One of my favorite business books, which also made it as a Broadway play and a big-screen movie, is “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” written by L. Frank Baum in 1900. My hero in this story is not the young orphaned Dorothy, nor the Cowardly Lion, the desperately in-need-of-some WD-40 Tin Man, nor even the Scarecrow in search of a brain.
Instead it is the Wizard. To understand why the dubious Wizard is my favorite character, one must get past the portrayal of him as scheming, phony and at times nasty.
To appreciate the man behind the curtain, recognize that he is a very effective presenter, though at times this ex-circus performer behaved a bit threatening. OK, he was a jerk, but the point of this column is to take you down the yellow brick road on the way to the enchanted Emerald City and corporate success.
From this tale there is a lesson that one can say all sorts of things, not be visible, and yet still have a meaningful impact.
Another takeaway is that playing this role provides plausible deniability. This absence of visual recognition is particularly beneficial in negotiating when you, as the boss, use a vicar, aka a mouthpiece, to speak on your behalf. This allows you to have things said to others that you as the head honcho could never utter without backing yourself into a corner.
Another plus is you can always throw your mouthpiece under the bus if necessary, of course, with his or her upfront understanding that sometimes there must be a sacrificial lamb. This is not only character-building for your stand-in, but also many times presents an unprecedented opportunity for him or her to learn in real time.
Perhaps the Wizard was the first behind-the-curtain decision-maker, but today this role is used frequently in business and government. In a similar vein, the “voice” of Charlie from the well-known 1970s TV series “Charlie’s Angels” was always heard, but he was never seen.
Frequently there is much to be said for using anonymity to float a trial balloon just to get a reaction. Think about a son having his mom test the waters by talking to dad before the son tells him he wants to drop out of junior high school to join the circus. Maybe that’s even how our former circus-drifter-turned-Wizard-of-Oz got his start.
In the negotiating process it is important to have a fallback when the talks hit a rough patch by instructing your vicar to backpedal, saying that he or she has just talked to the chief and the benevolent boss said, “I was overreaching with my request.”
This also serves to build a persona for the boss-behind-the-curtain as someone who is fair-minded and flexible. All the while, of course, it’s the boss who is calling the shots and maneuvering through the process without getting his or her hands dirty.
The value of using this clean-hands technique is that it enables the real decision-maker to come in as the closer who projects the voice of reason, instead of the overeager hard charger who at times seems to have gone rogue.
It actually takes a bigger person to play a secondary role behind the curtain rather than always be in the limelight. It also takes a hands-on coach and counselor to maneuver a protégé through the minefields to achieve the objective.
However, accomplishing the difficult tasks through others is true management and the No. 1 job of a leader who must be a master teacher.
After you have guided a handful of up-and-comers a few times through thorny negotiations, you will gain much more satisfaction than if you had done it yourself, while engendering the respect and gratitude of your pupils. They in turn will have learned by doing, even though they were not really steering the ship alone.
The final step is to let the subordinate take credit for getting the big job done. This will also elevate you to rock star status, at least in his or her eyes. Soon those who you’ve taught will emerge as teachers too, and the big benefit is that you will populate your organization with a stellar team of doers, not just watchers.
So, forget about the Wicked Witch of the West and move backstage for the greater good of the organization.
A few years ago, one of my friends embarked on what he deemed an ambitious, yet simple plan: Write a New York Times Best Seller.
“Ed” had reason to be optimistic: His first two books had sold well and he had successfully leveraged them to launch a burgeoning consulting practice. Ed also had a nationally known book publisher to handle distribution for this book, and he had developed a comprehensive marketing and promotions plan for the launch.
Ed felt all the pieces were in place and was sure he would succeed. His goals were two-fold: break out from the pack and grow his business, and hit the New York Times Best Seller’s list. While his head told him the first goal was more realistic, his heart was set on the second — publicly claiming it was his only true benchmark of success.
Needless to say, Ed’s book didn’t make the list. Few books do. That doesn’t mean Ed’s book was a failure. Quite the contrary, it was a huge success.
As a result of Ed’s book, he landed numerous speaking engagements with organizations and companies around the world. He began to command four- and five-figure speaking fees from those engagements, and his book was purchased and distributed to every attendee.
Further, Ed’s speaking engagements lead to dozens of private companies hiring him to provide one- and two-day seminars, where he taught executive teams how to implement the ideas he espoused in the book. Ed was also presented with numerous business opportunities for new and existing clients to tackle initiatives beyond the book’s subject matter that he had not previously considered but were related to his expertise.
Finally, Ed did sell thousands upon thousands of copies of his book in bookstores nationwide and online through booksellers like Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. His book was in the hands of the right people — and lots of them — and he had established a national profile.
Viewed through this lens, there is little doubt that Ed’s book was wildly successful — even if it wasn’t a New York Times Best Seller and even if it didn’t stack up to his primary benchmark.
This is the reality of book publishing. Each month, I speak with dozens of entrepreneurs and CEOs about their nascent book ideas and the possibility of having Smart Business Books handle development and publication of their stories and manuscripts. I begin every conversation the exact same way: “If your goal is to have a New York Times Best Seller, we’re not the right option for you.”
That’s because you should write books for the right reasons. If your only goal is getting on a best-seller’s list, then your ambitions are off the mark. Writing and publishing a book is not like a professional sports team’s season — there isn’t one winner who takes the championship and a bunch of losers who fall short. Publishing a book is not an all-or-nothing proposition.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t aim high with your goals, and having your book become a best-seller is certainly one way to measure success. Setting reasonable expectations, however, is essential.
So why write a book?
One of the most important questions you should be able to answer when thinking about writing a book is, “Who is going to read it and why?”
As Ed’s story demonstrates, a book is a very useful business development tool. It is an immediate conversation starter, an excellent credibility builder and one heck of a leave-behind. If you’re engaged in marketing, why not capture your expertise through a book?
Another reason is to celebrate a milestone or establish a legacy piece. It could be for a 50th or 100th anniversary, or to recognize the history of an organization upon the founder’s retirement or death.
And, if you are interested in helping others succeed, a book is a great way to share your expertise or what makes you and your organization special. For example, if you’ve built an amazing corporate culture where productivity blossoms and innovation flourishes, the “how” and “why” are good subjects for a book. And if you’ve been involved with several mergers and acquisitions, consider sharing what worked and what didn’t, and the lessons learned along the way.
Whatever your story, the key is having a reason to share it with others. The bottom line: It’s your story. Make it count.
Your ability to attract investments can make or break your business. Extra capital allows companies to expand their operations and find new customers. Most business owners do eventually reach the point where they need some sort of outside investment — whether it’s from family, a bank or an actual investor — to help them make major purchases and grow.
One of the most common ways for a business to get extra money is by incorporating and then selling stocks. Unlike a loan, issuing stock allows you to raise money without taking on additional debt.
But there are a few things you need to know before you look at raising capital for your business:
You will have to give up some control of your business.
Incorporating a business turns it into its own, separate legal entity. Your ownership of that entity is dependent on how much corporate stock you own. As you sell off that stock, you dilute the ownership of the company. Furthermore, when you incorporate, you have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the stockholders and the corporation.
The interests and desires of the stockholders likely coincide with your own — both parties want to see the business succeed and make money. Just remember that when you do begin to sell stock, you are empowering the holders of that stock to influence major business decisions. Before you begin selling stock, make sure you’re ready to take the opinions of your investors into serious consideration when you are running the company.
You will need actual data to back up your pitches to investors.
If you are at the stage where you are ready to start looking for investors to help you expand, chances are that your business has done pretty well. It’s not enough to point and say, ‘Look, we survived and made money!’ You need hard numbers and data — how much revenue is your business generating? What is your current revenue-to-debt ratio? How will this investment impact your future earnings?
Buying stock in a company is already a gamble because if the company doesn’t do well, the investment could be lost. So be ready to show potential investors that your company is in a position where it can create a good return on their investment.
You will have to pitch yourself, in addition to your company.
Everyone is “passionate” and “committed” about what they do when they run a business — investors have heard those buzzwords plenty of times already. Investors want to know who you are, what your credentials are, and why they should trust you with their money. Sell them on your experience, and the experience of anyone else helping to run the company.
If they are confident in you, they will be confident in your business and be much more willing to invest. Issuing stock and finding investors can be a jarring experience. Once you start selling that stock, you lose some control of your business, and suddenly the needs and demands of your investors must be taken into account when you make major business decisions.
You also have to be ready to prove the worth of both your company, and of yourself as one of the company’s directors. If you are ready to let go, and are prepared to pitch the heck out of your business, your employees and your own career history, you will find investors willing to roll the dice and put some of their own money into your business.
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @deborahsweeney
As one company after another made dramatic spending cuts in response to the recession five years ago, Pelican Products Inc. found itself headed in the opposite direction.
It was December 2008 and Pelican had acquired its nearest competitor, Hardigg Industries, doubling its size to become the largest manufacturer of equipment protection cases in the world. Life was good at Pelican, but Lyndon Faulkner knew it couldn’t last.
“We always expected the growth rate to moderate because you couldn’t keep growing at those figures every year,” says Faulkner, the 1,300-employee company’s president and CEO.
The moderation began about two years later and unfolded more quickly than anyone had expected.
Government and military spending was a big part of Pelican’s business and a key factor in the company’s dramatic growth. It was obviously great news from a human perspective that the U.S. began to scale down its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it was trouble for Pelican’s military business, which was shrinking fast.
“It was happening bigger than we ever thought it would and over a longer sustained period than we thought it would,” Faulkner says. “These were things that instead of being in control of them, we would have to react to them.”
Faulkner gathered his leadership team to come up with an appropriate response.
“Managing the implications of a big portion of business going into decline behind five years of growth was something we had to work on with management and leadership,” Faulkner says. “It’s everything associated with that. It’s the emotion and management of those dynamics within a business that affects everybody.”
The effort to diversify the business was to some degree already underway. But as the decline in military spending continued to accelerate, the urgency to achieve more diversity became that much greater.
Develop an action plan
Faulkner gathered his leadership team and opened a frank discussion to get everyone on the same page with both the problem and the options the company had to fix it.
“You have to get what’s happening to the company out on the table to its fullest so you’re able to recognize the impact of the problem,” Faulkner says.
“It was nobody’s fault. It wasn’t a bad plan or something that we were doing badly from an implementation perspective. It was something nobody could have done anything about.”
You can prepare and hold meetings and draw up strategic roadmaps every week. But the reality is at some point, you’re going to face a situation that you didn’t see coming.
“Things are going to happen,” Faulkner says. “Being in control of the things you can be is all fine, well and good. But you need to make sure you are doing all the preparation you can around the things in your control and make sure that you are reacting properly to things that are not in your control.”
When it comes to dealing with things not in your control, such as what had transpired at Pelican, you need to make sure your people view these issues as opportunities filled with potential rather than challenges fraught with risk.
“You just sit down and discuss the problem and you discuss the impact of the problem versus just burying your head in the sand about it,” Faulkner says. “Find the opportunity. I wouldn’t say give up on the business because it was still a very important business stream to us. But accelerate your thinking on how we could offset the decline in that business.”
The pursuit of new product segments was clearly the way to go.
But Faulkner needed to bring structure to the conversation so that his team didn’t stray from what Pelican does best. This can become a challenge for companies as you try to toe the line between branching out into new areas and reaching beyond your ability to do it well.
“We understand our protective cases are used in the transportation of things in the military and with first responders, things of that nature,” Faulkner says. “But then we look at things like medical devices. We realize in the medical device business, they are shipping products that could easily have been converted to Pelican-type products because we have a better product for moving their devices around and the transportation of them.”
Another potential market to expand into was consumer electronics. There was great opportunity, but also great risk for Pelican in this space.
“We were able to bring out a product for the iPhone 5 that has all the DNA of Pelican,” Faulkner says. “It carries protection, it looks good, it’s well-known, it’s well-made. You can drop a product with it, and it’s going to protect the product. That would be true to our brand and that’s what people expect from us.
“However, bringing out a protective case with a million shiny beads on it or something with ‘Hello Kitty’ would not be true to our brand and would not be what Pelican is all about. So in that scenario, that’s a classic way we drew the line.”
Pelican understood that its customers look to the company for protective products, not ones with lots of bling.
Lend a helping hand
The next step in the Pelican transition was the people side of the business. When you’ve been doing one thing and you’ve done it well, it’s not always easy to put a stop to it and tell those people that they now need to start doing something else.
“A lot of the people who were working on the military stuff did not have the skill set or muscles for the consumer market,” Faulkner says. “So what we’ve done there is we were able to move some of the military guys to the commercial space, industrial and things like that.
“Safety markets and first responders were not an issue for them. But as it relates to starting the new businesses up, we had to do that with a lot of new people or people who we brought on board from the business sector. They just speak a different language.”
It’s a clear illustration of why so much thought needs to go into making changes in your business. You can sit in your office and think about how easy it would be to start selling this widget when you’ve already been making that one. But it’s usually not as easy to make the change in actual practice.
“We’re finding the work we have to do for the consumer business — marketing, selling, product development, bringing products to market — it does have a very different clock speed and language than what Pelican has had before,” Faulkner says.
When you decide you want to expand your business in a certain direction, it’s your responsibility to get people the training they need.
“That’s part of your schedule,” Faulkner says. “I don’t think you’re busy and then you have to do that on top. Part of your busy schedule is to make sure you’re working with people so they are developing themselves. That’s just a basic fundamental of what I’m here to do and recognize if they don’t have the runway for that growth.”
At Pelican, this meant creating shadowing opportunities for people who wanted to be part of the new organization.
“So we had sales people, people who sold to the military extensively who have now gone out and shadowed people in the commercial space,” Faulkner says. “Most people have learned their trade by going to work with somebody in the other divisions.”
Strive to be the best
One of the lessons learned going forward was the need to hire individuals with more diverse skill sets and to make sure training is ongoing to develop more skills in the people already onboard at Pelican.
“If I’m a guy and all I’ve been doing my whole life is building products that can be dropped out of a helicopter and now I’m being told I’ve got to build great products, but they don’t have to be dropped out of helicopters anymore,” Faulkner says. “and if I make a case for that market that is made to be dropped out of a helicopter, it won’t sell.
“It’s something you have to instill and educate and teach because it’s not the way they’ve been working. It doesn’t mean that they can’t work that way. It just means they haven’t been asked to work that way.”
Regardless of what Pelican does, Faulkner says his expectation will never change. He wants it to be the best.
“People say what sort of company are you,” Faulkner says. “Are you a product company? Are you a sales company? Are you a marketing company? Are you a technology company? Are you driven more by operations, technology or finance? When we look at the different disciplines of the business, we charge our guys, the heads of each department, with being world class in everything.
“If we’re good in sales and product and marketing, we don’t expect our operations guy to just be there for the ride,” Faulkner says. “We expect our operations guy to have his own plans for being best in class in operations. What you’re doing is building the best in breed in everything. That’s what really floats the performance of the company.”
How to reach: Pelican Products Inc.,
(800) 473-5422 or www.pelican.com
The Faulkner File
Born: Newport, Wales. I was born at the Celtic Manor Resort, which is where they played the last Ryder Cup.
What was your very first job?
My very first jobs were a paper route and milk rounds. They used to deliver milk in those days in the U.K. and you would earn extra money by helping the milkman deliver milk. My first real job was coming out of school when I worked on construction in the summer months. It was making tea, doing errands and driving the dump truck around. But it was primarily making coffee and tea for everybody.
Who has been your biggest influence?
It starts at home with your parenting and your upbringing. I had parents and brothers and sisters who were very aspirational in trying to do better and do more. I had parents that instilled hard work in us all. None of us were frightened of going out and working hard and making things happen for ourselves instead of hoping things would happen.
How does competitiveness in sports compare to business?
In team sports, you have to have everybody pulling together and you can’t have a lot of people pulling in the wrong direction or in a different direction. That goes with attitude as well. You want everybody of a similar attitude and a similar style working with each other to help each other out. That’s a style I like to see instilled in a business. That breeds success.
Focus on the opportunity.
Give people the right tools.
Always strive to be the best.
For 27 years, Ernst & Young has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women who have followed their dreams to pursue innovation and entrepreneurial excellence, changing the lives of countless others by building their businesses and giving back to their communities.
The passion they’ve poured into their businesses and the triumphs they’ve achieved stand as a testament to the role they play as visionaries, leaders and innovators. Ernst & Young founded the Entrepreneur Of The Year program to recognize these dynamic leaders and to build an influential and innovative community of entrepreneurs.
We have gathered here in Greater Los Angeles and in 25 other cities across the U.S. to applaud these entrepreneurs for taking the road less traveled, and welcome the regional award recipients into our entrepreneurial Hall of Fame.
Congratulations on your achievements! Ernst & Young looks forward to helping you find new and innovative ways to continue to grow your business and accomplish your goals.
Brian Ring is a partner and program director for Entrepreneur Of The Year, Greater Los Angeles.
April Spencer is a partner and program director for Entrepreneur Of The Year, Greater Los Angeles.
Family Business Award of Excellence
Jim Armstrong, Clearstone Venture Partners
Chuck Davis, Technology Crossover Ventures *
Mark Hardy, Aurora Capital Group
Jeri Harman, Avante Mezzanine Partners
Carlton Jenkins, The Yucaipa Companies
Brad Jones, Redpoint Ventures *
Eric Kutsenda, Seidler Equity Partners
Barry C. Levin, Snak King Corporation *
J. Christopher Lewis, Riordan, Lewis & Haden Equity Partners
Dr. Linda Livingstone, Graziadio School of Business & Management, Pepperdine University
Mark Stagen, Emerald Health Services **
Kamran Pourzanjani, Bestcovery.com **
Julie Schoenfeld, Perfect Market, Inc.
* Prior award recipient
** Prior award recipient and national finalist
Family Business Award of Excellence
When Helene An arrived in San Francisco in 1975 she had little more than memories to cling to. The fall of Saigon in her native Vietnam had forced An and her daughters to flee the country and come to the U.S.
Despite the hardships, they brought with them a strong spirit of determination to get back on their feet and find success. They would get their chance at an Italian deli that Helene’s mother-in-law Diana had purchased four years earlier while vacationing in San Francisco.
Most of the patrons to the deli had never experienced Vietnamese food, so Helene kept the Italian menu and slowly began to introduce patrons to Vietnamese cuisine. She would offer her favorite dishes for free, urging her patrons to “try this delicious food from my home country.”
Seeing how her customers loved pasta, she created her own version of Vietnamese spaghetti with garlic. It became one of her trademarks which she named An’s Famous Garlic Noodles.
Eventually, the deli became Thanh Long and is known as being the first Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco. Today, the An family owns and operates five restaurants and a catering division. Each location offers a unique dining experience that complements the restaurant’s cuisine.
In 2007, the An family was inducted into the Vietnamese-American Wing of the Smithsonian Institute for being one of the first to bring Vietnamese cuisine to mainstream America.
While Helene serves as executive chef at House of An, her five daughters are managing partners. Catherine, Elizabeth, Hannah, Monique and Jacqueline each oversee part of the company’s operations. Catherine focuses specifically on the catering operations and is also the brainchild behind the An’s newest eco-chic concept, Tiato Kitchen Bar Garden + Venue.
As the great-grandchildren of Diana An now begin to learn the business, the future seems very bright for the House of An, and the fourth generation that will one day lead the way.
How to reach: House of An, www.houseofan.com
Demian Sellfors has always been ahead of his time. That aspect led the self-taught IT professional and graphic design artist to branch off from an established special effects studio and begin his own web-hosting company in the humble confines of his apartment.
He focused on offering the best in both quality and customer service, and the public took notice. Soon, Sellfors’ company was acquired by one of his customers, Media Temple, which recognized his ability to lead and appointed him CEO 12 years ago. The company grew as Sellfors took a hands-on approach working directly with employees to coach, mentor and nurture the skills within each.
If you ask Sellfors his greatest contribution to the company’s success, he would dismiss his role as an innovator and instead point to his ability to inspire greatness in others.
One of the challenges he faced was determining how to position his company among its competitors, many of which were caught in a downward spiraling price war. It prompted Sellfors to follow a new strategy — Why not offer the best quality for the highest price?
Media Temple maintained its product positioning with great success, boasting the industry’s lowest churn rate of 1.3 percent compared to the industry average of 3 to 7 percent.
In the workplace, Sellfors is all about success, but he wants the pursuit of that success to be filled with fun and personal fulfillment. There is yoga and CrossFit at lunch and a catered meal every other Friday.
Children and pets are welcome at the office, and there’s even a nap area employees can use to re-energize.
Sellfors wants his employees to be at the top of their game, and if they need to take a little time off to recharge, they can do it. Each employee gets a paid, one-month sabbatical every three years. It all adds up to the last of the company’s five core values, which is simply, “Enjoy the Journey.”
How to reach: Media Temple, www.mediatemple.net
Dinesh Ravishanker and a team of graduates from the University of California, Irvine, did not have a lot of money in 2004 when they set out to launch what has become a game-changing business in CallFire.
But they had a passion for innovation and the energy to build a company that would transform the way the business world communicates. The result is a company that has grown its customer base to more than 100,000, with 15,000 new users coming aboard in 2012 — without a dime of venture capital.
CallFire simplifies telephony, making sophisticated and expensive carrier-class telecom capabilities available through affordable and easy-to-use graphical user interface and application programming interface platforms. Any business, from start-up to large enterprise, can reach its customers on any device using text message or voice.
Ravishanker, CallFire’s co-founder and CEO, is committed to building a company that will have staying power and be able to evolve as the fast-paced world of technology moves forward. In order to do that, he knows he’ll need employees who have a diverse skill set and a willingness to tackle new challenges as they come up.
CallFire has a number of health initiatives in place including nutritious food alternatives on-site and the promotion of athletic activities. Ravishanker also encourages employees to continue learning and attend seminars to gain new skills that can help them be more productive in their work.
He wants to build a brand that people associate with a strong work ethic and a spirit of customer service. But Ravishanker also wants the brand to stand for love of community and compassion for those who haven’t experienced as much success in life.
During a vacation, Ravishanker traveled to Nicaragua where he worked with a group of speech pathologists to help children overcome their speech problems. He also helped renovate two orphanages. This spirit to help is what he encourages in his people as they seek their own path to give back.
How to reach: CallFire, www.callfire.com
Sam Naficy is the president and CEO of DTT, a technology company in the video surveillance industry. Although DTT has emerged as a dominant player in its industry and continues to deliver cutting-edge services and technology through Naficy’s leadership, it had modest beginnings, often facing capital constraints and tough competition.
With DDT’s early financial struggles, Naficy decided to change DTT’s business model from a fixed-fee service to a monthly subscription service to adjust to the competitive market and offer his clients newer technology. He also made necessary infrastructural investments to serve his clients better.
Although business was booming, he found himself unable to keep up with demand. It was not until he was able to thoroughly convince his father-in-law about his vision for DTT the he was able to obtain the needed funds to continue DTT’s operations.
Through the years there have been many formidable competitors that have tried to enter DTT’s market, but all have been unsuccessful in penetrating the company’s dominance. Much of this can be attributed to Naficy’s focus on his customer’s needs instead of trying to dabble in various aspects of the technology world.
Essentially, he grew his company vertically rather than horizontally — providing a litany of services for specific customer needs. The company’s “secret sauce” is its product’s ability to extract sales detail from point-of-sales systems and mirror it with a video image.
Recently, DTT also rolled out a new product called the SCREAM service, a feedback app that operates in the cloud so the owner/operator receives customer feedback immediately by text and can respond immediately to any issues.
During the past 14 years, DTT has supported more than 27,000 customer locations for renowned brands such as McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, the Peninsula Hotel and has just developed a new relationship with Arby’s. With 350 employees residing in various departments, Naficy has grown the equity value of the company immensely.
How to reach: DTT, www.dttusa.com