When Gary Shamis, Bob Littman and Mark Goldfarb created the accounting and business consulting firm SS&G Inc. in 1987, the trio had a vision that defied the traditional accounting world.

Their radical idea:  Focus on people.

“It was a real sweatshop kind of mentality for the profession,” Goldfarb says. “You worked 3,000 hours a year [eight hours a day, every day of the year]. We opened it up and created opportunities for people who worked part-time.”

That was the genesis of the partners’ philosophy that today continues to define how SS&G differentiates itself from the competition:  growth, client service, and an employee-centric culture.

“All three work together harmoniously,” says Shamis, senior managing director. “If you have them all going, and you focus on it, the results can be very positive.”

You’ll notice that absent among the three is the notion of operating with a generous supply of black ink.

“We always felt that partner profitability and things like that were going to be a byproduct of doing all the other things right, so we didn't focus our business on enhancing the bottom line of the owners,” Shamis says. “We focused our business on cultural aspects that we thought would be good for our people, good for our clients, and in the end, what we thought would be good for us.

“We publish stories about client service going above and beyond in terms of, say, driving through a snowstorm to deliver a tax return,” says Goldfarb, senior managing director. “We really try to make that part of the culture, so that when somebody calls, everyone knows here, you had better call that client back; if not immediately, certainly within the next business day.”

This mentality has helped the partners and their teams spark significant growth over the past few decades. From a small firm with about 10 employees, SS&G has grown to more than 500 employees at 12 offices in eight cities in four states, including new offices in Chicago. With annual revenue of $70 million, SS&G ranks among the top 100 independent accounting firms in the U.S., including being named the 41st largest U.S. accounting firm by Accounting Today.

Here’s how Shamis, Goldfarb and Littman grew the firm by emphasizing its differentiation and is taking steps to ensure SS&G continues long into the future.

Get the talent

Accounting had been a traditionally male-dominated industry until the 1980s, when it reached parity. In recent years, however, women have been rapidly joining the ranks.

So with an eye on whom and where the talent was coming from, SS&G years ago established a plan that fit lifestyle concerns and issues into the firm’s culture.

“Most of our offices are suburban,” Shamis says. “Many other large accounting firms are downtown. Suburban locations make it a lot easier for somebody who is female and raising a family to be more accessible to what she needs access to — and it really became a focus on being able to try to hire these professionals who were women in their family-raising years.

“We have been able to get this incredible, top-notch talent, but we had to create an environment that was slightly different,” he says.

And, Goldfarb says, this has contributed to such a positive work environment at SS&G that it has become genetic.

“We are told all the time from people we hire that this is such a great, warm environment here compared to where they worked in a previous life,” he says. “It's something that is really part of our DNA.”

With a powerful corporate DNA in place, you can then develop a culture that attracts talent by which you can grow a company.

“It’s important that everybody here understands the culture; it's important that we follow it, we preach it,” says Littman, SS&G’s managing director. “Our organization is obviously about people. And to attract key people, you have to grow. If you don't grow, you can't find the talent and you can't keep the talent. Growth has been important, and that is why we have been a Weatherhead 100 company more than 10 times.”

Be creative in your growth

Creativity comes in many forms. SS&G looked at the kind of organic growth it had achieved over the years and took an entrepreneurial path.

First, the partners began to develop specialized divisions.

“We formed a wealth management business almost 20 years ago,” Goldfarb says. “Health care consulting, probably 15 years ago; payroll, 30 years ago; SS&G Parkland, which is our consulting division, was created last year.”

In an effort to strengthen this differentiation, SS&G opted to mold itself as a one-stop shop for clients and their financial service needs.

“These businesses share the same culture of being employee-centric,” Goldfarb says. “All share the same client service culture and growth for the purpose of creating opportunities for employees.”

In addition to creating new divisions, SS&G also played a large part in creating an association of accounting firms. Shamis led the formation of the Leading Edge Alliance, of which SS&G has been a member for 10 years.

Leading Edge firms share best practices. Goldfarb says it has been an invaluable asset — not just to SS&G but to all the organizations and their respective clients.

Develop a succession plan

While your company may have established a name for itself through differentiation, all the years of building that reputation can be lost in a flash if, for example, a new leadership team comes in with different ideas. Thus the need for a succession plan.

SS&G recently completed a reorganization of the firm’s leadership, and then spent more than a year preparing the company for the transition.

The plan signaled to SS&G employees that Littman, Shamis and Goldfarb were focused on the long-term future of the firm and intended to protect it from the confusion and disorder that often happens whenever there is a shakeup of any size.

Doing so also allowed the trio to help boost morale, motivation and satisfaction among employees since more than likely there will be other changes, such as promotions and movement across positions. Also, it helps clients reduce any fears that the team they’re used to working with will still be there for them.

Under SS&G’s succession plan, Littman assumes the managing director role. Shamis and Goldfarb take on lesser roles, but remain very involved with the firm.

“I have been the managing partner for close to 30 years, and I’ve had a great run,” Shamis says. “It is a lot to give up, but I am starting to realize that there is a lot to look forward to in terms of Bob running this organization.”

And that optimism extends to how SS&G will continue to differentiate itself from the competition.

“I am really excited to see what this place is going to look like down the road,” Shamis says. “I think it is even going to exceed where it is today.”

How to reach: SS&G Inc., (440) 248-8787 or www.ssandg.com

 

Takeaways

Getting the talent is a priority.

Be creative in finding growth options.

Draw up a succession plan and live by it.

 

The File

 

Mark Goldfarb, senior managing director

Bob Littman, managing director

Gary Shamis, senior managing director

SS&G Inc.

 

Born: All in Greater Cleveland/Akron

What was your very first job and what did you learn from it?

Gary: My first job was in a place called Mr. Junior's on Cedar Road in University Heights. I sold boys clothes. I think I learned if you work hard, and make the commitment, then good things will happen.

Mark: A caddy at Fairlawn Country Club. Certainly you learned etiquette and you learned service.

Bob: I was a tennis instructor. What I really learned from that was dealing with people, trying to help people.

What is the best business advice you ever received?

Gary: Try to work on your business instead of in your business. That was a big change for me and for our firm years ago. The firm allowed me to begin working on the business. And in that time frame, I think our firm has grown probably 600 or 700 percent.

Mark: People do business with people they like. Relationships are very important in the business world. That was from my father, Bernard Goldfarb.

Bob: I don't want to copy off Mark, but relationships are really important to me as is taking time to get to know people and build meaningful relationships.

What is your definition of business success?

Mark: If you do a great job for your clients, and you treat your employees well, success will follow.

Bob: I certainly think similar to what Mark has said and that's building relationships, creating an opportunity for other people in this organization so they can do the same and also being able to go to work, personally anyways, and have fun and enjoy it. It's not a job; it's a career.

Gary: I have a really narrow view of this and people know that. For more than 32 years, I have always felt that if you can be a little bit better next year than you were last year then that is going to drive success. I think constant improvement, the ability to continually try to get better, to not be satisfied with the status quo, has really been a huge driver for me.

Mark on the succession plan:

It's just been a tremendous ride for all of us the last 26 years. I will continue to be responsible for managing the firm’s Akron office, serve on the firm’s executive committee, chair the firm’s finance committee, act as the liaison to SS&G Healthcare and SS&G Parkland, develop larger business opportunities and continue as a client service partner

Bob on the succession plan:

Mark and Gary are not retiring. This is part of the succession plan and they still have very, very important roles here with the firm to help execute certain growth strategies and still be involved in the management of the organization. We have viewed the succession as an evolution and not an event from the beginning. Gary will be actively involved in leading the firm’s growth strategy, including geographic and existing office.  He will also focus on a restaurant initiative and other large opportunities.

Gary on the succession plan:

I really think Bob has the abilities to drive this firm to even more successful and higher levels than we've operated at in the past. I just think that this firm happens to be incredibly lucky, blessed, or whatever you want to call it, to have Bob Littman take over the practice.

Published in Cleveland

Over and over again, Lorry Wagner has heard Northeast Ohio business and government officials asking, “Why offshore wind and why Ohio?” Wagner and his team at Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. are asking those people, “Why not?”

Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. or LEEDCo, is a regional non-profit and economic development organization building an offshore wind energy industry in Ohio. Offshore wind refers to the construction of wind farms in bodies of water to generate electricity. Wagner, a seasoned wind energy engineer and a longstanding member of the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force, is president of Cleveland-based LEEDCo, a position he assumed in May 2010.

“The Cleveland Foundation had been looking at expanding their role in the community through economic development and they identified energy as one of the areas that made sense for them to support,” Wagner says. “The particular aspect of the energy industry that fit our skill set the best was offshore wind.”

From 2004 until 2009 when LEEDCo was formed, Cuyahoga County and Lorain County officials were involved in an energy task force to explore whether or not this idea made sense. They concluded that there was no reason not to develop offshore wind in the region.

“LEEDCo was an outgrowth of the task force because they realized they needed a business to push this forward,” Wagner says.

Now Wagner and his team are fighting for federal funding as well as the support of local officials to help people realize the benefits of offshore wind to the Northeast Ohio region.

One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of LEEDCo’s efforts is the standoffish attitude of some key people who could help bring offshore wind to the region.

“The biggest challenge is that many people around here think that if we just work harder and the economy comes back, life will be like it used to be,” Wagner says. “In 1950, we had 914,000 people in Cleveland. Today we’ve got 393,000 and we went from No. 7 to No. 47 in the country because of that thinking.

“We just keep skating where the puck is instead of skating to where the puck is going to be.” That’s the biggest challenge facing LEEDCo — the attitude of people who refuse to see the benefit of a new energy source that is booming in places like Europe.

“We’re trying to do something that’s a $200 billion business around the world,” he says. “Wouldn’t you think that somebody would say, ‘It’s a $200 billion business and all these major companies around the world are doing it, shouldn’t we try it and see if it works?’”

Offshore wind energy is a matter of doing something that this region is going to benefit from.

“It is a proven job generation engine,” he says. “Over 50,000 jobs in Europe have been created and given the pathway Europe is on now, it will probably create upward of 200,000 jobs. If it can be competitive, there is no doubt it will create jobs.”

The kind of jobs offshore wind would create is mostly in the services industry. They are good paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.

“Once you develop the jobs in a region, they stay there,” Wagner says.

Offshore wind energy is also renewable, cleans up the environment, has a stable price for 20 years, and doesn’t have a fuel cost. It’s a game changer in the utility industry.

“It certainly isn’t the earth-shaking industry that the Internet has been, but look at what’s happened to all of the traditional companies who ruled the world 20 years ago,” Wagner says. “Many of those have changed. We’re in a similar situation when it comes to energy, because the major utilities are used to being a monopoly and running the show. That is shifting.”

According to Wagner, most people under the age of 40 understand offshore wind energy and support the idea. Many retired people do as well.

“The challenge is getting people 40 to 65 to do something different and if I had the answer to that, I’d be king of the world,” he says.

To help push their effort forward, LEEDCo has been on a mission to receive federal funding.

“Right now we have about 12 partners working on the first phase of a federal grant,” Wagner says. “Out of 60-some applicants, seven projects were chosen for Department of Energy funding. We were one of those projects and the only one in the Great Lakes.”

LEEDCo has a target of February 12, 2014 to submit its next proposal to the Department of Energy.

“We compete against six other teams for the final round of funding and three projects will be funded,” he says. “That’s what we are focused on.”

How to reach: Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., (216) 241-9201 or www.leedco.org

Published in Cleveland

Aggregate value of domestic M&A transactions continues to swell despite a reduced number of announced deals, with dollars committed in May surpassing last year’s pace, supported by several billion-dollar-plus strategic buys.

Strategic buyers are actively pursuing acquisitions, incentivized by a slow organic growth environment and abundant cash reserves. S&P 500 companies are sitting on $1.7 trillion in cash and need to put money to work in higher earning assets. Competition for quality acquisition opportunities remains fierce, with industry buyers showing an increased willingness to pay premium valuations for growth and quantifiable synergies.

May highlights support a healthy strategic buyer appetite:

A. Schulman Inc. announced it was acquiring Akron-based Network Polymers Inc., a niche compounder of thermoplastic resins and alloys, bringing complementary business in specialty engineered plastics ABS and ASA. The deal is expected to strengthen its U.S. market presence by increasing penetration in key end markets such as building and construction, agricultural products and lawn and garden, as well as expand its distribution business. Schulman intends to continue an aggressive bolt-on acquisition strategy in its specialty plastics business, as well as other opportunities for transformational acquisitions.

The Timken Co. acquired Standard Machine Ltd., its fifth acquisition in 2013. The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada-based company provides new gearboxes, gearbox service and repair, open gearing, large fabrication, machining, and field technical services to the mining, oil and gas, and pulp and paper markets. The acquisition will expand Timken’s industrial services capabilities.

TransDigm Group Inc. announced it was acquiring Arkwin Industries Inc., a Westbury, New York-based manufacturer of hydraulic and fuel system components for commercial and military aircraft, helicopters and other specialty applications. Arkwin is TransDigm’s second acquisition this year, following Aerosonic Corp. in April, a Clearwater, Florida-based manufacturer of proprietary air data sensing, test and display components for use primarily in the business jet, helicopter and military markets. Both transactions were completed in June.

PolyOne Corp. completed the sale of its vinyl dispersion, blending and suspension resin assets to Mexichem SAB de CV. Assets acquired include manufacturing plants in Pedricktown, New Jersey; Henry, Illinois; and a resin research facility in Avon Lake, Ohio.

 

Deal of the Month

Its second major strategic partnership in the last four months, Cincinnati’s Catholic Health Partners announced an agreement with Kaiser Permanente of Ohio to acquire its existing health plan, medical group practice and care delivery operations in Northeast Ohio, which services more than 80,000 members. The transaction follows CHP’s February purchase of a minority ownership stake in Akron’s Summa Health System Inc., one of the largest integrated health care delivery systems in Ohio.

CHP is the largest health system in Ohio, serving the metropolitan markets of Cincinnati, Toledo, Youngstown, Lima, Lorain, Springfield, and Tiffin. Through its integrated health care delivery network, comprised of hospitals, long-term care facilities, home health agencies, wellness centers, and hospice programs, the company is estimated to service 38 percent of Ohio’s residents throughout 28 counties.

 

Andrew Petryk is managing director and principal of Brown Gibbons Lang & Co. LLC, an investment bank serving the middle market. Contact him at (216) 920-6613 or apetryk@bglco.com

Published in Cleveland

For Philip Rielly and Eric Hill, the past five years have been a very different experience compared to most others in the business world during that time. While many companies were hunkering down, cutting back and fighting to stay in business, Rielly and Hill were nurturing the healthy growth of a young company.

In fact, in just the past three years they have seen their company’s employment and revenue double. Rielly and Hill are co-founders of BioRx LLC, a more than 200-employee national provider and distributor of specialty pharmaceuticals they started in 2004.

Hill, who is vice president, is located in North Carolina, while Rielly, who is president, is in Cincinnati where BioRx is headquartered. The company, now nine years old, has been exceeding expectations, and there are no signs of it slowing down anytime soon.

“Since 2010 we have continued our strong growth trajectory as we hoped that we would,” Rielly says. “We finished this past year north of $100 million in sales. We’ve been fortunate to launch a number of new semi-exclusive products with some of the different manufacturers.”

Since 2010, BioRx has become a prominent player in the Hereditary Angioedema space and a major player in the Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiencies space.

“Some of the other changes since 2010 are we announced that we were going to be a semi-exclusive distribution partner for a firm out of New Jersey called NPS Pharmaceuticals and we opened three new regional pharmacy and distribution centers,” Hill says. “Those are in Boston, Scottsdale, Ariz., and San Diego, Calif. Those are three large investments for us.”

Needless to say BioRx has been doing the right things to remain on a growth track. Now Rielly and Hill have to keep it going.

Here’s how they have grown the company through strategic planning and developing the right partnerships.

Take advantage of growth drivers

When Rielly and Hill first started BioRx, they had a different idea behind specialty pharmaceuticals than most other national companies. While others were switching to a less personalized mail order model, Rielly and Hill saw an opportunity to offer a higher care model and focus on the patient.

Since seeing that opportunity they have been aggressively pushing the company forward.

“We’ve taken a bullish approach from day one when we set the company up, and we’ve been very aggressive with respect to adding new geographies and new regions,” Rielly says. “We’ve certainly added quite a few new account managers in the field, so we really focus our market on the four P’s in the pharmaceutical space with respect to customers.

“In the physician marketplace, we’ve expanded the number of representatives calling on the physicians across the country to open new geographies to where we’re now truly a national company.”

The biggest driver for BioRx at this point has been developing relationships with the different biotech companies and manufacturers.

“They’ve entrusted us with some of their new therapies,” he says. “In many cases we are just one of a handful of companies in the world who has access to selling these drugs. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to get those relationships.”

When a company is growing at the rate BioRx has, it is often easy to focus on one big area of growth and forget about other areas. That has not been the case with BioRx.

“This hasn’t been a one-trick growth pony,” Hill says. “We’ve purposefully and carefully invested in multiple strategies that have the opportunity to provide us growth. We’ve executed pretty well on all of them, but the key thing to take away is that we haven’t put all of our eggs in one basket in terms of our strategy to provide continued and sustainable growth for the company. It’s been a measured approach across many fronts.”

Over the course of the business as it has scaled, Rielly and Hill have continued to reinvest in it.

“We’ve taken every dime of free cash that we can find and judiciously invested that into both infrastructure to allow us to grow, but most importantly into infrastructure that provides that growth such as opening new markets, hiring sales people, adding new product lines and adding infrastructure,” Hill says.

“At the same time, we have to ensure that we’re not getting ahead of the company’s ability to finance it so we can maintain a robust and strong balance sheet, which is a business killer for a lot of small companies.”

While maintaining a strong balance sheet is one challenge of a growing company, there are many other obstacles that come along with growth. One challenge is hiring.

“Even with the unemployment rate at what it is, I would say that we still have a challenge finding and recruiting some of the very best people,” Rielly says. “We set a very high bar for the quality of folks that we hire. We’ve really had very little turnover, but with the continuous growth we’ve enjoyed, it is a challenge to continue to grab those folks.”

One strategy that BioRx has implemented is hiring people for an associate-level sales position and having them train with more senior employees to learn the ropes.

“It eliminates some of the risk down the road of having a bad hire,” he says. “We’re also working closely with some of the local universities. That way we have an in on recruiting down the road, and it’s a good way for us to give back.”

Another way the company stays on top of hiring challenges is to be on the lookout for great candidates all the time.

“It may not be today, but it may be three months or six months from now that we’ll need talent,” Hill says. “When the opportunity to hire somebody comes along, we need to already have a portfolio of folks we’ve been talking to. That dialogue helps gets those jobs filled quicker and with better talent.”

Develop strategies

Most of BioRx’s growth to this point has been organic growth. However, Rielly and Hill are always looking for the next partnership that will benefit the company and its patients. Last year the company made an acquisition to help it reach new customers.

“Coagulife Pharmacy is the only acquisition that we have done to date,” Rielly says. “Our strategy from day one has always been through internal growth and continuing to reinvest in new talent and organic growth. But Coagulife presented itself. That situation was a unique opportunity for us to add a different skill set.”

Coagulife deals specifically in the hemophilia space. Many hemophilia patients have target joint bleeds and what ends up happening is many of them require an orthopedic procedure down the road. Many of those can be avoided or helped with some type of aggressive physical therapy, which is what Coagulife offers.

“So we’re rolling out a national program that is very specific to physical therapy and exercise regimens,” he says.

A large part of BioRx’s ability to find strategic partners and develop those relationships is because the company makes it a priority to plan for those kinds of things.

“You have to have a plan, but also the wherewithal to follow through on a plan without respect to different challenges that come up,” Rielly says. “Whatever the long-term plan is you have to stick with it and keep going forward even when it doesn’t feel comfortable from time to time.”

BioRx thinks of strategic planning in the two-to-five-year range.

“The easiest thing for us to plan is organic, new market openings and sales infrastructure growth by prioritizing the markets we believe have opportunity in each of our business units,” Hill says. “Then it’s just budgeting out the velocity with which we can deploy capital and money to put those people in place to enter and burst into new markets for us.”

Rielly and Hill constantly talk about the next five markets the company is going to crack into with a new therapy or a sales rep to put an operating unit in place.

“We’ve done a good job of sticking to that,” he says. “We kind of know where our next five, six, seven, or eight investments are going to be and in which business units we want to be plunking those bets down.”

During the strategic planning process you have to be willing to think about some far-fetched goals while also being reasonable about what can be achieved in your plan’s window of time.

“Dream big and shoot for the stars, but be realistic with respect to what it’s going to take to achieve those goals,” Rielly says. “Be realistic with how much capital it’s going to require to get from point A to point B. But don’t be afraid to dream big and swing for the fences.”

The key to achieving goals set forth in a strategic plan is having a great team around you.

“If we have done anything, we have hired a fantastic management team and our bench strength is pretty deep,” Hill says. “I think either one of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow and the company wouldn’t have a whole lot of issues. We have managers and operators that we turn loose to let them earn their stripes. Those guys know where our next bets need to be.”

How to reach: BioRx LLC, (866) 442-4679 or www.biorx.net

Takeaways

Determine your growth factors.

Develop strategic partnerships to help expand.

Have a planning process for the future.

 

The Rielly and Hill File

 

Philip Rielly

President and Co-founder

BioRx LLC

 

Eric Hill

Vice President and Co-founder

BioRx LLC

 

Rielly: Born in Cincinnati

Rielly: Education: Graduated from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., with a BS in business communications.

Hill: Born in Bassett, Va.

Hill: Education: Graduated from Wake Forest University with a degree in psychology.

How did you first meet each other? And why did you start BioRx?

We both met working for another national company. We saw the trend of many national companies going to a mail order model with less personalized care, and we felt that we could create a market by going with a higher care model.

What has been your favorite thing about growing BioRx?

Rielly: The most rewarding part is building a team and watching the team grow. We’re making a very positive impact on the lives of each of the patients in which we touch and there’s not a week that goes by that we don’t get a patient testimonial about the ways our team members went above and beyond. I find that extraordinarily rewarding.

Hill: It is awfully refreshing to wake up every day knowing that we get to set the direction. It’s a lot of fun being in an entrepreneurial environment and getting to spread that spirit around the organization.

What excites you both about the future of BioRx?

Hill: I’m excited about the fact that sooner than later we are going to be a $200 million company. We also have a new drug launch happening and it has the opportunity to be a significant sea change in both the lives of the patients that we’re treating and the marketplace for one of our operating units in a way that’s transformative.

Rielly: In the last few months, we’ve aggressively hired and opened new geographical territories and I’m excited to see the initial successes. We have the best team in place that we’ve ever had and I’m excited for them to achieve their personal goals.

Published in Cincinnati
Thursday, 06 June 2013 11:36

EC=MC: The new law of marketing

Every Company is a Media Company. It’s a phrase coined some eight years ago by tech journalist Tom Foremski to describe the impact of technology on marketing.

From the Internet to Wi-Fi to smartphones, a tectonic shift has taken place with technology forever changing the landscape of marketing, just as radio and television did before.

Only this time, it’s different. This time, the power has shifted from the hands of a few hundred powerful media outlets to the hands of billions of consumers.

At the same time, companies like yours have been handed powerful tools and an unparalleled opportunity to engage with customers like never before. It’s not just in the obvious new places like mobile websites, apps and the media. Technology has made it easier and cheaper to communicate through video, live events and, yes, even print publications.

Like it or not, you are a media company.

So what’s a media mogul like you to do? You need to do one thing: create content. And you need to do it well. You need to create content that generates interest among your target customer base and engages them with your organization.

It might sound easy, but it’s not. Most business leaders know that effective communication is one of the biggest challenges any company faces. When that communication is what sets you apart in the minds of your customers and prospects, the stakes are all the higher.

Here are a few important points to keep in mind as you set about embracing your new role as a media company.

Be where your audience is

Content comes in many forms. Most of us 40- or 50-something business executives are more comfortable reading printed material. Flipping through your brochure, newsletter or even your own custom magazine is comfortable for us. So hand us something.

But younger VPs and 20-somethings — many of whom do the heavy lifting of researching company buying decisions — are more comfortable gaining intel online. They scour videos on YouTube, mine infographics on visual.ly and peruse PowerPoints on SlideShare. So take the time to figure out which of these is the right channel to reach your target customer.

Share knowledge, not platitudes

Yeah, we get it. Your people are smarter, their customer service is better and their breath smells fresher longer. But that’s not why we might be interested in your business.

What we want to know is how you’re going to solve our problems and make our lives easier. We don’t want you to tell us you are smarter; we want you to show us you are smarter.

Thought leadership articles, white papers and blog posts showcase your knowledge of industries, issues and tactics. They differentiate you from your competitors and position you as a subject matter expert in your market.

Talk about customers more than yourself

The best communicators are great storytellers. Stories resonate. They connect us. They are, simply, what we remember.

Sharing client success stories is one of the best ways to tell your own story. The tried-and-true case study is one of the most effective forms of content in a marketer’s arsenal. If you show us how you can make our businesses faster, better, stronger, we will do business with you. It’s that simple.

And if you have particularly well known and respected clients, you get the added benefit of basking in their reflected glory. Welcome to the media business. Now go tell your story.

Michael Marzec is chief strategy officer of Smart Business Network and SBN Interactive. Reach him at mmarzec@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7078.

Published in National
Thursday, 06 June 2013 11:29

When the customer isn’t right

Every year for the past seven years, I’ve had the privilege of hearing executives from many of the region’s top organizations passionately explain how they deliver world-class customer service. And every year, I’ve come away from this experience armed with new ideas.

This year, one idea posited gave me pause. At the same time, however, it reaffirmed one of my long-held beliefs that seems diametrically opposed to the usual mantra, “The customer is always right.”

In describing their competitive advantage, two executives cited their ability to effectively tell clients what they don’t want to hear. They reset conventional wisdom and succinctly explain to clients why what they believe to be correct often isn’t. And then, they offer better solutions. This, they said, is one reason why they have prospered.

Think about this. With the exception of trusted advisers — typically lawyers, accountants and bankers, people whom we intentionally pay to set us straight — nearly everyone else we contract with is given the expectation that we want what we want, when we want it and sometimes even how we want it done.

On the surface, telling your clients “No” flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But in reality, it makes perfect sense.

Take, for example, these two entrepreneurs. They assigned a key business success metric to telling clients “No” and then explaining why they should do something they may not want to do or are simply reluctant to incorporate. They believe that the best customer service delivery may contradict a client’s wishes. But, at the same time, it provides a better solution that will lead to even greater success — and higher client satisfaction.

A critical element of any top-notch customer service initiative is showing clients you truly care about them. You can’t give this lip service. Your actions must be real. Demonstrate a genuine desire to forge and foster a real partnership and the client will recognize whatever solutions — or services — you provide are developed because you truly believe they are what are best for the client’s organization.

Isn’t this the essence of what your clients and customers pay you for — to provide them with the best possible solution for their business pain point?

One of my friends has fired dozens of clients because they refused to listen to advice they paid him to provide or failed to incorporate solutions they paid him to create — all of which were designed to fix systematic problems with their businesses that they didn’t see. His reasoning was straightforward: Why partner with a company that you know is going to fail because their management team is already set on a solution that won’t work?

Experience painfully taught him that the end result is always the same: Clients will still blame you for their own mistakes — even if they choose that direction instead of the one you provide them with. When that happens, they say you weren’t forceful enough in selling them on your solution or that you didn’t adequately warn them they would fail.

The bottom line here is simple:  Anyone can turn service delivery into a commodity. Just become an order taker. But only a select few can think differently about customer service. Those that truly understand the value of pointing out when a client is wrong in his or her assertions, and is willing to risk the loss of business in order to do what’s right for that client, will more often than not succeed. Better yet, they will gain a lifetime of trust.

Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations of SBN Interactive, publishers of Smart Business magazine. Reach him at dsklein@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7026.

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 06 June 2013 11:22

Dare to dream big

When Ted Turner launched CNN, there were plenty of people who said a 24-hour news network would never fly.

But Turner saw a problem: He enjoyed watching the news, but his busy schedule typically had him missing the standard news broadcast time. That’s when he got the idea: What if the news was on all the time? He couldn’t be the only one who was unable to fit a regular broadcast into his schedule, so he knew the demand was there.

The next step was to dream big. What if the news was on all the time, not just locally, not just regionally, but nationally and even internationally? The result was the first 24-hour cable news network. It took a lot of effort to get CNN to where it is today, but Turner’s dream was realized. His big dream yielded a big result.

People need to dream big. If you never take the time to dream big, great things probably aren’t going to happen for you.

We have the power to visualize our future. A professional athlete visualizes hitting the game-winning shot so that when the time comes, he or she expects to succeed. As CEOs, we must also visualize ourselves and our organizations achieving great things. We must see where we want to be and then convince those around us to help us get there. When you can articulate the vision in a way that makes it as clear to them as it is to you, your goals will be easier to accomplish.

Here are four steps to achieving great things:

 

 

  • Have you dreamt big enough? If you aren’t visualizing your business achieving all its goals and growing the way you want it to, it might be holding you back.

 

 

  • Take time to reflect on the dream. Let it simmer as you consider the obstacles that will have to be overcome to achieve your dream.

 

 

  • When you are comfortable that you have thought it through, share the dream with people you trust. They can point out challenges you may have overlooked or offer encouragement to keep you moving.

 

 

  • Get started. Big dreams don’t happen without hard work. Lay out the steps that will get you from where you are today to where you want to be and start working toward your goal. You won’t get there overnight, so focus on taking small steps toward your vision each day. Sell others on your dream so they can help you get there.

 

 

Don’t be satisfied with small achievements. Visualize your potential and the potential of your organization. With hard work, you can turn it into a reality. Dare to dream big.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800)988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

In order to succeed in business you need to have inner confidence - that state of feeling certain about and trusting in yourself. You can have confidence in your goals, your team, your system and your family, but if you lack self-confidence, you are missing the main ingredient for success.

Lack of confidence makes it harder to:

 

 

  • Make sound decisions

 

 

  • Lead others

 

 

  • Perform tasks and duties correctly

 

 

  • Get a raise or promotion

 

 

Today I will provide you with 5 confidence tools that you should use on a daily basis in your business and professional life.

Let's get started!

Confidence Tool #1 - Focus

As I mentioned last month in 5 Tips for Improving Your Focus as a Busy Professional - over the years in my coaching and speaking, I have found focus to be of the utmost importance for success in the workplace. Too many professionals try to "fly by the seat of their pants" and lack any ability to direct their attention.

To use the tool of focus effectively, you must first determine the things that need your concentration and focus. Take the time to assess and evaluate them. What should come first, second and so on.

Once you have things evaluated and set out, laser-target your focus and do not allow yourself to be swayed away from the task at hand.

Knowing what needs your attention and intently focusing on those needs helps free the mind of distractions that lead to second-guessing and lack of confidence. This builds motivation that in turn leads to building a positive energy that helps you remain calm and focused during times of stress.

Focus prepares the mind for action.

Confidence Tool #2 - Mentorship

Anthony Robbins and others have talked a lot in recent years about modeling the success of successful people. The idea is to find someone who is successful in your area of work or expertise and do what they do - modeling their successful behaviors.

While I agree that this is helpful, I have always felt that simple modeling comes up short. When I model, I am left to my own devices. I am forced to determine just what it is that has made the person successful. In essence, I have to guess.

Mentorship overcomes this shortfall. Mentoring involves working directly with someone who can help you find your strengths and weaknesses in business. Mentoring takes the guesswork out of the process.

Find someone in your area who is a leader - someone who has achieved a level of success and ask him or her to mentor you. Work with their schedule to find times where you can meet and discuss your needs and desires related to your business.

I have found that many leaders enjoy the ability to mentor others.

Can you see how this tool can help with your inner confidence? It is powerful!

Confidence Tool # 3 - Attitude

You can become the smartest, well-trained and mentored individual with the absolute worst attitude and that attitude will lead to your demise.

Zig Ziglar said it this way:

"Attitude, not aptitude, determines altitude."

How high you fly in the world of business is determined not by how much you know, but by the power of your positive attitude.

Ziglar was a trainer and teacher for dozens of years; he was not speaking against you learning new things and being mentored by the best. It's a matter of perspective.

Truly confident people - not those who think confidence is made up of simple arrogance, are those who have a great attitude toward business, work and life. These are the ones that co-workers want to follow.

Attitude moves your action forward.

Confidence Tool #4 - Exercise

In her article: Get Ahead at Work: 5 Ways to Increase Your Confidence In Business, Kelly Lynn Adams talks about the role exercise plays in developing confidence in business.

She states:

"Exercise has been shown to improve both mental health (by releasing mood-improving endorphins) and physical wellbeing (by reducing the likelihood of illnesses) while also improving the way you feel about yourself. So, whether you prefer to dance, go to the gym, run outside, bike, take a yoga class or box, get moving. It may just pay off, literally!"

I could not have said it better!

Exercise provides strength for action.

Confidence Tool # 5 - Action

I have been hinting all along in this article that there is one very important tool that must be used in order develop the confidence needed to achieve true success in business.

That tool is action.

We must get up, get moving and get out there on a daily basis. Actual hands-on doing is a powerful provider of self-confidence. Action defines the muscle of confidence. Consistent, daily action makes that muscle strong.

When focus, mentorship, attitude, and exercise bolster action, inner confidence no longer becomes a struggle we face.

Use these tools and develop the confidence you need to achieve your wildest dreams in business.

DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” Contact her via email at info@delorespressley.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.

Published in Columnist

Since January 2006, when Jim Weddle first took over the managing partner position at Edward Jones, he has kept a keen focus on growing the investment firm to new heights. In 2007 he and his team laid out a five-year plan that they updated in 2010, but that was a mere steppingstone to the vision the firm rolled out last year.

In January 2012, Weddle unleashed what Edward Jones is calling its Vision for 2020. Focusing on growing the firm in three key areas — financial advisers, assets under care and households deeply served — Weddle’s vision won’t just have Edward Jones reaching new heights, it might just be soaring.

“Today, in a lot of markets, we are not the top-of-mind choice,” Weddle says. “We don’t have the presence that we need. It’s going to take us several years to get there, but we think we’ve got the way to do so.”

Edward Jones is a leader in the financial services industry that serves nearly 7 million clients with the help of 12,500 financial advisers and more than 34,000 total employees. The firm reported 2012 revenue of $4.96 billion, a mere fraction of what is planned for the years ahead.

“There is a huge demographic opportunity, and we need to better position ourselves,” Weddle says. “We’ve put a lot of tools in place. We’ve put additional products and services in place to enhance the client’s experience and to enable us and position us to do an even better job for them.”

Here is how Weddle formulated Edward Jones’ long-term vision and is beginning to make it a reality.

 

Create your strategy

In January 2012, Weddle made a big deal of explaining the long-term vision to the team at Edward Jones, not just what the vision was but why it was needed.

“Laying out a long-term vision provides the opportunity and the potential to get everybody aligned,” Weddle says.

The early success Edward Jones has seen with its plan is due to a thorough self-analysis the company performed when it first decided to create this vision.

“When we worked on our five-year plan we did so with the guidance and assistance of two gentlemen, one being Jim Collins who wrote, ‘From Good to Great,’” Weddle says. “One of the things that he suggests is that you ask yourself three questions.

“The first one is, ‘What do you do better than anybody else?’ The second is, ‘What are you most passionate about?, And third is, ‘What’s your economic driver?’”

Weddle says that Edward Jones’ business model makes the firm the better than anybody else in the investment process.

The firm is most passionate about helping its current and potential individual investors live a better life.

And lastly, its economic driver is its financial advisers.

“It’s not easy to get your arms around the answers to those questions,” Weddle says. “We had a lot of answers before we got it right.”

The second adviser that Edward Jones used in its planning process is Michael Porter, a world renowned expert on strategy, who preaches that strategy is all about a sustainable difference.

“It’s about doing things differently or doing different things than your competition and making trade-offs,” Weddle says. “It’s about making decisions as to what you’re going to offer and what you’re not. Who you’re going to serve and who you’re not. How you run your business comes down to the choices that you make.”

Those two things, the three questions and the tradeoffs, are the core of Edward Jones’ long-term plan.

“If you haven’t gone through the process of thinking those things through, good luck,” he says. “I don’t think you understand who you are or what business you’re in, which means it’s going to be very hard to optimize your results. That’s the value of the planning process for us. Yes, it does bring alignment, but it also brings focus.”

 

Identify your objectives

In order to better serve existing clients as well as to land many more clients by the year 2020, Weddle needed to set reachable goals for the staff.

“We have identified three peaks, three objectives related to that vision,” Weddle says. “First is growth of financial advisers, the number and our presence in the marketplace.”

Edward Jones currently has more than 7 million client accounts and 4 million households. However, the firm has identified about 40 million U.S. and Canada households that look like Edward Jones’ best clients.

“There’s no way that we can possibly serve even a fraction of that number of folks without increasing our presence in the market,” he says. “You might think, ‘Holy cow, how can you possibly to do that?’ Well, by growing 5-6 percent a year gets you there.”

Edward Jones has grown by more than that rate in the past, and Weddle believes the firm can reach this goal with the help of a new talent acquisition organization that was put in place, revamped FA compensation and significantly updated training and support programs.

“We anticipate supporting a good number of new folks that will be joining us each year,” Weddle says. “We’ve got amazingly strong pipelines right now. We think we’ll grow this year by 700 financial advisers in the U.S. and 80 in Canada and that will be a good start on that 2020 vision.”

The second objective of the 2020 vision is the firm’s assets under care. When the vision was first laid out, the firm had about $600 billion. In 2012 it had about $660 billion-$670 billion.

“By the end of 2020 we’d like to see those assets under care be $1 trillion,” he says. “You get there by growing 10 percent a year. We added about $34 billion of net new assets last year, which exceeded our objective of $30 billion.”

The third objective for the firm surrounds its deeply served households. Of those 4 million households Edward Jones currently serves, it identified 1 million households that the firm has a current deep relationship with. The firm wants to increase this number.

“We want to drive our deeply served households from the 1 million we had a year ago when we rolled out our vision to 4 million deeply served households in 2020. That’s a 15 percent compound annual increase and we’re ahead of where we need to be on that. I know 15 percent sounds high when we’re growing our FA’s by 5 percent and our assets by 10 percent.

“The reason we have set it at that level is because so many of our existing households can be moved to what we have defined as deeply served. It’s not just new households, but it’s going deeper with the folks that we already have a relationship with.”

 

Drive your plan forward

Now that Edward Jones had gone through the self-analysis and identified its objectives, the next step was to begin to roll out the vision and communicate how the business’ various departments and segments are going to have to contribute to meet those goals.

“One of the outcomes of the roll out of the long-term vision was to then say to every division of the firm, ‘We need you to look at the work you do and bring a critical eye to it and identify those things that need to be increased or put in place that will help us to achieve the 2020 vision. We also need you to identify the legacy work that we’re real comfortable with and we do really well, but maybe doesn’t add the value that it used to,’” Weddle says.

“You outgrow some things. You can’t just add on and add on and add on. You’ve got to also abandon things that no longer deliver value to your chosen client.

Every division of the company has got to come up with its business plan for reaching goals of the vision.

“We challenge each other, but it also allows me, if I’m in operations, to understand what the service side is doing,” he says. “It creates alignment and synergies and often times opportunities for working in a highly coordinated way that eliminates some cost and enhances productivity all driven by the vision.”

The No. 1 key to making a strategy implementation successful is having the right people driving results.

“Your results will be no better than the quality of the individuals who make up your organization,” he says. “You have to be brutally honest. At times you will outgrow some individuals.”

Sharing the business plans, challenging each other and making sure that everyone is working on the same priorities and holding people accountable is crucial to success.

“One area is dependent upon progress being made in another,” Weddle says. “We just need to make sure that we’re doing an absolutely terrific job for each one of those individual investors that we help to reach their financial goals. If we can stay focused on that we’re going to have a lot of success.” 


Takeaways:

  • Answer important questions about your business and its future.
  • Develop objectives to reach in a long-term plan.
  • Implement your plan with the right people and measures.

 

The Weddle File

Name: Jim Weddle

Title: Managing partner

Company: Edward Jones

Born: Elgin, Ill. He grew up in Naperville, Ill.

Education: Attended DePauw University and received a double major in psychology and business. He also got a MBA with a major in finance from Washington University in St. Louis.

What was your very first job, and what did you learn from it? I had a summer job in 7th grade where I worked Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until noon for a gentleman who was a retired banker. He had a large property and I drove a tractor, cut the grass, pulled the weeds, painted the house and the barn and worked every day doing that. I learned that you make your own luck if you aspire to do or to have, there’s a way that you can go about making that a reality.

What is the best business advice someone has given you? I had interned here at Edward Jones, and I went out to Indiana where I established a new office and built it up. I had a mentor who was a very senior individual in our firm at the time named Jack. I remember confiding in Jack and he said, ‘What is your concern?’ And I said, ‘Jack, my concern is I’m 23 years old, and I look even younger. I’m afraid people won’t take me seriously.’ He said, ‘People will treat you the way that you act. If you act like a professional, they will treat you like a professional. If you act like you’re 23, they will treat you like you’re 23.’ He also said, ‘Prepare for every day, but do it the day before.’

Who is someone that you’ve admired? One was an accounting professor who had a huge impact on me. For his class he said, ‘You need to show up to class prepared or I suggest you don’t show up at all.’ He was teaching us how to be ready for the rest of our lives.

The second guy was a business adviser named Peter Drucker. We worked with Peter for 20 years. He helped us to understand very clearly who our customer was, what our value is, and the purpose of our work.

HOW TO REACH: Edward Jones, (314) 515-2000 or www.edwardjones.com

Published in St. Louis
Friday, 31 May 2013 20:00

Moving beyond, "What's in it for me?"

"Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ‘What's in it for me?’”  — Brian Tracy

If you listen to HR directors or marketers, they will tell you that the starting point — or at least a key — to influencing your stakeholders is to address the question, “What’s in it for me?” Often referred to in corporate speak as WIIFM, this is a legitimate question.

We all have an interest in ensuring that we have our needs met. Every interaction or relationship has a degree of self-interest that doesn’t qualify as selfishness. To ignore that is to guarantee our failure as leaders. But it’s not enough.

As leaders we need to recognize that people yearn for benefits for others as well. It is in our nature to be relational. In his book, “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others,” Daniel Pink suggests three qualities and three abilities that can enhance our influence in ways that are consistent with human nature and recognize that desire to make a positive difference in the world.

He first posits the following three qualitiesas the new ABCs of selling.

Attunement is described as the “capacity to take someone else’s perspective and calibrate your words and actions to another’s point of view.” It’s the challenge of communicating and delivering services and messages so others can understand them and receive them.

Buoyancy is defined as the “capacity to stay afloat on what one salesman calls ‘an ocean of rejection.’” What person hasn’t seen the value of persistence in the face of continual opposition?

Clarity is described by Pink as the “capacity to make sense of murky situations … and to move from problem-solving to problem-finding.”

Whether you’re selling a service, a product or serving on a school board, being able to see the factors contributing to the problem at hand is essential to helping others and moving them to effective solutions.

It is on the abilities side where an inappropriate focus on WIIFM falls short. The third ability that Pink points to is Service (the other two are Pitch and Improvise). He calls this “the final secret to moving others.”

Service is the foundation from which the other principles flow: If your sales force or you as a leader are not perceived as helpful, all the improvising, pitching, clarity, buoyancy and attunement won’t help you build a sustainable business. However, when people can see that you truly want to help them, these other principles can help you.

Pink breaks this ability down into two parts: make it personal and make it purposeful. One aspect of the value of making it personal is in recognizing those you’re seeking to influence as people.

Making it purposeful is seen in Pink’s examples of “emotionally intelligent signage,” such as a sign in a church lawn that says, “Children play here. Pick up after your dog,” rather than just “Pick up after your dog.”

Adding “Children play here” reminds people that it’s more than a rule. It moves from being a regulatory requirement to a reasonable request.

Finally, Pink proposes a philosophy of “servant selling.” Applying a “servant selling” framework to your need to influence your employees could lead to questions like,

“Will my employees’ lives be better if they do what I’m asking? When we accomplish our shared goals, will the world be a better place than when we began?”

So for organizational leaders, our three tips are as follows:

Make it personal. Move beyond solving a puzzle to serving a person.

Make it purposeful. How will this decision or business deal make the world a better place?

Make it possible. When leading employees make sure you give them the resources to get the job done.

Following these three principals will increase the probability that fewer people will ask, “What’s in it for me?”

 

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to align your efforts to move others to your organizational identity, reach Kanefield at (314) 863-4400 or andy@dialect.com.

Published in Columnist