Monday, 22 July 2002 09:43

Walk the walk

In the dictionary, a visionary is defined as a person with unusual foresight and the ability to see ahead. Whenever we are in a position of leadership, we carry that responsibility, whether we like it or not.

SBN magazine is all about visionaries. In 1999, we had our first Innovation in Business Conference, which recognized area leaders for their innovation and vision in business. Winners in the visionary category were leaders who recognized trends such as how the Internet would change how books are sold; how software could be broken down and sold as components; how competition in the cable industry would create a need for marking cables; how interactive media could enhance retail sales; and using franchising in a nontraditional industry to grow.

These are all people with the uncanny knack of knowing in which direction their industry is headed before everyone else. Needless to say, the conference was a smashing success. People want to learn what it takes to acquire these skills and apply them to their own businesses.

Here are several questions to consider:

  • Would you consider yourself a visionary?

  • How important is it to be a visionary if I am in a leadership position?

  • How can I tell if I am one?

  • How can I become one if I’m not?

  • What will happen if I never become one?

Here are the four steps it takes to become one. This exercise can be helpful regardless of how you answered the questions above.

1. Think like one. Don’t operate in a vacuum. Get educated on your industry and understand what is happening around you. With the right information and research, you can pick up on trends before anyone else. It is important to know what your competition is doing and how it is doing it. Think long term and get away from the daily crisis mode that too many of you operate in. Establish goals and work toward them.

2. Talk like one. Delegate responsibility to free up more of your time for long-term strategic planning. Spread the message throughout the organization so everyone knows what the goals are. Continue to reinforce the message.

3. Act like one. Implementation of your plan to reach your goals is up to you. You’ve done the research, identified the trends that will affect your company and established goals to make your company the leader.

4. Be like one. Results will speak for themselves. If you are successful in being a visionary, revenues, earnings and market share will increase. Your hard work and visionary skills will have paid off.

To be a true visionary, you have to keep moving forward. Like a high-profile coach, you are only as good as your last game. Once you’ve reached one set of goals, you need to formulate your plan for the next ones.

Failing to be a visionary can hurt your business. If you don’t have a vision, it will be hard to retain your top people. With no clear goals, they’ll see the company as stagnant and move on to more promising positions.

Without a vision, it’s hard to convince bankers and investors to give you enough capital to grow your business. As you remain stationary, your competition will pass you by with visions of their own.

Become a visionary now, before your competitors do.

Fred Koury ( is president and CEO of SBN.

Published in Akron/Canton
Friday, 19 July 2002 05:53

The measure of our success

In most cases, when we evaluate ourselves against the rest of the business world, we tend to compare ourselves to those above us.

We might look at people who are making more money than us, those we perceive to have a better job or those we aspire to be like. In doing this, we will always conclude we are not as successful. We will always be a notch below where we think we should be.

The real deception is there are always going to be people who run larger companies, make more money and are deemed more successful. No matter how far you move up the ladder of success, there's always going to be someone on the rung ahead of you.

It is a race that cannot be won, and there's a steep price to pay for entering it. We will never have a real sense of purpose if we use this as our barometer of success.

Here are five steps to help put things in perspective:

1. Many people ask if what they are doing today is what they should be doing. The answer is yes. If this weren't true, they wouldn't be in that job. You are where you are supposed to be, so quit wondering and start working.

2. Do the best job you can in whatever you do.

3. Do not compare yourself to others. This only causes ungratefulness and focuses on what we don't have rather than what we do have. This causes envy and jealousy.

4. Be thankful for the position you are in. This isn't always easy, and some days or years are better than others, but keep in mind that more than 2 billion people in the world live on less than one dollar a day. While many of your problems may seem severe, take a step back and re-examine them.

There are so many people that go each day without the basic necessities like food and water. Is what you're worrying about really a crisis? It is very important to always keep things in perspective.

5. The goal is to achieve a sense of contentment and happiness. When that happens, a sense of purpose is realized. You will start to enjoy the fruits of your labor. This is a sign of strength, not of weakness. It doesn't mean you are not ambitious, just that you are enabling yourself to enjoy the ride.

These steps will help you live in the present. Too often, people are thinking about the future. They spend too much time focusing on their next pay increase, promotion or career change. Just because you're not on the top rung of the ladder doesn't mean you haven't been successful.

Slow down and enjoy some of your accomplishments. If we are always living for tomorrow, we can never really experience the true joy of today. Fred Koury ( is president and CEO of SBN Magazine.

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 18 July 2002 13:20

Taking measure

As businesspeople, we have a fiduciary responsibility to ourselves and to our companies to measure the investments we make.

Investments include inventory, office space, equipment, even employees. Too often, we don't have benchmarks in place to really measure the return on these investments.

By not measuring the success or failure of the ideas we implement, we put ourselves in a vulnerable position. If too many investments are made at once, cash flow can quickly dry up if they don't pay off. People and resources will be diverted to unproductive projects, while money-making ventures sit idle or never become as lucrative as they should.

With no tangible measurements, it becomes easy to spread our resources, especially capital, too thin while working on too many projects at once.

Here are several suggestions to help you avoid this mistake.


1. Set goals and establish a timeline for a return on each investment. Be realistic, because some things take time to mature. Make sure the company is financially sound and can handle the downside of any investment you make.

Be prepared for the worst-case scenario. You'll be able to manage better knowing that your company is prepared, allowing you to focus on creating success rather than avoiding failure.

2. Put it in writing and share it with the right people. Give employees the information they need to do their jobs, and let them know how you want them to measure progress.

Employees need to understand your goals. If they are not clear about the goals, you risk them pushing the idea in the wrong direction.

3. Make yourself and your employees accountable through key performance measures reported on a periodic basis to assess your progress. This helps keep key people informed on how the company is progressing toward achieving its goals. Keep regular tabs on why projects are or are not working as predicted, and make the necessary adjustments.

4. If you are not receiving a return on an investment, weigh your options. If the return is there, continue funding. If it is not, don't delay in making the difficult decisions. There are many reasons something looked good to start with, then soured. Economic conditions change, key employees leave, new competitors enter the field.

5. Make decisions that are in the best interest of the companies well being. Leadership falls on you. Reassess why things aren't working and pull the plug, if necessary, then refocus that capital on more promising projects.

As your company grows, the need to establish benchmarks to measure progress grows with it. Benchmarks provide vital information on which to base your business decisions, and give you quantifiable data as to which projects are worth pursuing.

With a tightening economy, it's more important than ever to carefully manage every dollar. Take the time to establish benchmarks now, so you can continually evaluate performance.

If push comes to shove, you'll know exactly what needs pushing and what needs shoving. Fred Koury ( is president and CEO of SBN Magazine.

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 30 April 2002 07:08

Taking credit

When was the last time you looked at your credit rating?

People take for granted that the information on their credit reports -- personal or business -- is accurate. That's a big mistake. These reports are plagued with errors and inconsistencies. Each day, business owners are taken advantage of because no one speaks up.

Credit ratings are more important than you realize. As SBN Cleveland reported in "The credit crisis" in November 2001, a business owner can make a significant amount of money and have millions of dollars in the bank, but neither his income nor his assets are listed on a credit report.

Another point we noted: If you have a credit card with a limit of $5,000 and your balance is $4,000, your credit score will be lower because it looks as though you are overextended, regardless of your payment history. (To read the article, go to and click on Executive Briefing.)

Of course, you can always report errors to the appropriate credit bureau, which has 30 days to investigate disputed items and resolve them. But you still have to go through the aggravation and legwork. The approach to credit scoring needs to change.

Here are four steps you can take to make a difference.

1. Contact your congressman. I know this is a hassle, so I'm making it simple. Listed below are the names and contact information for your local representatives. Let them know if you've been affected by the current method of credit scoring.

2. Contact the Better Business Bureau. While the BBB doesn't wield legal authority, it has a significant voice in mending broken business practices.

3. Check your credit rating. Until the guidelines of these companies are changed, we have to play by their rules. Order a copy of your credit report each year to check for accuracy. If there are mistakes, put your complaints in writing.

4. Send me an e-mail. If you have had a legitimate complaint regarding a credit bureau in recent months please forward it to me and I'll make sure they are all consolidated and forwarded to the right people.

SBN Cleveland contact info

Sherrod Brown: (440) 934-5100

Paul E. Gillmor: (419) 734-1999

Dennis J. Kucinich: (216) 228-8850

Steven C. LaTourette: (440) 352-3939

Stephanie Tubbs Jones: (216) 522-4900

Better Business Bureau: (216) 241-7678

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 26 February 2002 12:20

Reap your harvest

We reap what we sow and we sow what we reap.

What do you think this expression means?

The word "sow," according to the Webster dictionary means, to scatter for growing; to plant seed; to spread or scatter for growth.

You are always sowing either for good or for bad, whether you realize it or not. All things come to light in due time -- maybe not in the timeline we would like to see it in, but in God's timeline.

One recent example is the Enron fiasco. This energy company, with its accounting firm and others, was not honest with the way it reported its finances. What you may not know is that several years ago, it got rid of its core value statement it was using as the foundation for its management principles.

We all know what happened next: Disaster for the company, its leadership and its employees. They were sowing bad seeds. We must take responsibility for our actions. Too often we look outside ourselves and blame others. If you sow blame, you will reap it as well.

It's time to quit passing the buck. Start taking responsibility for your own happiness.

Listed are five areas we sow each day in the business world. We need to be aware of what kind of seeds we are sowing because the seeds we sow today will affect us tomorrow.

1. Treat your employees well. Your employees are a reflection of yourself. If you treat them badly, they will treat your customers that way. Show them the dignity and respect they deserve, and those ideals will take root throughout the company.

2. The customer is always king. Are you treating customers the way you should? Remember, the most effective advertising is word-of-mouth, and the only way to get that is to treat every customer like royalty.

3. Treat vendors as partners. If you treat them fairly, they will do the same for you.

4. Be happy for your peers. Don't sabotage the success of others with petty jealousies.

5. Be grateful to God for your lot in life. We have a much better life than many others in this world.

The measure you use with others will be the same one used with you. Treat others the same way you'd want to be treated if your positions were reversed.

Today is a good day to start making sure you are sowing good seeds.

Published in Akron/Canton
Sunday, 26 December 2010 19:00

Angel investors are pretty much everywhere

Are you looking for equity investors to grow your business?

If so, I hope you’re not walking around wondering where you can find these investors. Because they’re pretty much everywhere.

Let me explain.

To begin, there are two main types of investors: individual investors and institutional investors.

Individual investors are investors who invest their own money in companies. They are better known as “angel investors.” Institutional investors, on the other hand, are investors who invest their company’s or other people’s money. The largest class of institutional investors for entrepreneurs are known as “venture capitalists.”

Now, the vast majority of entrepreneurs should be seeking angel investors and not funding from venture capitalists. Why? To begin, most venture capitalists won’t invest less than $2 million in a company, which is often too much money for a startup and would cause the entrepreneur to give away too much control of his company. And most venture capitalists won’t invest in companies unless they have already accomplished several milestones (such as having a developed a product, having secured customers, etc.). That’s why many venture capitalists fund companies who have raised angel funding first.

So, while venture capital might be perfect for an entrepreneur later, in most cases, the entrepreneur needs to first raise angel funding. The good news is that it’s much easier to raise angel funding than venture capital funding. According to the National Venture Capital Association, only 2,893 companies raised venture capital last year. On the other hand, according to the Center for Venture Research, 57,225 companies received angel funding. That’s 20 times the number of companies who raised venture capital.

In addition, those 57,225 companies were funded by 259,480 individual angel investors. And further, those 259,480 individual angels are just a tiny fraction of the total number of investors that can provide funding to entrepreneurs.

In fact, according to The Spectrem Group, there are 980,000 U.S. households with a net worth exceeding $5 million and 7.8 million U.S. households with a net worth exceeding $1 million (both figures exclude the value of the household’s primary residence).

That’s millions of potential angel investors. And the best part for entrepreneurs is that these are mostly “latent” angel investors. That means they don’t look at themselves or call themselves angel investors. And they don’t get bombarded with companies to fund. But, they have the means, ability and often interest in investing in entrepreneurs and emerging companies.

And why wouldn’t they? Virtually all of these investors have money in the public stock markets, which have provided flat or negative returns over the past 10 years, while over the same time, angel investments have earned an average of 27 percent annual returns.

So entrepreneurs are actually doing these investors a favor by having them invest in their businesses (if their businesses are solid, of course).

As you might imagine, most of the millions of latent angels in the United States can be easily targeted. They tend to live in certain ZIP codes. And the primary breadwinners are typically business owners and executives who are on multiple lists that an entrepreneur in need of funding can purchase.

A word of caution to the entrepreneur, however, is that the selling of securities in your venture is regulated by the Securities & Exchange Commission. So it is strongly recommended that you use appropriate legal counsel and follow the proper guidelines when raising angel funding.

But once again, the good news is that angel funding is all around you and is accessible to entrepreneurs with a solid business idea and plan.

Dave Lavinsky is the president and co-founder of Growthink ( Since 1999, Growthink has helped thousands of entrepreneurs and business owners develop business plans and raise numerous forms of financing. He can be reached at

Published in Northern California
Sunday, 26 December 2010 19:00

Strategic focus

In the fall, the Women Presidents’ Organization hosted four regional seminars with Neeli Bendapudi, professor of marketing and director of the initiative for managing services at the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University, to speak about the importance of branding.

At the 2009 WPO annual conference, Bendapudi introduced in her keynote address to the WPO the concept of customer apostles and customer terrorists. Customer apostles can be loosely defined as those customers who will rave about your product, suggest it to others and perpetuate word-of-mouth marketing. On the other hand, customer terrorists are the small percentage who have had a bad experience and have gone out of their way to express that experience and warn others.

Our regional seminars were a perfect follow-up to this topic to discuss not only the customers but also the living brand of a company. Even though a company may undergo changes, the values for which the company stands should never drastically change. It is important that those values are reflected in all of the ways you conduct business.

The key takeaway from the regional seminars was the importance of customer service and knowing that branding begins within the organization. To quote Bendapudi, “The experience you provide to a customer will always trump the brand.” It does not matter how well known your company is, how long you have been around or the service you provide. If you provide an extremely positive or negative experience, those will be the outliers in your customers’ mind. These are the interactions they will remember. For this reason, it is so important that a high level of customer service is expressed in every communication with your company and that customer service is a value of the corporation that must be embraced by all employees.

Successful companies know that customer service can be the difference between their company and a competitor. For example, WPO member Carolyn Sawyer, president and CEO of Tom Sawyer Co. Inc., reported that: “For any service-driven company, customer care, as we coin it at TSC, is the most critical, cost-efficient strategy to beat our competitors. A customer interaction with TSC should be a memorable experience. The interaction becomes the differentiator for your company. Ask yourself, did you do everything you possibly could to close a sale or did you create a memorable experience? Think of it as making a first impression on each encounter.

“Demonstrating clarity, compassion and commitment to the stated next steps of the transaction become critical elements of the interaction.”

It is great to believe in customer service but the key is to deliver it. Sawyer sets herself apart by ensuring that delivery and states: “In our contact call center, we still encounter clients stunned when we call back to follow up or actually deliver on what we said was part of the next steps. Sadly, there is so much bad service that it doesn’t take much to lead the pack and put your company in a position to be a brand to remember.”

I have always been a staunch believer in people, and I know that hiring the right people and surrounding oneself with those people can truly drive success. Bendapudi shared her inspiring ideas and research with WPO members encouraging them to begin brand changes from the inside, with employees’ attitudes, because that is where the true brand will shine through.

Marsha Firestone, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of the Women Presidents’ Organization, the premier global peer advisory organization connecting top women entrepreneurs who own multimillion-dollar companies. Reach Firestone at, (212) 688-4114 or

Published in National
Sunday, 26 December 2010 19:00

The time is now

When was the last time you had more than five uninterrupted minutes to just think? How about 10 minutes to focus on something beyond the next two quarters?

Companies that seize the opportunity to plan, strategize and build wisely for the future are the firms that quickly outpace their competitors when the economy recovers. With the frenzied pace to “just do something” that a down economy creates, even the brightest and best leaders fail to take sufficient time to focus on the long-term strategic opportunities.

They are being swallowed by the urgent, short-term things demanding their attention — requests from the boss for details on the current situation, explanations for the board, detailed rearview descriptions on why the numbers are down, etc. They are losing their time to think about the future.

Executives’ days are filled with back-to-back meetings, e-mails, voice mails and answering calls from others with urgent problems. They have no time left to comprehend the information coming in from forecasts, reports, articles or competitor analyses. Having the time to focus on things that are many months or years down the road has become an unaffordable luxury.

Reclaim your time to focus on the future. Decide what not to do. Stop kidding yourself about your capacity to take on more work and give yourself the freedom to say no.

If you cannot readily make the connection between a given task and a key business driver, drop it. A common mistake is scheduling back-to-back meetings with little or no time to process information or focus on the long-term future opportunities.

Stop trying to be a hero. Reject the idea that a successful leader is the “rugged individual” doing all of the work and making all of the decisions. Challenge yourself to delegate things that can be done by others. Engage others to stretch and grow. Seize opportunities to delegate. Others will benefit from knowing you are taking steps to focus on the long-term of the business.

Take care of yourself. Get control of your time by making good decisions about your health and fitness. Your capacity to think clearly and make effective decisions is a function of your physical health. Sleep, nutrition and physical fitness are often the first things sacrificed when time runs short.

Seek feedback. Solicit feedback from those with whom you interact without relying solely on your “inner circle.”

The worst thing you can do is isolate yourself from any information on how things are really going. Feedback is your best leading indicator of future success or failure. Letting patterns of ineffective behavior continue in your organization will guarantee that you are never able to get your time under control.

Track and acknowledge progress. Identify metrics to measure your individual work on longer-term issues and diligently track progress against those measures.

Track personal progress on longer-term goals to ensure that you are moving forward. Celebrate small wins. Executing longer-term plans is about making steady, meaningful progress over time.

You cannot afford to be too busy to think about your future. What you say and do sends a message about what is most important. If it is OK for you to forego work on longer-term items, you should expect others to do the same. Don’t leave work on the future to chance. These are tough times and require tough choices. You must manage today and lead for tomorrow.

Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., is co-founder of CLG Inc. and author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” and “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits.” Braksick consults with top executives and their boards on issues of executive leadership succession, leadership effectiveness and strategy execution. Reach her at or

Published in Pittsburgh
Sunday, 26 December 2010 19:00

Turning no into yes

Research has proven that you will get an average of three to five “no’s” before you get a “yes” from your customer. Research also states that most salespeople give up after the first “no.” Do you fall into that category?

Have you forgotten that the nature of sales is rejection?

You should expect resistance; that’s human nature. The customer is usually requesting confirmation that he or she will be making the right decision — it’s a buying signal. The key is to be prepared for it. Make a list of the actual resistance that you will receive in the following categories.

  • Price
  • Postponement
  • Competition
  • Change
  • Personal

Then take time and brainstorm potential responses with your entire sales team. Now, practice the answers using the following four steps. For this example, assume that the customer’s response is, “Your price is too high.”

Step 1: Clarify the customer’s concerns by asking, “How come you feel the price is too high?”

Step 2: Respond to the concern with the appropriate answer.

Step 3: Ask for acceptance of your answer. “Now do you see that you are getting the best value for your money?”

Step 4: Trial close. “Let’s get your order started.”

Stop giving up after the first “no.” Become pleasantly persistent.

Marvin Montgomery is an author, speaker and sales training consultant at ERC, where he has assisted hundreds of organizations in improving their productivity. You can ask the Sales Doctor a question at

Published in Akron/Canton
Sunday, 26 December 2010 19:00

The elements of success

I looked at my own business to assess what is necessary for leaders to flourish and, in turn, deliver an excellent experience for those around them. What I found is that it’s about having a clear strategy, building the right team, building communication and, finally, building a sense of community within an organization through community outreach.

Let’s start with the strategy.

Some time ago, a strategy was described to me as a journey with a specific destination in mind. While there may be several ways to get there, the final destination must be very clear to those responsible for making it happen. Think of strategy in the same way you may approach a trip. Someone must declare where you are going on the trip, why you want to go there and what you intend to get out of the trip before you can make plans and start to execute them.

To give you a sense of what I mean, I would like to relay my personal journey with our company strategy.

In 2007, I took over as president and CEO of FedEx Custom Critical and immediately saw a need to get our leadership team focused and working toward one goal. While we already had a strategy in place, I witnessed leaders who loosely interpreted it or took it in their own personal direction. In addition, our business environment was changing and I saw my change in leadership as perfect timing to re-evaluate our company strategy and get everyone headed in one focused direction.

Over the course of three days in 2007, our top-level leaders looked at the many inputs that would shape our future course: our customers, our independent contractor drivers and sales professionals, our competitors, and our goals for future growth. We developed a statement of strategic intent and ended up with six strategic outcomes that would guide our future decisions on marketing, sales and — of course — resource deployments (capital or people). In the weeks to follow, we shared the statement with our managers, and they gave us feedback that would refine the statement and outcomes even further. From there, we unveiled the strategy and outcomes to our entire work force.

Based on the way we developed the strategy, I was 100 percent sure that every leader understood it and could be — and would be — held accountable to the results. We were also able to speak clearly in meetings about where we were going and where we were not going. The latter has been used on several occasions when great ideas arise that would take us off our agreed-upon path. While we are open to adjustments, we have all agreed that we need to stay the course and not take up ideas that take us in a totally new direction.

Our strategy work has proven to be invaluable over the past three years. Even as we experienced the recent economic downturn, our team was focused on our journey and did not waiver. With everyone focused, we used our strategy as our North Star during the storm.

I have seen the power of a clear strategy play out in so many ways. Our profits are good and our leaders have been able to go out with one clear message to guide people. With the confidence of knowing where we are going and how we will get there, team members are engaged, have the freedom to perform their jobs and are empowered to deliver the results. So when you look at your business, ask yourself, “Does everyone know our destination?”

Virginia Albanese is president and CEO of FedEx Custom Critical, North America’s largest critical-shipment carrier. The company provides 24/7 service throughout the United States, Canada and internationally, delivering hundreds of thousands of critical shipments each year. She is also the chairwoman of the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce and serves on a number of other boards to benefit the Northeast Ohio community, including Akron Children’s Hospital and The Boys and Girls Club of the Western Reserve.

Published in Akron/Canton