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
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.
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.”
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.
Be clear about your goals.
Understand your limitations.
Don’t rush just to get it done.
When it comes to attracting businesses, size alone should put Palm Beach County at a distinct advantage over its Florida peers. With 38 municipalities, the county trumps Broward, Pinellas and even Miami-Dade as the largest in Florida and third in population.
The problem is, although geography plays a role, it is not nearly the most important factor for businesses choosing whether or not to invest in your county, says Kelly Smallridge, president and CEO, Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.
“When you’re in economic development, one community can look like another community,” she says. “These CEOs are looking at 20 or 30 communities at a time, and it’s the communities that are going to roll out a much different experience and feeling of a corporate home that they are going to remember.
“We cannot present the same product as everybody else. So with everything that we do, whether it’s the message we deliver in a website, social media message, any printed material or their experience when they visit our community — it must make a lasting impression.”
Since taking the top role at the board in 2004, Smallridge has helped overhaul its economic development strategies to grow jobs and drive business investment in the county. Between 2011 and 2012, these efforts have helped create or retain 1,700 jobs and $166 million of capital investment into Palm Beach County.
In addition, Smallridge herself has been recognized by the South Florida Business Journal as an “Ultimate CEO” and by South Florida CEO as one of the top 40 business leaders in Palm Beach County.
Smart Business spoke with Smallridge to discuss what economic and business leaders can do to create make their counties attractive for businesses and why it’s an ongoing process.
What makes a county globally competitive for business?
Workforce has to be top notch, meaning highly skilled and available. Education K-20 has to also be more than excellent to attract families and corporations to this area — so workforce and education. The cost of doing business has to remain affordable … and the ease of doing business has to be far better than other locations, other competitive sites.
As CEO, what did you feel that Palm Beach County needed to change to be more competitive with other counties?
I saw a tremendous amount of focus on bringing someone in from other states, when really, a job is a job whether you bring it in from the outside or you create one here locally — it’s the same opportunity for our area residents.
I saw too much of a focus on that outside effort and not enough focus on nurturing those companies that already call Palm Beach County their home. So we traded more of a balance internally to grow what’s in our backyard. As a result, about 70 percent of our job growth in this county comes from companies that already have an existence in this county and 30 percent come from the outside.
How did you begin redirecting the county’s job growth efforts?
First of all, I had to build the best economic development team. Hiring great leaders that were well-experienced in economic development was No. 1. Two, I had to educate my own community — my own public and private leaders — about the value and importance of economic development and how to be well-versed in what CEOs are looking for when they are selecting a location for expansion, retention or relocation.
Starting with your internal leadership, what were the key steps in building a strong economic development team?
If you study economic development organizations throughout the county, the challenge is that a lot of these people are selling counties — they are very good at it — but they don’t know their county the way we know our county because we are products of this county.
Building that team of VPs here who are very passionate about what we are selling is No. 1 — hiring the best economic development professionals. Our average tenure in this organization is 10 years, very rare. … A quarter of our staff was either born or raised in the county that we are charged with selling.
No. 2, making sure that we subscribe to the highest levels of economic development principles. We went through what’s called an accreditation process. There are only two accredited economic development boards in the state of Florida, and we are one of the two. There are something like 25 in the United States.
We didn’t go for accreditation until we knew we had reached certain fundamental goals in this organization, a five-year strategic plan, the highest level of leader on our board, strong financials — most not-for-profits are strong financially — and more private support than public support.
So how did you apply those principles across the county’s 38 cities?
We created something called Economic Development 101. We started training our elected officials and municipal stakeholders on how to answer questions from CEOs looking at their city.
It was very surprising how much elected officials didn’t really understand about economic development and what would be the highlights of promoting their areas: understanding the major employers, the taxes, the cost of doing business, knowing what the strengths are of their cities from a business perspective and being able to speak very articulately about what makes their city one of the best business locations.
How did you develop the Economic Development 101 curriculum?
Once we did three municipalities, we really got a much better understanding of what the learning gap was, what they clearly understood and what they didn’t understand. We changed that accordingly and continue to build upon that. Every time that we go to an election we go back to those cities and re-educate those people. It’s made a very big difference.
Another key part is making sure that economic development is a top priority of the municipalities. If you have strong economic development, your retail thrives, your mom-and-pop businesses thrive and your residential does well because now you have people with expendable income who can purchase your homes and apartments and frequent your restaurants and your retail establishments.
We really try to get them to understand that it’s the high-end economic development that’s going to create the trickle-down and fuel the other types of business operations in their community.
Why is it so important for economic development boards to work closely with city leaders?
Too often, economic development boards focus on their organization and don’t understand that they really represent their entire geographic region.
They have to get out there and make sure that their entire geographic region has tax incentives, that they are moving quickly in expedited permitting, that they are cutting down on the layers of bureaucracy and they can speak the languages that businesses need to hear, that they put out a warm, friendly welcome mat.
Sometimes it’s not about the amount of money or incentives that you send to a CEO; it’s about how warm your welcome mat is.
I can only sell the product that I’m given by my cities. So if they don’t understand how to make their area attractive to businesses, it doesn’t matter how strong my organization is. I have to make sure that the product is strong, and the product is the comprehensive component of 38 cities.
Once you get everyone on the same page, how do you keep them there?
You form an economic development stakeholders council that brings them all together on a regular basis to communicate, share best practices internally, inform them of what new programs have come through the state that are available for all municipalities and that they can integrate into their respective areas.
Some of the things that we’ve brought to the table that many of our municipalities have taken advantage of are Ad Valorem Tax Exemption, passing that through their cities, and expedited permitting ordinances.
This is very large county, and one of the new things that I implemented when I became the leader is, ‘You are visible if you are present in their community.’ The county is about 40 miles long. It’s the largest county east of the Mississippi River and larger than a couple of states. It’s a very big, massive land area.
What I did was to establish satellite offices in the north, central, south and western part of our county. I went from one office, to one office and three satellite offices — big difference. Now you’re present in the community working side-by-side with your teammates and other city officials.
What results have you seen from PBC’s newest economic development initiatives?
Too many presidents of economic development boards are quick to get to that ribbon-cutting ceremony when really we’re in there to help them through the entire process until they turn the key and then for many, many years down the road. That’s why we’ve had companies come back to us five or 10 years beyond our initial relationship to help them with their expansion.
If you have an entire community that is working in the same direction toward creating jobs and you eliminate the competition internally and you get everyone on the same page, you end up with entire group of public and private leaders that are all working toward the same goal.
That may seem very fundamental, but it has taken years to get to that stage. If you look at other communities throughout the U.S., you will find very few where all public and private leaders have the same end goal in mind. ?
How to reach: Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, (561) 835-1008 or www.bdb.org
The Smallridge File
President and CEO
Business Development Board of Palm Beach County
Born: West Palm Beach, Fla.
Education: University of Florida
What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?
For the most part, I keep my private and professional lives separate. Therefore, my friends would be surprised to see what a normal business day is like for me. Every minute of every workday is usually booked solid with meetings, speeches, interviews, prospecting, traveling, deadlines, with absolutely no downtime until Friday afternoons.
How do you recognize new business opportunities?
I do not like to perform or develop a product or program that I’ve seen out on in the market. If I see it, then I tend to steer away from that and try to figure out what is really going to be the ‘wow’ factor in the way that we present a product. It distinguishes us among our competition.
What happens when you don’t close a business deal that you wanted?
One of the keys to any leader is that you’ve had numerous failures. Every one of those I’ve look at as character building exercises. We’ve lost some deals that I thought that we should have won. I don’t sweat over that too much, but instead, evaluate the situation very quickly, figure out what we did wrong and what we did right, and move toward developing some sort of resolution that ensures to the best of our ability that it won’t happen again. We’re quick to take a look at ourselves and be our biggest critics.
What do you do for fun?
I am a firm believer that in order for my mind to stay healthy and make good business decisions, I must find time for fun. As a mother of three boys, all of my free time is spent with them at football, basketball or family vacations. We love to cruise to the Caribbean a couple of times a year as a family. In addition, I am blessed to live within a few miles of my parents, my brother and my sister. Getting together at least monthly with the whole family, especially during football games, has been a source of great memories.
Luis Proenza has become somewhat of a poster child for efforts in leading change and driving innovation, collaboration and economic development in the Akron region. Under his leadership, the university has transformed completely, inside and out. UA’s campus has been renovated, as has the area around it. The university’s revenue and research portfolio has more than doubled during Proenza’s presidency, thanks to new community and corporate partnerships.
If Proenza were graded on fulfilling his duties as president of UA, he’d get an A. But if you take into account his decisive and sweeping approach to leadership, he’d probably get extra credit too.
After all, it’s this approach that has enabled Proenza to successfully lead the university to embrace innovation and change.
“We’ve just been used to defending and believing that the very best approach is one of a professor standing in front of a class,” Proenza says. “I happen to think that faculty will remain at the core of learning for a student, but it’s not necessarily the key to be in front of the class.”
They’ll need to be interacting with students in new and greatly expanded ways.
“What we’ve tried to do — and obviously, for any large organization, it’s something that has to be on the front burner at all times — is to be very relentlessly focusing on the fact that we need to innovate if we’re going to sustain our success and if we’re going to be increasingly successful in other ways,” he says. “In short, if we simply do what we’ve always done, we won’t get ahead.”
Smart Business spoke with Proenza to discuss how UA is changing higher education’s role in supporting regional economies and the advancement of “The Akron Model” — a platform for driving economic development in Akron.
SB: What are the goals of The Akron Model?
LP: It is inherently about the university’s role in economic development. Many institutions, when they talk about how they contribute to economic development, talk about what they do to license some technology and to occasionally start a company based on that technology.
We took a very different approach. We felt that we needed to apply all our resources and create what we call a broad-based and robust platform for economic development.
Many educators believe that the best quality is delivered when you have very small classes. And so the approach that I believe will emerge over the next few years is a model in which universities, either as institutions or faculty across institutions, will work to create new products that will be available to all.
It’s an approach to developing through a variety of partnerships and in a variety of connected ways a greater impact on our community. We summarize The Akron Model by saying that we are relevant, connected and productive across the full spectrum of the university’s expertise.
SB: What steps have you taken to lead this model at UA?
LP: The first thing that we’ve done is just make sure that we have the infrastructure to make this possible. So for many, many years we’ve been one of the most advanced institutions in terms of the deployment of information technology tools. We were one of the first totally wired for wireless institutions in the country.
We have also for many years had the lead in the number of our classrooms that are technically equipped to support online learning and distance learning, and we’re now in the process of finalizing ‘delivery to the desktop’ so that the student need not be in a similar classroom elsewhere but can access what we offer at a computer wherever they might be, at whatever time they might wish to access it.
The other piece that we’ve been doing is talking to a number of companies that we probably need to have as partners to make the model work more comprehensively. It’s not something that we’re likely to be able to do entirely on our own.
SB: Why is collaboration important in promoting economic development?
LP: We developed a framework here that we called ‘shared leadership,’ and it basically is the idea that two heads are better than one, that the more that our own employees, our own faculty, our own colleagues, our own students contribute to the process of thinking about our future and formulating that future, the more successful that we will be. A corollary of that is you can’t do that entirely in isolation from the rest of the community.
In the old days, universities used to be thought of as ivory towers. And clearly, if we insist on being isolated from our community, we become irrelevant. If you’re not connected, you can’t be productive.
So collaboration sort of begins to be the driving force of relevance, connectivity and productivity because it’s that way that not only will you succeed as an institution but your larger community will succeed. That’s important because if your community isn’t succeeding, guess what will happen to you as an institution? You won’t get very far. Collaboration becomes very, very vital internally — that’s shared leadership — and externally — that’s The Akron Model.
SB: What criteria do you use to evaluate opportunities for external partnerships?
LP: If we don’t have the strengths and it’s not something that’s of interest in Northeast Ohio, we’d probably just say no. So the two key pieces of where we start are, ‘Do we have some strengths?’ And, ‘Is it needed in Northeast Ohio?’ The programs that we have are very much aligned with the major industrial segments of Northeast Ohio.
So some key examples are the Timken Engineered Surfaces Laboratories that we inaugurated a few weeks back, the Corrosion program, which is a partnership between several companies, the Department of Defense and the University of Akron. Also through our research foundation it’s laying the groundwork for having some companies that will hopefully be revenue-producing and have a chance to feed back to the university in the long term some of that success.
SB: How did the economic downturn affect UA’s focus on economic development?
LP: What you see when there is an economic downturn then an economic boom is there’s a mismatch between how fast the new jobs are being created and how quickly the people who were displaced in the old jobs are able to rise to the occasion by acquiring new skills.
The important thing then is we’re concentrating on communicating to our students as well as to people that are displaced from jobs that the only way that they’re going to progress is to remember that they must acquire the new skills required for the jobs that maybe didn’t exist five or 10 years ago — or maybe even yesterday. It becomes very important to convey that to our students and to let them know the challenges that they will face both as individuals as part of larger organizations and our nation will face as part of the increasingly very, very, very global economy.
SB: What else have you done to make UA a more connected and innovative higher-learning institution?
LP: First is the almost complete physical transformation of the campus. We have built 22 brand-new buildings. We’ve made major additions and renovations to 18 buildings. We’ve added 34 acres of green space. We’ve planted an excess of 30,000 trees and other plantings. We have created walkways and terraces and plazas and gardens for people to enjoy. … We call that program for transforming the campus the New Landscape for Learning.
The other couple of things are what we call the New Landscape for Living … an initiative that has now become a standalone nonprofit to completely revitalize the neighborhoods that surround the campus. That’s moving along very nicely. The third is a partnership with the area hospitals and the nearby medical schools called The Austen BioInnovation Institute. It’s had some successes already, including its first start-up company. That’s all about bringing together our world-class strengths in polymer science and polymer engineering.
SB: What kind of results have you achieved with The Akron Model so far?
LP: We’ve created a set of partnerships with companies where we’re able to not only commercialize our own technology but to work with them to develop new technology and, if they have patents that are sitting on their shelves, to help them commercialize those that they’re not going to use in their own business. In other words, taking stranded technology and making it available.
In the last 10 years, we’ve started as many companies from other people’s technologies as we have from our own. We just celebrated the establishment of the 50th company and about half of those are from our own technology and half from others. We’ve started an angel investor network called the ARC Angels — Akron Regional Change Agents — and that’s met with significant success, reporting now nearly $400 million of follow-on funding for the companies that have presented. We’ve started a women’s investment network. We’ve started a student investment network.
SB: What advice would you have for other leaders about driving innovation in their organizations?
LP: I think it’s going back to three (terms): be energetic, be enthusiastic, be encouraging. Secondly, be relentless in that focus, but at the same time, understand the limits of people to embrace change. It’s got to come hopefully a little faster than we might have had otherwise. But you can’t push it too much or there will be significant pushback. So be relentlessly focused on the future but patient enough not to get so far ahead that you lose the connectivity with your old colleagues. ?
How to reach: The University of Akron, (330) 972-7111 or www.uakron.edu
The Proenza File
University of Akron
Born: Mexico City, Mexico
Education: High school at Riverside Military Academy; college at Emory University (BA), Ohio State (MA), University of Minnesota (Ph.D.)
How would you describe your leadership style?
When people ask me that, I tend to use three words, and that’s ‘energetic, encouraging and enthusiastic.’ Those three kind of characterize the core of my approach, … and I typically use one other thing. There’s a quote by the great German poet Goethe that says, ‘Whatever you dream or thing you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic to it. Begin it now.’ That’s sort of a much better way of saying the energy, enthusiasm and encouragement piece.
How do you set priorities?
The interesting thing that by virtue of being focused, just about everything that I do is very synergistic — one to another. So it that way, I’m able to do more. It’s related. It builds on itself. It doesn't detract and it doesn't distract either
What do you to regroup on a tough day?
Enjoy a glass of wine with my wife and our pets.
What excites you most as you look forward?
Probably the most exciting thing is how many different challenges present themselves every day. In short, I just don’t get bored. Something is different every day, whether it’s the fact that some company’s called us, or we've established a contact with somebody else or that there’s an international visitor. There’s a variety of challenges.
How do you help keep everyone at UA focused on new opportunities?
It’s beating that drum time and time again. We sometimes say that being a leader is like talking to a parade. No sooner have you said it that you've got to say it again and again and again.
There are a number of people who would argue that St. Louis’ slogan “Gateway to the West” could be updated to “Gateway to the World” — and Elizabeth Stroble, Ph.D., the newest president of Webster University, believes it more than most.
During the expansion of America, St. Louis was indeed a “Gateway to the West.”
“[Today,] I would say the slogan could be reversed as well; the world needs to see St. Louis as a gateway,” Stroble says.
As president, Stroble has been finding ways to continue to expand the institution’s presence globally in an effort to provide students with a more diverse curriculum that not only benefits them, but the businesses and communities that those students then work and live in.
Webster University is based in St. Louis, and has campuses in Geneva, Vienna, The Netherlands, London, China and Thailand. The college employs some 1,200 full-time faculty and staff members and has 21,000 students — 8,000 of them in St. Louis.
Stroble came to Webster in 2009, and with the university turning 100 in 2015, she has been evaluating where the college can grow and improve itself for the sake of its students, communities and business partners.
“What I learned since I arrived here was that Webster University has a tremendous history of being globally excellent with room to grow the global excellence,” Stroble says. “It’s highly innovative and entrepreneurial and its mission, going back to its founding, was to meet an unmet need.”
During the last four years, she has been assessing the university’s strengths and opportunities.
“The strengths and opportunities at Webster are to continue to connect the pieces and parts of that global network so that strength builds upon strength and that we stay connected, not only locally but globally,” Stroble says.
Here’s how Stroble is advancing the university’s strengths and opportunities.
Do a thorough assessment
Before coming to Webster University, Stroble was provost, senior vice president and COO at the University of Akron in Ohio. Wanting to find a presidency position, she came to Webster.
“The move to Webster University was about the presidency of an institution that’s local here in St. Louis but has a global reach and impact, and that was what was most interesting to me about it,” Stroble says.
With the school’s international footprint a big drawing factor, Stroble began to assess the university’s strengths and opportunities in that area and how Webster could benefit students, businesses and communities.
“I spent a great deal of time in the St. Louis community not only interacting with faculty, staff and students here but with local business and community leaders who have a global footprint in their own organizations and want to increase the global interaction in St. Louis, because that makes it a thriving community and a globally competitive community,” she says.
Stroble also began visiting every international location and many domestic locations of Webster University.
“Part of what fascinates me and continues to about Webster University is the diversity that comes from being located in different places,” she says. “While the location is different and the diversity of the students is different, the academic programs reflect local market needs.”
Taking that tour of various Webster campuses helped Stroble assess where the university could improve.
“You have to take plenty of time listening and asking for other people’s advice and counsel,” Stroble says. “One of my fundamental questions was, ‘What do you most hope that your new president will preserve about Webster University, and what do you most hope the new president will seek to change?’
“My sense in every organization is that there are these sacred traditions, values, habits and processes that people hope will continue. It’s always an assessment of whether you, as president or the new leader, will agree with those, but it’s important to know them.”
Stroble’s assessment left her with a sense that Webster University, like most organizations, had some ambition and pent-up hope and demand for change.
“If you don’t know what that is, you can’t help to fulfill the hopes and dreams that caused you to be the president who was selected,” she says. “That is an important learning opportunity, and you need to seize it to its fullest advantage, because when you’re new, it’s the greatest warning opportunity.
“Over time, it’s harder to see things with fresh eyes and … it’s hard to disabuse yourself of the notion that there might be better ways to do things.”
As an incoming leader of an organization, you have to take advantage of not knowing very much about the operation because you can ask the naive question and gain a lot of insight.
“Over the course of my presidency, it’s my role to listen to what’s going on in the external environment,” Stroble says.
For Webster University, that’s an external global environment and what’s happening in the world of higher education but also in the world of culture, diversity, politics, economics and the larger environment that we all live in and hope to shape.
“How do I learn about that and help to communicate that effectively to the university community so that we can truly not only be responsive but lead the change that the external environment wants?” she says.
“In turn, how do I learn well enough what the strengths are of Webster University so I communicate those well to an external environment to continue to attract students, high-quality employees, donors, external support, and local and global support partnerships?”
To help aid in that responsibility, Stroble has been investing in developing Webster’s talent around global diversity and knowledge and is focused on improving curriculum.
“We revised our general education curriculum to focus on global citizenship, and we have been building many more partnerships with international universities, especially in parts of the world where we are not,” she says. “That’s why it’s important for us to expand the campus footprint beyond Europe and Asia.”
Webster University wants to open global opportunities for its students and St. Louis businesses at the same time to bring an infusion of global talent to St. Louis and across the world.
“This focus on people, partnerships, curriculum and programs that help support student travel, more scholarship prospects for international students and raising our profile in terms of how well we communicate about the opportunities we can create at Webster University for businesses and other higher education institutions has been the work I have been doing,” Stroble says.
Develop global talent
True to Webster’s mission to fulfill a need, one of the institution’s goals is to build capacity in potential new geographies. These new international locations need to have a stable political environment, a stable and growing economy, and a need in that local community for American-style education taught in English in the degree programs Webster offers.
Globalization at Webster University is much more comprehensive than most other universities. Some even say that globalization is baked into the university’s DNA.
“It’s my job to help deepen this, broaden it, strengthen it, further it, but it certainly dates back to before I arrived,” Stroble says. “It was such a part of Webster University from its inception that we were ahead of the curve. Again, we’re an institution that prides itself on meeting a need and being entrepreneurial and naturally saw opportunities to do that outside of St. Louis well before it became cool to be global.”
Webster’s effort globally is much more about creating synergies and mutual benefit than it is about carrying the American message abroad.
“We’re much more about being truly global and figuring out how to live that through preparation of students, who we hire and how we think about the geography than we are about how we export an American education that might seek it,” she says.
While constantly looking at new international locations for the college, Stroble is also extremely focused on how that global diversity can benefit the local community in St. Louis.
“We have purposefully built a program with the state of Missouri called the Global Internship Experience that provides interns from international locations for companies here in St. Louis and sends Missouri students to international locations to do internships there,” she says. “We’ve been doing that for 25 to 30 years and it continues to expand.”
Another effort to broaden education and benefit businesses is the creation of a Confucius Institute.
“The point of a Confucius Institute is that you provide an arm for increasing knowledge of Chinese language and culture in your local community,” Stroble says. “Ours was founded in 2008, and it was the first in the state of Missouri. Our Confucius Institute provides resources to local businesses who seek to learn more about how to do business with the Chinese.”
This institute is a direct connection of Webster’s expertise and relationship with the Chinese Ministry of Education that opens up doors and opportunities for young people and businesses.
“It would be hard to know the world without knowing China,” she says.
All of these advancements to the global education of Webster’s students provide a platform for lifelong learning.
“It’s not only about the important topic of being a citizen of the world and seeing things in a large perspective or relating to people who have had experiences different from ours; it’s about creating an open point of view about learning, changing and responding to an environment that will continue to change,” Stroble says.
“If you learn how to navigate a different country, different language, a different culture, different politics, a different lifestyle, that positions you to learn about new technologies, new field development, new environmental challenges across your lifetime. You open up your world in more ways than globally.” ?
How to reach: Webster University, (800) 981-9801 or www.webster.edu
Listen and ask questions about the organization as a new leader.
Evaluate the organization’s strengths and opportunities.
Develop a presence to benefit stakeholders locally and globally.
The Stroble File
Elizabeth Stroble, Ph. D.
Born: New Castle, Wyo.
Education: She earned a degree in history and English from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. She has two masters of arts degrees, one in history and one in American and English literature, both from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. She received her doctorate in curriculum studies from the University of Virginia-Charlottesville.
Background: She spent time at Northern Arizona University-Flagstaff and University of Louisville-Kentucky. At University of Akron she was the dean of the College of Education and was promoted to provost, senior vice president and COO. She then sought a presidency and came to Webster University.
What was your first job and what did you learn from that experience?
I was a waitress. I worked my way through college waitressing. Serving the hungry public teaches a lot about communication skills and being attentive to detail and being pleasant to interact with. I learned a lot about customer service.
What got you into education?
During my next-to-last term at Augustana, I was in the student teaching program. I had this spectacular student teaching assignment and after about the second or third day I decided this was my life.
Who is someone you’ve admired in the education world?
I worked for the chairman of the history department at Augustana, J. Iverne Dowie, and I looked up to him greatly because he had been blind since he was three years old. My job was to read books and papers out loud to him, and he and I would discuss what I had read. I admired his intellect and how gentle he was as an individual and how accomplished he was to be the department chair. A lot of what I learned about teaching and university work was from his direct example.
What are you looking forward to at Webster University?
I’m excited about this institution continuing to live that mission of setting a distinct standard for global education and preparing our students to be individually excellent and citizens of the globe.
If you ask Nicholas DeIuliis about the state of the energy industry these days, he would tell you it’s the nature of the industry that keeps it exciting and evolving.
DeIuliis is president of Consol Energy Inc., a more than $6 billion, publicly owned producer of coal and natural gas and one of the leading diversified energy companies in the U.S. He and Consol have been focused on new technologies, new energies and, above all else, keeping Consol one of the leading producers in its region.
“Energy has always been a big issue within our regional economy, national economy and now the global economy within the last number of years,” DeIuliis says. “Consol Energy still looks upon those tried and true forms of energy, but what’s really changed in the last number of years is how we’ve evolved in deploying technology in both the coal and natural gas side.”
As the industry continues to push forward, the success of companies such as Consol depend upon its ability to keep employees safe, effectively communicating and remaining innovative.
“The most important thing we do is we establish what our values are and we literally numerate them for our teams,” DeIuliis says. “We say what our top values are and which is first, second and third. For us, No. 1 is safety. Second is compliance. And third is continuous improvement and taking a long-term view.”
Here is how DeIuliis is helping to drive those values at Consol Energy that, in turn, help drive the company.
In the energy industry, there are all kinds of dangers that employees face while on the job. DeIuliis and his team take great pride in running a company that focuses on keeping its workforce safe.
“Safety has always been something that is critical to us throughout our history, and we’ve been around for about 150 years,” DeIuliis says. “So we’ve learned what works very well and also learned the hard way through those 150 years what doesn’t work very well when it comes to safety.”
DeIuliis wants to take the challenge of safety and turn it into an opportunity, which sounds simple, but it’s often very challenging.
“We first started with the philosophy of safety itself,” he says. “What is our culture going to be when it comes to safety? Is it truly going to be our top value that will not change during market swings? A value is something that is constant. So first and foremost, that is our most important top value.
“Secondly, if it’s our top value, what’s the expectation going to be? Are accidents part of the business of extracting natural gas or coal resources, or can we truly take an approach of zero accidents of any kind across the entire employee base as the expected outcome and expected goal?”
Consol has taken the latter approach and created an absolute zero program that says the only acceptable standard of performance is no accidents to the employees on any given day across the entire company.
“Anything that’s an accident no matter how small or slight is an exception to that rule and a violation to that philosophy,” he says. “So you have that philosophical change that needed to occur to turn a challenge into opportunity, and over the last three or four years, it has turned and evolved into the culture and philosophy.”
Now DeIuliis and Consol have to find the ways to further improve the company’s safety outlook.
“What are the tactical things we’re going to do to improve our performance?” he says. “How are we going to bring the science and technology to the table to get smarter about risk identification, hazardous mitigation and overall employee training? All of those things lead you to a better place on safety performance.”
Communication is king
In conjunction with safety performance, how well Consol Energy communicates its message relates to how easily and effectively it can improve the organization.
“Communication is the lifeblood of taking a concept or an opportunity and making it a reality,” DeIuliis says.
Consol Energy has nearly 10,000 employees and 6,000 to 8,000 contractors on top of that. So communication throughout the organization is critically important to furthering a concept, philosophy, a new technology or standard, and whether or not that comes to fruition — and when it comes to fruition.
“Sometimes the when part is just as challenging and just as important as whether or not it actually comes to fruition,” he says. “You can’t overemphasize the importance of communication, especially in a complex and large organization or a complex and large world such as what we’ve seen in the energy space throughout the U.S. and the globe.”
Saying that your company communicates is easy, but actually getting results from your communication is much more difficult. You have to utilize multiple communication tactics.
“We use what we call a portfolio approach to communication,” DeIuliis says. “We don’t put all our eggs in one basket, one means or one method of communication. We will utilize a range of those like you would in an investment portfolio.”
Consol uses everything from closed-circuit TVs that update employees on safety procedures, initiatives, technological breakthroughs, compliance issues and regulatory issues to training programs to make sure that employees are engaged.
“We look at that as an investment in communication that is going to get that know-how rate of return, which will be very good, not just for the shareholders of the company and stakeholders but, most importantly, for the employees themselves, because they will be in a more safe and compliant place,” he says.
“There’s a whole range of different communication tools that we use … that will put us in a better position to succeed in that communication challenge and opportunity.”
In order for communication to be most effective, especially in a company the size of Consol, there has to be someone who has ownership of the messages being spread throughout the business.
“The communication approach goes back to the messaging and the content of what you’re saying,” he says. “The ownership is across the entire company. In reality, it extends beyond the employees within the company. It extends to our partners and other stakeholders that touch or deal with the company in some, way, shape or form. It might be the customers downstream that we’re selling the coal and natural gas to; it could be our contractor partners providing services at our rig sites and coal mines or anyone in between.”
While everyone owns a part of the communication process, it’s also critically important that that communication process and the messaging behind the communication are viewed as owned by action, not just by words with the leadership of the company.
“The leadership of the company for us means many different people, not just our CEO and chairman,” DeIuliis says. “It’s our CEO and chairman all the way down to the mine foreman, all the way down to the employee working on the barge line or all the way down to someone standing on one of our rigs right now.
“It’s a group effort and everybody has a role and a responsibility. Your actions have to be consistent with what you’re saying.”
Just as important as safety and communication are within the energy industry, so too is the need to remain innovative. Recent substantial growth in natural gas drilling and advancements in clean coal technology are two areas driving energy these days.
DeIuliis and Consol look inside and outside the industry in order to bring the best innovation to the forefront of the company’s operations.
“There are two broad groups I look to over time for help and insight,” DeIuliis says. “One is the management team that we work with and around. They’re the best and brightest in the industry. Getting that comfort level and that trust level with the exchange of ideas and thoughts as time goes on is the lifeblood of any successful organization.”
The other broad group DeIuliis looks at is almost the mirror image of his leadership team. He looks toward entities and individuals with insights and experiences outside the industries Consol works within.
“It’s amazing how many already established processes, technologies and concepts are out there in entirely different industries that are being viewed as innovations and ground-breakers with the coal, natural gas and fossil fuel industry that we operate in,” he says.
“Every time we tend to look outside our box and outside our industries, we always come away with an injection of innovation that keeps us going.”
As the world of business and that of energy continue to evolve and change as time goes on, the success of a company comes back to its values.
“In the energy industry, we’ve seen a lot of volatility and a lot of peaks and cycles through the years,” DeIuliis says. “We’ve become used to a certain extent of the things that will enviably occur. But if you go back to the values, and those that are truly the values of your organization, and if you’re the safest and most compliant operator in that environment, you’re going to be the most successful or profitable whether it’s a market peak or trough.”
The key to managing through those kinds of ups and downs has been simplicity.
“The way we manage in those downturns is sticking to those values and as long as we’re pushing for better safety performance, compliance and continuous improvement, we will be fine in any market,” he says.
How to reach: Consol Energy Inc., (724) 485-4000 or www.consolenergy.com
Find ways to improve the processes of your business.
Implement communication tactics that allow your business to succeed.
Innovate through internal and external channels.
The DeIuliis File
Consol Energy Inc.
Education: Graduated with a chemical engineering degree from Penn State. He received a master’s degree in business administration and a juris doctorate from Duquesne University.
Career: DeIuliis began his career in Consol Energy’s research and development group in 1990. He became vice president of strategic planning responsible for optimizing the value of Consol Energy’s assets resulting in the creation of CNX Gas Corporation, where he served as president and CEO from its 2005 inception until early 2009. He has been the president of Consol Energy since February 2011.
DeIuliis is also director at-large of the board of directors of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, a director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Bituminous Coal Operators’ Association Inc.
Regionally, he is on the advisory boards of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and the Catholic Foundation. He is a registered professional engineer in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a member of the Pennsylvania Bar.
While many companies would be like a ship without its captain after the loss of its illustrious founder, Jess Jackson, the Jackson Family Enterprises had a very capable successor in Rick Tigner — one who would continue the family-owned winery group’s reputation and make mom and dad’s favorite chardonnay into the favorite of their millenial children too.
In April 2011, Jess Jackson died of cancer at the age of 81. He was an individual whose vision, perseverance and work ethic helped transform the wine industry.
He started the Kendall-Jackson wine business with the 1974 purchase of an 80-acre pear and walnut orchard in Lakeport, Calif., that he converted to a vineyard. Nearly 40 years later, Jackson Family Wines is among the world’s most successful family-owned winery groups, composed of more than 35 individual wineries.
Jackson Family Enterprises is the company that oversees Jackson Family Wines, its global sales organizations and the Kendall-Jackson brand. Tigner was named president of Jackson Family Enterprises a year before Jackson passed away. A 24-year veteran of the alcohol beverage industry, Tigner has held positions at Miller Brewing Co., Gallo, Louis M. Martini and nearly 20 years with Jackson Family Wines.
“When I first became in charge of Jackson Family Wines three years ago, one of my goals was to actually get one team, one dream,” Tigner says. “If I can get all 1,200 employees going in the same direction at the same time, how powerful would that be?”
The company, its 1,200 employees and its more than 30 brands of wine, was solely in Tigner’s hands, and it was now up to him to keep the operation flourishing.
“Our company mission is to be the best wine company in the world,” Tigner says.
Here’s how Rick Tigner is taking Jess Jackson’s legacy and moving Jackson Family Enterprises forward.
Connect with consumers
In any industry, it is extremely easy to be hands-off with consumers. In the wine industry, many vineyards deal with distributors or trade partners and aren’t very tight with the consumer. Tigner says that isn’t the case at Jackson Family Wines.
“Innovation comes in different forms and fashions,” he says. “In the wine business, what you get is a lot of what I call the ‘sea of sameness.’ You look at a wine magazine ad and you see a bottle and vineyard, but it can be anybody’s bottle and anybody’s vineyard. The question is how do you connect with a consumer in different ways?”
Last January, Tigner was featured on the TV show “Undercover Boss.” He saw this as a new way for a wine company, especially a family wine company, to go on television and tell people about who the business is as a family, as a company and how it produces its products. The blogosphere gave generally rave review about Tigner’s TV appearance.
“The one thing that we’re always very, very focused on is quality,” he says. “We want to make sure that consumers know that whether it’s the Kendall-Jackson brand or the La Crema brand, quality is one of the foundations of our organization.”
To tell its consumers about its products, Jackson Family Wines is putting more focus on social media. The company recently hired a digital marketing team to make sure it has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
“A lot of companies have pretty pictures,” Tigner says. “What we actually want is engaging content … versus the standard picture of a bottle in a Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast magazine.”
Being involved in social media is becoming increasingly important, but it isn’t enough to just have a Facebook page; you have to engage with your fans and potential customers.
“If you look at Facebook, a lot of brands have Facebook, but the question is do you listen to the people who are on your Facebook page?” he says. “Do you react to how they talk about you on Facebook? We listen, and we learn from that activity. These are our friends and family who actually went online and signed up on our Facebook page, because they’re looking for interaction.”
Tigner says this interaction can’t be boring or constantly the same old thing. You have to be looking for ways to keep your audience involved and engaged.
“The key for us in regard to capturing our consumer is actually listening to them,” he says. “We create content that they want to see on video or in photos. We’ve done a lot of recipes. A lot of people want to talk about food and wine pairings. We have spent hours and hours and hours putting together a recipe program for our website.”
Jackson Family Wines has a lot of pages on its website and on its social media because even if a consumer doesn’t go to them all, those pages are there and available to them. The same thing goes for YouTube.
“If you go to YouTube and capture that consumer and they see a training video or a wine education video or a food-and-wine program, the next time they go look at your YouTube, you better have new content,” he says. “It has to be ongoing engagement, intriguing and informative. If you don’t have that, then you’ll lose your consumer. Those are things we’ve done to continually engage the consumer.”
What this kind of engagement helps Jackson Family Wines do more than anything is reach a more diverse audience. Many of the company’s consumers are baby boomers and social media is helping the brand reach the younger generations.
“We want to keep the baby boomers like myself who’ve been drinking our brands for a long time,” Tigner says. “But we want to capture the millennials. Who is that 25- to 35-year-old out there who has disposable income to buy premium wine? We have to give them the messaging and the content.
“We’re going out and making it new and fresh for them so it’s not just their mom and dad’s favorite chardonnay, but it becomes their favorite chardonnay and then their favorite cabernet or pinot noir.”
Educate about your product
The wine industry can be very complex due to the sheer number of wine styles, brands and varietals that make each bottle different. For Jackson Family Wines, it is crucial that its staff and its business partners are knowledgeable about the company’s products.
“In our company, we have 1,200 employees,” Tigner says. “In our sales team, there are about 400. I would argue we have the best sales team in the world and the best fine wine team.”
Tigner makes this argument because the company has four master sommeliers on staff and nine more in training out of a total of 180 in the U.S., who help to educate the sales team.
“They educate our sales teams, our distributors and our internal staff,” Tigner says. “We want to make sure everyone who works for our company, whether in IT, marketing or finance, has knowledge about wine and a passion about wine.”
Transferring that knowledge outside of the company is the hard part. Jackson Family Wines has to work with its distributors, trade partners and, more recently, directly with consumers to educate them on the products.
“In this business, 20 years ago, manufacturers or wineries like us spent all our time selling our wine to distributors and educating our distributors who then sold to retail stores who then sold to consumers,” he says. “About 15 years ago, that was still important, but the next piece was actually us communicating with our trade partners.
“In the last five years, all that is still important, but now we’re talking directly to our consumer, whether it’s online, in our tasting rooms or our wine club program.”
One of the biggest things related to education that Tigner has to keep aligned is the messaging Jackson Family Wines spreads both internally and externally.
“We broke down our strategic initiatives into three simple buckets,” he says. “You want to keep it simple so everyone knows what the plan is. Our strategy is lands, brands and people. So that when people want to know what are we working on, you can break it down to land, brands and people, and then we have the initiatives below that.”
To aid in keeping this message aligned and helping to push the company forward, Tigner has implemented management meetings.
“In the last three years since I’ve been put in charge, I’ve had more senior management team meetings,” he says. “We really didn’t have those before.
“Every quarter, we bring in the top 50 managers of the company plus outside guests and visitors and we talk about lands, brands and people. We talk about the strategic initiatives. I want to make sure everything we put in place at the beginning of the process is still being worked on.”
While his management meetings are a new tradition, there are some things that Tigner wants to maintain, like the company’s culture.
“When I first took over being the president, we had a great training program, recruiting program and succession program,” he says. “I want to make sure we have that exact same culture. Culture doesn’t show up on a P&L, but culture is very, very important to the company.”
The culture is something Tigner wants to be identical whether it’s the IT, finance, marketing or production departments.
“I want to make sure all our employees are treated similar and fair throughout the entire organization,” he says. “I take it upon myself on a regular basis to check in with middle management, lower management, field workers and sales workers because I want to make sure everyone has the right communication and we’re all on the same page.
“I spend most of my time making sure the messaging of the organization runs wide and deep.”
Just like a generous pour of chardonnay. ?
How to reach: Jackson Family Wines, (707) 544-4000 or www.kj.com
Connect with your consumers using new channels of communication.
Keep your content engaging and new.
Educate internally and externally about your product or service.
Bernie Moreno has always had a great love for cars. They had to be in his life. So as a 25-year-old, he went to work as a general manager of Herb Chambers’ Saturn dealership in Boston. During the course of 12 years there, he became Chambers’ vice president.
Moreno’s success caught the attention of Mercedes-Benz who asked Moreno if he would move to Cleveland to run a Mercedes-Benz dealership. Moreno agreed.
“I came in to Cleveland to see what this dealership was all about before I bought it,” Moreno says. “I pulled up here with my wife, I saw a salesperson, and I told him I was thinking about either a Lexus or a Mercedes — and I’m moving to Cleveland.
“The salesperson said, ‘I don’t understand why you’d want to move to Cleveland. This is the worst place on Earth to live. The people suck, the weather sucks, the economy sucks. I was born here and I’ve been trying to leave here since I came out of the womb.’ This is what the guy said to me.
“So I said, ‘People don’t buy Mercedes here?’ He said, ‘This is a blue-collar town. If we sell 10 to 15 cars a month, that’s a great month. If we sell 20, we’re dancing on the tables.’”
Moreno could have been discouraged, but he wasn’t. The dealership had been selling 200 cars a year before Moreno took over. He came in and set the goal high for the new dealership team.
“We came in, and I said to myself, ‘We can’t live selling five cars a month,’” Moreno says. “In our first sales meeting, May 13, 2005, I said, ‘We’re going to sell 100 cars a month.’
“We knew we had to do that because if we didn’t sell 100 cars a month, I couldn’t pay me, let alone my staff. I had to succeed because if I didn’t I would be in big trouble because I just committed my entire life to this endeavor.”
Here is how Moreno, president of Collection Auto Group, took one Mercedes-Benz dealership and built it into the Collection Auto Group that we know in Cleveland today.
When Moreno was working in Boston prior to 2005, he was helping run what was the sixth-largest privately owned dealership group in America with $1.5 billion in annual sales. In early 2005, he took over a dealership that sold only 200 cars a year.
“The difference is this one is mine and that one I just worked for,” Moreno says.
At that time, Moreno’s focus was to establish the dealership in the Cleveland area and create the right culture within the company.
“What helped in that tremendously was the fact that 12 guys moved from Boston to Cleveland with me,” he says. “That was a huge help, because when you’re establishing a culture, you need a critical mass of people who feel the same way that you do philosophically.”
Moreno says his desire to create further opportunities for the business fueled the dealership group’s growth the most. This, in turn, created opportunities for his staff.
“You can’t have all these guys in one store and challenge them and keep them growing,” he says. “All of them now have their own dealership that they run or a larger position within the company, which is great.”
In 2005, the dealership sold 24 cars between Jan. 1 and May 11. From May 12 to May 31 that year, it sold 80 cars. From that point on, Moreno and his team have been hitting their goal of 100 cars a month and then some.
“Our focus right now is really managing our growth,” he says. “We started with one dealership. We took over a small 200-car-a-year Lexus building. We finished the building in September 2008 right after Lehman Brothers collapsed. We used the opportunity to grow, and that growth was somewhat tame versus what we are doing today.”
Recently, Moreno has been expanding his business almost exponentially. Within the past year alone, the company has opened a Volkswagen dealership, a second Infiniti dealership, a new Nissan dealership, is building a new Mercedes-Benz dealership in Cincinnati and has been renovating several properties.
Moreno has plenty of projects to keep him busy. He has to buy the land for the new dealerships, build the dealerships, meet the individual car company’s requirements and hire people to run the dealerships. On top of all of that, Moreno still has to look after the other dealerships he has in operation.
Today, Moreno runs a collection of 24 dealerships, which led to the name, Collection Auto Group. The company is a more than 400-employee, $350 million car dealership group that sells Acura, Aston Martin, Buick, Fisker, GMC, Infiniti, Lotus, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche, smart, Spyker, Vpg, Volkswagen and Maserati brands.
“It was never the intention to move to Cleveland to have a small little dealership,” Moreno says. “That wasn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t necessarily think I was going to have 24 dealerships in seven or eight years, but I knew it wasn’t going to be a small dealership.”
Moreno may have been worried about car sales when the dealership first started, but in 2012 alone, Collection Auto Group sold 6,500 cars companywide.
“It’s is a big change,” he says. “Managing growth is like blowing up a balloon — you want to make sure you manage it properly, because otherwise you’re going to do it too fast.”
There are several factors that have helped Moreno and Collection Auto Group in its growth trajectory, but above all else, it comes back to the fact that Moreno loves cars.
“No. 1, you have to do what you love because if you’re not doing what you love, then you’re never going to be as successful as you can be,” he says. “For me, cars have always been a passion since I was a little kid.”
Another thing Moreno says has aided in his success is that he didn’t chase money. In fact, Moreno was making more money in Boston before he moved to Cleveland, but he wanted the opportunity to be his own boss.
“The biggest mistake people make is they follow money,” he says. “They’ll take a job because it pays more or they do this business because they’ll be rich. Money follows; money doesn’t lead.”
While people may make a certain move because it means more money, people will also find excuses for reasons that they can’t do something due to a lack of capital.
“If you have a great idea and you have passion, money will find you,” Moreno says. “When I bought Mercedes-Benz North Olmsted in 2005, I bought it with every dollar I had ever saved in my life. I joke that if I could have put a mortgage on my socks, I would have. It was never a scenario where I worried about getting the money to put this together.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘How badly do you want something? How badly do you believe that it can succeed? And how much do you believe in yourself?’ If the answer to all of that is at the top level, money will find you.”
Lastly, Moreno’s success has been made possible by the team he has put together at Collection Auto Group.
“You have to give people reason to follow you and be with you,” he says. “Why would somebody leave a job if not for the opportunity for personal growth, career advancement and learning? That’s the promise you have to deliver.”
Define your business
Once Moreno and his team started to get settled in Cleveland, the focus had to shift to creating a strong culture and one that would define how the business operated.
“You have to define your business,” Moreno says. “What business are you really in? A lot of my peers would say, ‘We’re in the car business. Look around, it’s a bunch of cars that we sell and service.’
“If you define that you’re in the car business, it’s an extraordinarily narrow definition. If you ask any employee in our company, whether it’s a receptionist, a car wash kid, a technician or a salesperson, they would say, ‘We’re in the customer service business.’”
Collection Auto Group sells cars, but it’s in the customer service business, and as a result, everybody understands that nothing is more important.
“When a customer walks through that door you should treat them like (they’re) the reason I’m here today, not like an inconvenience,” Moreno says. “My door is always open. If I’m willing to do that, what does it mean to everybody else in our organization?”
Moreno’s attention to clients goes far beyond making sure he gives them his time when they need it. He wants to change the car-buying experience.
“Some people hate buying cars,” he says. “But people love to buy iPhones. What’s the difference? The difference is that car dealers have made it painful for customers to buy cars. Car dealers have made the buying process completely unenjoyable, and it should be the complete opposite.”
Before Apple, people hated buying computers too. Now, people often just go to the Apple store to hang out because they made it fun and interesting.
“In the car business, it should be the same way, and the biggest thing that gets in people’s way is this fear when you walk through the front door that you’re going to be taken advantage of,” Moreno says. “Knowing that, we try to create a culture that says, ‘Let’s get rid of that anxiety.’”
Collection Auto Group tries to be extraordinarily transparent to make the negotiation process quick and easy. That transparency helps attract customers.
“If a customer walks in and they are looking at a Mercedes-Benz C300 and the sticker price is $42,500 … and their trade-in is worth $20,000, you have to ask yourself how much effort you are willing to put into this thing,” he says.
“How much are you willing to battle and let me wear you down? How much time do you want to spend wearing me down and are you willing to invest two or three hours to make that happen? Let’s say you do. At the end of three hours of going back and forth, how much do you really enjoy your car now? You hate it.”
Moreno utilizes the fact that customers these days are well-informed about car prices and what their trade-ins are worth; transparency and honesty with the customer saves time and effort.
“You know that I’m going to sell you the car for the price that’s going to be more than fair,” he says. “That creates a customer for life because they know that we will take better care of them than anybody else.”
Today, Collection Auto Group is well-established in the Cleveland market and sells all the car brands that it wants without any brand competing against another in the portfolio.
“Now that we’ve built this thing, we can take it for a drive and really expand exponentially with the brands we have right now,” Moreno says. ?
How to reach: Collection Auto Group, (440) 716-2700 or www.collectionautogroup.com
Do what you love and believe that you can make it successful.
Create a culture that separates you from competition.
Treat customers with respect and honesty and success will come.
The Moreno File
Collection Auto Group
Born: Colómbia, South America, but he grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Education: Went to University of Michigan and received his undergraduate degree in business.
Goal: To be the chairman of the board of GM
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
At 12-years-old, I delivered newspapers at 2 a.m. in Fort Lauderdale. My mom also owned three real estate offices so after delivering newspapers I went to work for her and ran the bookkeeping at 14 or 15 years old. That taught me that family businesses are a challenge, and it wasn’t something I was interested in.
What got you into cars?
When I went to Michigan I worked for Automobile magazine.
What was your first car?
A Honda CRX. I saw it on the cover of Car & Driver.
What was your favorite car you have owned?
I had an ’89 Ford Mustang GT. That was the coolest car.
If you had to choose a car to own off one of your lots, what would you choose?
Cars are like your children — you’re not supposed to have a favorite. But for me, Mercedes are the cars that I’m most passionate about. If I had to buy one car, it would be a S63 Mercedes.
When Jean-Paul Ebanga looks up at the sky, he thinks about the more than 3 million people who fly every day on airplanes powered by CFM International engines. In fact, every 2.4 seconds an airplane departs under the power of a CFM engine.
“That means our role today is far beyond delivering engines to the industry; it is also making sure people are traveling in a very safe way at a decent price,” says Ebanga, president and CEO of CFM International, a $15 billion aircraft engine manufacturer that is a joint venture between GE here in the U.S. and Snecma in France.
CFM — which gets its name from a combination of the two parent companies’ commercial engine designations, GE’s CF6 and Snecma’s M56 — combines the resources, engineering expertise and product support of these two engine manufacturers to build engines for narrow body aircrafts.
“Today, in the air transport industry, the narrow-body segment is the main segment of the industry,” Ebanga says. “Looking forward for the next 20 years, there will be a need for roughly 30,000 new airplanes; two-thirds of those will be narrow-body airplanes and CFM is currently leading this market segment.”
If being the industry leader in engine manufacturing wasn’t enough of a challenge, Ebanga also has the challenge of leading a joint venture company where compromise and collaboration is the key to success.
“If you are taking two parent companies with two different cultures and you try to blend them, this will generate some difficulties,” Ebanga says. “But the net result, because you have to find compromise, because you have to work between different cultures, will be more sound ideas and a much more efficient organization.”
Here’s how Ebanga utilizes both GE’s and Snecma’s resources to keep CFM the industry leader in narrow-body aircraft engine manufacturing.
Compromise and collaborate
While a majority of companies are focused on streamlining themselves, CFM has to take a different approach to its business. Its joint venture means CFM has to work to find compromise above all else in order to properly function at its best.
“The problem with the JV is because you have two different constituents, you have to make compromise,” Ebanga says. “There is no one voice saying this is the way and the rest of the team just follows without asking questions. In terms of leadership, it requires some things to be a little bit different than normal leadership.”
The existence of this additional challenge makes this kind of partnership too difficult for some leaders and companies. But Ebanga sees the glass as half-full.
“If you are able to find the sweet spot between the two company cultures and then work around these difficulties, you enable a new space of opportunities and strengths,” he says. “This is the essence of joint venture success.”
CFM has been known for a long time by its superb engine family, CFM56. Now the company is looking to release its next generation of engines called LEAP, for which compromise and collaboration will be key to its success.
“This new product will be designed based upon a very detailed and comprehensive market survey,” he says. “We spend more than three years asking the customer what they are looking for in the next 20 years and understanding in a granular way how the dynamics of the market can evolve, and then we define the product, which is the answer and the solution to that.”
When you have two companies, the reading of the market dynamics will be different because each company has a different way of operating and a different culture, so they will analyze all the signals in a different way.
“Maybe the solution has some things shared, but the two won’t be exactly the same,” Ebanga says. “The whole key is how you bridge the two approaches. How can GE or how Snecma can make the necessary compromise to accept that the other guys also have a great idea and how can you work together to bridge ideas that make a great product.”
The trick is being able to step back from what you believe is the ultimate answer and being able to compromise with other ideas from another company that also thinks they have an ultimate answer.
“By bridging the two, you find out that some of what’s behind the idea of the other company you didn’t think about at first and vice versa,” Ebanga says. “At the end, the product you are putting on the market is far better than the one you could have done alone.”
Both GE and Snecma own their own technology. Snecma works on the front and back of the engine, while GE works on the middle of the engine. For LEAP, they both have been developing technologies for their respective parts of the engine, but the companies don’t unilaterally say, ‘Here’s our part of the engine.’ The other company has to accept and agree with the technology based on analysis. There are checks and balances that go into the process.
“Based on the other company’s remarks, you can improve your own part,” he says. “Snecma might make some comments about the core, which is the responsibility of GE and taking into account these remarks GE will improve its own part of the engine and vice versa. It’s a mutual cross-pollination.”
The level of compromise and collaboration that CFM has developed has been built up during more than 30 years and is now a major part of the joint venture’s culture.
“In our case, the different GE and Snecma leaders, over time, understood that CFM’s success is more important than their own success,” Ebanga says. “That is to say that if I’m trying to optimize my own interests rather than CFM’s interests, at the end of the day, I would lose the game.”
CFM and GE have been very successful at carrying out this approach even though the leaders have changed.
“One way to do that is we manage young leaders in the challenges of working in this strategic partnership environment,” he says. “If you are growing leaders in this environment, eventually when they are in the top spot, they will have the framework to deal with what makes up the success of this JV.”
A joint venture takes an investment in both people and process in order to make it work.
“In a strategic partnership, it is like being a couple — you could fall in love day one and it’s great for a couple of weeks, but if you are not investing in the relationship … it won’t be a great love story,” he says.
Plan for the future
One of the main challenges CFM has is that in the ’70s it was just a start-up company. Now it has become the leader of the aircraft engine industry, and in order to remain in that position, Ebanga and the company must be forward-thinking.
CFM has several matters it needs to focus on for the future of the company. No. 1 is executing on current commitments.
“This is a big deal because we are currently developing a new engine family called LEAP, and the start of this new program has been very successful,” Ebanga says. “We are the sole power plant for the next generation of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, one of the two engine makers of the Airbus A320 aircraft, and we are the sole power plant of the new Chinese COMAC C919 aircraft.”
Beyond making LEAP the next engine of preference, CFM also has to ensure that whatever changes the market goes through in a decade or two from now the company will be able to adapt and reinvent itself to stay in the leading position.
“When you are in this top-dog phase, it’s difficult,” he says. “It’s about working on a short-term basis and, at the same time, articulating a strategy to change the way we are running to make sure we will still have the appropriate fit 10 years from now.”
Planning for what the future has in store is not an easy task. You need to address the situation in a very humble way.
“You are already overwhelmed by the shop-time challenges and to find time and perspective to think about the long-term is rather difficult,” Ebanga says. “Being humble helps you to engage in this journey. Along the way, you will have a lot of reasons to give up for a while and stick with the short-term. I think this is a recipe for failure. You need to stay humble on one end but also stay engaged and not let things go away.”
You also need to understand your market but not in the way you understand your market for your short-term objective.
“When you are looking at the market on a short-term basis, it is to make sure you have the appropriate marketing and value proposition to get yourself up and make your numbers,” he says. “When you are looking at the long-term perspective, it’s really the ability to elaborate scenarios about the change in your industry.” ?
How to reach: CFM International, (513) 563-4180 or www.cfmaeroengines.com
Drive compromise and collaboration for best results.
Be able to reinvent your business to adapt to your market.
Develop plans for how the future of your market may unfold.
The Ebanga File
President and CEO
Born: Paris, France
Education: Graduated from École Nationale Supérieure d'Électricité et de Mécanique (ENSEM), France with a degree in engineering
What was your very first job, and what did you take away from that experience?
I was the leader of the photo club in high school. A lesson I learned from that time is that you can have some great ideas and be very fast in your head, but you have to have the ability to bring people up to speed. This is a great example of how a real organization works.
What got you into aviation?
It was the beauty and the exceptional achievement that this industry is all about. When I was in high school, I had two dreams—the first one was to be an architect and the second was to be an engineer to design great things. To imagine that I could generate some great things to enable this kind of achievement was absolutely fascinating for me. So I chose the engineering path and it still gives me great satisfaction. An aircraft engine is an absolutely amazing piece of technology, but also a piece of art.
Who is someone that you admire in business?
My first thought was the leaders and initial creators of Intel. Not only was this company able to start from nothing as CFM did and became the leading company in the microchip/microprocessor business. Initially they were the leader in the memory business and then they reached a point where they had to reinvent themselves. The reason Intel is the great company they are today is because they were able to reinvent themselves in the absolutely right way. So I admire this generation of Intel leaders.
Ron Fauquher has told it to his team a number of times, and the obvious sarcasm with a touch of humor always makes its point.
“I don’t think anybody gets up in the morning and says, ‘Whoopee! I get to go do crappy work today!’ he says.
“I think they want to do good work. They want to serve their customers, and they want to provide the innovation necessary to succeed,” says Fauquher, co-founder and CEO of Ontario Systems LLC, a developer of debt collection business software.
While Ontario is in the software business, the reality of the situation is that the company is also in the people business.
“Being in the software business, your creativity, your innovation, your customer service, your intellectual property — they all wear shoes,” Fauquher says. “Every day, they go home, and they can choose whether or not they come back.
“They can also choose the style of how to engage, and they can choose their own particular motivation about how they engage,” he says. “So it starts, in my mind, very much with people.”
To keep his talent from going home and not coming back, Fauquher says the key can be explained in one word — alignment. To achieve that, you need collaboration. To get collaboration, you need to understand that relationships — everyone working together — are the foundation of collaboration. And with employees, you build relationships by investing in the people: training, continuing education and the like.
Fauquher says with every that degree of alignment, you can figure out what kind of innovation has to be in your product, move it through the product management cycles in a way that gets it to the customer as quickly as possible and often before the customer actually needs it.
Here’s the scoop on how Fauquher keeps the very heart of the company from walking out the door and how he energizes the nearly 300 employees to generate more than $50 million in annual revenue.
Get in the game
Alignment in the simplest terms for a business boils down to what your customers want, what you offer and how close those two things compare. That’s it. The closer they match up, the closer your alignment is and, ultimately, the more successful your business is.
Fauquher and his team realized that Ontario’s accounts receivable software clients, which range from a small collection agency to a utility company to a hospital of significant size, have to stay on their toes to keep informed of the many new regulations, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Affordable Care Act.
The company has seen enormous increases in compliance issues across the board in the last four years for his customers. To deal with the additional issues, Ontario System has had to come out with newer and newer versions of its software.
Fauquher found one effective approach was to engage with the regulators themselves, such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington, D.C.
“We wanted to create relationships there to kind of get ahead of what’s going on — what they’re thinking,” he says. “We don’t think of them as an adversary. We think that is just another business challenge.”
Fauquher says his approach is a little different from what some companies do.
“We have a listening ear and openly embrace what they’re doing partially because I don’t think they can change it but partially because that gives us an opportunity to have dialogue with them about what they are trying to do and how they are trying to do it,” he says.
But the real trump card that Fauquher suggests CEOs should have in their hands is a person in the industry. Ontario Systems has on its staff Rozanne Andersen, considered the industry expert on compliance issues.
“She is an attorney and had been general counsel for the largest association in our industry, the American Collectors Association, and eventually had a huge impact on the laws that were being written — she wrote some of them herself — but also became the singular kind of focus person on compliance in our industry,” he says.
“Rozanne spends an amount of her time teaching, dialoguing with the regulators in the state and the federal government, dialoguing with our customers on their interpretation and especially their legal people and their compliance experts. Then she helps our product managers make the appropriate adjustments in the software to deal with whatever needs to be handled.”
Invest, invest, invest
While having a virtual trump card carries with it certain benefits, it alone won’t allow you to coast in other areas. One other major card to play involves investing in your workforce.
But on the other hand, by not making the necessary investment, you are creating a roadblock for your employees, Fauquher says.
“Often, companies put barriers in their way,” he says. “Those barriers are not driven by action but often by inaction — what I mean is not actively investing; training is the first thing that gets dumped out of the budget when times are tough.”
Educational opportunities, seminars, discretionary time necessary to track business leads and speak with customers about what their needs are — these often get thrown overboard when companies are running pretty lean.
“I just don’t think that’s a good business approach,” Fauquher says. “Overall, investing in employees pays incredible dividends.”
To keep the support in your people through professional investments, you need to find other places to make cuts, he says, for example, by trimming travel costs.
“You can always, in our business, trim the travel costs; instead of sending four people to the client site, you might send two,” he says. “Engage your team in finding the necessary cost savings, not for the sake of the cost savings but so that the investment can continue on the people’s side of the fence.
You can place yourself in the position where you get to review the ideas, in effect, to do more with less.
“You have to figure out how to embrace those ideas and how to let the best ones bubble to the top,” Fauquher says. “Some of them are about cost savings, some of them are about new revenue, but all those play together to make sure that you’re not cutting back on the really important stuff, which is your investment in your team.”
Align the employees — and the leaders
Once you are investing in your employees on a regular basis, that’s not the end of the alignment process. You have to keep the leadership team aligned as well.
Fauquher found it effective to divide the leadership into groups, such as an executive leadership team and a broader leadership team. The first team takes in the supervisors who manage the different functional areas in the organization. The broader team consists of all the individuals who supervise people or those who have an influential role in the customer base or in the partnership network such that they are impact players.
The broader leadership team meets one hour a week in the Operations Council. The group discusses information needed to run the business.
“They get a lot of information on costs, revenue, they get a lot of information on customer issues, they get a lot of information on the various product lines so they can appropriately infuse that information down throughout the team and lead their team,” he says.
Then every weekday morning at 9, the executive team meets for 30 minutes in an information-heavy session. First, the business intelligence people give an update of relevant things that happened in the industry the previous day, new regulations, items they pick up, in about a 12-minute summary.
“If you do that every day, you all start to get a different sense about the trends in the industry,” Fauquher says. “You start to hear about things that are going on, and you start to make connections in different ways.”
Next is a 10-minute update from the VP of sales on how business closed the previous day, deals that are in process, where he needs help from members of the team to close deals to get that business, and new business trends that are coming down the pike.
“Then we have two five-minute updates from our operations folks about what is going on in the business, where the issues have been escalated, and generally those are problems that need attention or at least awareness from the executive leadership team, so we can quickly respond to those customers,” Fauquher says.
“The last part is a round-robin of every member — basically where do you need help today, where are you stuck, and do you need help? And any other relevant information members of the team need to know.”
The same team meets for an hour every Thursday for a tactical meeting to deal with issues that need a little more discussion. Finally, that team spends one day a month working on strategic issues.
“What happens is the team is always in alignment. They rarely are not in alignment, and if they are not, it is a quick adjustment at the next meeting.” ?
How to reach: Ontario Systems LLC, (765) 751-7000 or www.ontariosystems.com
The Fauquher File
Co-founder and CEO
Ontario Systems LLC
Born: I am an Indiana boy! I was actually born in Evansville, but I grew up in Muncie. My dad was a Ball Corp. executive.
Education: I went to Purdue University, and got an undergraduate degree in industrial management and computer science. Then I went to work at General Motors and got a master’s degree in finance and economics from Ball State University. So I am about as Hoosier as you can get.
What was your first job and did you learn from it?
My very first job was an evening paper route. Then I figured out, ‘I know all these customers, I’ll get a morning paper route.’ And then I said, ‘I know all these people so I will get TV Guide route.’ And then you remember the newspaper Grit? So I got a Grit route. The thing that I learned most was that was back in the day of cash collections. Most people paid you freely, but often I had a collection problem. So you have to figure out what to do. But my first business was an accounts receivable and distribution business! I think I was making 10 bucks a week, and I was the richest 14-year-old kid in the neighborhood.
Who do you admire in business?
One is my business partner Will Davis. He is the architect of the company culture and very much the father of Ontario Systems because it was his idea. Two other people that I admire a great deal include Kelly Stanley who was CEO of Ontario Corp. and Van Smith, who was the chairman of Ontario Corp. — extraordinary business people, extraordinary innovators, and extraordinarily caring about people. They knew how to build businesses; they knew how to encourage young entrepreneurs like me.
What is the best business advice you ever received?
As I was a young entrepreneur going to build a business, trying to make sure that we did things right, that we did things ethically really came from Van Smith in particular. I can hear him saying it now that the way you make business decisions, in order to get them right, you must make a decision this way: people, customers, facilities and technology and money, in that order. If you think about the impact on the people and doing the right thing for them, they will take care of the customer, the customer will take care of you, which allows you to invest appropriately in facilities and technology and at the end of the day, you will make money.
What is your definition of business success?
I suppose that probably has changed since I was 20. I think it is far more than financial success. Business success is when you can have a respected organization that is respected by your customers, that is appreciated for who you are and what you do and how you help them — that is an organization in which the associates that work there are proud to say that they work there. This comes down to not just business success because if you have business success in terms of financial success, that allows you to sustain the business.
But it’s much, much more than that. It is about being a good community citizen. It is about supporting the needs and desires and educations and motivations of your team. It is about caring for the team member who might be in distress. So it’s very much about not just being a good place to work but and accountable member and an admired member of the community. If you do all that well, that’s a pretty nice place to be.