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Regardless of what products you’re selling, we’re all really in the people business, aren’t we? And as a business, we are really only as good as the people running the ship. Needless to say, attracting the best people and keeping them inspired to perform at their highest potential is one of the most important things you can do as a business leader.

Not only is recruitment expensive, but it is also time-consuming, which is why it makes great business sense to get it right the first time.

Commit to the fact that it will take more than just your human resources department to create a top-performing team. Recruiting is part of everyone’s job, and the company culture should reflect the importance of it. At Moe’s, we make the interview process a priority. No fewer than seven associates interview, regardless of what position the candidate is interviewing for.

Use a list as a guide

It all starts with the job description. You know the skills and experience it takes to perform a particular job, but what does that job look like when performed by a superstar? What skills and what personal attributes are most critical in order for a person to exceed expectations in a particular role?

Identifying what is needed, prioritizing and committing to not settling for less will help you get the right candidates through the door. Use the job description to guide the interview process. Get the interviewing team aligned around what to look for and around your intent to hire only the best.

Interview with purpose

Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of reviewing a candidate’s resume a few moments prior to the interview. It’s easy to get busy and let preparing to be a good interviewer slip. However, to get the most out of the interview process, do research on the candidate, follow up with references and ask the open-ended questions that will get at the skills that are most needed to be successful at the job.

Some candidates may have all of the required skills, but they may not be a strong cultural fit, which in my opinion is more important. At Moe’s, we often ask questions such as, “What do you enjoy doing on the weekend?” This helps us understand the candidate on a more personal level.

To combat that concern, have several key players on your team interview candidates, and take their feedback to heart.

Also, bring in as many people as possible for an interview. The more people you interview, the greater the odds that you’ll find the perfect fit.

Complete and repeat

Once you’ve hired the candidate that fits the top-performer description, the next step is keeping him or her happy. Typically, top performers are highly motivated people who are eager to make an impact on the organization and advance their careers.

Be sure your top performers know they are appreciated. They will enjoy added responsibility and will appreciate a company that offers a clear vision of the future and goals upon which they can measure their success.

The best part about recruiting great candidates is that they will attract other great candidates. Next thing you know, you’ll be surrounded by a team that is talented, motivated, smarter than you and ready to grow your business beyond what you thought was possible.

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with more than 430 locations nationwide. Damico has been a leader in the food service industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand LLC and Host Marriott. He can be reached at pdamico@moes.com.

Published in Atlanta

The economy is heating up across many sectors. While economic improvement provides many opportunities, companies are facing the increasing challenge of hiring and retaining employees.

“People are the driving force behind the success of every business,” says Scott Anderson, a senior audit manager at Sensiba San Filippo, LLP. “Business owners who understand the immense value of their people and take action to protect and motivate their employees can see tremendous effects on their bottom line.”

Smart Business spoke with Anderson about the difficulties employers face motivating their work force and how to gain a competitive edge in retaining the best employees.

Why is employee retention important to leading businesses?

People are the foundation of successful businesses, and most business owners, especially those who have lost top talent, would agree. While it may be difficult to put a price tag on the value of each employee, every employee’s impact shows up — for better or for worse — in the bottom line. Economists have estimated the cost of replacing an employee at $17,000 to $31,000. For employees making more than $60,000, the cost is $38,000 or more.

The effects of employee retention and loss will only become clearer as we move out of the recession. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more employees are quitting jobs to take new positions. People generally hunkered down during the recession and put career goals on hold, but now some industries are showing significant movement already.

How does employee retention relate to risk?

Costs associated with hiring and training are just one impact of employee loss. An employee may have had access to how much customers were paying for services, or insight into trade secrets or key intellectual property. That information loss could cause significant damage if it goes to a competitor regardless of whether patents or nondisclosure agreements are in place. There is also reputational risk, as departed employees won’t censor themselves. Negative comments can spread fast regardless of whether they are true or not.

What are successful companies doing to motivate and retain employees?

Companies are finding new ways to keep top talent. Successful companies find a ‘recipe’ of benefits that makes employees feel the company can help them achieve their personal goals. For some, traditional motivators such as time off, health care benefits and flexibility of scheduling aren’t enough.

Small investments can have disproportionate effects on employees. Don’t underestimate the value of recognition. Creating a leadership  award and nominating employees for outside business achievement awards improve morale. Wellness programs and community involvement opportunities also differentiate a work environment and build camaraderie.

For others, motivating factors include taking on new work or having increased responsibility. Presenting opportunities for professional advancement and intellectual expansion are overlooked factors to employee retention. An employee should have little difficulty understanding his or her career achievement path. Beyond just talking about it, the path should be written down and communicated. If employees can see how their career will proceed in the next 10 years, their vision for the future will involve a long-term relationship.

Mentoring programs can also improve career development opportunities. Allow employees to select their own mentors who are not far above the employee’s current level. Having a mentor the employee connects with, who is two to three years further in their career track, makes it more likely that candid, meaningful conversations will take place.

How can a business cultivate a culture that leads to happy, motivated employees?

One of the most important factors in forging loyalty is eliminating uncertainty, as it is a driving force that makes people look elsewhere. Unable to visualize a long-term relationship with the company, employees grow insecure.

Communication is also critical. Business owners and company leaders can dispel fears with proactive communication about the company and employees’ roles. Many successful businesses share successes of the organization, emphasizing the connection between employee success and the company’s success.

For smaller businesses, simple face-to-face interaction goes a long way toward showing employees their effort is valued.

Are employees still motivated by performance-based compensation incentives?

Yes. However, there are some common pitfalls that can derail a well-intentioned incentive program. One of the common misperceptions is that an innovative plan is a complex plan. It is actually quite the opposite. The simpler the compensation plan the more likely that it will be effective. The rule of thumb is it takes a beer to discuss the plan and the details can be written down on a bar napkin.

The value of a performance-based compensation plan is directly related to its success. At least 20 percent of the compensation plan should be incentive based and should fit into a picture of the overall health of the business that the employee clearly understands. The progress toward receiving compensation must be communicated frequently. It should be automated, predictable and not dependent on complex spreadsheet calculations.

How can businesses evaluate their employee retention efforts?

Business owners should research how their compensation and other benefits stack up to the competition. If they are lacking, find a good partner who knows the ins and outs of employee motivation, incentives and retention. On the other hand, if business owners find that their plan is superior to the competition, don’t hesitate to tell employees about the benefits of working for your company. Show your employees that you’ve done your homework and highlight the opportunities and benefits provided by your organization.

Scott Anderson is a senior audit manager at Sensiba San Filippo, LLP. Reach him at (408) 286-7780 or sanderson@ssfllp.com.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Sensiba San Filippo

Published in Northern California

Craig Clark is one of several general managers who have held the position at The Rivers Casino within its first three years of operation. But that inconsistency at the leadership role has made it hard to create programs that benefit the casino’s customers as well as its employees.

The Rivers Casino, which opened in 2009, has more than 1,800 employees and saw 2011 revenue of $434 million. Clark, who became GM in June 2011, has been focused on enhancing both the customer and employee experience to make the casino a better business overall.

“The key is really consistency of leadership so you can put together programs with the community and programs within the facility to allow team members to grow and advance,” Clark says. “I think that’s the key to my leadership. In the gaming industry some people move around, but for myself I like to be located at one facility for quite a period of time.”

Before coming to Rivers, Clark spent nearly 15 years at Turning Stone in upstate New York where he was able to develop the facility.

“That’s where I spent most of my career, and we had a complex there that we kept adding to for years and years,” Clark says. “(In Pittsburgh) we have a great complete facility that we keep creating different entertainment experiences within and reasons for our customers to come and visit.”

Currently, Rivers Casino has 80 table games, 30 poker table games and 2,970 slot machines. It also includes five different food and beverage outlets, a banquet space and three bar locations on the casino floor. All combined, there is plenty of opportunity to impress guests with customer service and create programs that motivate the employees.

Here is how Clark is driving customer- and employee-related initiatives.

Develop key programs

In an industry where excellent customer service and employee training are staples of operating a business, it isn’t enough to simply talk about having good service. To ensure customers are treated well and employees get opportunities to advance, you have to implement programs that keep service and training as a top priority.

“We have a variety of different programs here at the property,” Clark says. “We’ve introduced a 12-Star program, which is a program for our young business leaders to learn more about all operations of the facility.

“We have leadership training components within that training program. We have accounting practices. We have how to do a review and give good feedback to team members when you give them their annual review. It’s a 12 different part program.”

While one program may be aimed at learning all aspects of the casino business, other programs offer employees a chance to learn what it takes to perform specific jobs.

“We have a dealer school here where people from outside can interview and be trained as dealers and team members who are currently dealers can learn other games that they might not have perfected to date,” he says.

The casino also has programs aimed at recognizing employees who are going above and beyond the expectations of their jobs.

“We’ve put in a program for team member of the month and we have team member of the year, where both an hourly and a salaried team member are recognized for their great contributions to the facility,” he says.

“We are also putting together right now a supervisory leadership training program focusing on how to ensure our supervisors are consistent and thorough in their coaching and their mentoring of team members so we get the right consistency throughout the organization.”

While setting up a program is one thing, continuing to improve it and make necessary changes is another. The key is to view it as an on-going process.

“It doesn’t start one day and end another day,” Clark says. “It’s actually a process that you have to live and breathe and it has to be part of your business soul. You need to focus on it each day because as a leader, the team members are looking at you as the example.”

When you can listen to employees and listen to their ideas and make a positive change, that’s how these programs are developed. You have to ensure your team continues to focus on service levels because it’s not lost on clients, customers or guests.

“Our guests have such a high expectation of coming here and they all want to be treated as if they’re that special person; our goal each and every day is to ensure that we do that and they walk away with a memory and an experience of coming here to the Rivers,” Clark says.

Be well-rounded

One of the biggest reasons Rivers Casino has the amount of opportunities available to its employees is to offer them a chance to grow and learn about the whole business. This creates employees who thoroughly enjoy what they do and strive to be well-rounded.

“Sometimes people are narrowly focused and I think the more that you can explain to them or educate them on more parts of the business, the more valuable they become to your organization,” Clark says. “If a dealer understands how the marketing promotions are being created and what our goals are with those programs, they’re our salespeople that are out there each and every day and it just makes them more informed and better team members and better guest service professionals.”

To help encourage employees to become well-rounded, it is crucial that you provide outlets for them to be recognized.

“Those types of programs start from one-on-one contact with team members and ensuring that you recognize them as you walk around the facility and thank them for their hard work,” he says. “That’s something that business leaders need to continue to focus on because that pat on the back is one of the best rewards that a person can have each and every day if somebody can have that personalized recognition.”

Another way to develop your employees is to establish expected criteria and highlight the individuals who provide strong examples of the attitude, behavior and work ethic you expect.

“When you look at human resource programs, we try to create the criteria that establish what the right business behavior for a team member or team leader is,” Clark says. “We want to take those people who are examples of that behavior every day and put them on a pedestal so people look at them and say, ‘Matt is a great guest service deliverer every day. He walks the walk and coaches team members.’

“He is an example that they can look at for that consistency. Consistency is the hard part in the hospitality business because things happen in your personal life and when you come to work you have to shed anything that’s not positive and ensure you put that smile on your face and be positive and proactive in what you do at the workplace.”

Strong employee development ultimately comes down to how much employees want to help themselves become better. If you can get your employees to want to achieve greater things and you allow them outlets to suggest improvements, you create a culture that fosters continuous improvement.

“Quite often some of the best ideas come from listening to your team members,” Clark says. “Keep an open mind. I’ll walk the casino floor and some of the best ideas I get are from team members who come up to me with suggestions or ideas that were passed on from a customer. You have to take those ideas, and as a leader our job is to align the resources, when practical, to implement those great ideas.”

On a quarterly basis Clark does something he calls “communication corner” where he sets up a table in the team member cafeteria for all three shifts to get their input.

“I ask them for their ideas, suggestions and concerns because a third of the ideas come from the leadership team and their experience, a third comes from our team members who are in the workplace each day and a third comes from customers,” he says. “So I can get two-thirds of the knowledge I need by just listening to our team members.”

An outlet such as Clark’s communication corner is a great way to gain access to employee’s ideas. However, the key to continuing that practice is to show them you are acting on those ideas.

“A lot of it is listening to those ideas and then having the team members see the change,” he says. “That openness to listening as well as showing action, positive actions reinforce that behavior. It’s like anything else in life, if you’re an athlete or if you’re a business leader, you have to exercise those behaviors. As business leaders we have to exercise the behavior of listening and we have to exercise the behavior of implementing the things that are practical to our businesses and cost-effective.”

Drive customer service

The concept of customer service seems simple on the surface, but to achieve it and be a leader at it your company takes the right employees first.

“One of the keys is starting with the selection process of the team member,” Clark says. “The next most important thing is we have a two-day orientation here at the property. Part of it is going through policies and part of it is really talking about hospitality and talking about our guests and the expectations of our guests.

“Also, it’s how we ensure that we are focused on those good behaviors to make it a great experience for the guests when they come here and how all the systems work.”

An orientation program is a key way to set the tone for someone arriving in the company. It gives employees a good overview of the type of businesses that they’re entering in to and ensuring they’re the right person. The casino doesn’t stop there.

“From that, we have a 90-day checklist program which really follows the job description and what their core functions are as a team member,” Clark says. “We make sure we go through that checklist to ensure that we have good training programs set up to ensure that they focus on the job function, the quality and the service.

“Those types of things tend to work out well where team members really understand the expectation and deliver the best results.”

To measure whether employees understand their job and are delivering desired results, it is important to have some form of review in place.

“We do a 90-day review of a person who joins the organization and then an annual review,” he says. “An annual review should never really be a surprise. It should be a summary of the year’s performance of the team member. The key is to have ongoing communication and ongoing coaching and praise.

“When you have a balanced program and all those cogs of the wheel are working together, that’s where you have the best result. If there is something team members need to advance their skill on, the key is helping them out with that as soon as it’s identified. If they’re doing great things it’s recognizing them immediately because that’s where you’re going to create the best team loyalty and the best team culture.”

To keep customer service levels at their peak it is important that you use what resources you have available to you. Rivers recently implemented a secret shopper program to help test customer service.

“We have an independent party that will evaluate service levels looking at it from a guest perspective,” Clark says. “A shopper service will come in and they’ll go through experiences as if they were a guest and then give us their feedback on individual team members and the property overall.”

There are a lot of great resources, some of them free and some of them you can acquire. “You have to stay current on different practices and different education processes,” he says. “The world is changing rapidly when it comes to online training. We’ve put several tutorial programs in place this year. The key is really seeing what the most effective way is to use this technology to train team members and ensure that they are current on all their practices.”

How to reach: The Rivers Casino, (412) 231-7777 or www.theriverscasino.com

Takeaways

-          Design programs around initiatives.

-          Provide opportunity and outlets for employees.

-          Enhance the customer experience.

The Clark File

Craig Clark

General manager

Rivers Casino

Born: Endicott, NY

Education: Received an associate degree from Broome Community College in business administration. He also has a bachelor’s of science degree from SUNY Binghamton.

What was your first job, and what did you learn from that experience?

I worked with my father as a residential carpenter during high school up until I graduated with my bachelor’s degree. What I took away from that was hard work, an understanding of what you can create with your hands, and a strong work ethic.

What is some advice that has held true through your career?

One of the things I think is most important is education. Somebody should always focus on educating themselves and continue that education throughout their life.

Who is someone you look up to in the industry?

I spent most of my career at Turning Stone and I worked with Frank Riolo. He was somebody who always believed in me and continued to challenge me and give me opportunities to grow.

Do you ever gamble and what is your favorite game?

In the state of Pennsylvania, I rarely gamble. If I make a trip to Vegas, I gamble a little bit, but not very much. I like to play craps. I enjoy the entertainment experience.

What are you looking forward to at Rivers Casino?

I’m looking forward to the continued development of Rivers. I love to grow a business and I really believe in the business plan. That’s why I enjoy this job because I can see the growth of the team members and the growth of the property and the success that’s driven by both of those.

Published in Pittsburgh

The current economic climate presents significant challenges for manufacturers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Increasing foreign competition, price pressure from weakened demand, tight capital markets and the rising cost of raw materials have combined to create a particularly competitive landscape. However, forward-thinking manufacturers are turning these challenges into opportunities — and using these challenges as a springboard for operational improvement and increased profitability.

“There are many innovative ideas for growing your manufacturing business,” says Karen Burns, assurance partner at Sensiba San Filippo LLP and co-founder of the East Bay Manufacturing Group.

Smart Business spoke with Burns about what manufacturers can do to strengthen their business, such as controlling costs and shoring up financials, best practices for hiring and retaining top talent, and the value of networking effectively.

What are some ways a manufacturer can control rising costs?

Reduce market uncertainty. Consider entering into long-term contracts to stabilize price fluctuation for raw materials. Long-term contracts with customers also can mitigate market swings, albeit negotiated pricing may initially result in reduced margins.

Make safety a priority. Accidents can be costly for your business and your employees. Implementing improvements can decrease downtime and increase your yield.

Encourage innovation by empowering and motivating employees to make product and process improvements throughout the organization. This will lead to your business running smoother and motivating employees to stay longer, which reduces the costs associated with training new hires.

Consider near sourcing. You can gain more control over your manufacturing processes and costs by using suppliers closer to your manufacturing facility. You’ll reduce your shipping costs, too.

Additionally, it’s important to find out what your customers value and focus on delivering what matters to them, then trim costs in those areas that customers do not value. Communicating with your customers is critical. Discussing costs and anticipated cost increases will help strengthen your relationship with them. You can then work together to increase and decrease prices as commodities fluctuate.

Why is it critical now for manufacturers to ‘shore up’ their financials?

Banks and financial institutions are slowly loosening their credit requirements. Venture capitalists and private equity groups also are beginning to invest again. Congress has even established programs that encourage lending to small businesses, such as the Small Business Lending Fund and State Small Business Credit Initiative. Having your financial house in order could make or break your opportunity to secure funding.

Further, merger and acquisition activity is on the rise again. While many business owners do not have a plan in place to sell their company, unsolicited offers are becoming more common. Strategic acquisitions by competitors, vertical integrators and those who have had money sitting on the sidelines for too long create the need to be prepared for this possibility. Ensure your financials are ‘auditable’ and that you have the proper internal controls in place to maximize opportunities such as these.

What advice can you give to business owners for hiring and retaining top talent?

Create a culture that values the whole employee. While pay is important, it is not always the most important motivator. Today’s generation of employees wants it all — good pay, advancement and, most of all, the opportunity to do new and exciting work and have fun doing it. A passionate business leader who treats his or her employees like family and gives back to the community will find employees more willing to follow in his or her footsteps.

Reward innovation at all staff levels and recognize employees for their dedication and achievement. Develop a total rewards strategy that includes compensation, benefits, performance and recognition, and career development opportunities. This will attract the best and brightest, which in turn will help to drive your firm’s brand in the market.

The most competitive edge out there can often be a good network. What strategies can you share with manufacturers on networking?

Networking is necessary, yet can often be a daunting task for many business owners. When an owner starts a business, he or she is usually very good at making his or her product and developing enhancements. While marketing is often not his or her forte, a few simple tools and a little bit of practice can make the most awkward networker into a pro.

Practice your elevator pitch. No one knows your business better than you. Successful networkers practice in advance the answer to, ‘What do you do?’ so that it rolls off the tongue effortlessly. Be brief in your answer to enable others to seamlessly introduce you to others at an event.

Attend interesting events that are a part of your sector. Business events are advertised in newspapers, trade groups, local LinkedIn groups and law firm websites. While the number of potential events may seem overwhelming, business owners who distill their calendar to events with relevant topics will remain motivated to network over time. Attend events that attract a number of prospects. Also keep an eye out for centers of influence — those who can refer business to you or enhance the success of your business.

Create a post-networking communication plan. After an event, successful business owners make the most of their new contacts — and their time — by implementing a pre-set follow-up plan. For business prospects, an email requesting an in-person meeting is appropriate, while many folks you meet will suffice with a reach out on LinkedIn. Inviting centers of influence to lunch or coffee is also an excellent investment in time.

Karen Burns is an assurance partner at Sensiba San Filippo LLP, a regional CPA firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach her at (925) 271-8700 or kburns@ssfllp.com.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Sensiba San Filippo

Published in Northern California
Tuesday, 31 July 2012 20:41

Northeast Ohio Movers and Shakers

Bober Markey Fedorovich, a regional accounting and business advisory firm with offices in Akron and Cleveland, has expanded once again with a new IT/IS director and nine new associates.

Nancy Landry has joined BMF as the firm’s new director of information systems and technology. Landry has more than 17 years of experience in IT/IS and network administration, previously working for large national and regional public accounting and IT consulting firms.

Hitchcock Fleming & Associates Inc. (hfa), a full-service marketing and communications firm, has been named as one of the Top Workplaces 2012 Northeast Ohio by The Cleveland Plain Dealer. 

Winners were chosen based on employee survey responses about employee workplace satisfaction to distinguish companies that possess an outstanding culture and promote a positive work environment. Survey categories included job satisfaction, confidence in the future of their company, trust in co-workers, management effectiveness, company culture, and compensation and benefits.

“We have fantastic associates, and it’s truly an honor to be recognized by all of them,” said Jack DeLeo, chairman and CEO of hfa. “At hfa, we are a family and take pride in the work ethic, quality and leadership of our associates.”

Paytime Integrated Payroll Solutions, an integrated payroll, human resources and business solutions company has announced that Mary Ann Shamis, CFO, has been honored with a 2012 Women of Note distinction from Crain’s Cleveland Business.

Shamis was recognized at a July 25 event for demonstrating exceptional business

knowledge, her leadership in helping to build one of Northeast Ohio’s top companies and the positive impact she’s had in the region.

Shamis is one of the original founders of Paytime and has more than 30 years of experience in payroll and business management.

Medical Mutual has announced Danielle Werner has been appointed to manager, Interactive eSolutions. Werner will be responsible for the technical oversight of MedMutual.com, the implementation of direct-to-consumer strategy, provider portal and the creation and execution of the company’s enterprise mobile strategy.

She has a proven record of achievement developing and executing comprehensive, customer-focused eCommerce strategies. Werner’s previous eCommerce experience with Lowe’s and Ally Financial Services will help bring fresh ideas and innovation to Medical Mutual while improving upon how the company engages customers electronically.

Medical Mutual also announced that Tom Dewey has joined the company as director of Financial Analysis and Cost & Budget.

Dewey will be responsible for reviewing the financial analysis for significant expenditures, coordinating the annual corporate administrative expense budget, directing cost accounting activities and overseeing the Life Group accounting and analysis.

With 13 years of experience in various accounting and assurance roles at Ernst & Young, his most recent experience was as Senior Manager in its Cincinnati office. Dewey’s clients included insurance companies, banks, manufacturers and private equity firms. He also worked on independent audits of Medical Mutual and its subsidiaries.

Moen Inc. has announced the promotion of Ji Kim to director of global design. In her new role, Kim will be responsible for providing design leadership and vision for the Global Design Team at Moen. She will set and drive strategy for product design in several countries for categories including faucets, showerheads, accessories and bath safety items. Kim will also ensure that her team follows Moen’s exceptional history of designing products that offer thoughtful designs and are on-trend but never trendy, all while aiding to the sustainment of Moen’s position as the No. 1 faucet brand in North America.

Prior to her new position, Kim served as the industrial design manager at Moen. In this role, she served as a strategic partner to the U.S. Retail Business Group, leading industrial design efforts for customers including The Home Depot, Lowe’s and Menards, among others.

Published in Cleveland

A projected 175,000 service members will be exiting the military in the next year. When they return to civilian life, these young veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will face an unemployment rate of 23 percent, contributing greatly to the Department of Defense’s annual unemployment compensation payments of more than $900 million. However, at the same time, there are 1.7 million high-wage, high-demand jobs open in the U.S. today that match the skills of service members, representing more than $136 billion in gross wages.

“Many service members do not fully grasp the value of their training and experience in the work force and end up underemployed or unemployed as they struggle to find work,” says Laurie Bradley, president of ASG Renaissance.

Smart Business spoke with Bradley about how hiring veterans can benefit your business.

Why are veterans seemingly being overlooked in the marketplace?

Part of the reason is because it’s very difficult to translate military experience into a civilian resume. For example, an infantryman with 20 years of experience in the Army might state on his resume that he ‘operated weapons and tanks and dug ditches.’ He needs to convey these skills in terminology recognized in the civilian world of work, such as ‘supervised, trained and evaluated 35 personnel, and supported more than 2,500 troops in four countries. Core competencies include personnel management, logistics and operations.’ This will help the reviewer match these skills to possible employment opportunities that may include logistics or personnel management.

Once you overcome the language barrier, you can recognize some of the softer skills people have learned in the military, for example, being entrepreneurial, which is crucial today. Service members understand how to be part of a team and have respect for a team, which can translate to any job. They also have cross-cultural work experience and have worked in very diverse environments, traits that many employers seek. The stereotype of service members just following orders and not thinking is outdated. It’s a new military today that operates in ever-changing environments.

What are some industries that would benefit from veterans and their skills?

The skills of service members translate well into any industry. You want people who are not only able to learn a product or a service but also who have good communication skills and are adept at skills transfer. Our military really demands that people think on their feet and react very quickly, making the right choices in a very short timeframe. In the fast-paced business environment we all compete in today, that is a great attribute to have.

What are the benefits of hiring veterans from a marketing perspective?

The message of being a veteran-friendly environment is significant. Having a veteran-friendly message in your hiring materials helps improve a company’s image, because you don’t have to look far to find someone who is or who knows a soldier. It really supports a message of inclusion and speaks to the fact that a company has been thoughtful in its hiring process as it looks to source talent across a broad spectrum of potential candidates.

From a tax perspective, new rules provide for an expanded tax credit for employers that hire eligible unemployed veterans. The credit can be as high as $9,600 per veteran for for-profit employers or up to $6,240 per veteran for tax-exempt organizations.

To qualify, the employer must file a request with the local state agency for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.  This applies for veterans hired on or after May 22, 2012, and before Jan. 1, 2013.

How can companies better integrate veterans into their businesses?

Start with a great outreach program. Be clear in your hiring message and have the ability to translate military resumes to determine if you have a fit. Companies should consider installing a customized onboarding program that includes a partner or coach to help the new hire navigate the civilian employment world.

The program should be sensitive to the varying needs of veterans, including those who have only been out of the service for a few months, or ones who have been back in the market for a year or more. In general, it’s important to make sure your onboarding process includes cultural acclimatization to the civilian work force. Civilian corporate culture is not as black and white as the military and language and communication styles differ. Former military personnel can be formal and direct, whereas civilian communication styles can be much more nuanced. The U.S. military has a top-down system for making decisions, while many civilian companies have a more bureaucratic process.

Where can companies find veterans?

There are job boards and employment services that cater to military personnel in transition, such as Hire A Hero, careeronestop.org, or contact your State’s Director for Veterans’ Employment and Training (DVET).

Are there reasons a company might not hire a veteran?

Concerns range from post-traumatic stress syndrome to skills transfer and the gap between military and civilian work styles. Some employers are uncertain how to provide work site accommodations for those with physical injuries, but there are a host of resources to navigate these concerns.

Just as with civilians, you have to evaluate each person on a case-by-case basis. Employers need to spend the time in the hiring process to determine if there is a fit.

If you know that there is a pool of talent that has the skills to do the job, why wouldn’t you consider putting that to work? Those who served our country are ready to transition those skills and dedication to service into the civilian world of work. Ultimately this translates into a win for both the employer and the veteran.

Laurie Bradley is president of ASG Renaissance. Reach her at (248) 477-5321 or lbradley@asgren.com.

Insights Staffing is brought to you by ASG Renaissance

Published in Detroit

After a major computer company sold a division to an international rival, the buyout left Susan wondering about her future. Susan found herself on the outside of the corporate world looking in. No longer the young college graduate on the fast track with the company she had worked for since graduating with honors in engineering, Susan watched as the restructuring left her without her high-paying job. Now at age 49, Susan was concerned, and she questioned whether her age had anything to do with her being let go. “They hired my body double from the same university and another kid,” she says. “Two new hires who would work for basically the same pay had replaced me for less per year. Yes, I have the experience, but I understand business decisions.”

Outlook changing

The Center for Retirement Research recently studied older workers and employer attitudes toward them. The study illuminates many key points, including the fact that attitudes are changing toward older workers. In the past, some evidence and many personal experiences and stories suggested that employers tend to shy away from older workers. Evidence in the courts indicates that discrimination does still exist, an unfortunate reality of a competitive marketplace. Privately, human resources professionals and other hiring decision makers point to not wanting to hire individuals with ingrained bad habits, the potential for higher health care costs and the “I’ll do it my way” attitudes that some older workers have demonstrated at their companies.

Statistics from a number of companies demonstrate that workers over 50 sometimes have a harder time finding work. The reality is that today’s 50-year-old is not the same as the 50-year-old of yesteryear. The argument can and should be made that older workers today are much different than older workers of the past. For example, Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research suggests that today’s workers are better educated than even those of 10 years ago. They are more physically fit. Physical demands of jobs are lessening as most manufacturing goes overseas. Labor-intensive positions have been and will continue to be lessened by machines and technology advances.

Assessing productivity

In a recent survey, 400 private-sector employers were asked to evaluate the relative productivity and cost of white-collar and rank-and-file workers age 55 and older, and whether, on balance, older employees were more or less attractive.

Employers worry that their older employees will have a hard time learning new tasks quickly,  that their physical health and stamina will be a problem, and there is a significant concern about  how much longer the older worker will stay on the job.

It is the cost of the older worker that is most concerning to many employers, not that the older worker is of lesser value. Over 40 percent of employers view older workers as more costly. The bottom line remains: Most employers see older workers as both more productive and more costly.

In most cases the cost and benefits seem to balance out. However, white-collar workers have much better prospects for working later in life than rank-and-file workers.

Flexible work schedules

Older workers might, for instance, have to accept lower pay or part-time work to stay employed. Many employers are hiring older workers on a part-time, temporary or project-assignment basis and not necessarily full-time. This means that not only do they get employees who need less training and are generally more reliable than their younger counterparts, but employers rarely have to pay benefits, unless they are hired 30 hours a week or there is a union issue, and they often pay an hourly rate or a project-basis rate that is far less than what these workers were earning when they worked full-time.

Another new survey suggests that employees are hoping for more interesting work in retirement. A few employers are beginning to get the picture.

There seem to be no easy answers, but it is important that as we develop the future leaders of our work force, we embrace this incredible knowledge transfer opportunity.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary is the CEO of human resources consulting companies Optimance Workforce Strategies and Gen InsYght, as well as the author of “Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage.” She has more than 15 years of experience as a trusted adviser and human resources consultant to companies ranging from small start-ups to large international corporations. Contact her at sherri@generationalguru.com.

Published in Dallas

Five years ago the economy was humming along, and Service Foods was humming right along with it. The Norcross, Ga.-based gourmet food supplier was growing steadily throughout its five-state Southeastern base. But CEO Keith Kantor was uneasy, because he felt his company was vulnerable. Many of Service Foods’ customers regarded the company’s home-delivered fare as a luxury. If the economy were to turn sour, some customers would start cutting their household budgets — and luxuries would be among the first things they would cut.

“Several years ago, I started to feel like we were headed toward an economic downturn,” Kantor says. “I thought the boom would still continue for a period of time, but with all the signs we were seeing — debt going up, oil prices going up, prices going through the roof, especially in real estate — I didn’t feel like it would last. The bubble was going to burst.

“So I got our leadership together and I said, ‘This is what I think is going to happen, and this is why I think it’s going to happen,’” he says. “And everybody basically agreed.”

Service Foods’ leaders had to do something to reduce the company’s level of vulnerability. After a series of brainstorming sessions, they concluded that Service Foods had to radically change how customers perceive its products and services. It had to change the perception of its offerings from luxury to necessity.

“The overall strategy we came up with was we had to change how customers regard our products and services from a ‘want’ to a ‘need,’” Kantor says. “What I mean by that is, while we’ve always sold mainly all-natural foods, before we made this transition, we simply marketed it as the highest-quality, best-tasting food you could get. And even though a lot of the food we sold was all-natural, we weren’t pushing that aspect of it. That wasn’t one of our key points.

“So we decided we had to switch how people think of our offerings from a ‘want’ — you know, to want high-quality, great-tasting food — to a ‘need’ — where all of the food we offer is all-natural, and it’s needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle. And we knew we would have to create a lot of new services to back that up.”

Break it down

Making the transition from “want” to “need” would be a laborious undertaking for Service Foods. The company’s leadership broke it down into several strategic components, each one an extensive, time-consuming project of its own:

  • The company would have to ensure that all of its food offerings were all-natural, and it would have to get them certified as such.
  • It would have to hire and train a team of health professionals — nurses, dietitians, chefs, fitness experts — to educate its clients about nutrition and related aspects of healthy living.
  • To reflect its new identity as a purveyor of all-natural foods and healthy lifestyles, Service Foods would have to become more tech-savvy in its use of social media, and it would have to overhaul its website and its marketing program.
  • To be able to effectively lead this new kind of company, Kantor, who at the time held an MBA and a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry, decided he would need to obtain two more degrees: a master’s degree in nutritional science, followed by a doctoral degree in the same field.

“To make the transition, we had to do a huge number of things, and we had to do them fairly quickly,” Kantor says. “We had to resource all of our foods and make sure we got them certified by the USDA as all-natural. That in itself was a big project. You rarely see the USDA all-natural seal, and now it’s on all of our foods.

“It was a long, time-consuming process,” he says. “First we had to get the USDA’s approval to label our products all-natural. Then we had to get the approval of the All Natural Food Council of North America and the Natural Products Association.”

At the same time Service Foods was moving through this certification process, Kantor, in his early 50s, decided it was time to go back to school.

“Although I already had my master’s, I went back and I got another master’s in nutritional science,” he says. “Then I went on to get my Ph.D. in nutritional science. I knew I needed to do this in order to make sure I had tool and skills I would need to head up this program.”

Get the right people

The staffing component was central to Service Foods’ evolution from purveyor of high-quality, great-tasting food to a company that would be able to guide people on how to lead healthier lives.

“We had to hire a team of registered nurses, registered dietitians, all-natural chefs and fitness experts,” Kantor says. “Fortunately, I have family in some of those fields, so that made it easier in some ways. My wife is a nurse. And my daughter is a fitness expert. So she set up that part of the program for us.

“Adding all these health professionals to our staff has greatly increased the value of services we can offer our clients,” he says. “It makes it clear that healthy living and mitigating disease are central to our company’s mission.

“Now, if you’re one of our clients and you want to talk to a dietitian, you can do it virtually 24/7, online and through all the social media. The same thing with a nurse; the same thing with fitness experts. And we even have some doctors and dentists that do this for us.”

Another component of the transition is that Service Foods now accepts referrals from doctors and insurance companies.

“We get a lot of referrals through a company called Vital Healthcare Group, which has about 7,000 doctors in their group,” Kantor says. “What they do is, they’ll tell us this patient has this particular health problem, so please put them on the proper diet. So if somebody has diabetes, we’re able to put them on the proper diet for diabetes, with the proper food. And if somebody has a history of cancer in their family, we can put them on the proper diet for that. Heart disease, et cetera, all those things. So now, you can get the great-tasting, super-high-quality food, but the reason you’re doing it is different. You’re doing it for healthy-living reasons, for the health of your family, versus because it tastes good.

“In addition to that, we’ll send to the doctor in electronic form a list of what we’re giving the people, and they actually break it down into grams and milligrams of cholesterol, carbohydrates, protein, et cetera, and then the doctors can actually put this information into their patients’ medical records, electronically. So this helps them with the diagnosis and treatment of their patients. And we also do this with supplementation — vitamins and minerals. We’re the first company in the United States to do this.”

Exploit technology

While Service Foods was converting to all-natural products, getting them certified, and hiring staff, the company also advanced its use of technology to deliver its new message, its new identity and its new services to its clients.

“We totally redid the website, making it very interactive,” Kantor says. “Now we not only list every product, we also include the nutritional breakdown and any allergens the foods contain, such as gluten, peanuts, MSG, et cetera. And we now have special calculators on our site so clients can see the breakdown of products they buy at stores or in restaurants. And we also had this all done on a mobile site to make it easier to use on the go.

“In addition, we developed our own supplement line called Purely Natural Supplements, and our site has videos on the products and a questionnaire so clients will know what they need. And we researched and had articles written on almost every major disease and on what foods and supplements will help.

“Lastly, with the help of my son Ryan, we became active in all the social media — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube — so we can keep our clients informed and make it easier for them to communicate with the health experts.”

As he has led Service Foods through its transition from a company whose products and services are regarded as luxuries to one whose offerings are considererd necessities, Kantor says the key thing he has learned that he would recommend to CEOs facing a similar situation is that it’s crucial to listen to your staff and to trust them.

“The most important thing you need to know is you have to listen to your people,” he says. “You know, you may be the CEO and the head of it, but all the ideas don’t have to come from you. You’ll just want to make sure the ideas are properly implemented. We broke everything down into teams and let them feel free to help and make suggestions and plan goals. That is by far the best way. You have to really listen closely to the feedback you’re getting. Ninety percent of it may be off base, but 10 percent of it will be good stuff — and stuff that you never would have thought of yourself.”

Kantor has one other piece of advice to offer CEOs looking to make a major transition in their company’s mission: “It’s going to take way longer than you think and cost way more than you think, so you’d better be prepared for that.

“If we had come up with this plan further in advance, it would have been much easier,” he says. “We did it in response to what we foresaw as a financial crisis coming on. But if we had been able to do it just as if it were a change in marketing strategy, we would have had more time to ease into it. That would’ve made it a lot easier.”

Turning the corner

Overall, Service Foods’ conversion took between three and four years to accomplish, and the company has at last begun to see tangible results.

“What happened is that mostly because of this transition, during the real recession we didn’t dip much at all, which was a huge thing for us,” Kantor says. “And we started gaining some market share. But at the same time, we were spending a lot more money to do a lot of the same things, and some new things, with a different purpose in mind.

“The volume stayed the same for a while. Then it started increasing, but the profit didn’t increase — in fact it decreased some because of the extra money we were spending making the transition: the sourcing, the labeling, the certifications, the marketing, the education. So the results we saw were that we didn’t lose market share, then we started to gain market share, but we lowered our profits to do it. Now that’s starting to turn, where we’re still gaining market share, and the profits aren’t deteriorating anymore. They’re starting to stabilize and slowly going up.

“The transition took us a number of years, but it obviously worked pretty good, because we’re now the No. 1 healthy living company in the country,” Kantor says. “But it took a long time and a lot of effort.”

HOW TO REACH: Service Foods Inc., (800) 872-3484 or www.servicefoods.com

 

THE KANTOR FILE

Name: Keith Kantor

Title: CEO

Company: Service Foods

Born: Bronx, N.Y.

Education: B.S. biology and chemistry, City College of New York; MBA, Chapman University; master’s degree, nutritional science, Kaplan University; Ph.D., nutritional science, Corllins University

What’s the most important thing you learned during your years as an officer in the Marine Corps Reserve?

If your people feel like you’re truly loyal to them and will go to bat for them, you will get that back tenfold. If you have the trust and loyalty of your people, you can do almost anything. Of course, as a Marine, I always relate it to battles and things like that, but of course it’s not quite that bad in the corporate world. It’s more petty and less deadly.

Do you have an overriding business philosophy that you use to guide you?

I’m very pro-American and pro-veteran. A lot of my employees are veterans or are in the reserves, and we do a great deal of stuff to back those efforts, like Toys for Tots. If any of my people are activated, they get paid in full. Not just the difference — they get paid in full plus whatever they get when they’re on active duty.

What trait do you think is most important for a CEO to have?

Loyalty. And, you know, sometimes loyalty can be a fault, when you don’t change things up quickly enough out of loyalty, but most of the time I think it’s a positive attribute.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

You can give somebody fish and they’ll eat for a day, or you can teach them to fish and they’ll never be hungry again. My dad told me that when I was little. I didn’t understand it very well then, but I do now.

How do you define success?

Leaving your mark on society in some form or fashion. That’s why we’re so excited about the new direction our company has taken. If we can truly make a dent in the health care crisis, that’s a legacy that any company or organization would be proud of.

Published in Atlanta

In the United States, workers’ compensation insurance is the second biggest cost for employers, representing a $50 billion marketplace nationwide. So when Steve Mariano built a company focused on sales of workers’ comp insurance, he knew that there was opportunity for long-term growth.

“Workers’ comp insurance — it’s not a really sexy area, but it’s been around for a long time,” says Mariano, founder, chairman, president and CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based Patriot National Insurance Group. “It’s kind of like this small brother compared to health insurance.”

But since the credit crisis, it has also become more difficult to compete in this type of insurance business. In the last three years, declining payrolls and cost cutting at many companies has inevitably affected sales for Patriot and other workers’ comp insurance providers.

“It was always a tough business, but it’s gotten a lot tougher these days,” Mariano says.

To grow, Mariano has stayed true to many of the same principles that the company was founded on in 2003, specifically a commitment to finding and developing a team of unparalleled talent.

“That’s probably been the biggest reason why we’ve been successful,” he says. “We’ve been able to attract the talented people and their skill sets and we’ve been able to train the people to do the business, follow the procedures and protocols and leverage technology the way that we at Patriot do it, different than other companies.”

As a result, the organization has had some of its best sales years despite the recession. Here’s how Mariano develops Patriot’s team of 425 employees to excel in the workers’ comp business.

Grow talent in stages

Prior to launching Patriot, Steve Mariano founded two other companies. From experience, he knew that it would be difficult to attract many strong employees with the skills they needed to grow before they got a foothold and developed a reputation in the business. To create a deep bench of talent from the beginning, it’s important to be patient about growth and not bring on people that you don’t truly need yet.

First, develop a core team of people local to your business and who you can trust to get your business off the ground.

“You’ve got to get your business plan up and running with a couple of core people in your management team that you know and have experienced working with them,” Mariano says.

Once you see growth in your business plan after a couple of years, then you have a story to use to attract corporate talent from around the country and from other fields. Bring on a strong core group and grow initial sales and then bring on a strong secondary senior team to continue to grow them.

“With each cycle that the company grows and evolves, you have to balance your ability to sell your product along with your costs,” Mariano says. “This may not be perfectly in tandem — but you can’t have one or two major years of losses coming from the expansion without balancing it out.”

By growing in stages, you can build the infrastructure to support a larger and larger team. That way, you ensure that as you go through hiring cycles that people will see you as a stable employer with a track record of growth. In addition to bringing people from out of town with certain skill sets to the corporate office, the organization has also hired hundreds of employees locally, including about 300 people in the Fort Lauderdale area.

“Once you get to a certain size, it becomes easier to attract talent because, number one, talent starts looking for you,” Mariano says.

By 2006 and 2007, the company’s sales growth put it in the position to hire the senior talent it needed to pull from outside of South Florida. As you add new talent, finding people who are fair and also have good ethics is equally important to finding the right skill sets. You want to hire people who are talented but also people who are ethical and going to fit within the company’s culture, much like a professional sports team.

“You can have the best talent, but if they don’t work together in the same culture, they’re not going to win,” he says. “You’ve got to find the right people that fit within the organization. It’s not just asking who is the best talent, but who is the best talent for our company.”

Mariano says that growing responsibly sometimes means taking it little bit slower than you’d like to make sure that you bring everybody with you. That’s not just in expenses but also growing the culture in a way to make sure it permeates the entire company as you add more and more people.

“Sometimes that just means taking a step back, whether it’s three months, a quarter or two quarters, and focusing back internally on the company and having internal parts of the company like accounting and legal really catch up to the growth of the company,” he says.

But while he tries to be deliberate about growing in stages, Mariano doesn’t place limits on how big the company can become as it continues to scale.

“If you pigeonhole yourself into not thinking of things as big as they can be, you’ll never get there,” he says. “You’ve got to really think about the potential and not sell yourself or your ideas short.”

Invest in training

Employee training is an area that not all business leaders invest in equally, especially in the insurance industry.

“In the insurance business, there is very little training that goes on these days, and I think it’s because of cost overhead and other things,” Mariano says. “Insurance companies don’t have the same type of training programs for young people as they used to.”

Yet training talent is an area that Mariano cites as one of the most critical elements in facilitating Patriot’s sales growth. Fundamentally, the company has had certain departments training on an informal basis for years. An example is the company’s claims management program that started in 2008.

“That type of training and that type of culture that’s been built around our business has allowed us to be successful,” Mariano says.

When you don’t invest in growing people’s skills, they could feel undervalued or feel that they don’t have a long-term future with your company. This can result in higher employee turnover, which in the end, sucks up more time and resources as you hire and train new people.

Retention is a major factor in why Mariano readily invests in employee training that others might find an unnecessary expense. Investing in your people helps your emloyees be more successful, which in turn helps your company be successful by developing and retaining talented employees.

Last year, Mariano introduced Patriot University, the company’s first formal, full-time training program to provide employees with cross-training enhance their core competencies and develop their skills. The company also collaborates with South Florida colleges to put together training opportunities for people who are interested in working for the company and want to learn some skills in advance. This creates a local pipeline of talent so that when the company hires in the future, it has a pool of candidates who already have some key skills.

“We’re proactive now in making sure that we have more than enough talent and with these training programs, making sure that we’ve got the talent and the internal operations ahead of time ready for the next big expansion,” Mariano says.

“There’s no question that we’re going to continue to grow and hire most of our people locally moving forward. That’s only gotten a lot easier.”

Because of its efforts to nurture people up through the ranks of the company, the organization now has one of the best retention rates in its industry.

“If you don’t train people, then you’re not going to keep them,” Mariano says.

“We know if you churn employees, you hire and then fire, hire and fire, it really increases your costs as a company. It’s cheaper to retain them by training them in their job functions and cross-training them in other department skills, so that as one department grows maybe faster than another, we can use their skill sets in different departments.”

Encourage innovation

In an industry with a lot of big players, Patriot’s entrepreneurial culture is one of the reasons many job seekers are drawn to work there. When you have a culture that allows people to have a more direct impact on your business, you can attract the kind of innovative thinkers that can help you grow.

“We have procedures and protocols too, but we’re always looking for our employees to find a better way to do something and to innovate within their organization and within their departments,” Mariano says.

Having an innovative culture that embraces new ways of doing things tends to attract those with the desire to succeed.

“Talent is looking for a way to put a fingerprint on the company they’re working for,” Mariano says. “If you come to work for a company like us, you can really put a fingerprint in your area and be able to look five, ten years from now and say, ‘I really had something to do with this part of the business plan and help with the building of the company.’”

By not having just standard ways of doing things, Mariano says you make it harder for employees to just come in, check a box or work a 9-to-5 just to pull a paycheck.

“We’re looking for ideas of how to better our company in all areas, from the mail room all the way up to the top financial parts of the company,” Mariano says. “If there is a better procedure and protocol or a way to innovate it to service our customers better or make us a better profit, then I ask for those types of things and very much support that type of thought process.”

As a result, the company has been a leading innovator in its field, specifically when it comes to technology. It was among the first to spearhead the use of iPhones, iPads and mobile technology to video stream information for surveillance. Being able to use the mobile devices and video streaming tools nationwide gives insurance adjusters, investigators and legal teams the ability to help employers evaluate compensation or compensability issues and make faster decisions in fraud cases.

Because fraud makes up about 20 percent of the workers’ comp cost in the United States, these advances make a big difference in helping the company differentiate itself for growth.

“Very few workers’ comp competitors really use that kind of Apple innovation on the front end to be able to be out in the field getting this information,” Mariano says.

“It’s billions of dollars being wasted each year in fraud. If you can just stop a small piece of that going on in your own companies, then that is a big thing.”

As a result, Mariano says that the company is planning its biggest expansion in the last three years. Investing in a culture and training to engage employees has helped it attract new talent as well as capture market share from its larger, but less nimble, competitors. It recently opened up offices in the Los Angeles area as well as major cities including Sacramento and St. Louis, and in 2011, the company added 85 new jobs to downtown Fort Lauderdale.

“So we’ve been an innovator,” Mariano says. “We’ve been able to come in, leverage new technologies and really come into the marketplace with a fresh set of ideas and reduce costs for the employers.”

How to reach: Patriot National Insurance Group, (954) 670-2900 or www.pnigroup.com

Takeaways

1. Be patient in your talent search.

2. Create formal training for employee development.

3. Nurture employees’ engagement in innovation.

The Mariano File

Steve Mariano

Chairman, founder, president and CEO

Patriot National Insurance Group

Born: New Jersey

Education: Georgia Tech and Ursinus College — graduated with a degree in economics.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?

Most people don't know I read a new book just about every week. There is so much information out there, so many experiences to benefit from.

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn't change?

My morning workout. Mental and physical shape are linked, and the time I spend every morning at the gym helps me clear my head, set my priorities for the day, and build the energy I need to take on the day's challenges.

What’s the toughest business decision you’ve ever had to make?

At our prior company right after 9/11, the marketplace for insurance really shrank, and I was in a situation where I had to eliminate about 85 to 100 employees just because the business model wasn’t supporting it. To me, any time you have to eliminate a position or you have to fire someone, from a leadership position, you haven’t succeeded. Any time you have to let someone go, that means you either didn’t train them correctly or they weren’t able to deliver what you thought they would be able to deliver. Or in the case when you just have a bad event like 9/11 — you just have no control over it – it’s even harder because as a CEO you have great people sometimes and there’s just nothing you can do about it.

What do you see for future growth in Florida?

I think South Florida and Florida will do a lot better over the next couple of years. I know it’s been very tough for the state in a lot of areas … and I think just given the amount of business that we’re doing with Latin and South America, and just how wonderful a state this is — no state income tax and all of that — there’s a good balance for its growth. We’re really bullish that there’s going to be better times ahead, and we look forward to being part of the community here.

Published in Florida

Dan Croft doesn’t train his employees as much as he should at Mission Critical Wireless LLC. It’s a fact he freely admits, but he just doesn’t have the time to do it.

“If somebody tells me I don’t train them enough, I say, ‘I agree with you, I don’t train you enough,’” says Croft, the 100-employee company’s founder, president and CEO. “I will tell a prospective employee, ‘Do not accept a position with us, even if we offer it to you, if you are not absolutely passionate about wireless, because I cannot pay you enough and train you enough to know what you need to know. You have to take an incredible amount of self-initiative.’”

Croft operates in an industry that is changing by the second. Mission Critical helps clients find the right wireless mobility solution for its needs. Five years ago, the most common answer centered on a BlackBerry. Now, he and his clients have a whole range of products to choose from, and those clients expect Croft to help them make the right choice.

“We have to be ahead of the curve in terms of our knowledge and experience with mobility technology,” Croft says. “That means you can never sit still.”

So Croft’s challenge is to find people who have technical expertise as well as the ability to relate to people and help clients get to the root of their needs.

“I can’t hire somebody off the street and put them to work the next day,” Croft says. “We’ve developed our own battery of technical competency tests that we use as predictors of their capacity to get down the learning curve. But we will also probe them during the interview process just looking for signs that in their life, they were always curious and looking to gain knowledge beyond what the basics of the job required.”

When he interviews prospective employees, Croft tries to see if they have what it takes to thrive in a business that is constantly changing.

“I’ll ask a prospect, ‘Give me an example of something you learned outside the company that you brought into the company,’ as opposed to, ‘Did the company train you properly?’” ne says. “Tell me about the most difficult client you’ve had to deal with and give me an example of how you dealt with them when they were very upset and unhappy. I’m not necessarily looking for whether what they did was the proper thing to do.

“What I’m looking for is were they able to think outside the box? Were they able to really determine the source of dissatisfaction and come up with creative ways to address the root cause of why a customer or client was unhappy? See how they respond under duress. When you are in the services business, I guarantee every single client is going to have something they are concerned with.”

The key to having a work force that does what you need them to do is your ability to articulate your expectations before you make the hire.

“If you don’t instill in the individual that, ultimately, they own the responsibility to be as knowledgeable about what we do and the product space that we participate in, if they don’t own that responsibility and take it seriously, they will never be successful,” Croft says.

It’s a cliché for many companies, but for Croft, the importance placed on achieving great customer service seems to make sense.

“I only have my service,” Croft says. “If I don’t do this well, if I don’t service you well, I’m out of business. That’s all I have. There is no other measure of my success.”

How to reach: Mission Critical Wireless LLC, (866) 629-7070 or www.missioncriticalwireless.com

Don’t be the hero

Dan Croft doesn’t want to be the smartest guy in the room in the eyes of his clients. His goal is to make the people who lead the businesses his company serves look good in the eyes of their employees.

“One of our challenges is always that our clients view us not as, ‘Well, we’re going to use them because we’re not capable of doing this,’” says Croft, founder, president and CEO at Mission Critical Wireless LLC. “If that’s the basis of the relationship, there’s always going to be some friction that you really don’t want to deal with.

“We work very hard at letting them know that when they engage with us, they’re picking up their own staff. It’s their staff. We work for them.”

Croft is proud of the expertise his 100-employee wireless mobility company provides, but he doesn’t hold it over his clients.

“Our goal is to make our clients — and typically our client is an IT manager or a director or a CIO — our goal is to make them heroes and to make them look great,” Croft says.

Published in Chicago