Los Angeles (1224)

Friday, 01 July 2005 05:48

Destination: Growth

Written by
Travel is a slippery industry. Companies selling airline tickets, hotel reservations and even travel insurance have to deal not only with the issues that plague all businesses, they’re also at the mercy of ever-changing trends and uncontrollable external forces, from politics to Mother Nature. Given all that, simply staying afloat in the travel industry is an accomplishment. But STA Travel Inc., the North American branch of an international network of niche travel planners serving students and young adults, has done more than just survive — it has thrived. Between 2001 and 2003, STA’s revenue increased 58 percent and the number of its employees shot up by 25 percent. Smart Business spoke with STA Travel Inc. President Nick Thomas about what it takes to build a business that thrives under challenging conditions.

Q: STA Travel has gained more than $100 million in revenue since 2000. To what do you attribute this growth?
We were growing sort of incrementally at about, I would say, 15 percent a year. Then, in 2002, we made a very substantial acquisition [Council Travel Inc.]. So it was a combination of organic growth and acquisitions.

Q: How do you recognize great acquisition opportunities?
We’re always on the lookout for acquisitions, and we’re in quite a niche, so we know who all the players are. We keep very close eyes on them, and when the time is right, if there’s an opportunity, we grab it.

We’re always also thinking in broader terms, [looking for] a broader opportunity. They come in all shapes and sizes, right from the small ones at a local level, which our managers normally bring to the table, to large ones, where we have to make a sort of strategic decision: Is that for us or is that not?

There’s really no shortage of opportunities. The big question is whether an opportunity is a strategic fit. That’s where we need to be, obviously, aggressive — going out and finding them — but then be brutally honest about whether they’re going to be a positive or negative.

There’ve been lots of mergers and acquisitions which have done absolutely nothing for the shareholder or owner value. You have to be a little bit careful you’re not riding an ego trip.

Q: How do you merge two diverse cultures into a single, unified culture after an acquisition?
There’s two ways of doing it, and you do them at the same time. One is that you force the issue. We were not interested in some sort of joint culture, and we felt confident in the culture of our own business, and therefore the new folk had to join that.

The other key is to be very genuine about it and encourage [new employees] to join you, rather than keeping people on the outs. So making very genuine moves to include the new people into the culture of your business is important.

Q: How do you get your employees to buy into STA’s vision?
We have a very strong philosophical bent to our business — that it’s of paramount importance to young people to travel and expand their horizons. I think that rings a chord with a lot of people, and a lot of our staff are ex-customers themselves.

So I think it’s just embracing the people into our company who’ve already accepted the philosophical proposition, and then teaching them the business side of life.

Obviously, you have to be profitable in business in order to maintain it, so there’s kind of those two sides to it. And I think just being very open with people helps it go relatively smoothly.

Q: How do you keep employees focused on core competencies?
That’s relatively simple. The way to do it is to keep people very focused on the bottom line. In our business, we’re in service and our core competencies are pretty straightforward. The question is not letting people just drift away. Have some very clear financial benchmarks that you’re trying to attain, right down to the per-person level, and keep people very focused on that.

We publish figures on a daily, weekly, monthly, annual basis on everything and anything. And we make very clear the individual expectations, and I think that’s the key to it — keep everything pinned down to the individual performance so it doesn’t allow people to sort of hide behind team performance.

Q: What are the keys to thriving in a fast-changing environment?
The travel industry has gone through a lot of upset and heartache, but people in any business with a strong customer-value proposition will always survive. When that gets lost, and it can in a hundred different places, that’s when anybody’s going to fail. We put a lot of energy into trying to figure out what customers are looking for, and as long you can continue to do that, and you’re building flexibility into your business so you can shift, you’ll be fine.

When you get really locked into something and you can’t move, and equally, you can’t spot the trend or you’re not honest with yourself to acknowledge the trend, then [you’ll have problems]. Being flexible is a big key to it.

How to reach: STA Travel, (323) 964-1900 or www.statravel.com

Thursday, 30 June 2005 05:38

Managing a successful business

Written by

Businesses come in all shapes and sizes, and with that, business owners who operate their organizations using different methods of management. But regardless of the type of business you run, all business owners face similar challenges.

Every business leader's goal is to produce a profit and provide a standard of living that is acceptable to the business owner. Whether you are an aluminum die casting manufacturer or a service provider, there are standard tenets of business that all companies must abide by in order to succeed, according to Gregg Steinberg, president of International Profit Associates, a leading North American consulting firm.

Smart Business discussed managing a profitable enterprise with Steinberg.

What are the keys to building a successful business?

To build a successful business, it is necessary for the management, ownership and employees at all levels to be able to measure and monitor daily activity and performance against set quotas and goals. To do that, key benchmarks and matrices must be trended in each individual operating unit of an organization.

Consistent trending analysis then dictates the ability to create realistic goals and quotas at all levels. Performance then must be measured against this data on a real-time, day-by-day -- if not hour-by-hour -- basis. This allows all levels of management and ownership to control revenue, profitability, cash flow and ease of operation in a meaningful way every day. Regardless of whether you are an entrepreneur running a fledgling business or a manger operating a global enterprise, this rule applies.

In addition to benchmarking a business, what are some other keys?

While benchmarking and setting key matrices are tangible issues which can be traced back to successful management tools, there are also keys to running a business that create a competitive advantage that link to a more intangible view.

These key intangibles are tied to management's vision and mission statement. Management's vision is their long-term strategic and organizational view of the broad picture and what they want the organization to become. The mission statement is the roadmap that ties the organization's operating methodologies and procedures to long term vision.

While vision and mission may be intangible on their face, they lead to tangible methodologies, systems, procedures, corporate activity, corporate governance and other internal tangible processes. In addition, vision and mission also create the external view of a company and what its public persona is outside of the organization's corporate walls.

Clearly, for an organization to be successful, it must have a full compliment of tangible and intangible resources defined by management and utilized at all levels of the organization in such a manner that it defines daily corporate culture.

Explain the difference between managing for profit and managing for cash flow.

In the early stages of an organization's development, cash flow is king. While it is certainly always a key component that must be managed closely, early stage companies most often fail because of lack of it. Profitability, on the other hand, while certainly necessary for the long term viability of the company, is not necessary for short-term survival.

Certainly, many companies produce little or no profit, but manage to stay in business anyhow. While many companies manage based on check book balances and cash availability, long-term survival is dependent on an enterprise being able to generate a reasonable profit, which in turn generates cash flow.

In other words, while it is possible to generate cash flow without profit, it is also possible to generate profit while reducing cash flow. Therefore, it is necessary that both accounts receivable and the bottom line be managed aggressively on a daily basis in order to ensure ongoing success.

What is ease of operations?

Ease of operations goes to the ability of management and ownership to work on the business strategically rather than minute by minute. The ability for management and ownership to operate in this manner is dictated by internal operating procedures and methodologies that provide up-to-the-minute flash reporting on all aspects of the business.

There are key matrices that are specific to each individual business. For example, hourly flash reports showing daily productivity against key matrices allows management to make on-the-fly operational decisions utilizing real-time, factual data tied to profit, revenue and cash flow impact rather than seat-of-the-pants guess work.

An organization that lives by this key tenet of business (real-time, factual data decision making) finds itself able to operate in an entrepreneurial decision making mode, regardless of the size of the organization.

GREGG STEINBERG is president of International Profit Associates. IPA's 1,700 employees offer consulting services to businesses throughout the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, as well as Canada. Reach him at (800) 531-7100, gregg.steinberg@ipa-iba.com or at www.ipa-iba.com.

Tuesday, 28 June 2005 20:00

Keep it short

Written by
Welcome to the premiere issue of Smart Business Los Angeles, a monthly management journal for C-level executives of middle-market and large companies. Before you say it, let me do it for you: "The last thing I need is something else to read."

I know how you feel. Running a growing organization is enough to keep anyone busy. The demands on our time from employees, suppliers and clients seems to increase every day. That's why we designed a unique publication.

After 17 years in the publishing business, we know to listen to our readers. The publication you hold in your hands -- the 12th in our growing chain -- is the result of all our listening. In one-on-one conversations, CEO focus groups and written surveys, here is what readers like you told us they want in a local management journal.

1. Big minds, big ideas. Smart Business Los Angeles will tap into the top local business minds. Take this issue as an example. Our cover story tells how John Anderson, one of L.A.'s most respected business leaders, built Topa Equities into a multibillion-dollar enterprise.

Our Smart Leaders feature, a collection of thoughts from another top local executive, showcases United Online CEO Mark Goldston, who combined Juno and NetZero into one of the largest Internet Service Providers in the country.

In the coming months, you'll hear from more of the best business minds in Los Angeles on issues ranging from leadership to motivation to innovation.

2. Go to the source. To get the latest thoughts on best practices in important business areas, we have partnered with key local service providers in areas including accounting & tax, banking & finance, management strategies and legal affairs. They have front-line experience with the issues facing middle-market companies in Los Angeles.

We talk with these companies to develop insights into issues facing executives. As I always say, wisdom comes from an abundance of counselors.

3. Keep it short. Most articles in Smart Business Los Angeles fill just a page or two. Only our cover stories are longer -- because they delve into the management styles and strategies of top executives.

And don't look for us to drop on your desk some day like a phone book. We plan to keep our page count low so you don't have to fight to find articles you are looking for.

So why are you getting Smart Business Los Angeles? One of two reasons: Because of your success in building a business to middle-market status or your senior management role at a larger company that values the middle market.

In either case, I hope you enjoy our premiere issue. And I invite you to share your feedback with me.

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

Last year marked the historic passage of health care reform. As provisions of the act begin their multiyear phase-in, health care organizations are clamoring to identify new and better ways to deliver the highest quality of care and improved clinical outcomes in a cost-effective manner.

Smart Business turned to MemorialCare Health System President and CEO Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., whose organization has gained national attention as a unique model for establishing outstanding clinical care through best practice medicine.

What is best practice medicine?

Approximately 15 years ago, a group of MemorialCare physicians decided to make a difference in the way health care is delivered. They believed that quality — and not economics — was the most important element in health care.

Today, the physicians at MemorialCare continue to lead teams of nurses and other clinicians devoted to the study and implementation of best practice, evidence-based medicine. Together, they identify the best diagnostic, treatment and preventive techniques, focusing on specific populations of patients and a wide variety of diagnoses and procedures. These include heart care, emergency medicine, cancer, orthopedics, childbirth, pulmonary disease and scores of other medical conditions. The best practice clinical guidelines that develop from these efforts have become standards of practice at all of our Southern California facilities.

How does it affect outcomes and cost of care?

While these accomplishments in clinical excellence ultimately translate to lower cost of care, more importantly, they translate into extraordinary quality, proven treatments and comprehensive care that continually raise medical standards for our patients. We are constantly improving our efficiency and effectiveness and profoundly impacting our patients and their families. By pursuing those treatments and therapies that work best, the results are outcomes that frequently exceed state and national averages for most diseases.

What has been the impact on staff?

An empowered and powerful network of clinicians and support staff works in the best interest of every patient. With shared purposes and bold goals to achieve perfect care for our patients, every health care team member is devoted to aligning safety and quality aims, while also offering support and continually learning from one another. And the Physician Society — that includes 2,000 physicians and drives our clinical standards and performance — issues report cards to its members so they can track their progress in surpassing state and national outcomes. Quality, safe health care and a passion for excellence remain MemorialCare Health System’s top priorities, keeping us clearly focused during challenging times.

Can we expect other changes in patient care?

As the United States enters an era of transformation in health care delivery, hospitals are redesigning the way they provide patient care. For our health system, care model redesign is being guided by the principles of perfectly executed care by the right people at the right time. We’re ensuring the most qualified person is closest to the patient to provide perfect care and reduce duplication — all at the lowest cost. It’s about streamlining the way we provide inpatient care and also offering ambulatory services outside of the hospital to help patients manage chronic disease and stay healthy.

What’s the role of digital patient records?

Electronic medical records, or EMRs, are critical to patient quality and safety. EMRs place a patient’s full medical history onto computers and information systems, which allows clinicians to better coordinate care through immediate access to patient data. This maximizes clinical quality through real-time decision support at points of decision-making and also eliminates most paper used in patient documentation. Paper records can slow care and create environments that are ripe for error. Efficient electronic care delivery prevents unnecessary orders and diagnostic tests, reduces medical errors and improves patient quality, safety and health. MemorialCare is among a small percentage of hospitals nationwide to implement fully integrated medical records linking inpatient, emergency and outpatient patient records at all our major sites.

How can employers help ensure quality care for their work force?

Learn about the steps hospitals and physicians are taking to improve health care in your community. Do they have best practice teams design and implement best practice tools, offer education and monitor outcomes and opportunities for further improvement? Are clinical outcomes documented and, if so, easily accessible? Have or will they shortly be implementing comprehensive electronic medical records in inpatient and ambulatory settings that interface with affiliated physicians? How intensive is their focus on supporting a strong culture of patient safety and vigilance? What procedures have they implemented to reduce hospital acquired infections and risk of complications? And what awards and recognition have they received for quality and safety performance?

BARRY ARBUCKLE, Ph.D., is president and CEO of MemorialCare Medical Centers (www.memorialcare.org) and past chair of the California Hospital Association. Reach him at arbuckle@memorialcare.org or (562) 933-9708. The not-for-profit MemorialCare Health System includes Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente. For additional information on excellence in health care, please visit memorialcare.org.

As the future of national health reform legislation remains in question and California employers manage the impacts of health benefit cost increases of 150 percent over the last decade, Smart Business turned to Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System, for answers.

What changes are expected from mid-term election results?

The 2010 health care reform legislation is far from perfect, yet its goals to insure 32 million more Americans, eliminate barriers to coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and extend coverage to age 26 for many young people are big steps forward. Expect vigorous Congressional debate to unfold over the next few years.

Are wellness and prevention programs worth the investment?

The work force is as critical to your bottom line as the quality of products and services. Costs of high-risk workers are nearly three times that of healthy employees. Nearly 70 percent of the nation’s work force is overweight, and each of those employees costs businesses an additional $500 to $2,500 in medical expenses and work loss. Wellness activities can save $1.49 to $4.91 for every dollar spent, reduce absences by 30 percent and help recruit, retain and increase employee productivity. Costs can be minimal. Instead of building a fitness center, offer pedometers, mealtime walking programs and sessions on achieving better health.

Can you describe MemorialCare’s Good Life?

Like other health-conscious employers, we implemented The Good Life to build a culture of excellence that encourages healthier daily choices for our staff. Focusing on such areas as hypertension and high cholesterol, our hospitals offer walking trails, fitness centers and nutritious, lower calorie cafeteria food. We sponsor wellness fairs, newsletters, tracking tools and incentives to improve health. Our data suggests just a 2 percent movement from chronic to improved health can save us more than $600,000 annually.

Is there evidence executive health programs are beneficial to employers?

The stress of long work hours, constant challenges and never-ending commitments can result in lack of exercise, unhealthy diets and skipped doctor visits for busy leaders.

Physicals offer quality preventive care that includes comprehensive evaluations, screenings and physical exams that are personalized, convenient, streamlined and meet the schedules of busy executives. Studies show executives undergoing physicals have 20 percent fewer health claims and lost 45 percent fewer workdays than those who did not.

Can implementing Lean initiatives help?

With declining revenues, escalating costs and demand for increased value and quality, the Lean management philosophy and workshops create a sense of purpose, team problem solving and long-term thinking by proactively engaging staff. In three years with a new ‘Lean’ approach, our medical centers have eliminated 502 unnecessary process steps and reduced distances staff travels to carry out their jobs by 1,702 miles. We expect $57 million in net revenue returned over a decade. Most importantly, we are improving the care of our patients.

Do electronic medical records improve care?

EMRs allow clinicians immediate access to a patient’s health and medical history, minimize waste and inefficiency of manual and paper-based processes, maximize clinical quality and patient outcomes at points of decision-making, reduce medical errors and improve patient care. Physician offices can link to our hospital EMRs, and patients can access their records through an online portal.

What about retail health centers?

Retail health clinics offer convenient and affordable care for consumers seeking treatment for common medical conditions, basic health needs and immunizations. Our clinics located within three ALBERTSONS/Sav-On Pharmacy stores are staffed by highly trained nurse practitioners with close oversight by physicians. Clinics offer treatment for common illnesses like colds, flu, earaches, sore throats, sinus infection, skin conditions, minor wounds and school physicals.

Where can employers start?

Make prevention a part of your business. Begin with simple screenings to make employees aware of their health status. Offer sessions that share advice, activities and coaching to reach and maintain goals. Identify employee advocates to motivate others to follow their lead. Engage your employees’ families to extend healthy habits at home. MemorialCare’s business outreach programs include workplace education, health prevention, screenings, an immunization program and health fairs. Our experts help employers identify cost reduction strategies through benefit audits and partnerships that ensure you achieve competitive prices and packages. Memorialcare.org has free online tools, calculators, guides and referrals to physicians that help your work force reach a healthier life. MemorialCare’s Presidents’ Partnership sponsors annual programs that inform and engage employers on issues they all face and seeks solutions that address the challenges and costs of health care. Working together, we can identify improvements and advocate for better care for communities we serve.

BARRY ARBUCKLE, Ph.D., is president and CEO of MemorialCare Medical Centers (www.memorialcare.org) and past chair of the California Hospital Association. Reach him at arbuckle@memorialcare.org or (562) 933-9708. The not-for-profit MemorialCare Health System includes Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente. For additional information on excellence in health care, please visit memorialcare.org.

Monday, 29 November 2010 19:00

Impactful operations

Written by

Renee White Fraser has a simple goal – she wants to utilize communications to make the world better.

“We take this to heart in the work we do,” says Fraser, president and CEO of Fraser Communications.

But what really makes Fraser Communications unique is that it’s an agency run by a consumer psychologist and Fraser has established a corporate culture that seeks to give back to society. Her company has become unique in that its client roster is comprised of a mix of private and public sector accounts, which Fraser says keeps her team in the know about behaviors, changing behaviors and creating habits.

With notable clients such as Toyota, BusinessWire and Whole Foods Market, Fraser’s company has become a go-to firm when you’re interested in making an impact.

Because of this, she was named one of the 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and Chase Bank. We asked her how she keeps Fraser Communications one step ahead of the pack.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

In our business, digital and social media have become the new territories. We had to educate the company and our senior management in these areas fast. We invested in good people early on and attend multiple conferences. This has been a challenge in tough times, but it has paid off. We now lead in many digital areas and find ourselves better prepared than many competitors.

Enabling people to learn while working hard at their current jobs and painting a picture of the future was key. This has meant taking new ideas to clients even before they are ready for some of the digital approaches. But, we want them to know we are on the forefront and ready to activate in digital and social media.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

Innovation is at the heart of the company. We reward people for coming in with new ideas and salute the new approaches at monthly lunches for the entire agency.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

Our mantra is to do utilize communications to make the world better. We take this to heart in the work that we do. So we have focused on environmental issues and conservation for the last 7 years – doing “Flex Your Power”, “BeWaterWise”, “I know” (an anti-STD campaign) and Aids awareness campaigns. All this work has been award-winning but more importantly, it has worked. We know we are making a difference and changing behaviors. Our work for First 5 California has helped parents prepare healthier foods for their kids and make healthier choices.  It matters -we know communications can have an impact; and we like knowing our impact is for the better.

How to reach: Fraser Communications, http://www.frasercommunications.com/

The Smart Leaders Class of 2010

In November 2010, Smart Business and Chase Bank recognized 10 business leaders for their commitment to business excellence and the impact their organizations make on the regional community. Treated to a keynote address by MemorialCare Health System CEO Dr. Barry Arbuckle, these 10 leaders composed the honor roll:

Scott Bowling

Nien-Ling Wacker

General Robert Nolan

Renee Fraser White

Lawrence Jackson

James Chu

Adam Coffey

Bryan Green

Greg Jenkins

Neal Schore

For many Americans, cancer is the most feared diagnosis. The lifetime probability of an invasive cancer is 44 percent for men and 38 percent for women. Yet significant advances and preventive measures are contributing to declining rates of cancer diagnoses and deaths.

To learn more, Smart Business spoke to Philip Di Saia, M.D., medical director, the Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and world renowned leader and researcher in gynecologic oncology; and Jerry Finklestein, M.D., highly regarded pediatric oncologist and founding medical director of Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach.

What causes cancer?

While causes are unknown, research is helping identify causes and cures. Since different cancers have different risk factors, understanding them can help in prevention. Fortunately, some factors — like not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and diet, and getting plenty of exercise — help reduce your risk of cancer. Other risk factors like age, ethnicity, family history and inherited genes cannot be changed. Genetic counseling offered through Long Beach Memorial Medical Center helps patients determine their risk for diseases that can be inherited, including colon, uterine, breast and ovarian cancer. Families with higher than expected numbers of cancer cases may benefit from a Hereditary Cancer Risk Assessment consultation.

Why are the rates declining?

We are witnessing much more effective diagnosis and treatment of major cancers. Screenings, such as pap smears to identify cervical cancer, mammograms to detect breast cancer, colonoscopies to identify colon cancer and PSA tests to determine the likelihood of prostate cancer, are examples. Laws that restrict smoking and education on its associated risks are stemming lung cancer. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also reduce the onset of cancer. Vaccines like those used to prevent cervical cancer in women may be effective in other cancers as well. Emerging treatment technologies, techniques and drug discoveries help us more accurately treat cancer with fewer side effects.

Can we access these advances locally?

The Todd Cancer Institute and Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center are dedicated to early diagnosis, research, treatment and education of patients with cancer or serious blood disorders. Adult and pediatric cancer patients have access to more than 100 ongoing cancer research protocols, including those sponsored by Children’s Oncology Group. Through interdisciplinary treatment planning conferences, specialists review new or difficult cases and develop treatment plans suited to each patient’s specific needs.

Our Leavey Radiation Oncology Center consistently achieves breakthrough results, and uses the most advanced technologies and therapies. At the forefront of adult cancer management are our divisions of gynecologic, breast, thoracic, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, radiation oncology, genetic counseling services and robotic surgery. We were one of the first cancer programs to make individualized cancer therapy and targeted treatment a clinical reality.

What is the progress on childhood cancers?

Of the 1.5 million new cancers diagnosed this year, more than 10,000 affect children between infancy and the age of 15. Before the 1970s, only half of children with cancer survived beyond five years following diagnosis. Today, 80 percent of children with cancer survive, thanks to research and better treatments. Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center combines advanced diagnostic and treatment programs with comprehensive psychosocial services along with a multi-disciplinary care team that follows every cancer or blood disorder patient from time of admission, throughout their hospital stay, and through follow-up care in outpatient settings. Integrating new research efforts into treatment plans allows our patients access to leading therapies.

What can we expect in the future?

Scores of cancer therapies and treatments are in varying stages of development as researchers continue to learn even more about cancer cell biology and newer treatments. Pharmaceuticals are being created to better kill tumors by cutting off their blood supply. Therapeutic vaccines hope to harness a patient’s immune system. Gene sequencing looks for specific DNA mutations that occur with different types of cancers. The ability to identify those mutations may lead to new treatments. Physicians are beginning to use knowledge gained by research to look at an individual’s DNA to predict cancer risk. A personalized screening for those at higher risk will help catch cancer at its earliest signs. Doctors will be better able to customize treatment by choosing the most effective treatment and thus avoiding those that will not work.

How can employers help?

Encourage employees to take advantage of cancer screenings. Initiate wellness programs. These can be as simple as ensuring worksite eating places and vending machines offer healthy food, distributing exercise tips and providing pedometers for employees to gauge their walking activities.

Partner with accredited cancer centers at local hospitals to offer onsite education. Our memorialcare.org website has a wealth of information on cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment.

Philip Di Saia, M.D., is medical director of the Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. Jerry Finklestein, M.D., is a pediatric oncologist and founding medical director of Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach. The not-for-profit MemorialCare Health System includes Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente. For additional information on excellence in health care, please visit memorialcare.org.

Thursday, 26 August 2010 20:00

The Chemla File

Written by

Born: I was born in Tunisia when Tunisia was a French colony, and then when Tunisia [gained independence] we moved back to France, so I was in France when I was 9 years old.

Education: Cachan University, outside of Paris. Studied economics and business for two years.

Career: I left [Cachan] to help my father. He was in a clothing business and I was doing beautiful dresses and skirts. I did that for many years, and then decided to move to the United States, where I really wanted to go.

I got the opportunity when I sat down with my friend of Club Med, who his father was a founder of Club Med sent him to United States to run the North American operations. He approached me and said, ‘Would you want to work with me? … Come, and if you don’t like it, you can always start your own business.’

That was in 1981, and in 1990, I gave my resignation. … The chairman of the board of Club Med was also a good friend of mine, and he told me, ‘You know, you’re leaving in ’91. I tell you something, as an executive of Club Med, I’m very sad to see you go because you are one of the best executives. And as a friend of yours, I think you’re out of your mind because no one opens a business in ’91 when it’s a recession and the Gulf War.’

It was great because, you know what, you come here in the land of opportunity and you have a possibility of doing [anything]. What I’ve always loved is entrepreneurial mentality and this country gives you the right to do it and this country opens the door for anything you want as long as you operate legally and properly. Then you have all doors open for you. There’s absolutely no way I would have been able to accomplish what I have accomplished here in Europe. Absolutely no way.

Where is your favorite travel destination?

Morocco would be one of them, and Bali would be another one. There is something in the air for me. There’s this incredible smell that makes you feel like you’re really on vacation.

As founder and president of DOMA Properties, Scott Hamilton usually saw about 100 people coming in each week, but in 2007, that number suddenly dropped to about 25. Sales went from 12 to 15 a month down to just two or three.

“It was interesting,” he says. “It was almost like somebody had turned a faucet off. … It was a big drop off, so it became pretty clear that something needed to change.”

Hamilton decided that the company needed to buckle down to weather the downturn.

“It forced us to adjust very quickly,” he says. “… We didn’t have the luxury of stopping and waiting for something to happen. We actually had to react to the market immediately.”

So he made some tough choices and got closer to customers, and as a result, Doma had $50 million in 2009 sales.

Smart Business spoke with Hamilton about how he led the company through the downturn. 

What is the key to successfully leading a business even in a down economy?

Through a lot of hard work that’s for sure. The key to our success was to be adaptable to the changing business environment and also to put your nose to the grindstone and work as hard as you can to get to your end goal. We’ve also always done things, even when times were easy, we have always done sort of the proper sales methodology, so we didn’t have to change our sales programming. We did have to work harder at the types of businesses that were made available to us, like the foreclosure business for example.

One of the benefits of being a small business is you can be flexible and change your business model if you need to. In our business, some have struggled with this kind of changing real estate. We’ve actually been pretty quick to adjust to the changing market. I don’t know that we could adjust as quickly if we were as large as a Coldwell Bank or something like that. 

How do you know when you need to adjust and what steps did you take?

When the sales stop happening and the money stops coming in, it’s pretty clear you need to do something different.

For us, it was focus on our customers and what it was that they were looking for. Our challenge was we are a service industry that is depending on people to buy homes — whether it is a good economy or a bad economy and regardless of what the general perception of what real estate was. We have to figure out what it is exactly that they want to buy. For us, it went back to our customers and trying to figure out exactly what it was that they were looking for. What we found was very much about price. Financing didn’t have much to do with it. We’ve had some very creative financing and some great programs but that didn’t really work. What it boiled down to was that buyers just wanted the price adjustment.

What tips can you give other leaders to better know what their customers are looking for?

We are fortunate to have a lot of buyers coming in on a regular basis, so we have a lot of contact with our customers. I don’t know if that’s always the case, but if you have the opportunity to get in front of your customers, that is the best possible source of information. If you don’t, I don’t know for all businesses how they get in touch with their customers, but for us, we are in front of the customer every single day.

We are dealing with people who are looking for a home. There was a time when the market was super heated and people were looking for real estate to invest in, not so much as a home. As the market turned, that sort of changed almost overnight. You started to see people who were just looking for a place to live and they were looking for a home. They weren’t looking for an investment that was going to be worth 5 percent the following year.

What else did you do to get through?

We have a lot of people working with us who are hardworking agents. A lot of brokerages rely on what they call a 90/10 rule, where basically they have 10 percent of agents supplying 90 percent of their income. We kind of go the opposite way. Most of the people that work for us are producers, so we haven’t had to waste a lot of time dealing with agents that are new and really don’t know what they are doing and need a lot of direction. We have had a selective quality. The benefit to our company is we have quality agents, and as we’ve evolved, they have continued to do business.

It’s knowing how business operates and how I can work harder and apply myself within my industry to make money. That’s been my advantage. I don’t know if I would have any specific advice unless it was speaking about a specific industry other than to say if you know your industry and you know how it works, just working harder at it and being diligent as you can be, ultimately, you will be successful. We actually thrived in one of the worst economic downturns in recent economic history by just kind of buckling down and working very hard. It’s just the nuts and bolts of and business, I suppose.

How to reach: DOMA Properties, (562) 481-3800 or http://www.domaproperties.com/

Monday, 26 July 2010 20:00

The Congdon file

Written by

Born: Los Angeles

Education: Graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles with a degree in political science with an emphasis in American constitutional law and international relations

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

My first job was at Procter & Gamble, and I learned that I’m not made for big corporations. I like a more entrepreneurial atmosphere. I respected them a lot; they are big believers in brand, and so am I.

I also learned that good people will hang around if you compensate them well. Procter & Gamble was pretty generous with their benefits and we stick true to our benefits. We’re one of the few companies that still has a matching 401(k) and covers 100 percent of the health insurance for all of our employees.

Whom do you admire most and why?

That’s Nelson Mandela and the reason is if there’s anybody that could have been driven for the basic human instinct for revenge, it would have been him. But the fact that he was able to rise above it was an indicator of his greatness, and from that came greatness: what he was able to achieve in his country. It’s just unbelievable, I mean, infinitely impressive to me, that amount of character that it took for him to do that.

What’s your definition of success?

Waking up and being excited about the day that’s in front of you; that’s a day-to-day success. Not everybody can do that. So I feel like I’m successful on a day-by-day basis if I’m looking forward to my day.

Your workday is off to a bad start. How do you turn it around?

Take your list of things to do and immediately tackle the one that you’re least looking forward to. It’s usually smaller than you think it is and clears the path for the rest of your day because you’ve got something out of the way.