Among the headline-grabbing stories in recent months has been

Facebook privacy. Facebook has emerged as a major online force, with between

400 million and 500 million members.

What put Facebook under the mainstream media’s halogen spotlight?

Without any pre-announcement, Facebook flipped private settings to public.

Facebook users cried foul, and the company’s founder apologized and began

backpedaling.

Making the private public was not such a good idea. Facebook introduced a

simplified control panel to make privacy settings easier and less complicated.

(If you want to check your privacy settings, from the Facebook page, select

“Account” and access the privacy controls. To fiddle with the controls, click

“Customize Settings.” Be sure to check the settings for applications and Web

sites. For a business, the application options make it possible for software

robots to tap into your Facebook information. My suggestion is to turn off

“Instant Personalization.” You can activate it if you find that it is important

to your business.) The new, simplified Facebook privacy controls are confusing

and complicated. Facebook wants to monetize its service, and the more public

information available translates to increased revenue opportunities.

In an interview with Larry Magid, a well-known journalist writing for the San

Jose Mercury News, Mark Zuckerberg,

Facebook’s founder, said: “There has been this rumor going around that’s completely not true, which is

that we give information to advertisers, and we don’t. ... We don’t sell any

information, and we never will. ... We’ve been working on these changes to our

privacy system for the last six months, but now we’re done. We’re not going to make

changes for a long time.” (Read the full interview here.)

What should a business do if it has a Facebook page? There are some basic steps

you can take. First, visit your company’s Facebook page and look at the

information displayed. If there is information that you do not want made

public, you may want to take a step back and make sure that policies and

procedures are in place to make a repeat event unlikely. Then once the policy

is in place, you can either delete or modify the information. Facebook is a

free service, and the type of customer support one expects when paying for a

business service is simply not available.

The next level of effort is to dive into Facebook’s privacy control panel.

Among the major adjustments made as the firestorm of controversy raged is

control over what is available to other applications and Web sites. Hyper

modern sites like Facebook make it easy for a programmer to tap into its

content and use it to inform other services. Pandora, a music streaming

service, looks at what a Facebook user has listed as his or her favorite music,

then uses that to create a customized playlist. Facebook is social, permits

access via its application programming interface, and contains information about

a Facebook users’ actions and persona.

Can a mere mortal configure Facebook’s privacy settings? In a

word, no. Most business-centric Facebook pages will not contain personal

information in most cases, but the same privacy interface and options apply across

Facebook accounts. A casual click through of the settings may not be

sufficiently rigorous for an organization. Configuring the privacy settings is

a job for a person with Facebook savvy and knowledge about what the company

wants exposed. A useful first step is to navigate to the All Facebook blog and

read “Time to Audit Your Privacy Settings. Here’s How,” published by Fast

Company. (Source)

Another problem is that the word “privacy” may have one meaning to a team of

20-something programmers and another meaning for a 45-year-old restaurant

owner. Privacy has become a boundary between generations of online users.

While the company has taken a publicity hit, it hasn’t shown any signs of

slowing. Protests and government investigations have had little or no effect on

its growth.

Facebook’s advertising business is booming and the Facebook site vies with

Flickr for pictures and YouTube for video.

The basic content for a business page on Facebook should be objective

information about your organization. Other useful content to put on your

organization’s Facebook page includes photographs of products, services, and,

in some cases, facilities. Pictures of an office party or a golf outing may be

misinterpreted. Lean toward conservatism, and when in doubt, leave it out. If

your organization has a blog with an RSS (really simple syndication) function,

you can push the blog content to your organization’s Facebook page. The key to

making these features work pivots on the individual managing the Facebook

presence and the time invested in your presence there.

Two years ago, a business had to work around Facebook’s system to create a

presence in its community. Today, Facebook wants businesses participating.

Will another service topple Facebook from its lofty position? Based on the

company’s fast growth and its users’ indifference to management

high-handedness, Facebook has an unobstructed path to a pot of advertising

gold. For the foreseeable future, Facebook may be running a digital Disneyland.

Walt Disney would have understood Facebook’s determination to take necessary

steps to ensure that the company dominates its business sector. It lacks

Disney’s cheerful public persona but with 500 million members, Facebook is

doing something right.

Stephen E. Arnold is a consultant.

His Web site is www.arnoldit.com. His new

Google monograph about Google’s nontext initiatives will be available later

this summer. A sample chapter is available at www.theseed2020.com/gbt/.

Published in National
Monday, 05 July 2010 20:00

Cloud computing

You know the drill. License software, often at sky-high

prices. Then you pay for consultants, integrators and training. A few months

later, the software needs an upgrade. Rinse and repeat. Expensive and for

decades the way to provide yourself and your employees with word processing,

e-mail and other must-have programs.

A new phase in computer use is beginning. The shift is plump

with opportunities to save almost any organization money in software license

fees, on-premises hardware and consultants. Oh, the consultants — experts in

networks, customization, optimization and dozens of other geekspeak services.

The buzzword for the alternative to on-premises software is

cloud computing. For me, the key event in cloud computing was Apple’s iPhone.

The gizmo made phone calls, but millions of people bought these devices and

realized that the software and services they wanted were out there. The

“there,” of course, is the network cloud.

Netbooks and the iPhone were catalysts. Now the giants of

computing are jumping into cloud computing with both feet. IBM and Verizon have

announced a cloud partnership. Microsoft offers most of its enterprise software

as a cloud service. Google has been expanding its cloud offerings with additional

security, support for Microsoft Exchange, and other features at a healthy pace.

Start-ups abound. Some have a high profile among the

technically savvy, but these services can save some organizations big money.

Let’s try to answer the question, “How can cloud computing help your bottom

line?” Let’s look at two cloud services anyone with basic computer skills can

use immediately.

First, if you have been paying for a contact management system

like Act or wrestling with Microsoft Outlook, try Zoho’s free customer

relationship management service. (http://www.zoho.com/crm) CRM is not

e-mail, although you can use e-mail with Zoho’s service or you can use your

existing e-mail program or some other vendors’ services.

Contact management is a component of CRM. The idea is that

when you meet a person at a business lunch, you can snag his or her card, enter

the details into the contact management system, and then add information about

your subsequent interactions with the person.

If you have three or fewer employees, the service is free. You

get access to Zoho’s leads and sales opportunities module, a contact manager, a

direct mail campaign system, a calendar and an administrative dashboard. There

is a limit of 100 megabytes of data storage, an import limit of 1,000 contacts

per batch and a maximum of 100,000 records. For many small businesses, the free

service is sufficient to get contacts organized and to start using Zoho’s

professional e-mail campaign.

The downside is that you may not know much about Zoho, which

is one of the leaders in cloud-based services or what some call SaaS (software

as a service).

Your information technology expenditure won’t drop to zero but

you can reduce the service and support costs. And once you are familiar with

Zoho, you could drop the on-premises system and its costs. Zoho, like Google

Docs, provides free and low-cost word processing, spreadsheet and presentation

software, too.

Are you paying for conference calls?

You will want to navigate to FreeConference.com and sign up

for an account. It’s free. You can duplicate most of the features of the

traditional AT&T conference call and get some additional features at a very

low cost. One useful service is FreeConference.com’s transcript. I often work

on projects for law firms, and the ability to get a hard copy of some long

conference calls is a real plus. FreeConference.com also offers a digital

recording of the call. You download the MP3 file, and you can use it for

reference or edit it for a podcast if that’s part of your marketing program.

If you have a tech-savvy person handy, you can substitute

Skype.com for FreeConference.com. With a video camera and Skype, you can offer

videoconferencing and the presentation functions of Scribd.com. You and your

conference participants will need to have high-speed connections. Be sure to

alert those on your conference call or webinar about the bandwidth

requirements, too.

How much can you save?

I used to use the Act contact management system. The software

cost me individually more than $100 per year. For me and four colleagues, I was

spending upward of $450 a year for licenses, and I had to have a computer whiz

on tap if I ran into trouble importing contacts or moving data from one

computer to another. For a larger organization, the cost of contact management

can swell to a very large number. With Zoho, I chopped the costs down to less

than $200 per year.

When I switched to FreeConference.com from my traditional

AT&T conference service, my monthly bill dropped from several hundred

dollars a month to zero for conference calls. Your savings may differ, but I am

delighted with the payoff from the cloud.

The range of cloud services is expanding. Rapid service

proliferation makes it difficult to know which service is the appropriate one.

My experience is that testing services is one way to get a sense of what’s

available. If that’s not possible, you can run a query on Bing.com or

Google.com for “cloud computing blogs” and start reading.

Expect to encounter some unusual company and product names.

Examples include Mikogo (www.mikogo.com), Yugma (www.yugma.com), Vyew

(www.vyew.com) and others.

In a couple of years, on-premises software will play a larger

role in many organizations information technology strategy because of its

affordability, ease of use and anywhere availability.

The negatives, which the established software vendors are

eager to point out, include the fear that data will be lost or stolen, the lack

of familiarity with cloud systems, and use of services from vendors that are

not household words.

For a small or midsized business, cloud-based services,

particularly for contact management and sales presentations, are reliable and

readily available. Once you have some experience with the cloud, you can then

consider eliminating such expensive, aging software products like Microsoft

Word, Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft SharePoint.

My suggestion is to get your feet wet. This is one plump cloud

that could yield a flood of payoffs quickly and consistently. With cloud

computing, you don’t need an umbrella. Take a bucket to catch your savings.

 

For more information about the author and

information about his firm’s information consulting services, navigate to

www.arnoldit.com.

Published in National
Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

Misdirection makes for mediocrity

There is a reason marketers get a bad rap on social media sites and among the general public. We are known for pushing information your way with the clear intent of getting you to act. For the most part, the public finds this acceptable as long as there is some level of authenticity to your message.

Most companies don’t intend to mislead the public. They truly believe the information they are providing is genuine and reflective of their values. But often marketers are focused on what they believe to be true and marketable rather than what is actually authentic. They don’t hold themselves accountable for their actions reflecting their stated values. When this happens, potential customers feel violated and become cynical.

I was near the World Financial Center in Manhattan last month and was astonished by a blatant example of marketing misdirection. Being constructed from the ground up on the plaza nestled between the high-rises and the Hudson River was a panelized home. The sign on the worksite read, “Country Living Magazine ‘Home Green Home’ 2010 House of the Year.” On the Web site, you learn that Country Living partnered with New World Home to create “green” homes, and then together awarded themselves the annual honor and chose this promotion. Most likely, some marketer said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to build a house in the middle of a busy New York City plaza?”

Even though much of the home is reusable since it’s panelized, much of the material in this promotion will go to waste. Just in the creation of the home, over the course of the several weeks it took to build, several Dumpsters were filled and replaced. Additionally, the energy that was required to ship the materials, power the tools and light the home add to the carbon footprint of this exercise. The project was about as nongreen as you could get.

Not only was the marketing team responsible for this project obviously unconcerned with the inconsistent message being sent, but from a cost-benefit standpoint, the entire project was questionable. The demographic for immediate buyers of a modular home is a small section of the population who owns land or is soon to buy. Other than a few straggling tourists, very few of the office workers and apartment dwellers that frequent this plaza would likely be buyers of this home. The promoters might recoup their marketing investment, but it’s tough to argue this was the highest and best use of their marketing dollar, and it shows the world that integrity is low on their priority list. What some marketer thought would be awesome ends up being mediocre.

Sometimes we create mediocrity by violating the trust of current customers, as well. While walking with a friend through Manhattan recently, we stopped at a Starbucks. Starbucks is well known for turning the act of drinking coffee into a “coffee experience.”

Once we had finished ordering, I walked over to use the bathroom. There was a sign that said “Employees Only.” When I asked the barista where the customer bathroom was, I was informed that they had to convert this bathroom to an employee-only bathroom because it was too difficult to keep it clean as a customer bathroom. I asked about public health guidelines and was quickly informed due to the small size of the store they were not required to have a public bathroom. When I asked if an exception could be made since we were on a long walk, both employees behind the counter informed me that this was their policy and I could go somewhere else if I was unhappy.

Obviously, there is a breakdown in communication between what the Starbucks marketers believed in their original intent and the current execution either in location choice, employee training or culture. As companies, we can choose to just write words or be true and authentic with the words we use and actions we take.

There are few laws governing integrity and authenticity in what we say and how we execute. Even if there were, it would be impossible to enforce. But, ultimately, competition drives enforcement as long as there are those of us willing to do what we say and do it in an awesomely consistent manner.

KEVIN DAUM is the principal of TAE International and the best-selling author of the Amazon #1 bestsellers “ROAR! Get Heard in the Sales and Marketing Jungle” and “Green$ense For the Home: Rating the Real Payoff on 50 Green Home Projects,” both available on bookstore shelves this month. He is also a speaker and marketing consultant. Reach him at Kevin@TheAwesomeExperience.com. Check out Kevin’s Quest for the Jewish Super Bowl Ring at www.AwesomeRoar.com.

Published in National

Too many businesses are fixated on immediate gratification. All too frequently, a company’s worth is now measured almost entirely by the paybacks it achieves in the near term, rather than by its ability to plan effectively and execute a sustainable long-term growth strategy. The use of this barometer to keep score significantly intensified after the economic meltdown of 2008.

Management teams are now on a very short leash. “What have you done for me today?” is the mandate for public companies with their required 13-week earnings report cards, and both public and private companies must typically provide their lenders each month with data that measure results against promised targets. Much of this is appropriate. The negative, however, is that management has less incentive and support to focus on far-off goals to ensure the company is still in business 20 or 30 years from now.

When a company misses the mark, even for a month or a quarter, the team finds itself under the glaring bright lights of intense scrutiny, which can make even the most secure management skittish about undertaking costly programs.

In this current environment, a CEO’s tenure is almost measured in dog years. Although definitive figures are not yet available for last year, some estimate that the median average tenure of the top executive at a publicly held company may have dropped to a new low of approximately 5.5 years. This presents a dramatic, more than 40 percent decline from about 9.5 years of service in 1995.

Whatever happened to the nurturing of the CEO by the board of directors or advisers providing him or her time to gain insightful understanding of the intricacies of the business that leads to sustained growth and the ability to implement long-term plans? Isn’t the obligation of a management team to ensure that it makes the appropriate decisions to pave the way for the next generation that follows?

Think about it this way: It took more than 100 years to build the great cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris and a span of hundreds of years for the Great Wall of China to be built during the Ming Dynasty. Those making the decisions to embark on these massive undertakings surely knew that they would never see the full fruition of their planning. They knew that they were planting trees under which they would never sit.

In modern times, a project that might take a century or more to complete is obviously a bit much. However, for a more realistic example, think about energy companies, which must make decisions today to ensure that we have the energy plants for tomorrow. These expensive, very long-term projects require huge capital, extraordinary amounts of time and the maturity of management to know that most likely they will not be around to savor the completion of the new facility. Current senior management teams in all companies must understand that what they do on their watch will become their legacy on which history will judge them.

There are dozens of reasons why a company does not plan far enough into the future. Aside from being selfish because current management will not be the beneficiary of the efforts, perhaps a bigger reason is that companies don’t have the backing from their constituents to do some of the things necessary for the next generation. In many cases, this would require too big a hit to current profitability. In a more esoteric scenario, some narrow-minded leadership would say, “What’s in it for us and our shareholders or investors today?”

There are many excuses, some of which are comparable to a fifth-grader who does not turn in his or her homework and asserts, “The dog ate it.”

Companies that make equally absurd statements about focusing solely on the present might be better served by using the dog-ate-it excuse — plus it would probably be more believable and make sense.

Today’s leaders must balance short-term, intermediate-term and very long-term objectives in order to satisfy all of their constituents and to improve the odds that there will be a tomorrow.

Being a CEO is akin to being a tightrope walker who must have nerves of steel and very good balance. Unfortunately, we all know what happens to tightrope walkers who lose their balance — they fall, and most times, they don’t ever get up again.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988. Starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales 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 wellness 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.

Published in National

Every business executive wants to make the right decisions that lead to a win, be it completing a transaction, launching a new product or orchestrating a mega deal. However, reality is that there are few, if any, players who are always right and who always win.

Think about it this way. A great major league baseball player, such as the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, has a lifetime batting average going into the 2010 season of .305, with more than 2,500 hits, including 583 homers. For this, he has a current contract worth about $275 million, which is nice work if you can get it. A-Rod’s average means, however, that for every time he is at the plate, he gets a hit less than one-third of the time.

Using baseball batting averages as a benchmark puts into perspective that being great or batting a thousand in most anything is virtually impossible. In business, it can mean a leader is afraid to take a swing when he or she steps up to the plate. It’s hard to get on base and ultimately score if an executive is unwilling to take appropriate and measured risks. Baseball is a game where failing seven out of 10 times is a success, not to mention very lucrative. In business, a good leader who makes the right decisions between 60 and 70 percent of the time is a darn effective mover and shaker who will consistently deliver top and bottom growth.

Now ask yourself: What is your batting average? Equally important, what’s the average for the top members of your management team? Do you reward your players for taking chances even if they don’t always pan out, or do you subtly punish an associate for daring to try something different? Sometimes it is difficult to swallow a loss; however, a mistake or a series of controlled misses can lead to uncovering that next big success.

The true game-changer in business is to be sure that you and your team are taking enough chances, new routes if you will, and breaking fresh ground. This is not a loosey-goosey process or just a thoughtless periodic roll of the dice. Risk-taking requires discipline and confidence. The discipline portion is setting a course for which you’ve never previously traveled and then progressing deliberately yet cautiously. This includes having safeguards in place to recognize when the undertaking isn’t quite right, at which time you must take a time-out and make a few tweaks or even change direction. As a company explores new avenues, there must be safeguards in place to avoid painful missteps. These include setting parameters for the dollars you’re willing to risk and the time and the resources you can devote to the effort.

The confidence portion of the equation is not being afraid to be wrong, to admit it and to try again another day. It all gets down to the risk versus the possible rewards. Certainly if you do nothing and it’s the same old, same old every day, you might keep going for some time. During this period, you could bat a thousand, but it’s just a matter of time until you strike out. As the old adage states, there’s nothing more certain than change. Those who don’t change will ultimately be the victims of change.

As a leader, you have to set the standard for change and communicate the virtues of discovery and new alternatives to your team. Growth is all about making sure you always have enough lines in the water that provide the possibility of finding that better way or new widget.

The best hitters in baseball have a career that can span many years. The flash-in-the-pan players who are great one season and forgotten the next are equivalent to executives who only had one good idea. When they stepped up to the plate the next time, they were afraid to take a swing. Three out of 10 is terrific in baseball and six or seven out 10 in business might just get you into the hall of fame.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988. Starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales 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 wellness 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.

Published in National

Every business knows that to survive and succeed it needs customers. What is often ignored, however, is that companies also need vendors and suppliers in order to prosper. In too many organizations, this group is not only frequently neglected but also, at times, abused.

A growing number of savvy organizations have come to realize that their vendors are, in effect, their partners. A company’s success therefore becomes the vendor’s success and is a win-win for everyone.

On the flip side, too many businesses treat their vendors like secondhand citizens who are merely a means to an end. This shabby behavior can manifest itself in many forms, from not returning a supplier’s phone call to being down right belligerent.

What I’m writing about here has nothing to do with negotiating the best possible terms with the lowest possible prices from a vendor. It’s probably almost biological that buyers and sellers butt heads over price. If we take price and terms out of the buyer-vendor relationship, the question becomes what are the key factors that strengthen the working relationship and what weakens it?

Strengthening the partnership usually gets down to promises made and promises kept. The rub occurs when the little annoying things get in the way of the relationship. A company is judged by its cumulative actions. What may seem to be an insignificant series of slights can be as damaging as a single major lapse in appropriate behavior. The big ones don’t happen that frequently. Here’s an analogy. Relatively few people are hit by locomotives, primarily because they’re easy to spot, but a huge number are stung by bees because most don’t see them coming.

One of my pet peeves is how frequently vendors are kept waiting in lobbies. This sends a signal to the vendor that “our time is more valuable than yours; after all, we’re signing your purchase order.” The example I’m using in this column is just a proxy for dozens of ways companies send the wrong message and don’t even know it.

Years ago, I found an effective solution to reduce vendors’ waiting time that cost nothing, worked wonders, and kept my employees on the straight and narrow of how to treat visitors.

To get a sense of what was going on in my company, I regularly took walks through all four floors of our headquarters to see and to be seen. There is something about visibility that sends a signal that the boss is paying attention and not just sitting in an ivory tower. During these walks, I would swing through our lobby, where there was always an abundance of hustle and bustle. Often, when I made a second pass through the lobby on the way back to my office I’d see the same people still waiting from my first pass. It was obvious some employees were treating visitors rudely by disrespecting their time.

I thought, “How in the world could we ask a vendor for this or that when we start out by behaving rudely?” It was time for me to take action.

Here’s what I did. I had a sign made for the receptionist’s desk that bore my signature and read: “If you (the visitor) have an appointment and you’re kept waiting longer than 15 minutes, please pick up the red phone next to this sign, which rings directly on my desk. I will personally come down to greet you.”

Next, I sent a memo to every employee outlining this policy and the reasons for it. I explained that one of our competitive advantages would be how we treat vendors. I pointed out that this was not to be confused with giving the vendors whatever they asked for just because we didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I concluded with the admonishment that if I were called, I would personally rescue the visitor and bring him or her to the policy violator’s office.

Once the sign went up and my memo went out, things began to change. Visitors were greeted promptly or even ahead of the appointed hour. We dramatically improved our reputation as a company that, although very tough negotiators, respected those doing or trying to do business with us. This created a positive buzz among our vendors.

As a P.S. to this story, I never received a call from a single visitor from the date I put in this policy to when I sold the company.

Being big, small or in-between is never an excuse for being rude. And always be on the lookout for bees.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988. Starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales 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 wellness 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.

Read Feuer's previous column.

Published in National

Every company’s mission statement should contain what the Federal Drug Administration calls a “black-box warning.” This is similar to what appears on each pack of cigarettes and on numerous medications approved by the FDA. For companies, a comparable admonishment should be: “Complacency is a silent value destroyer that can cause your business to fall behind competitors.” Remember you are in a race that has no finish line.

Most companies promote the promise of complete satisfaction to their customers, which is a good thing. However, fostering a state of satisfaction and contentment within your corporate culture is not. Am I promoting that all business leaders become malcontents? Yes, pretty much. To do otherwise can stifle innovation. You can bet that as sure as there are little green apples, there are others, right this minute, thinking about how they can do what you do better, faster and cheaper.

Forget for a moment that it’s politically correct to assert that competition is good. Frankly, as a CEO, I never once recall jumping out of bed in the morning and screaming, “Yippee, maybe today I’ll get a new competitor!” Yes, competition makes us all better but not without considerable pain — both economical and emotional. That’s why the best of the best leaders suffer from various degrees of “F of F,” or fear of failure. F of F is one of the strongest drivers known to man to spur improvement. Every time you think you have it knocked, lo and behold, some competitor that was lurking in the shadows seems to appear almost out of nowhere with a different twist or turn of your contraption or business that makes your heart skip a beat. And that skip ain’t caused by love or happiness.

What’s a CEO to do?

For survival, you must confront the potential of a new interloper head on. It is altogether fitting that your team pauses to smell the roses by celebrating a success. If you don’t, your troops will rightfully perceive you as an ungrateful curmudgeon or an unrelenting taskmaster — although there probably is some underlying truth in these assumptions.

A quick series of attaboys and toasting a win are always appreciated by those involved. However, as soon as the party glasses are cleared from the table, it’s time to start planning your next iteration. This is just a simple matter of survival of the fittest. I’m frequently asked, “What are you going to do now that the big job is done?” My response is always, “If I’m doing my job efficiently, I’ll never be done.” Just look around and you will find examples of too many great ideas that were translated into a finished “must-have” product, only to, in short order, wilt and die on the vine. Does anyone remember Polaroid Instant Cameras, Sony Betamax Recorders or Microsoft’s WebTV? All were initially heralded as the next best thing, only to fall from grace when the next generation was introduced — by a shrewd and heartless competitor.

How do you keep your organization energized knowing that once they’re done creating they’ll have to do it all over again and then again and again? One effective method is to have more than one team ready in the wings to begin working on the same product or project. When Team A is done, the next new and improved version becomes the job of Team B. While Team B picks up the gauntlet, the original team starts on something completely different. Team A is satisfied by its accomplishments and can savor the moment while team members gain enthusiasm for their next undertaking. Team B, meanwhile, is motivated to top its predecessor with improvements that the first group may not have even envisioned. Competition within your own organization sure beats the competition that comes from outside.

As the leader, your job is to be not only the chief cook and bottle washer but also the head pot stirrer, always prodding the search for the unexplored or the unimagined. Some cynics may call you a malcontent but so be it, because if you’re not, you are almost guaranteed to be called much worse — a has-been.

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 it for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003 to Boise Cascade Corp. Feuer is CEO of Max-Ventures, a retail venture capital/consulting firm, and co-founder and co-CEO of Max-Wellness, a new health care product retail chain concept that launched in 2009. 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-ventures.com.

Published in National
Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

A matter of law

A man invested in a piece of real estate many years ago as part of a partnership in which he was the majority owner. The agreement stated he had pretty much free-ranging authority to do whatever he wanted, including amending the basic agreement. Recently, he moved the property into a trust.

The problem is, there was a caveat in the contract that stated that if the property were ever moved into a trust, the minority owners could buy out his majority share at book value.

As a result, he’s probably going to lose control of the future of the property that he’s managed all these years.

The lesson is simple: When it comes to legal matters, it’s the little things that can get you.

The contract hadn’t been reviewed in years, and a few sentences buried in the agreement completely changed everything.

While all of us would much rather be thinking about how to grow our businesses rather than quibbling with attorneys over the wording used in the second-to-last paragraph of a contract, a simple oversight could lead to disaster.

When you are making deals, it’s easy to get excited and start overlooking the details. But over time, circumstances change. It doesn’t matter whether it is taxes, partnerships, mergers or estate planning. It pays to have an attorney review all of these documents not only before you sign them but also from time to time so you don’t make any missteps that would jeopardize the contract, regardless of whether you are a Fortune 500 company or a family business.

Spend a little money upfront to prevent having to spend a lot of money later on. You have to look at a relationship with a law firm as an investment in your company. For many mundane services, you can negotiate a flat fee to fix your costs and avoid any surprises.

If you take the time to build a relationship with a firm or firms, you can get a lot more value out of it. As they get to know your business better, they can advise you of potential risks that you may not be aware of.

Attorneys can also help you out in other areas, such as assembling a board of advisers to help guide you to your growth goals or preparing your business for an initial public offering. They also often have great connections throughout the business community and can help you network, as well. As you build the relationship, your lawyer can become a trusted member of your inner circle.

Make sure you talk about costs upfront, regardless of whether you are working with a single attorney on a routine matter or with a multinational firm on a major acquisition. A big reason why executives often avoid lawyers in the first place is because of the fear of costs. In this economy, every nickel counts, and being handed a legal bill that is four times what the estimate was is not something you want to deal with.

Try to get as many services as possible done for a fixed rate to control your costs. There are some services, such as litigation, that have to be done at hourly rates. If that’s the case, then ask for an estimate upfront and demand regular updates on hours worked and how far the case has progressed so you have a better idea of what your costs are going to be. If a firm won’t work with you on cost control, then it’s probably time to look elsewhere.

Laws are the rules that govern the game of business. While it can be expensive to make sure you are playing by the rules upfront, it can be even more expensive if you find out that you made mistakes later on. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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

Published in National
Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

Heal stronger

I heard the sound of the bone snapping before I felt the pain. It was the end of a grueling workout and my karate instructor had challenged us to finish by attempting a difficult technique. I knew I was too fatigued to perform well, but when the younger students eagerly responded, I foolishly followed my pride.

As I jumped into the air to perform a series of kicks, I failed to get enough height and landed with my leg beneath me, breaking the bone in three separate places. Seconds later, I was lying on the floor screaming in pain. It was a moment I will never forget.

Months later, I was in the doctor’s office looking at a new X-ray of my leg and comparing it to one from the day of the accident. All three breaks had healed, but their location was still clear because, in the place where each break had been, the bone was denser and showed darker on the film.

As the doctor began to remove my cast, I asked him the question that had been on my mind for weeks, “Will my leg ever be as strong as it was before?”

He stopped and looked directly into my eyes. “Don’t you know what happens when a break heals?” he said, smiling. “The bone heals stronger in each place where it was broken. One day, this will be your strongest leg.”

Are you feeling the pain today of a relationship that is broken or of trust you once had with your company or your boss that has fractured under the pressure of challenging times?

If so, then know this: The point of your greatest pain can become the point of your greatest strength. You must only follow the body’s example — heal stronger.

Heal stronger by learning about yourself

Today, I can easily see how I broke my leg. But seeing the factors that led to a break in a relationship is not always so easy.

I once lost a long-term friendship whose final moment was a single heart-wrenching incident. While I initially thought that this incident was the cause of the break, I now see that it was simply the culmination of differences that had been growing for some time — differences that neither of us addressed and that ultimately became too great to resolve.

If you’ve recently broken with a company or received a step back in your title or income, look back to see what the real cause may have been. You may find that the signs were there long before the final moment, whether you were less and less engaged with the work you were doing, becoming increasingly frustrated with your co-workers or simply bored in a position that you had outgrown.

Whatever the cause of the final break, you could likely have created a different outcome if you had addressed the early warning signs more quickly. You can heal stronger by using this experience to learn about yourself and deciding how you will handle similar situations in the future, before they reach the breaking point.

Heal stronger by changing your thinking

Weeks after my leg was completely healed, I was still unwilling to train to my full capacity. My body was ready, but my mind wasn’t. Each time I would prepare to use my leg in a challenging way, I would hold back, afraid that it would break again.

One day my teacher called me aside and said, “You can only do what your mind believes. Believe first, then do.”

It was advice that set me free to move forward.

In the same way, it’s tempting to hold on to the emotions surrounding the loss of a job or a change in position, replaying them constantly in your mind. As long as your keep your thoughts focused on the break, you will never completely heal.

Instead, begin to focus on what you’ve learned, on the talents and experience that you possess, and on the successful future that is still ahead of you. The more you focus your mind on these thoughts, the more you will believe them, and as my teacher said, the more you will be able to do.

Not long ago, someone asked which leg I had originally broken. When I had to pause to remember, I knew my healing was complete.

No matter how painful your break has been, you can heal stronger. And the strength you gain can be the key to a new level of performance and success.

Jim Huling is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans more than 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Huling is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at jim@jimhuling.com.

Published in National
Wednesday, 26 August 2009 20:00

Rolling the dice

If you stop for a moment to think about all of the risks your business is potentially exposed to, the list can be mind-boggling. A customer could not pay you for a large order. Your building could burn down. An employee could be involved in an accident resulting in a lawsuit. Your financial data could be stolen. The list goes on and on.

Because most CEOs prefer to focus on the positives and the growth that goes with it, many areas of risk are often overlooked or ignored. Industry experts will tell you that you need to be reviewing your risk exposure in all areas at least once a year. This should involve a comprehensive look at your entire business and involve all of your top people as well as your insurance agent or some other outside expert who can help guide you through the process.

As CEO, you need to not only ask the right questions to protect the business and those who work for you, you also need to follow up everything in writing to make sure there is a paper trail in the event that something goes wrong.

There are companies out there that market themselves as risk management specialists. Most are reputable and qualified, but some are nothing more than a marketing slogan. Odds are, you probably don’t have a risk management expert in-house. If your agent or broker isn’t interested in helping you with your annual risk review — or doesn’t have anything to contribute — that might be a sign the person is in over his or her head and you may need to look for a firm with expertise that better matches your needs.

As companies grow, it’s easy to outgrow your experts. Your needs as a midmarket company may be completely different than what you needed as a small company, and the experts who were so vital in the early days of the company may no longer have the expertise you need to go to the next level. It can be hard to make these changes, because a lot of times these experts are also your friends or people you have had a long-standing relationship with. But as CEO, you need to do what’s best for your company. If the friend has the experience and expertise, then great. But if not, you owe it to yourself and your company to find someone who can help you manage the risks that your growing business faces.

Once you find someone, make sure everything you discuss actually makes it into your policy. Have the person show you where in the policy each item is and make sure it reflects a coverage level that you are comfortable with. You should also expect comparisons of what coverage other companies that are similar to yours have so you can see how your package stacks up with the competition. Ask for the pros and cons of getting coverage for each area of risk you face.

There are many areas that you could handle on your own and won’t need to buy coverage. But others will pose so much financial risk that it’s not worth gambling your business just to save a few dollars in the short term.

When all is said and done, send your risk management firm a letter explaining that you are relying on its expertise to guide you through these hazards. This should make it clear that the firm shouldn’t assume you know what you are doing and that you will need its guidance. If something goes wrong, you will have it in writing that the onus was on the firm to provide the proper coverage.

In this economy, there are a lot of things that can go wrong and we’d all like to not think about them. But the CEO’s job is to think through the “what ifs” and make sure the business is protected against all of the risks that are out there.

Published in National