have to read, read, read and read more. Then you have to go experience, experience, experience.

If we’re working with a surf brand or pitching a hotel chain or a pet food supplier, we need to go through that experience and absorb it. Being on top of your game is the study of all things. It comes from experience and staying on top of late-breaking news.

When you’re on top of your game, it helps personal growth because you become a subject-matter expert, and when somebody is a subject-matter expert, they can walk around pretty proud and excited.

When that’s happening, business grows. When our people are on top of their game, and our client’s business grows, that word spreads, and then we’re solicited to help other people grow their businesses.

Lead with positive energy. The thing we stress is that positive energy breeds positive energy, and negative energy breeds negative energy, and we have a zero-tolerance policy for negative energy. My role is to inspire great thinking and to provide an environment that encourages it and rewards it.

We have live agency newsletters where we are able to share the work that everybody’s been working on and call specific people out for it. We highlight people where a deadline was changed, and maybe they had to work all through a holiday, we make sure to bring that to the attention of their peers and also for me to acknowledge that.

We also do ‘time outs.’ We’ll meet just 15 minutes with a smaller group, and we’ll sit down and have some Jamba Juice brought in and acknowledge the great work that project team or department has pulled off recently.

I try to do that in a very timely manner, based on the performance. There’s no question that having my finger on the pulse of what is going on and being able to acknowledge it is a key part of why the reward is effective, why it adds to building the culture, because if you do it six weeks later, the execution didn’t work. So, that’s something where you get two points for the idea but eight points for that timely execution.

Fix problems without pointing fingers. When we run into a problem, I’m going to bring the team together and I’m not going to blame anyone, I’m going to focus on fixing it because what’s done is done. Once we get it fixed, we’ll then circle back and audit our process and procedures to make sure that everything is intact.

In that time, where somebody is expecting to get chewed out and you don’t, you assure them that you’re going to throw the proper resources to fix it, it builds incredible loyalty.

HOW TO REACH: Doner Advertising Co., (949) 623-4310 or

Thursday, 26 July 2007 20:00

Nancy L. Zimpher

Try not to bother Nancy L. Zimpher with something that doesn’t concern improving the University of Cincinnati. Sure, Zimpher, president of the university, probably wouldn’t mind having a conversation about something else, but as a leader with a budget of more than $1 billion, she uses every moment of the day to push the academic institution forward. For Zimpher, her main job as a leader is to spark the action that will drive the university, and that’s her priority when it comes to everything, so if you’re not on the same page, you probably won’t end up on her calendar. Smart Business spoke with Zimpher about how she inspires action and how she interacts with her 14,000 full- and part-time employees.

Don’t just listen, interact. You need to use the common courtesy of an interaction style, and that is respectful and, at the same time, responsive. Notice I did not say listening, because listening is a one-way street.

People want to be heard, and that’s what I mean by being respectful, but they want a response. They want to know, ‘Is what I said to you making any sense, are you going to do anything about it?’ and that’s the responsive part, and you have to do that every day.

It’s all about getting something done, and people need visible signs that things are moving forward for the better. So when you respond and say, ‘I’ll follow up on that,’ or, ‘I’ll send you an e-mail on that,’ or, ‘I’ll take that issue to another department,’ they want to know that you’re going to do it. It’s all about action, and that builds confidence and keeps hope alive, and it says to people, ‘Boy, eventually this is going to work. This is hard, but I think we’re going to get somewhere.’ That’s human nature; everybody wants betterment.

Lead by creating action. You have to have a sense of who you are and what you believe, and that provides the context for your day-to-day actions. Leaders are expected to be visionary, to have a big-picture idea of where the organization is going, and to inspire others to move in that direction. So beneath all that is a need to be action-oriented and get things done.

Every day is organized around how to get things done, how to take the big idea, the vision, and that makes organizing the day really very purposeful. You have to work to have the right people in a room and agree on the next steps in the action plan to really move forward.

Remember that you’re always in the spotlight.

Everything is a committee meeting. Even a dinner is a committee meeting. If you have a group of diverse people at the table, you’re trying to get something done.

I spend a lot of time meeting with groups, with policymakers, I lead organizations at the national level, and I go to a lot of events and performances. What I carry with me to all of those is the plan, and I try to see our strategic plan as scaffolding. Then the meetings I go to, the speeches I give, the groups I engage with, need to hook onto that scaffolding, or I don’t go there. You have to constantly say, ‘Is this thing I’m being asked to do instrumental to the goals that we’ve set for this university?’

I’ve always felt that you are the key spokesperson for the institution; you are the personification of the university. I have a lot of red and black in my wardrobe, and I’ve had people tell me it looks like I’m wearing the brand, and it almost comes down to that because wherever you are, people see you as a representative of the institution; that can be at a casual dinner at a local restaurant or that can be at a meeting of the chamber of commerce. I don’t think you can avoid that.

Hire to fit your plan. During a 16-month period, we recruited four new deans, and we told them about our strategic plan. In every instance, what we did during that recruitment process is selected someone who understood the context of that plan and eagerly embraced the opportunity to craft a vision for their individual college unit that would be complementary or aligned with the larger plan. They may have small variations on the plan, but there would be enough alignment that they would be leading us on the same path to a new future for that particular college.

We have a pattern of using one dean to recruit another dean’s position, which really works well because that lateral person can really be the authentic communicator to prospective candidates that, ‘This is how I work within the university, and this is something like what it might look for you.’ I look for integration from potential candidates. We are looking for people with a great track record of getting things done in similar environments.

By and large, the candidates we want are going to be people who understand this establishment.

Focus on today and tomorrow. I don’t know the true shelf life of a strategic plan, but we are in about the fourth year of a plan that probably has about a six- to eight-year shelf life. At the same time, I personally have been participating in some futures workshops and have set some time away from the dayto-day to engage key leaders to do some visioning work around the future of the university.

I know that while the plan we are working on has currency today and even tomorrow, it might not have the same currency a few years down the pipe. Most of my life is defined by the notion of a ‘yes and’ strategy. First, you have to articulate this plan to get it done, and then you have to keep an eye on the future.

HOW TO REACH: University of Cincinnati, (513) 556-6000 or

Monday, 25 June 2007 20:00

Vince Rinaldi

If you decide to do business with Vince Rinaldi, don’t be surprised if you end up having dinner with him. Sure the CEO of National City Commercial Capital is a busy guy, but he believes that there is no substitute for meeting people in person. So Rinaldi and his staff make time to ensure that new customers get a face-to-face meeting so that both parties can understand one another better. With that philosophy driving the lending company and its 380 employees, assets have increased from $3.2 billion in 2004 to more than $6 billion in 2006.

Smart Business spoke with Rinaldi about encouraging employees and meeting people in person.

Break bread with new business. I don’t believe you’re going to do deals over the phone. I think we’re badly misled if we think that people will do deals with us just because we talk to them over the phone. You better get out and get in your car, or get on that plane, and make the call in person.

Your initial contact and your initial relationship are predicated on face-to-face relations.

I take it upon myself to go out and meet top customers. I love to do that because that’s where you find a common ground.

When you break bread with someone and you look them eye to eye, you can find out if you can do business with them or not. And I believe at the end of the day, people want to do business with people they want to do business with. I’ve never known a successful businessman that can beat (his) competitors and close the big deal without having a relationship that has been fostered by meeting with someone in person.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that you become friends, but you become someone they can count on and can make a phone call to bounce a problem off of. When they meet me, they know that they’re working with me. They see the person.

It gives us a chance to find some common ground on a secondary level, where they can trust you. The only way to do that is face to face.

Give your staff a pat on the back. Even the guys who make the most money would not work here just for that. They want to know they’re doing a good job; they want to be recognized as a leader.

You have to take that recognition all the way down to the person doing billing or collections. You have to take time to recognize all your people.

You have to do it in a way that shows you appreciate it and that acknowledges they did a good job, and do so in front of their peers.

I encourage my managers, if someone is doing something well, to compliment them by e-mail and copy me on the e-mail, so that I have the chance to send a direct e-mail to that person acknowledging that they’ve done a great job. Or I can take the time to stop by and tell them how much we appreciate their work. Or I can call them up and make sure that they know that I know they’ve done a good job. That’s why people come to work.

If you have to spend eight or nine hours a day at work, that’s part of the enjoyment, and that’s how you keep people motivated. The recognition at all levels is important just to keep people.

Give employees something to work for. The main thing I tell people is you have to want to work here and you have to enjoy working here. That means I have to provide the environment where they can have fun.

Now fun to people is different things. I think for most people it’s having a place where they can build on their strengths, not try to fix their weaknesses. If you can find those strengths and capitalize and motivate them with those, and help them get better at what they do, they’ll be happy.

Use wins to share the vision. People want to be part of a successful organization, and when our people see our rankings move up every year, and see us taking deals from the competition, it’s sharing those stories and sharing the winning, and being a winning organization.

It’s a matter of sharing that vision with people and making sure I’m doing a good job of selling that vision every day. That it’s something we support in monthly and quarterly meetings when we tell people where we are going. We tell people what’s happening to the company, we talk about wins.

Know who you want to hire. We start by trying to define what we want. When you say people and hiring, you have to define where, what, when. What are they going to do, what are you looking for?

What we try to do is find the strengths that we want in a particular position. Then, when we’re looking for people, we try to focus on those strengths. When we start interviewing people, we try to find out if they have those strengths.

We ask a varied group of people to sit in on the interviews. If someone comes in for a job in credit, they’ll meet with someone from credit, but they’ll also meet with people from administrative. They’ll meet with some of our salespeople. Everybody has to get along, and we have to be able to call impromptu meetings very quickly to get a win.

We try to have interdisciplinary interviews to see how they fit with the group to see if they make sense, to see if they’re grounded, they’re consistent. And then we can all give our input at the end of the day.

It’s good for the candidates, too, because it gives them a varied view of the company. It lets them know more about what they’re getting into, so the chances of keeping them and keeping the turnover down are very good.

In general, if I’m hiring a salesperson, our salespeople meet with our credit people. Our credit people want to know that they’re dealing with someone that has some experience and knows what it’s all about.

On the same hand, the salesman wants to know that he has a credit person with good ears or that can process that transaction at the right expectation level. It’s about knowing what you’re buying and what you’re getting into.

HOW TO REACH: National City Commercial Capital, (800) 559-2755 or

Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Roy Church

Roy Church understands that it’s nearly impossible to get a message across to everyone you’re trying to reach. And because Church, presidentof Lorain County Community College, has to get his message across to more than 1,500 full- and part-time employees, he has to attack everyangle possible to make sure his people understand where the college is going. As a result, Church makes time for communicating with hisstaff a priority in his daily schedule. He tries different avenues, from writing out the vision to individually meeting with staff members, to ensurethat the institution’s strategies are well understood. That effort has kept LCCC on track with a strategic plan that was shaped, in part, by feedbackfrom Church’s staff and that will lead the institution through 2015. Smart Business spoke with Church about how he makes sure people arehearing his message and why a leader’s job is to help employees do better.

Make time for communication. We open thebeginning of the fall semester with a con-vocation, and all the full-time folks areinvited. During that presentation, I alwaysmake an update on what progress is beingmade, and I have a chance to communicatewhat significant changes and challengeswe’re facing.

I work with the administrative leadershipteam during the summer, and we go overthe challenges and the things that we wantto do, and at the same time, they’re communicating our plans back to the peoplethey work with, so what I’m saying is actually going to the institution as a whole.

There’s no one communication strategythat gets to everybody. Some people readeverything, other people don’t read anything. So what you put out in writing forsome people is great, for other people, it’snot. You have to try to get to pretty muchevery communication available.

We have a series of communications thatwe do throughout the year called brown-bag lunches, where we have someoneclose to the topic address an issue thatwe’re dealing with. I have meetings withthe support staff at the institution, and wetalk to all kinds of people so that everyonehas an opportunity to meet with me if theywant to gather information and offerinsights.

It’s always a huge challenge, and you justhave to make time to do it. There are somany demands on your time that you canbe completely consumed with what otherpeople want you to do. So, as you work onyour priorities with time, you have to saythat communication is something thatyou’re going to make time to do.

Do you always achieve it? No, you’dalways like to be able to do more. The president can’t do it all, but you have to set thetenor for communication to remind thewhole institution how important that is.

Shrink the plan and share it. One thing we dois when we develop the vision that we’regoing to be following, we reduce it to a single page. It covers both sides, but on onepage we have our deeply held values and beliefs on how we’re going to operate, ourvision.

It’s all laid out and we give it to everybodywho interviews for a position at the collegeand say, ‘This is where we’re headed, andwe can tell you how we got to this if youwant us to, but there’s been a lot of processto get this, and it’s a deeply held consensusof where we want to go. So that’s something you need to look over and considercoming in, and we’ll be judging everythingthat’s done from that directional template.’

We know that if we’re going to be able toachieve the vision of that plan, you have tohave the human talent to initiate and energize it to really make it happen. Part of thatis having people see if they can fit with thatright from the beginning.

Let the staff see where you’re headed. Youalways are in a position where you have toadjust your directional plans to the currentrealities. You have to be able to makeadjustments and refinements, and one ofthe significant challenges is to keep peopleconversant with and abreast of theprogress you make and also the challengesthat accrue. People like to know what’sgoing on, they like to be able to see thatwe’re making progress.

One of the things we do is have our institutional planning council evaluate ourprogress on where we are on the initiatives that we plan to undertake during a particular year, and then we update the progresson the whole plan for 2015. So if everybodyknows where we are, and in what context,you can explain what adjustments weremade so that people can understand themoves we make.

That keeps staff consensus strong andmakes it easier for the implementation tobe strong.

Understand what your people are doing. Thefirst step is always getting fully enmeshedto the environment that you’re in so thatwhat are the programs, the services, theinitiatives that are already under way.People have to know that you’re on top ofthe status of where things are, and it’s fromthat point that you can then begin to workwith people to help lead change.

You have to understand what is going on.People have to understand that you’re ontop of that knowledge or information, andthat you’re willing to help them achievewhat it is they’re trying to do while alsolooking at where the institution is going.One of the assumptions that I make is thatpeople really want to do a good job, andthey want to have a leader that understands what they’re doing and the progressthat they’re making.

With that in mind, they’re happy to have aleader help them do it better, and they’rehappy to have help refining what they’regoing to do as long as they see that youunderstand what they do, celebrate whatthey do, value what they do and then findways to build on what’s working well tomove forward.

To do that, we come at leadership froman abundance philosophy as opposed to adeficit philosophy. We don’t come at theinstitution from looking at what’s wrong,what do we need to fix, we come at it fromunderstanding what’s working well andhow we can accentuate and acceleratewhat’s working well in such a positive waythat it overcomes the areas where wecould do better.

HOW TO REACH: Lorain County Community College, (800)995-5222 or

Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Robert M. Winget

When Robert M. Winget saw that TSC Apparel wasn’t doing as well as expected in its western market, he didn’t waste time pointing fingers. Instead, TSC’s co-president and CFO sat down with his people and did a candid appraisal of the market. Listening to honest feedback from his people in the trenches, Winget realized that what the company needed was more sales staff to improve customer relationships. With that change, the apparel wholesaler has continued to grow in a very competitive market. And that willingness to give and receive candid opinions is a point of daily business for Winget and his co-president, Jim Eaton, in dealing with the company’s 115 employees. Smart Business spoke with Winget about telling the truth and admitting his mistakes.

Encourage candor for perspective. It’s just a matter of trying to be honest. Everybody can look at the business through rose-colored glasses and see everything in an opportunistic way and say, ‘Hey, we’re not where we want to be, but maybe we’ll get there.’

It’s trying to get people to be more realistic around the business and more realistic about our expectations. For years, we would come up with kind of pie-in-the-sky plans and we weren’t listening to those people that are down in the trenches fighting it every day — people that know what the problems are.

But a lot of times they’re reluctant to share that information; they’re afraid it won’t be received the right way. What we’re trying to create is an environment where people can speak what’s on their mind and share information and not feel like there’s going to be any fallout from that.

That’s why I don’t mind at all telling people the mistakes that I make, because I make them every day and it’s just trying to encourage people to be honest and open. Sometimes it’s the stuff you don’t want to hear, but at least they’re getting it out on the table.

Don’t push the blame on someone else. Most of the time when things aren’t working around here, I look to myself and to the senior management team to try to be honest about why. Most of the time, we have to look to ourselves for the answer. We’re not perfect and we make mistakes and we have to be willing to accept candid feedback without letting it get to us or thinking it’s personal.

I tend to be a real straight shooter with the people who work for me, and I expect them to do that to me, as well. None of us want to hear that we’re doing terrible, but we have to be fair about it. I’ll tell them flat out, ‘I made this decision last June, and it was a mistake.’ I don’t want them to lose confidence in me, but at the same time, I don’t want them to think I’m afraid to admit when I’m wrong.

Prepare new employees for your candor. When someone is new here, there are a couple of key points that I hit on. One is the fact that they’re going to appreciate us being honest with them, and I always tell them, ‘You wouldn’t want me coming to you one day and saying you’ve been doing a terrible job here for the last six or 12 months, so we’re going to make a change and you’re out.’

By the same token, we don’t want to hear an employee come in and tell us that they’ve not been happy at the company and they found another job. We want them to tell us if they’re unhappy.

I always see it as a real failure on our part when we have someone that we feel good about that just comes in and quits for another job. The key thing that we try to communicate to people upfront is that we want to hear what’s going on.

Treat criticism as a building tool. I always tell people, ‘Nobody is perfect. I’m not perfect, the company is not perfect, we all need to be open and willing to accept criticism and feedback to get better.’

If at any time we do a review and we don’t tell people what they’ve done wrong, or what they could do better, we’re really failing them because then we don’t give them anything to work on to make themselves better.

We’ve got to give them feedback, or we’re not helping them any. Our job is to help the people that make a difference because, at the end of the day, I never quote an order, take an order, pack an order, I don’t do any of those things, so my sole purpose for being here is to try to help the people that do those things, and the only way to do that is through some sort of open and honest communication.

Listen to employee feedback. Sometimes I’ve gone so far as to take an e-mail and read it verbatim in a company meeting to say, ‘This issue has come up, and here’s what somebody felt.’ We understand what they’re saying, and we’re willing to say that in front of everybody to validate their comment.

With our people on the front line, who know where we’re winning and losing, if you hear a common theme from them, like a problem with our deliveries, we have to hear them. We have to acknowledge it internally and say it in front of our people and tell them we have these problems and we need to get them fixed, as opposed to just thinking that we do a pretty good job.

Use different opinions to spark new ideas. The director of operations may have the best idea about how to solve a sales problem. We all have our paradigms around how our piece of the business works and how it has to work, and you really need people to challenge that. Some of the breakthroughs we’ve had come from somebody outside of that discipline. They’re sitting there, a smart person, and they’re in the session and they come up with some different approach to solving it.

That’s what makes candor work. Otherwise, people tend to get defensive, and it can create a rift between people. But if our director of operations says something to our VP of sales, the VP of sales is going to listen, and vice versa.

HOW TO REACH: TSC Apparel, or (800) 289-5400

Monday, 26 March 2007 20:00

Earning success

Chris Ohlinger is a big believer in using laughter to shake off the stresses of work.

“I believe that people rarely succeed if they don’t have fun at what they’re doing,” says Ohlinger, CEO of market research company Service Industry Research Systems Inc. “And I don’t think there’s anything so serious in business or in life that you can’t get through it.”

Parlaying that attitude, SIRS has grown to more than 300 employees and has earned the Impulse Survey Award as one of the top 10 market research companies in the world. Smart Business spoke with Ohlinger about keeping a loose atmosphere and finding talent.

Q: How do you keep the atmosphere relaxed and still get the job done?

You can take your work and the people and their dreams seriously, but you don’t take yourself too seriously. We have some interesting and fun things we do.

We have a Brain-and-a-Half Award for the person who has done something so extraordinary that’s it’s worth special mention. But if you have a Brain-and-a-Half Award, you also have a Half-Brain Award, and that’s for something mindless enough that it’s worthy of that.

It’s given to somebody that does something so over the top that you can joke about it. It’s to lighten people up and create a fun atmosphere. We’re willing to be a little goofy around here; this is our dress-down decade. A lot of people have dress-down days or something; this is going to be our dress-down decade.

Q: What’s the most important thing you have to do as a leader?

You have to be willing to do anything to help your people and your clients, but focus on what you’re good at and delegate as much as you can. Let’s say finance might be the most important thing here, but I’m not very good at it.

Well, if I’m not very good at it, I better get it away from me. You have to stay focused on what you’re good at and help make the most of your talents while leading others.

Q: What’s the best lesson you’ve learned as the company has grown?

Probably the biggest thing is that there is absolutely no substitute for hard work. I’ve never been cursed by an overabundance in intelligence but intelligence can be a lousy teacher. It can seduce smart people into thinking that they can’t lose.

I’ve seen a lot of people lose, so I’ve had to rely on hard work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very passionate about what I do, but it is still hard work. If you love what you’re doing all the time, then you’re probably not doing it hard enough.

I’ve known a lot of hardworking people that are not successful, but I’ve never known a successful person who didn’t work to the point of exhaustion. People who say work smarter not harder generally aren’t hard workers. Just showing up for work every day doesn’t make you a hard worker any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

Q: How do you find young talent?

When we look at the colleges, we look and see how someone got through. We’ll look at activities but we also ask, ‘Gee, did they work their way through college?’ Because those people know that it takes a lot of hard work to get through.

I don’t think we’ve ever even looked at a grade point average. But we do look at what type of work experiences they’ve had through college.

We’ve got special arrangements set up at colleges around the country and we bring in co-ops, and it really is a great deal for everybody. It gives them a chance to look at us, it gives us a chance to look at them.

It gives them a chance to make some money and it fits in with our philosophy of having people work through college, that’s a good indication that they hold in esteem what we hold in esteem.

Q: How do you address the big challenges?

Once we identify the problem, we’ll give a single person the responsibility to solve it. Along with that, we’ll give them the support mechanisms that they need.

But the thing I try to stress is don’t come to me with a problem; bring me a problem with a solution. I might not agree with it, but don’t just bring me a problem. We try to steer away from group committees.

Another thing we’ll do is the senior management will get together and say, ‘Who needs this challenge?’ If somebody comes in and says, ‘Here’s a serious challenge,’ and they want to tackle it, that will go a long way because we want people to attack challenges. We want them to learn how to deal with change aggressively; we think that’s about as important as any business skill you can have.

HOW TO REACH: SIRS Inc., (859) 781-9700 or

Wednesday, 28 February 2007 19:00

Tom Schwartz

For years, Tom Schwartz had a policy: When someone bought a new BMW from his dealership, The BMW Store made the event special by detailing the car and adding accessories before delivering it a few days later. But then some employees posed a question. ‘What if,’ they asked, ‘someone is excited and wants the car today?’ The owner and president responded by changing his staffing around so that if a customer wants the car immediately, the dealership can customize and deliver it the day it’s purchased. It’s just one example of how Schwartz listens and responds to his employees and is a big part of the reason his 130-employee BMW Store had revenue of $92 million last year. Smart Business spoke with Schwartz about how he shares his passion, and the importance of listening to your employees and taking risks.

Show employees your passion. One of the biggest problems I see in small businesses is that there are way too many managers and not enough leadership. I barely even manage anymore; I simply lead and give them an example.

When we first started, I was a service manager and when that department closed down for the day, I’d go and manage the new car department with just one salesman. I was in it, and if you cut me open I’d probably bleed BMW blue. I showed them that I was willing to put the time in and that I would be able to keep pushing.

There were times when I would come in at 5 in the morning and not leave until well after midnight. People saw that and believed in me because I had a vision.

People believed I would make this work, and it was kind of like, ‘We’re going to go work for Tom.’ Thirty years ago, I opened up a little repair shop, and two fellows who worked with me at another dealership quit to work for me.

Why would they do that? I didn’t have any benefits, money or anything else. But it worked, and that was a leap of faith. And you can’t just do that on charisma and chutzpah. You have to walk your talk and you have to deliver. You have to make sure people see that you are really doing everything you can to make it happen.

Evolve with your people. A lot of times, people come in and they really know where they want to go and how they want to get there, and that can be a problem.

Say it’s a new manager, and that person comes from another store, or even another industry, and that person has an idea that he wants to do it this way. Well, you don’t want to crush that person because his way has worked for him. We all kind of hang on to what got us where we are today.

At the same time, by nurturing him and really trying to see what he does and how he does things and comparing that to how we do things, we find some common ground, and it’s going to work better. So it’s a question of, we do it this way, we’ve always done it this way, but I’m open to ideas that you’ve got to make anything better as long as we can keep these key areas from being compromised.

We live our processes, and everyone knows how important they are, but we want them to be breathing things and to keep evolving. There’s a synergy that you get by compromising the way you do certain things as long as you keep your focus intact.

Stay focused, and the people will follow. Good people find you. I’m not proud enough to say that we’re the best organization on the planet or anything, but we have an operation that really resonates with people — we’re well-thought-of in Cincinnati, and that’s because we’ve never strayed from our calling.

What happens is, when you really focus on one thing and you’re really good at it — and you want to be great at it — then the people find you. We don’t put an ad in the newspaper; we just focus on what we do well, and people are drawn to that.

The level of attitude and drive and competence in our group is phenomenal. I guess for us, it’s sort of when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Let employees help you take the risk. I look at something like our Mini Cooper dealership. I went and talked to some of our guys that were really gung-ho on it, and they told me they really thought it was just the cat’s pajamas and they just wanted it like there was no tomorrow.

So I went home and thought about it for about a half an hour and came right back in and submitted our application. You have to listen, listen, listen and listen.

The people that really developed into being truly great managers and even better leaders are the ones that listen to the troops about the big moves. You have to listen to your own gut and conscience, but it’s the people that listen and really openly seek the input of other people that are the most successful.

I look at risk like eating properly. If you’re not taking risks, you’re going to die. And they can’t just be calculated risks that are small potatoes. You have to keep that edge.

As you get older and a little more established, it’s very easy to get away from that edge to where you’re more secure — but then you’re not living your life.

Listen to ideas from the outside. When somebody comes in from another place, one of the things we do is make sure they understand our philosophy, and once we’ve kind of saturated them with what we do around here by showing them our systems for a couple of weeks, then we’re in a position to say, ‘OK, what’s working for you, what’s not working for you, and what can we do to facilitate you better?’

It’s good to get ideas from other people in the business. We really encourage our people to speak out and we’re willing to listen to ideas.

If somebody doesn’t change a lot when they’re successful then they mess up. You know, if you always do what you always did then you’ll always get what you always got. So, it’s important to be constantly changing and be constantly open to new ideas. Never compromise your principles, but everything else is open to discussion.

HOW TO REACH: The BMW Store, (800) 651-5569 or