Noam Lotan Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007
As a leader, Noam Lotan knows he isn’t superhuman. As president and CEO of MRV Communications Inc., a network service and products provider, Lotan accepts that it would be impossible for him to directly manage and lead all 1,500 of the company’s employees. As such, he has developed a leadership style based in large part on being able to trust his team’s ability to execute. That’s not to say, however, that he isn’t available when issues arise — Lotan considers facilitating problem-solving and communication his primary responsibility in providing service to his customers. Smart Business spoke with Lotan — who helped grow MVR’s 2006 revenue to $356 million, up from $284 million in 2005 — about the importance of being accessible to both your customers and your employees.

Encourage the flow of information. As a manager, you want to encourage information flow, and you want people to feel comfortable to reach out to you. You want to be accessible. Not everybody takes advantage of it. Just by having an open door doesn’t mean people use it.

If it’s not happening by itself, you have to go and reach out. In general, this is what they call management by wandering around, or MBWA. You’ve got to be out and about, whether it’s locally in your facilities or going on the road and meeting people.

As a leader, you really have to be everywhere. There is no substitute for seeing what’s going on in the field with customers and with your own people. All the e-mails in the world aren’t going to be able to substitute for talking to people and looking at them in the eye, and having them see you as a person they can work with and relate to.

You have to be careful, when you actually have this open-door policy and you reach out to people at any level in your organization, not to fall into the trap of becoming their micromanager. You have to do a lot of listening but very little action other than communicating whatever you want to communicate, whether it’s values or goals. You can’t really solve problems on the spot; you have to work with the management.

Maintain harmony with your managers. Clearly the only agenda for us is that the company succeeds. We live in a competitive environment.

Every customer problem can be resolved by multiple vendors. No matter how you look at it, nobody has a corner on anything in this world. So when you’re in a competitive environment where things change daily, new products emerge, customer requirements change, you really have to be totally in tune with what’s going on outside the company.

The only way for the company to succeed in a competitive environment where globalization has taken place and you are basically competing with people from all over the universe on a level playing field, is you really have to get the best out of your team. Getting the best out of your team means that you have to work in harmony with your managers and have them work in harmony with each other so that you can really get the best out of everyone.

The most important thing is to touch base, not to let a week go by without speaking with every one of your managers in great detail. That’s critical. You cannot allow any disconnect, and I’m talking about people who are across the Atlantic and wherever. It’s not just locally.

Keep people engaged. When you have people that are basically great people working for you, you want to make sure that they’re totally engaged. The only way to accomplish that is to communicate as much as possible. There are a million ways to communicate, either directly with people when you see them, through management, through what you do every day, through internal newsletters.

You have to try to paint the bigger picture. I really try to help our own people understand where we stand and how we make a difference and how we, as a company, can make a contribution to our customers and maybe to our industry, as well. It is very helpful when you are able to paint that bigger picture, because people can see where the company stands and where it’s heading.

Foster employee/customer interaction. As much as you can, you get your people involved with your customers. You want them out and about and rubbing shoulders with real customers and understanding the issues in the field and not just getting information through sales and marketing people.

We try to encourage that kind of interaction. There’s a lot to be gained on both sides. When we bring our engineers out, our customers really appreciate that because many of our competitors basically hide their engineers. The customer only gets to see support people and salespeople. When we bring our engineers out, it is really very positive and the customer feels like they’re getting value out of the relationship, and our engineers get to understand what’s going on out in the field and what real people need them to design. It’s a very nice motivator for them.

Stay a step ahead. What can cause a company to fail is lack of innovation. Ultimately, you’re only as good as your last product. So you have to constantly renew yourself and make sure you’re constantly evolving with your customers’ needs and keeping one step ahead of the competition.

The important thing is that you have smart people working for you, and you keep them motivated and make sure they see the results of their efforts.

We celebrate wins to the extent that we can. We try to propagate good news. Bad news spreads on its own; you don’t have to do anything. But with good news, you have to really try to celebrate and make people aware of what’s what and how they can emulate that kind of success.

HOW TO REACH: MRV Communications Inc., (818) 773-0900 or www.mrv.com