Los Angeles (1224)

Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Noam Lotan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Is it more than you think?

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While nearly everyone has the occasional heartburn, if the burning sensation caused by acid in your esophagus persists, you could have GERD. The disease may be more common than you think.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as GERD, is a condition where the contents of the stomach come back up into the esophagus. The regurgitated liquid usually contains acid produced by the stomach. While your stomach is designed to handle the acid it produces, your esophagus is not.

“Between 10 percent and 15 percent of the population in the United States experiences GERD on a monthly basis,” says Dr. Mary Maish, assistant professor of surgery and surgical director of the UCLA Center for Esophageal Disorders.

Smart Business spoke with Maish about GERD, the symptoms associated with this disease and how it can be treated.

What causes GERD?

There are some known causes as well as many unknown causes. One thing that can cause GERD is a hiatal hernia, which is when part of your stomach pushes up into your chest. The esophagus extends from the neck through the chest and into the abdomen. In normal people, the stomach stays in the abdomen. For people with a hiatal hernia, the top portion of the stomach herniates, or pushes its way up into the chest, which is abnormal.

Another cause is that as we age our tissues tend to become more lax. The laxity in the diaphragmatic muscle does not provide the same sturdiness or strength that it needs to keep the stomach in the abdomen.

Also, patients that are very obese are more prone to GERD. Large amounts of fat put pressure on the stomach and can cause a hiatal hernia. Carbonated liquids, caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods and heavy fatty meals can also exacerbate reflux.

What are some of the symptoms associated with this affliction?

Heartburn occurs in about 80 percent of the patients with GERD. They may also have epigastric pain, chest pain, changes in their voice and respiratory symptoms such as recurrent bronchitis, recurrent pneumonia or a persistent cough. Other possible symptoms include ear, nose and throat issues like persistent dental caries, recurrent earaches, persistent sore throats and hoarseness. Gastrointestinal symptoms may include bloating, gassiness, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

How is GERD diagnosed?

There are a number of objective tests that can be used to diagnose GERD. A barium swallow allows us to not only look at how the esophagus is moving, but also helps us determine whether or not there is reflux of material from the stomach back up into the esophagus. Manometry testing consists of a small catheter placed in the nose, down the esophagus and into the stomach where it measures pressures along the esophagus. Most importantly, it measures the pressure of the lower esophageal sphincter that connects the esophagus to the stomach. If the pressure is low then we know that the patient is likely to be experiencing a lot more reflux than an average person who has normal pressure.

A pH probe test measures the total amount of acid that is dispensed over a 24-hour period of time. There are normal amounts of acid that come up from the stomach into the esophagus in every individual, but this test will measure how much acid, based on the pH, that someone is being exposed to. Finally, an endoscopy allows us to look at the lining of an esophagus and determine if there are any complications from GERD.

How is it treated?

Patients with mild GERD, or occasional reflux, are generally treated with acid inhibition medicine, or what we call proton pump inhibitors. These medicines include Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid. It can also be treated intermittently with H2-blockers such as Pepcid, Tagamet and Zantac.

If complications persist, what surgery options are there?

If the symptoms are persistent and severe, or if there is any indication of complications from reflux then surgery can be considered. The type of surgery that we recommend is called a Nissen fundoplication. During this surgery the top part of the stomach is wrapped around the bottom part of the esophagus in order to create a new valve because the old valve is not working properly. The procedure is done laparoscopically with minimally invasive techniques and generally there is only a one- or two-day hospital stay.

DR. MARY MAISH is assistant professor of surgery and surgical director of the UCLA Center for Esophageal Disorders. Reach Esophageal Center Coordinator Rebecca Allegretto, RN, MBA, at rallegretto@mednet.ucla.edu or (310) 825-6167 or through the Web site www.esophagealcenter.ucla.edu.

Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

The Boeckmann file

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Age: 76

Born:Glendale

History: Hired as a salesman at the Nash Glendale dealer in 1952. Moved to Galpin in 1953. Became president in 1963, majority owner in 1964 and sole owner in 1968.

Fun fact about Galpin: Galpin Auto Sports is the custom body shop featured on the MTV show ‘Pimp My Ride.’

What is your definition of success?

First, you need to have your life in order. For me, that’s God first, family second and business third. A lot of executives get into trouble when they get those confused. You have to remind yourself to put business in the right order in your life.

What characteristics do you admire in a business leader?

Integrity and true concern for others. I don’t see it in all business leaders, unfortunately. But you find it in the way a person leads their life. One story I have is that I loan cars to some pastors in the area and I ask only one thing of them in return. I ask that if they ever hear a complaint of any kind about Galpin, to either call me or give the information to my secretary, and I’ll try to take care of the problem. If I can take care of the problem and treat people right, hopefully, they’ll want to keep doing business with me.

Boeckmann on making decisions: We work toward a consensus wherever possible. Awhile ago, we were offered a certain product, we had a couple of companies competing, we came together, looked at the presentation and came to a consensus. So wherever possible, we do that. But sometimes you need to take leadership and make a decision. I tease a little bit and tell them that this isn’t a democracy.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

SOA-I – what?

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Information technology (IT) has had to reposition itself on an ongoing basis. The evolution has gone from centralized mainframes to client/server, Windows and Web services to what is now known as “service-oriented architecture and infrastructure” (SOA-I). SOA-I is a paradigm change in that it’s a framework and mind-set that links required business needs to IT resources. Simply put, SOA-I is an approach to IT design where IT services are assembled from reusable technology components that are available on demand. To some, that may be enough information for a full understanding of SOA-I. To most, it is more computer jargon that begs for additional explanation.

“I like to use the comparison of a custom-service restaurant to a high-quality buffet to easily explain SOA-I,” says Omar Yakar, CEO of Agile360 Inc. “Imagine being hungry and going to a nice restaurant where there is no menu, and you order anything you like. The chef must prepare the meal, perhaps going out for ingredients that may not be easily available, which could take a long time. However, a high-quality buffet lets you choose just what you want from available items — and you get to eat right away. Which one do you think is more economical and satisfying?”

Smart Business talked with Yakar for further clarification as to what SOA-I is and what it can mean to a business.

How do you analogize SOA-I to a high-quality buffet?

Before SOA-I, you could go to your IT staffers and give them a problem to solve or tell them what you wanted to accomplish with technology. They would most likely design a solution that would do just what you wanted, but would be incremental to your other IT systems. This approach is like the fancy restaurant. You get what you want but it might take awhile until you can start eating, and it’s really expensive.

You choose one item to be your appetizer, one as your salad and an entrĂ©e. The waiter takes your order back to the chef so he can custom prepare your meal. If one of the ingredients in the menu description is not in the kitchen, the chef has to send for it and wait. If he doesn’t know how to prepare that item, he tries his best. Customization takes time and adds to the cost of the meal without ensuring quality.

SOA-I is like the high-quality buffet. The restaurateur individually prepares each of the items on the buffet and you just dish up what you want and sit down to eat it. If you don’t want lamb, you don’t pick it up or dish up anything containing it. If you want prime rib and a salad, you just add it.

With SOA-I, various technology components have been de-coupled. You pick what you want, plug it in and start using it as a service.

How does this help the company?

It costs the restaurateur more to custom prepare each meal and to have numerous ingredients on hand. It also takes more people to custom prepare each meal. If the kitchen runs out of a particular ingredient, the food preparers either have to send someone out to get it or disappoint you by not filling your order.

The same goes with the old paradigm of custom filling any IT needs.

With SOA-I, the buffet operator has already prepared different items ahead of time and placed them on the buffet table to satisfy a variety of diners. You decide what services you need such as remote Web access, processing power, storage, security or regulatory options, or any other services desired to fill an order. The information needed to fulfill the order may be supplied from various applications, all seamlessly working together without the cost of customization.

Service-oriented companies can show significant savings in maintenance, personnel, software and hardware costs while providing technology solutions that are agile and can rapidly change to fit their customers’ needs and potential emerging markets.

How do we automate so business analysts can order off the buffet themselves?

It starts with the SOA-I framework, or mindset, where the IT provider publishes individual technology components and the business analyst picks only what he or she needs to deliver a new application. We call this provisioning — connecting technology components to turn on a business service. At the buffet, the end user provisions the meal. In SOA-I, the end user provisions software as a service.

With clear goals, you can dramatically improve time to value, drive down costs and improve business agility.

OMAR YAKAR is CEO of Agile360 Inc. in Irvine. Reach him at (949) 253-4106 or omar.yakar@agile360.com.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

Child’s play

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Steven Dunn is not at all bashful about the competitive drive he encourages at his company.

“My license plate says GET2468,” says Dunn, president and CEO of Munchkin Inc. “Two, four, six and eight are even numbers, so it means ‘Get Even.’ If a competitor steals some category or some spots from us, I like going after them.”

In an industry dominated by giants, Dunn has leveraged Munchkin’s relative agility and quickness in breaking into the big box retailers and stealing shelf space from some mainstays of the infant products market. He has also instituted a program that allows employees — fork truck drivers included — to submit ideas for new products, and pays bonuses for those products that reach the market.

By stressing innovation and quality, Dunn helped grow Munchkin’s revenue to $74 million in 2006. Smart Business spoke to the head munchkin about the benefits of maintaining a start-up mentality.

Q: How would you describe your management style?

I’m very hands-on in certain areas and I’m very hands-off in other areas. I pick my spots to jump in.

Even though we’re a 17-year-old company, I’ve tried to maintain our start-up status. If you think about whom we compete with — Gerber, Playtex, Evenflo, 50- to 100-year-old brands — even though we’ll do $90 million in revenue next year, I still try to encourage us to look at ourselves like a start-up company.

We’re kind of a David and Goliath underdog against much bigger companies. My style tends to be to pick certain projects, certain goals, certain key opportunities and make sure everybody is aligned at making those goals, making those presentations and choosing which ones can really affect this year’s revenues or next year’s revenues or our relationship with key customers.

Q: What are the benefits of maintaining a start-up mindset?

The benefit is staying lean and not creating too much bureaucracy or too many different levels where it slows down our process or our speed to make decisions when speed is a real benefit.

With respect to the infant industry, there are just much bigger competitors. We like looking at the financials of some of the bigger, public companies we compete with. We like looking at their key business ratios and we like being better than them on every key ratio that makes sense.

It’s knowing your competition. It’s saying to my group, ‘Hey, XYZ company’s inventory turn is 7.2, and ours is 6.4. Why can’t we be ahead of them?’ It’s continuing to challenge my guys and challenge them in a way that they see someone else is doing it and asking why we shouldn’t be the best in every aspect of our business.

Q: How can a leader motivate his or her employees?

In a lot of companies, people come to work and they don’t know how the company is doing, they don’t have a clear strategy, and they get their paycheck and they hope they get a bonus at the end of the year.

Here, everything is very open. We pay fair salaries. We also put 12.5 percent of our pretax profits in a bonus pool. We don’t pay a penny more and we don’t pay a penny less. If we make $800,000 in a month, a little under $100,000 goes in our bonus pool for that month that we all share in, and that goes down to fork truck drivers, warehouse people, everyone in the organization, and nobody has a set bonus. It’s all based on what you contributed.

A significant number of our employees own options in the company or have stock in the company. What that tends to do is get everyone focused on really growing our revenue, reducing our costs and making good key hires.

When we bring a new person in, the real question is, ‘Is that person paying for themselves?’

Q: What is the danger in growing too fast?

Especially if you’re a creative group, sometimes you get sucked in with, ‘Gosh, we’ve invented a great product for the houseware industry,’ but we’re not in the houseware industry. We’re in the infant and toddler and pet industry. It might be a great product, but it involves new buyers, new risk and it’s out of our area.

Part of it is just saying no to brilliant ideas that are brilliant products that aren’t in areas that we’re strong in. It’s important to set up those disciplines but also be flexible when the right opportunity comes along to perhaps move into another category or make an acquisition.

You have to stay focused and choose the opportunities to pursue or to add new products that are really within your strengths. Look at the core strengths of your business. Some of the best decisions you make are saying no to certain opportunities. You have to pick the opportunities that you have the best chance of success with and don’t jeopardize your company.

HOW TO REACH: Munchkin Inc., (800) 344-2229 or www.munchkin.com

Monday, 26 March 2007 20:00

The great balancing act

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In an increasingly complex business world, the need to effectively balance risk is greater than ever. Myriad changes in the business environment, including advances in technology, globalization and the accelerated pace of conducting commerce, have all contributed to the growing number and complexity of risks.

Spurred by greater recognition of the numerous risks facing their organizations, many executives are turning to enterprise risk management (ERM). By identifying and assessing risks and then determining methods to control these risks, a company can gain a competitive advantage over its rivals, says Terry Campbell, managing director of the Global Risk Management Practice for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

“Companies that implement an effective enterprise risk management program will have a lower cost of risk than their peers, which will provide them an advantage in the cost of their products or services that leads to greater growth and profitability for these organizations,” says Campbell.

Smart Business spoke with Campbell about enterprise risk management, the benefits it can provide and how to go about implementing a program.

What is enterprise risk management?

While ERM has gained traction over the last several years, there is still significant confusion as to what ERM really is, how do you implement it within an organization and what the benefits are. These are questions faced every day by risk managers and brokers alike when asked if they should implement an enterprise risk management program. While ERM has become a buzzword within risk management and the activity level in this arena has increased, the question still remains among many risk management professionals: What is ERM? In the absence of a defined and consistent definition, ERM is a process that allows an organization to:

  • Effectively identify its significant risks

  • Assess each of these risks

  • Determine methods for managing and controlling these risks

  • Implement selected risk control techniques to manage the risks

  • Monitor ongoing controls and make necessary modifications as needed

How can a company benefit from having an enterprise risk management program in place?

An ERM program provides awareness to stakeholders within a company and provides a view of risk across the entire enterprise. It also allows a company to develop common language for evaluating risk as well as identify interdependencies within the organization. Finally, an ERM program enables you to aggregate the amount of risk within the enterprise and formalize the risk levels you are willing to assume. While ERM is not mandatory, competitive forces will drive organizations in this direction.

What are the hurdles associated with starting an enterprise risk management program?

The first hurdle is determining what the concept of an ERM program really means within your organization. When embarking on an ERM study, cross-functional cooperation is imperative. Fears arise in the form of peers evaluating the performance of your business unit without understanding the intricacies of your operation. This can also lead to the concern of ‘turf grabbing’ by individuals. The time required to go through the ERM process is significant and requires a commitment of time by key members of your organization. Sometimes, this investment is difficult to secure when the value to the enterprise at inception is undetermined and unquantified.

What does the ERM process consist of?

  • Understanding the risk appetite of your organization and its enterprise values

  • Evaluating the goals of the process and making sure they align with the mission of the enterprise

  • Identifying internal and external events that could impact your objectives

  • Conducting analyses on the events that have the greatest likelihood of impacting the enterprise

  • Determining the proper technique(s) for responding to risk whether that is avoidance, acceptance, reduction and/or sharing. Whatever action is undertaken it must align with the organizations tolerance to risk

  • Establishing and implementing policies and procedures to ensure that risk responses are effectively carried out

  • Effective communication should flow throughout (down/across/up) the enterprise.

TERRY CAMPBELL is the managing director of the Global Risk Management Practice for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. Reach him at (818) 539-1383 or terry_campbell@ajg.com.

Monday, 26 March 2007 20:00

A helping hand

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Every company wants its employees to succeed. One way to guide employees toward their full potential is by using a practice called performance intervention.

Performance intervention is more than a fancy name for coaching, mentoring or formal performance appraisals, says Don St. Clair, vice president for enrollment management and marketing and adjunct faculty member of organizational leadership at Woodbury University. “Performance intervention suggests that when you see a possible performance problem, you’re going to immediately take action on it in a positive manner.”

Smart Business spoke with St. Clair about performance intervention, how it can best be utilized and what pitfalls to avoid.

What is performance intervention?

Performance intervention is the concept of identifying gaps or areas in employees’ performance that can be strengthened or improved. When employees have an area that they’re underperforming in, rather than taking punitive action, which can even include firing someone, you want to intervene. You want to take employees aside and tell them what areas they need to improve in and how you will help them meet these expectations.

How can a company best utilize performance intervention to improve employee productivity?

The first thing that should be done is to position performance intervention as a good thing, not a bad thing. The inclination in many organizations is that people not meeting expectations should be replaced. The fact is that employee turnover costs a lot of money. There is the cost of finding and recruiting employees, the cost of training employees, the lost productivity when a position is open and the lost productivity associated with somebody getting up to speed. It is important to recognize that dismissal should be the course of last resort.

Performance intervention can be utilized to identify the areas of employee productivity that aren’t where you’d like them to be. By identifying the areas of employee performance that could be improved and then by taking a proactive approach to help the employee become better, you’re going to increase productivity, reduce turnover and improve morale.

How should a company get started with performance intervention?

It starts with being able to identify exactly what it is that you expect from employees. I like to break it into two different categories: the characteristics that you would like an employee to have and the specific job outcomes that you would like the employee to achieve. The characteristics might be personal. For instance, maybe you have an employee who does a great job and is very competent, but doesn’t always dress well. This can be an issue with younger employees who have limited business experience and don’t understand that you don’t dress for work the same way you dress for a 9 a.m. physics class. Public speaking could be another personal characteristic. Maybe you have someone who is capable but doesn’t speak well publicly. Performance intervention would address these issues by coaching the employees on how to dress or how to appropriately speak in public.

On the other hand, you might want to address outcomes. For instance, there might be an employee who is not meeting sales targets. In this case, you would want to have a very specific outcome-oriented intervention to establish how he or she is doing the job, and how you can help him or her do better.

What are some pitfalls to avoid?

The number one thing is that employee interventions need to be positioned as a positive thing. The performance evaluation should be going on all the time, not just once a year. A number of years ago, Ken Blanchard wrote a book called the “The One Minute Manager.” This book is about catching people doing things right and doing things wrong and identifying them on the spot. If an employee is doing something really well, you should take a second out of your day to tell him or her what he or she did was really great. On the other hand, if you find someone doing something wrong, rather than making a note in a file and talking to him or her about it at their end-of-the-year performance evaluation, you should stop them right there and tell how he or she can approach the situation better.

Once in place, how should a system be evaluated?

If you’re doing good appraisals and intervening in performance problems timely and positively then you should have less turnover than you did before. The idea is that you don’t want to replace people. You want to get people into the organization, get them performing at a high level and keep them performing at a high level.

DON ST. CLAIR is vice president for enrollment management and marketing and adjunct faculty member of organizational leadership at Woodbury University. Reach him at don.stclair@woodbury.edu.

Monday, 26 March 2007 20:00

Get your bank’s attention

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To prosper in an increasingly competitive marketplace, it is imperative to have a strong and dedicated banking partner that has the resources to help expand and grow your business. Ideally, the bank should feature advanced state-ofthe-art business systems and a structure that encourages involvement from senior personnel.

The blending of new technologies with an old-fashioned personalized touch is the hallmark of quality commercial banks in these modern times. A bank that doesn’t pay attention to your company’s individual needs — no matter how many bells and whistles it offers — probably isn’t worthy of receiving your deposits.

Of course, communication is a two-way street. To fully take advantage of a bank’s products and services, you will need to openly communicate your needs.

Forming a productive relationship with your commercial banker can pay huge dividends, says Joe Yurosek, senior vice president and regional group manager at Comerica Bank. “Establishing strong relationships with our clients helps us provide advisory-type services,” says Yurosek. “Once we’ve moved into a professional advisory role, we can anticipate our clients’ needs. Coming to our clients with new ideas provides them with more data to assess what they can and can’t do in the marketplace.”

Smart Business spoke with Yurosek about choosing a commercial bank, the importance of personal relationships and how a quality bank can help their client grow.

How should a company go about finding a good commercial bank?

The best way is to utilize existing, known relationships through referrals and references. This includes CPAs, attorneys and other business owners. Not only should you ask your contacts who they know, but you should ask specific questions. For example, How responsive is the bank to credit requests? How accessible are senior managers or decision-makers at the bank?

It is a combination of getting references from people you trust and asking the right questions that relate to your company.

What types of products should a quality bank bring to the table?

These days, pretty much all of the top-tier corporate banks provide full-service products. Some of the important ones include full corporate credit capabilities, cash management services, strong international capabilities and Internet-based cash management systems. Quality banks have invested heavily in developing state-of-theart software systems. Also, clients are looking for one point of contact, so they can use the relationship they develop for their private banking needs.

How important are personal relationships between a company and its bank?

They are very important. You want to build trust in any professional relationship. Speaking from the bank’s perspective, the more we know about the ultimate needs of our clients, the better we can provide an advisory role to our clients. This enables us to separate ourselves from other banks by becoming more proactive and less reactive.

What role does communication play in developing a positive working relationship?

You need good communication so that there are never any surprises for either the bank or for the client. Customers often want their bank to provide them with direction in their business investment decisions. The only way that both of us can know which direction we’re headed is open and frequent communication. This applies both when times are good and when they’re not so good.

How can a bank help a company develop and expand its presence internationally?

In terms of the global market, banks can help provide additional contacts overseas. We have banking contacts and a representative office in China, for example. Something as simple as providing a customer with contacts that are on the ground in a foreign country would help them assess whether they should be outsourcing production. Banks often have clients that they can introduce to other clients that have already produced products in a foreign country.

When it comes to helping customers expand, we are a wealth of information because we have significant contacts with customers and clients who have already done business overseas. Also, banks that have invested in people on the ground in foreign countries can provide customers with knowledge of the foreign local capabilities.

JOE YUROSEK is senior vice president and regional group manager at Comerica Bank. Reach him at (562) 590-2561 or jpyurosek@comerica.com.

Monday, 26 March 2007 20:00

The Keister file

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Age: 61

Born: Laurel, Md.

Education: Graduate of Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management Program

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Know where you are going. It is impossible to lead an organization anywhere unless you know where you are headed. Only then can others understand the mission and the possibilities for the future.

What traits or skills does a business leader need?

One of the most important skills any business leader must have is a good grasp of communication. You must be able to humbly and yet confidently communicate to others what your vision is for the company and what its mission is, or there is little chance it will ever get translated throughout the organization. Only through that constant communication and reinforcement can you drive the culture through the organization.

What are some universal truths you’ve learned about leading a business?

A leader must have integrity and must lead by example. Small things matter. Furthermore, everyone needs to receive feedback on their accomplishments and performance. They need to know that the leadership appreciates what they are doing, and they need to hear the brutal facts when they make poor decisions.

What is your definition of success?

A company that is built to last, one that has a strong foundation and a strong core, one where people feel they matter and where they belong. To have a future, you must have growth for everyone. From our lowest- to our highest-paid people, from our vendors to our customers, from our leaders to our shareholders, everyone must share in the success. At the end of day, success is defined by setting and achieving goals.

Wednesday, 28 February 2007 19:00

Peter T. Dameris

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On many levels, Peter T. Dameris is a people person. His company, On Assignment Inc., is in the business of human capital, providing staffing solutions for the life science and health care industries. Additionally, the leadership style of the president and CEO of On Assignment is all about investing in his people and building relationships that not only improve his company’s productivity but provide his employees with a positive and enjoyable work environment. As Dameris points out, his company has no proprietary technology or patents or products — only people. By making a daily effort to ensure the preservation of On Assignment’s culture and core values, Dameris has helped grow revenue to $285 million in 2006 and has guided the company through two successful acquisitions since the beginning of 2007. Smart Business spoke to Dameris about how having employees who are invested in their jobs leads to superior results.

Give employees ownership. I run a business that is relatively small for a public company, so I try to instill a sense of direct ownership in the business that, if you take care of this business, it will take care of you and your family.

I try to impart upon our employees that they’re with a young organization that’s growing and that there are not multiple layers of management like Procter & Gamble or GE. They can be recognized and noticed, and that plays well for us.

Our goal is to constantly communicate that there is opportunity and advancement here and that this is the best place for them to invest their talents versus some larger corporation. It’s important not only to talk about it, but to deliver on it and measure it to communicate it.

We talk about advancement opportunities, we try to hire from within, we talk about training and enhancement of internal skills, and we do that. If you’re going to play that card as a leader, you have to be prepared to be measured against what you’ve said. We track our tenure, we track our advancement, we track our successes, and then we communicate that to our employees.

Improve effort with recognition. If employees just feel like they’re coming to work and going to the same cubicle and their day is not going to change and there’s no way to be recognized, they get bored.

If you can eliminate the redundancy or the monotony of a job responsibility, you get higher productivity. If you’ve got somebody coming to work for you thinking they can make a difference or thinking they can be recognized, they’re going to be happier and they feel like they have a voice in the direction of their company.

I don’t want to overstate it, and it’s harder for multibillion-dollar companies, but you still have to have a culture where people feel like they can be recognized.

We spend a lot of time training people, and our retention tends to be better than other organizations who view people as expendable. There is a lot of money lost and downtime when you have turnover in key positions.

We tend to have a little bit better retention and overall effort because people are genuinely invested in the business they work for versus just looking for a paycheck every two weeks.

Commit to proactive communication. People don’t spend enough time on internal and strategic communications, and it creates a huge amount of anxiety and lost energy and time and distraction.

If you leave people to their own devices to figure things out on their own, they typically get it wrong. We try to do our best, we don’t always get it right, but we’re sensitive to the fact of when we’re communicating information and when we’re not. We just recently did a couple acquisitions and we were sensitive about what it would mean to the acquired companies’ employees, but just as much what it would mean to our employees.

We tried to address those issues on the front end as opposed to the back end, so we were proactive versus reactive. More corporations need to be proactive on communication versus reactive.

Know who you are and communicate it. You can’t have everyone going a different direction. Brands are hard to develop. If you set the basic tenets of ethics and quality and people know what to sell every day, day in and day out, it makes everyone’s job a lot easier.

We’re quite clear about what our direction is and we say it over and over again that we strive to be the highest quality, diversified professional staffing firm — not the largest staffing firm, but the highest margin professional staffing firm. There are messages there.

We’re not a bulk seller of human capital, we’re a professional organization. We’re not commoditizing our business and we communicate those tenets every day. Understand your business, pick the four or five things that are critical to your success, and repeat (them) often.

Use good judgment. It doesn’t matter if you have a Harvard MBA and you can do three different stochastic models in your head, if you don’t have a fundamental business judgment about what’s right and wrong and long-term benefit versus short-term gain and be able to make a quick judgment on things like that, you can’t learn it. That’s inherent.

And no matter how clever you can be and no matter how close you can get to the line without crossing it, you’ve got to have a fundamental, sound position on ethics. No matter how much you can make off of it, if it’s not good for everybody, or if it doesn’t look good, you’ve got to resist the attraction to do something like that.

Judgment and ethics allow people to be successful over the long-term versus at a particular measurement date or event.

HOW TO REACH: On Assignment Inc., (818) 878-7900 or www.onassignment.com