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Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:30

How to strengthen your weakest security link

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If you are a C-level business executive, have you ever stopped and given serious thought about how much confidential data is in your email?

If you are like most executives, you have full financial statements in Excel attachments. You’ve got emails surrounding confidential business deals, acquisitions and the like. And you’ve got information in there that would be of great value to a competitor, like client lists or top deals that have closed.

Now stop and think again — where is this data all stored? For 99 percent of us, it exists on our mobile phone, says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group.

“It’s on that device that we leave laying around just about anywhere: on our desk, on a table at a restaurant, in our gym bag, in our golf cart, in our car, in our hotel room, by the pool — just about anywhere,” Schuler says.

Smart Business spoke with Schuler about the need to protect company data contained on cellular phones.

What should companies do to protect data on cell phones?

Companies spend thousands of dollars protecting servers with firewalls, locked doors, complex passwords, etc., but how much money or time do they spend protecting the data on cell phones? Probably almost none.

One could even make the argument that if a cell phone was compromised or stolen, a thief would have a much easier job getting to the data that he’s looking for, because it’s all organized nicely in folders. A folder might even be labeled ‘private,’ ‘confidential’ or ‘financial information.’ You get the picture.

So what’s the solution? You need to treat the mobile devices that access your network just like you treat the rest of your network. You need to manage them and manage the security around them. This is why the term ‘mobile device management’ (MDM) has recently come into the spotlight.

What is mobile device management?

It is a centralized system that manages all of the mobile devices that connect to your network. It is a piece of software that is downloaded to a mobile device and then communicates back to the corporate network, letting you do all kinds of nifty security things. First and foremost, it can force any user connecting to your email server to use a password. Sure, you can set a companywide policy that they need to have a password, but lazy people will turn it off. With mobile device management, they can’t turn it off.

How secure is that four-digit pass code anyhow? If I were someone who knew you and wanted to get into your phone, I’d try your birthday, your year of birth, your address, the last four digits of your Social Security number, the year you got married, the last four digits of your phone number, etc. I’d probably have a pretty good chance of being right. With the right MDM solution, you can actually have the software wipe your phone after X number of incorrect password attempts. How cool is that? You also can do things such as limit access to app stores, set Web browser security preferences, restrict use of the camera and more.

What happens if a phone is lost?

You call your IT department or support provider and they wipe your phone, which can be done even without MDM. But what’s even better is that you can go to the Verizon store, get a new phone, and your IT department/provider can send you a text containing a link to download your MDM app. You download the app, and they can provision your email and the rest of your phone — think remote desktop support for your phone.

Regardless of whether your employees have their own devices or if they are company issued, if they connect to your network, they must be secured.

Zack Schuler is founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at ZSchuler@CalNetTech.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Cal Net Technology Group

Data, stored digitally, has become critical to a business’s ability to function. However, major catastrophes — from fires to earthquakes to floods — can cripple hardware and put terabytes of a company’s data at risk, making it vital to have a business continuity plan in place to protect digital information.

“A business continuity plan is insurance for your data,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ. “It ensures that your business can sustain a disaster that affects your ability to access data at your main site.”

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about data security and the role it plays in a business continuity plan.

What is a business continuity plan and how can it impact a business?

From a technology perspective, a business continuity plan is your strategy for resuming business following a natural or man-made disaster in as short a period of time as possible. Your plan should be based on the type of data you create on a daily basis, how it is being maintained and the amount of time your business can operate without being able to access it.

Business plans differ from company to company. But generally, if you can’t sustain being without access to particular data for more than a few minutes, that data is critical, and that plan will look different than plans that pertain to data you can live without for hours or days.

Business continuity can save a business even when there is no disaster. Accidental removal or deletion of certain data sets can be very damaging to a business. However, if you have a business continuity plan and regularly back up your data, you will have less reason to worry.

What are the elements of a business continuity plan?

First, determine how you will back up your data. Critical information should be backed up every hour. Less critical data can be backed up more infrequently.

Make sure data is being backed up and secured off-site so that, if you can’t get to your office, the data is available to you. Your backup site should be outside of your primary location.

Second, you need a plan to restore your data when things come back online. Test your off-site server to understand how much lag time there is until data can be restored and employees can start using it.

Third, outsource your primary server farm or infrastructure to an outsourced data center. Outsourcing your server to a data center means it is housed in a facility with multiple levels of redundancy designed to sustain power outages and has multiple, high-speed connections coming from diverse entrances so data can be accessed even if the fibers are cut in the street. You can use facilities such as these as your secondary server, no matter where your business is located. Then, if something happens, you will have access to your data.

When should a business continuity plan be implemented?

The minute you have critical data, you need a plan to back it up. However, with the economic downturn, many companies cut the aspects of their business continuity plan that dealt with data protection because it doesn’t get used until a disaster hits, and it is an easy area to squeeze the budget. Businesses are saying they have a limited budget and they have to continue to operate, so they will just deal with it when it happens. But by then, it is too late.

How does geographical diversity play into business continuity?

Consider what a disaster can mean to your operations and what your business can sustain in terms of cost. The farther your backup servers are from your primary site, the more it costs to transfer information from one place to another. Smaller companies could likely use a public connection to transfer data without incurring too much cost.

The farther away you keep your data, the more redundancy you can create with a solid plan. However, the more redundancy you create, the more costs increase. It is less expensive if you keep your data closer to your primary location, but it also increases your risk, for example, in the event of an earthquake or hurricane. But, ultimately, the question you should ask is, ‘How long can I afford to go without access to my data?’

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO of Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Net2EZ

Janine Magyar reached a career plateau and was looking for a new challenge when she decided to enter the Executive MBA program at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

“It’s definitely not a program for people who are lazy or are quick to give up,” Magyar says. “It is not easy, but it is so worth it because the rewards are phenomenal.”

After 20 years of working in events and menu planning, Magyar stepped outside her comfort zone and it led to a position as an innovation manager at Mattson, the largest independent developer of new products for the food and business industry in North America.

Smart Business spoke with Magyar about her experiences in the MBA program and working at a job in which she could be “tasting sauces at 7 in the morning and cocktails at 2.”

Why did you choose UCLA’s executive MBA program?

It was convenient for me because I worked for The Walt Disney Company at the time. But it’s also an internationally acclaimed program and it’s very well respected in the entrepreneurial world.

I considered applying for the class of 2008 and audited a class. I listened to how the class interacted and how supportive the students were of each other. There were teaching moments not just from the professor at the front of the room, but also from all 65 students sitting in the chairs. I was impressed with the openness of the classroom environment. There wasn’t the cutthroat competition or one-upmanship that I’ve heard exists in other high-caliber programs.

Why is that the case?

I believe it is systemic in the Anderson culture. I worked in the recruiting and admissions department after I graduated and saw what they look for in incoming students. It’s not just what you’re going to get out of the program, but also what you’re bringing to it as a potential student. The admissions team considers all the pieces and how they will fit when putting together a class.

You’ll learn a lot from an amazing caliber of professor, but you’ll learn just as much in a different way while sitting next to CFOs, CEOs or senior vice presidents in finance or marketing who have had amazing real life experience.

How did the MBA program prepare you for your current job?

The key thing my MBA gave me was a sense of confidence to step out beyond what I had known for so long, which was event management and planning, and food and beverage. I’m still in the food world, which I love and I’m passionate about, but now I approach it from a completely different perspective.

When a client comes to me with a new food or beverage product, I not only can show them the formula they need and how to make it taste good, but I can also get them thinking about what will give this new product a level of competitive advantage and protect it from being immediately knocked off by potential competitors or what kind of marketing strategy to use when presenting the concept to potential buyers.

Did anything about the MBA program surprise you?

I knew I would come out of it a stronger, faster, smarter person, that’s what a good MBA program is all about. But I was really impressed with two things from Anderson. First was UCLA Anderson’s network. I reached out to Anderson alums for my strategic research project and afterward while recruiting and I’ve always gotten a call back. It’s a big school, but it’s a very tight, supportive community.

The second thing that surprised me was how quickly I was able to put the lessons learned into practical application. There were a lot of opportunities for me to go back to the office and be faced with a strategic project or personnel issues that I now had a new way of thinking about. It’s pretty spectacular when you’re in a position to apply what you’ve learned and get a real return on your educational investment quickly.

Janine Magyar is a graduate of the Executive MBA program at UCLA Anderson School of Management. Reach her at (818) 486-6590 or j9magyar@gmail.com.

Insights Executive Education is brought to you by UCLA Anderson School of Management

Whether your wish list includes manufacturing, medical, transportation or technology equipment, how you finance major purchases may not only impact the return on your investment but the success of your entire company.

“Financing decisions impact cash flow and a company’s ability to capitalize on opportunities or respond to adversity,” says David Beckstead, Pacific Region sales manager for the Equipment Financing Division at California Bank & Trust. “Executives need to weigh their options carefully before making a decision.”

Smart Business spoke with Beckstead about the need for prudent financing decisions when purchasing machinery and equipment.

What should executives consider as they are reviewing various financing options?

The rule of thumb is to match the financing terms to the life of the asset. In other words, it’s best to use short-term financing for short-term business needs, and longer-term financing for long-term business assets such as equipment that will generate revenue or reduce operating costs for the foreseeable future.

You can avoid finance charges and interest by paying cash, but leasing the equipment or borrowing the funds lets companies preserve capital for other purposes. You should also consider the tax implications and the ultimate cost of the equipment along with your ability to make a substantial down payment to secure a traditional bank loan.

When does leasing make sense?

Leasing makes sense when companies want to preserve cash for future growth or expansion, they need flexibility or they don’t have a lot of cash to put down. Since leasing companies usually maintain ownership of the asset, companies can upgrade or return the equipment should their needs change. For example, you can align the lease terms with a customer agreement or upgrade to a bigger, faster model as your company grows. Plus, most leasing companies don’t require a down payment and it may be possible to negotiate a longer-term payment plan, improving cash flow.

With leasing you can usually deduct the lease payments as a business expense on your tax return, and on short-term leases the rental expense may provide a better tax benefit than depreciating the asset. You may be able to transfer the risk of ownership to the leasing company depending on the type of lease.

How can executives research the market and secure favorable leasing terms?

Prioritize your needs, and then search for the best combination of rates, terms, flexibility and customer service by contacting several firms. Bank leasing companies usually have high underwriting standards but lower rates, while finance companies can be more lenient lenders but generally charge higher rates. Vendor finance companies are a third option and are generally the most flexible about taking back or exchanging equipment. However, they usually charge higher rates.

Beware of upfront payments and fees, hefty residual payments, pay-off fees and other clauses that may boost the overall cost of the equipment. In fact, it’s a good idea to ask a knowledgeable third party to review the agreement so you don’t forsake the benefits of leasing by accepting disadvantageous terms.

What should executives look for in a leasing firm?

Always consider a firm’s reputation, check its references and read its contract before requesting a quote. Contracts differ between companies and impact everything from tax deductions and residuals due at the end of the lease to the responsibility for servicing the equipment. Finally, select someone you trust. Your financing partner should provide funding and be committed to your success.

David Beckstead is Pacific Region sales manager for California Bank & Trust Equipment Finance. Reach him at (949) 457-0458 or david.beckstead@calbt.com.

Website: Business owners and entrepreneurs can visit our Business Resource Center.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by California Bank & Trust

As your business needs and values change, your insurance policies need to be updated to ensure your company is properly covered.

A comprehensive risk assessment should be conducted at least every other year. This need often comes up when you’ve been with a broker for a long time, or if you switch brokers based on pricing and not added value, and the new broker copies incorrect information, says Eric Kerensky, sales executive at Momentous Insurance Brokerage.

“When I make an assessment appointment, I gather their current policies and review them line by line to make sure the values are up to date, such as personal property, building values, locations, fleet list, driver’s list and any operation changes that may have occurred,” Kerensky says.

Smart Business spoke with Kerensky about what’s included in a comprehensive risk assessment and how it helps your insurance bottom line.

What are the major advantages of an insurance assessment?

It gives you peace of mind that your broker is doing his or her job, properly covering all the risks in your particular field. It’s the worst feeling in the world when you pay for insurance and find out later a claim is not going to be covered. These assessments help safeguard you against that. You may want to have a specifically designed insurance plan, not just the standard issue insurance policy for the overall type of industry.

The assessment could also lower your insurance costs, especially if you might unknowingly have double coverage. You could even get a different line of coverage that covers something for which you currently pay extra. For example, each time a distribution company ships, it buys insurance through its common carrier, as opposed to buying a cargo policy. The cargo policy could be cheaper, depending upon how much is annually shipped, or broader, providing cover on the job location — eliminating the need to put it on the property policy — and for earthquakes.

What are some broker services that the assessment checks?

When conducting the comprehensive insurance review, you can discover if your broker is providing services like helping put a disaster plan in place. As another example, it may be worthwhile to have your broker and carrier do a site risk appraisal to lower re-occurrence of property claims or slip-and-falls.

Additionally, does your broker conduct a semi-annual client review? You don’t want a broker who just comes out at the end of the year to pick up the check. He or she should review your sales activity, which affects your general liability premium. If sales have increased, you don’t want to be faced with a large, year-end audit, or if your company is not hitting anticipated sales, you have the ability to adjust the policy and increase your operating cash flow.

How does the assessment audit the business operations?

The review will look at all business operations. If you’ve added or discontinued a service or business activity but haven’t communicated that to the insurance carrier, a claim could be denied.

It’s very important that your insurance carrier knows every time your company is named as an additional insured by another entity, usually in the form of a certificate of insurance they provide to you. This reassures underwriters and could lead to lower rates on your policy. For example, as the distributor, named as an additional insured on the manufacturer’s policy, your company isn’t liable for product malfunctions or recalls. Copies of all additional insureds on record should be passed along to your broker.

How does an assessment of claims impact the cost of risk?

The assessment should examine your claims activity. One important example is with workers’ compensation. Because rates are projected to increase, you want to ensure claims are getting closed promptly so they don’t get stuck in your reserves. Since many insurance carriers reserve more than what will likely be paid out, this inflates your claims amount and increases your overall workers’ compensation premium costs.

Eric Kerensky is a sales executive with Momentous Insurance Brokerage. Reach him at (818) 933-2711 or ekerensky@mmibi.com.

Blog: For more information, take a look at our blog at www.momentousins.com/blog.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Momentous Insurance Brokerage

Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:12

How to lower the risk of developing heart disease

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[caption id="attachment_61743" align="alignright" width="200"] Shaun Setty, MD, Medical Director, Pediatric & Adult Congenital Heart Program, Miller Children’s Hospital

Gregory Thomas, MD, Medical Director, MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute, Long Beach Memorial[/caption]

For more than 1 million Americans annually diagnosed with heart disease, there’s great hope. Two-thirds survive the disease— 27 percent higher than a decade ago, and impressive new technologies and techniques show tremendous promise.

Smart Business turned to nationally prominent experts Gregory S. Thomas, MD, MPH, Medical Director, MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial and Shaun Setty, MD, Medical Director, Pediatric & Adult Congenital Heart Program at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach. The two hospitals share one campus, ensuring those facing heart disease can easily access a lifetime of world-class, comprehensive and coordinated services.

What risk factors are most prevalent?

Sedentary lifestyles, smoking, obesity, and consuming saturated and trans fats — prevalent in our society — negatively impact cholesterol counts and blood pressure levels and can cause dangerous plaque build-up in coronary arteries. One in three California children is overweight, many mirroring their parents’ unhealthy habits. This increases heart disease risks as adults, making family fitness and healthy eating essential.

Almost one in 100 babies are born with congenital heart disease. These abnormalities in cardiovascular structures may produce symptoms at birth, during childhood or as adults. While most defects are simple conditions or need no treatment, some require medical attention soon after birth and monitoring throughout adulthood.

How can health risks be lowered?

Lowering cholesterol and treating high blood pressure can reduce risks of dying of heart disease or needing invasive procedures. It’s important to maintain an appropriate weight, eat foods low in cholesterol and fat, reduce stress, control blood pressure, exercise frequently, access appropriate screenings and follow your doctor’s advice.

What advances are available locally?

MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial is one of the most comprehensive centers for diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of cardiovascular disease. Our nationally known cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons perform 20,000 diagnostic and surgical procedures each year. Our Chest Pain Center was one of the first two in U.S. hospitals. Emergency treatment times at our cardiac paramedic receiving centers beat the national average, as do our cardiac outcomes. We’re the region’s only hospital with a 320-slice CT scanner, providing superior imaging for early and accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Miller Children’s Hospital pre-eminent Pediatric Cardiac Team diagnoses and treats children of all ages with congenital or acquired heart disease or who have a family history — from as early as in the womb during pregnancy to young adults. The Pediatric Cardiac Center, Cardiac Surgery Program and other specialized pediatric services provide comprehensive care to the patient, family and community.

MemorialCare hospitals perform among the highest numbers of robotic heart surgeries nationally. These procedures enable surgeons to operate with unprecedented precision through tiny incisions with less trauma to the body, faster recoveries, and minimal pain and scarring.

How can we create a healthier workplace?

The workplace can help achieve better health by ensuring exercise opportunities and availability of fruits, vegetables and nutritious foods.

MemorialCare provides work site prevention and screenings, as well as heart healthy programs in the community and schools. MemorialCare.org tools help evaluate medical risks. Health guides outline heart attack symptoms, healthy eating and women’s wellness.

MemorialCare Health System, a not-for profit, integrated delivery system, includes six top hospitals — Long Beach Memorial, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Community Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Memorial, and Saddleback Memorial in Laguna Hills and San Clemente; medical groups — MemorialCare Medical Group and Memorial Prompt Care; the Independent Practice Association (IPA) Greater Newport Physicians; retail health centers; and numerous outpatient centers throughout the Southland.

Gregory Thomas, MD, is medical director of MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial. Shaun Setty, MD, is medical director of the Pediatric & Adult Congenital Heart Program at Miller Children’s Hospital.

Learn more about heart disease by taking a quick assessment at memorialcare.org/heart

Insights Health Care is brought to you by MemorialCare Health System

Steve Davidson wanted to do a better job of listening to his franchisees at Robeks Corp. It was the biggest complaint he heard upon taking over as president and CEO of the smoothie franchise chain, which has 116 stores around the world and nearly 1,000 corporate and franchise employees.

Franchisees were frustrated that the previous leadership regime didn’t take advantage of the depth of knowledge they gain each day from interacting with customers across the country.

“You have a lot of very bright, talented and creative people in your franchisees with lots of great ideas,” Davidson says. “They like to implement those ideas, and they are businesspeople. The challenge is to channel those ideas in the right direction to make them productive and utilize them as best as we possibly can.”

Davidson wanted to give franchisees an outlet to share their bursts of inspiration. But any system he put in place needed structure so that the great ideas could be researched and implemented and the suggestions that wouldn’t work could be gently turned down.

“There are so many ideas that, in order to be cohesive, we can’t implement them all,” Davidson says. “There are disappointments for some franchisees if they have a great idea that they think will work in their particular store in a particular part of the country; it just may not be something that works universally.”

If he chose to do nothing, turning a deaf ear to the ideas that were out there, Davidson risked damaging the Robeks brand.

“The franchisees will implement these things on their own and then you find different stores all going in different directions, which is not good for a chain,” Davidson says.

Davidson wanted to make it work and wanted to make franchisees feel like the valued part of the team that he believed them to be. He felt the best way to do that was to go out and share his thoughts face to face.

 

Be a good listener

Davidson has seen companies hold conventions for its franchisees where everyone in the organization converges on one location for a few days to talk about how great their company is.

“There is a big dog and pony show in Las Vegas or Chicago or wherever,” Davidson says. “I’ve done a number of those in my life with other companies, and I find them to be much less intimate. There are opportunities for about three days for everybody to get excited and then everybody goes back into their old routines again.”

Davidson thought a better approach would be to hit the road with his executive team and make personalized, less formal visits to various Robeks locations across the country.

“They were much smaller, much more intimate meetings, and they were in much smaller rooms so we had more one-on-one contact with people,” Davidson says. “It was much less dog and pony show and much more direct communication.”

When Davidson and his team of four to five people would visit a location, he wanted to make it clear that it wasn’t a site review. He wasn’t going around with a white glove trying to nail people for petty mistakes.

“It was about the franchisees,” Davidson says. “It was about us being out there. We did some presentations to talk about what the company was doing, but we spent a lot of time just listening. Our Q-and-A sessions were quite long.”

Davidson wanted to set the tone that even though these franchisees weren’t technically his employees, they were part of the Robeks team. And just as he was making himself available to the leaders of each location, he wanted to impress upon those leaders how important it was that they do the same with the people who reported to them.

“I wasn’t the only one up there,” Davidson says. “I got members of the various departments up there as well. They learned from the very beginning that not only was I open to direct feedback and sometimes attack, particularly in the early days, but I also expected every member of the team, the department heads, to make themselves available in the same context.”

A big part of Davidson’s approach was the priority he gave to listening. During his first 90 days on the job, listening was pretty much all he did when he came into work or went on his road trips across the United States.

“I sincerely took their input, took copious notes and made it clear that I wasn’t going to make any decisions and wasn’t in a hurry to make any changes, if I was going to make any at all, until I had an opportunity to meet as many stakeholders as I could,” Davidson says.

When you step into a situation where employees are calling for change, the easy thing to do is often to respond with change. But if you implement change without a real understanding of how things work in the organization, it could easily come back to haunt you.

“I stuck to my guns and said, ‘OK, I recognize that there are urgent matters, but I want to make sure I fully understand the issues and how any decision I might make may impact the whole organization,’” Davidson says.

 

Build the respect

As Davidson seeks to build relationships with his franchisees and learn more about the organization, he also seeks to build trust. He takes the approach that his people want to accomplish the same thing he does, which is to position Robeks to be successful.

“My approach to empowerment and to get the best out of people is to trust them immediately,” he says. “If we communicate clearly in terms of what the strategy and direction is, after we’ve spent as much time as we can listening and making sure we’re moving in the right direction, we believe we’re going to be followed.”

He does offer a caveat, however, to this philosophy.

“You’re not going to give someone so much rope that they can take risks that would bet the farm,” Davidson says. “You give everyone a tremendous amount of latitude, but you check in with them. I guess it’s called delegation.”

He wanted to continue the dialogue that had been established through his road trip meetings, so Davidson began forming committees to give people a clear voice in what happened in the company. There was a tactical marketing committee, a strategic marketing committee, a supply chain committee and an IT committee, just to name a few.

The committees were populated with people who Davidson felt could serve not only their own best interests but those of their direct reports as well.

“These various committees deal with key areas in our business where the key indicators tend to lie,” he says. “We have a supply chain committee, and we schedule that meeting once a month. If we have issues that are important to talk about, we set the agenda and we meet. If there is nothing going on, we cancel the meeting because we don’t want to have meetings just for the sake of having them.”

If you cancel meetings when there is no business to be conducted, you don’t send a bad message to your team. You actually send a positive message that you’re cognizant of their time and doing what you can to maximize it.

“That assures that meeting is a meaningful meeting and will be held if we clearly have issues,” Davidson says.

The IT committee is a prime example. When Robeks was implementing a new point-of-sale system, there were a number of issues that needed to be resolved.

“Now that we have resolved most of those and things are fairly routine, we disbanded or at least suspended that committee,” Davidson says. “We could always reinvigorate it at any point in time if some issues started to crop up again.”

The message he has focused on conveying is that he is there to help his franchisees make the business better, whether it’s meeting one-on-one or forming a committee to solve a problem.

“It opens up the communication, and you find fewer people are intimidated by, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy is the CEO,’” Davidson says. “I still get that to some extent from franchisees who will call me and they’ll say, ‘Hey, I know you’re busy. I don’t want to take up too much of your time.’ I’m always very careful that I let them know right up front that their issues are my issues. Don’t ever apologize for calling me about anything.”

As Davidson looks at Robeks today, he sees a company that is much more collaborative and empowering. Contests have been held for new product ideas and have generated a lot of enthusiasm, giving customers curiosity about what they’ll find on the menu the next time they come to the store.

“Once we’ve listened and got that input, the key is getting back to the franchisees and telling them where their ideas are and what we’re doing with them,” Davidson says. “If they don’t get answers back, they stop giving us ideas. We want the ideas because they are the lifeblood of our business.” ?

 

How to reach: Robeks Corp., (310) 727-0500 or www.robeks.com

The Davidson File

Born: Sun Prairie, Wis., a town just northeast of Madison.

 

Education: Bachelor of arts in social psychology; MBA, University of Wisconsin

 

What was your very first job?

I was 14, and I went to work in Lake Mills for the summer. I worked on a feeder pig farm.

 

What did you learn from that experience?

When you’re 14 living in a mobile home when you’d rather be visiting your girlfriend, it’s a very lonely place to be. But aside from that, even at 14, they trusted me a great deal and gave me a great deal of responsibility. I was impressed by that. It had a strong impact in terms of my views on trust and where that fits in the work world.

 

Who has been the most influential person in your life?

Francis Sheehan. He was a chemistry teacher at the senior high school in Sun Prairie. He was also the coach, but he was responsible for managing the city public swimming pool. For whatever reason, he came up in my life many times. When I needed a job, he would find me a job. Whether it was the only bicycle cop Sun Prairie ever had for the kids who rode bikes in the summer, to being a manager and lifeguard at the swimming pool, to taking care of athletic facilities at the senior high school. He just kept popping up in my life at various places. It was almost like he was a guardian angel. He seemed to be there whenever I, as a kid, needed some male adult direction and supervision and guidance.

 

Takeaways:

Don’t act before you have the facts.

Give your people a chance to prove themselves.

Don’t waste anyone’s time.

How often do you go to market without a solid business strategy? Probably never, right?

Wrong.

The reality is that if you’re like most organizations, then you’re doing this right now — and you don’t even know it.

That’s because most organizations do not have a well-thought-out marketing strategy. Instead, most are doing what somebody told them they should do. This includes creating a mobile website, engaging in social media and advertising.

All of these are “smart” marketing initiatives. But if they’re done in a vacuum, there’s no way to measure what results those initiatives are intended to accomplish. Worse, you’re chasing tactics instead of delivering results.

There is a significant difference between marketing tactics and marketing strategy. Marketing tactics are ways to bring channels to life. This could be a new website or a mobile-optimized version of your site. Or it could be creating new sales collateral. Tactics should be used to bring your brand message and value proposition to life.

Unfortunately, if they’re not tied to a cohesive strategy, you will not achieve the results you desire.

A marketing strategy, however, allows you to understand the results you should achieve. It also keeps everyone aligned with what you’re trying to accomplish and where you are in the process.

As an example, there are three main reasons for a website: to verify your organization’s brand message to potential customers, to deliver your value proposition and conversion.

Conversion can mean different things for different industries. In retail, it might mean picking out a product, putting it in your shopping cart and making the purchase. In business-to-business, conversion might mean picking up the phone to contact the company, providing a name, email and phone number, or signing up to receive a newsletter.

Without understanding how consumers behave, you may be selling your marketing efforts short. You might not be providing enough information to clearly articulate your brand message or value proposition or you might not be offering users an easy experience that allows for conversion. So how do you ensure that a consistent brand message, value proposition and the ability to target customers converts across all marketing channels?

First, understand who the target consumer is and their needs, attitudes and behaviors. This can be discovered through research, including focus groups or through industry-based segmentation.

Then, conduct a deep dive to understand your business goals and objectives. In retail, this might be the number of sales you want to drive. In B2B, it could be increasing the numbers of prospects in your pipeline.

Finally, evaluate your company’s existing marketing tactics — your website, marketing collateral and overall brand message.

Only then will you be well-equipped to evaluate your overall tactics and compare them to marketing best practices and the competitive landscape. This results in recommendations that include expected business results and return on investment.

Prioritize these by measuring the highest impact against investment levels, and then create a timeline to implement them over a one- to two-year period. Share this strategy throughout the entire organization so everyone understands what will be accomplished and what the expected results are.

Without strategy, and an understanding of everything that goes into it, any money you pour into tactics tends to be money poorly spent. Done correctly, your marketing strategy suddenly becomes your organization’s key driver and leads to tangible and measurable business results.

Dave Fazekas is director of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at dfazekas@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7056.

Wednesday, 02 January 2013 13:41

Should you be friends with your employees?

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What is the best way to motivate employees? Some successful CEOs treat employees as friends, while other equally high-achieving leaders regard employees as merely hired hands, giving them a day’s pay for a day’s work and nothing more.

What’s the best approach to produce the best results for the company, the employee and the employer? Much of the issue lies with one’s definition of a friend and the culture of the organization. Many companies boast that their employees are like family. This sounds great, but can it work?

If either party crosses the fine line that separates the difficult-to-define business and personal space, both employer and employee can become disenchanted or worse. One way to think of it is that friendship is more unconditional. We accept a friend for what he or she is or isn’t. On the flip side, the reality is that most bosses embrace or reject employees for what they do on a consistent basis.

The military has its own way of handling fraternization between officers and the enlisted by making it a possible court martial offense. This stance is predicated on the belief that socializing between these two levels is “prejudicial to good order, discipline and partiality.” It is well recognized that business relationships without boundaries can produce too much drama.

Perhaps what we need is a new definition for a nonemotional, congenial, enjoyable and productive day-to-day relationship between leader and follower. This moniker could be employee-friend, or “e-friend” for short. “E-friend” isn’t an app but would describe an employer/employee relationship where there is mutual respect and a genuine appreciation of one another, underscored by an understanding, albeit perhaps unspoken, that when the time for talking is done, the boss has the final word on matters that occur between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Using these ground rules, both sides can have it both ways by using good judgment and treating each other as they would want to be treated if their roles were reversed.

The employee should expect from the boss that, when the chips are down, either on a business basis or when the employee has a personal problem, he or she knows that the boss will be there for him or her, providing understanding and advice and, when requested, helping the employee maneuver through rough patches. From the employer’s perspective, the employee would be someone who, through thick and thin, is there for the company and can temporarily put personal needs aside when there is a business issue that can’t be postponed.

The e-friend boss should know as much about the employee as the employee wants the boss to know, which can include sensitive professional problems or even family or medical issues. In a good relationship, the boss could certainly know, as one example, what the subordinate’s kids are up to in their lives and be the first to say to the employee that it’s more important for him or her to go to an offspring’s ballgame or play, rather than putting in extra time on the business project du jour.

Instinctively, employees know if a boss truly cares or is just going through the motions to be politically correct. They know if the head honcho is sincerely concerned about them as a person, not just another set of hands.

Not everything and everyone in the workplace are created equal. There will always be a pecking order; however, there is nothing wrong with truly enjoying the people with whom you work every day and sharing meaningful experiences, all of which lead to a more fulfilling role for both the employer and the employee. The best criterion to avoiding problems is using generous doses of plain common sense. There is a much-quoted line from the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” starring Michael Douglas as the ruthless tycoon Gordon Gekko, who proclaimed, “If you want a friend, get a dog.” This provoked both laughs and sighs, but in the real world, this attitude makes for a very lonely Ebenezer Scrooge-type life for the boss and a shallow existence for employees who must spend more than half, at the very least, of their Monday through Friday waking hours working.

At times, people can be difficult, both to work for and with. However, it’s the people who make the company and relationships that combine respect and a form of e-friendship that can make the real difference.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

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Richard Branson is full of big ideas. The man who founded six companies that each rake in more than $1 billion annually dares to think big. For him, it’s all about the experience, making a difference and not doing things the same way as the competition. An idea captures his imagination and he sets out to turn it into reality.

For him, it’s not about the money. It never has been.

When he sees a situation where he thinks he can make a difference in people’s lives, he looks for a way to make a difference. He understands that “why” he is doing it is more important than the “what” or the “how.”

Author and consultant Simon Sinek agrees (see video link). He explains that Apple is wildly successful at what it does not because it can build computers better than anyone else but because it understands “why” it is doing so. It’s not that the competition doesn’t know what it is doing or that it doesn’t have talented people creating good products. It’s just that Apple understands why it is in business and focuses its message on that instead of what it does — which is build electronic devices.

Sinek says that people like to do business with people who believe what they believe, so they buy more on the “why you do it” rather than what you are actually doing. Notice that profits are secondary. If you do things the right way for the right reasons, profits come naturally.

You might already have a big idea for your business, but it will most likely never reach its full potential unless you understand why you are doing it. Have you ever stopped to think about why you are in business or why you are doing what you are doing? It can be an enlightening exercise.

With the demands of daily business, we seldom stop to think about the reasons behind our actions, and if we do think about it, the answer is often “to turn a profit.” But to what end?

When you understand why you are trying to make a profit and the answer goes beyond simple wealth, then you are getting to the heart of what differentiates a good business from a great one. Maybe the reason why is a social issue, such as eliminating hunger, or maybe it’s a medical issue, such as curing a disease. But it doesn’t have to be grand. The “why” can be something like “making computers easy for everyone to use.” The important part isn’t the scope; it’s understanding your business’s basic reason for existence.

When you’ve taken the time to understand that, your business will have the potential to do great things because employees and customers alike can unite around a common understanding.

It’s why Apple is a great company and it’s why Richard Branson is wildly successful. If you’re already doing it, you’re on your way. If not, take the time to think about it.

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