NCA Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Advertising Technology

Award recipient

 

Tod Sacerdoti

CEO and founder

BrightRoll

 

As one of the early leaders within an up-and-coming industry, BrightRoll CEO Tod Sacerdoti has transformed his company into one of the most profitable and successful online video advertising firms that reaches audiences across Web, mobile and connected TV.

Within the last decade, customers have increasingly engaged with digital devices for everyday activities and shifted away from traditional TV. In 2006, Sacerdoti noticed this and realized there wasn’t a viable and scalable way to monetize digital video content. Thus, the idea for BrightRoll was born.

Sacerdoti believes in putting his employees first, and promoting an extremely flat and transparent work environment. He empowers his employees and gives them the autonomy they need without micromanaging. This translates to an efficient and well-run organization without overlap in responsibilities or oversight.

That employee empowerment also comes into play with BrightRoll’s quarterly “HAX Day.” Here, staff team up with others outside their department to work on a project of their own choosing to benefit the industry, company or fellow employees. Projects have included mini websites, community volunteer groups and some BrightRollers have even redesigned the office lunch space.

The online video industry is extremely competitive and dominated by a number of players that have raised enormous amounts of capital. Despite this, BrightRoll has grown faster than its peer group of companies and has done so with the least amount of capital raised, which is a testament to Sacerdoti’s leadership.

The company works with 90 percent of the top 50 U.S. advertisers and the world’s largest ad agencies.

Sacerdoti’s forward-thinking has ensured BrightRoll is ahead of the constantly shifting digital landscape to offer the most advanced solutions for advertisers, while giving publishers access to the industry’s largest video marketplace.

As an industry leader, he not only speaks at conferences and through media channels, but also has made a $1 million pledge from BrightRoll toward industry innovation and research around online video and advertising.

How to reach: BrightRoll, www.brightroll.com

Published in Northern California

NCA Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Advertising Technology

Finalist

 

Aaron Bell

founder and CEO

AdRoll

 

Aaron Bell’s background and path leading up to establishing advertising firm AdRoll is quite remarkable. Before becoming CEO of his own company, Bell was programming and creating video game software that was sold and distributed nationally when he was 12. Three years later he became the youngest software engineer ever to be hired by Microsoft.

While at Stanford University, Bell studied artificial intelligence, started a Facebook-type website that was unfortunately shut down by the university, and worked with NASA to lead and design schedulers for manned space flight missions.

It was during difficult economic times that Bell founded AdRoll in 2007, but he stuck with it through the years of slow growth while he struggled to generate profit. By taking time to understand customer needs and creating a transparent product with a high ROI, customers simply could not say no.

Online display advertising is usually purchased by cost per ad impression served. In an effort to make sure the company could report the websites on which clients’ ads are placed and the cost of each placement, AdRoll charges a 30 percent margin on top of the cost of each impression. This increased reporting is unlike many of his competitors who place ads on spam or low-quality websites with high chances of accidental clicks but little chance of reaching a client’s customers.

With Bell’s technical background, the AdRoll team was able to develop proprietary technology in-house, rather than integrating with third-party software, and these technologies are more robust with advanced retargeting tools.

While it can be challenging for Bell to retain the company’s unique, entrepreneurial culture as it grows, he’s managed to maintain the same approach to people, culture and management as he did when the company was in its infancy.

In fact, the company has an almost perfect retention rate — only four of the current 130 employees have left of their own accord in the past three years.

How to reach: AdRoll, www.adroll.com

Published in Northern California
Sunday, 30 June 2013 20:00

Generational management

In any business, a group of employees can consist of a diverse group of people. Differences in race, creed, color, sex, national origin and religion can bring a melting pot of perspectives and talent to the daily pursuit of your company’s mission. Proper management of these generations and a greater focus on the differences among them can enrich your business and ultimately your bottom line.

Building a diverse workforce has been a mantra in business for quite some time and as we become more effective at building that diversity, differences in each generation’s approach will begin to surface. Management and leaders of businesses must begin to recognize that their personal approach and desire may not deliver the same desired results in the future.

Leaders need to understand the personal needs and motivators of individuals within their organization. Individual and generational views of health care, vacation, promotions, bonuses, retirement, loyalty, authority, work hours, work approach, communication, work-life balance, etc. are quite different based on personal needs and expectations. Having polices aiming for one-size fits all will simply not work.

Here are a few characteristics of each generation that could dramatically impact how work gets done in your business:

Baby Boomers

This generation is accustomed to personal interaction. They enjoy teams and a take a collegial approach to most challenges. They tend to be workaholics and are willing to work during time typically reserved for home and family. They’re interested in being rewarded for that dedication whether it comes in a bigger bonus or further advancement.

Alternative appreciation such as more time off or vacation usually does not do the trick. This is a group that receives much satisfaction from work. This group relies on its healthcare and is looking forward to retirement.

Generation Xers

This generation is much more independent. However, they have disdain for rigid work hours and authority in general. They lack trust in institutions and corporations in general, which fits with their independent nature.

They are extremely savvy with computers and technology. The group is adaptive to change and will accept a number of job moves in their lifetimes. They work to live, not the other way around.

Generation Y / Millennials

This generation is likened to next level Gen Xers, meaning they take all the same characteristics further on the trend line. They question authority more and they challenge the status quo. Typically, they expect instant responses and are in touch almost real time with the world around them. They are multi-taskers and leave Gen X slightly behind with their knowledge of technology and the growing world of social media.

Telecommuting would be a fine option for them. They’re also very interested in quality of life and are interested in a good ratio of work/life balance. They are open-minded to differences and expect diversity.

Now that we know a little more about the differences inside the generations represented in the workplace, we can make good decisions accordingly. This knowledge is powerful when dealing with important tasks such as hiring and recruiting and how that may relate to the relocation of a key player inside your organization.

It can help you schedule meetings around preferences on work hours and access to information, and it can be worth its weight in gold relative to the retention of key team members and how you structure your compensation and benefits system for maximum impact.

Embracing the differences in your workforce relative to their generation may provide you with important information in order to make the correct choice on key decision points. Chances are that discussion with your team of HR practitioners and a little research in the areas we covered is all you need to make the most of your team.

 

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. He can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com

Published in Columnist
Sunday, 30 June 2013 20:00

Maintain high performance

Someone once told me, “A mother is only as happy as her least happy child.” When I became a mom, I realized that is one of the most truthful statements ever. When one of my children is sick or miserable, it’s impossible for me to focus and be 100 percent right with the world.

I have observed the same phenomenon with teams. Much is written about what high-performing teams look like: they communicate well, they are aligned, they are clear on their purpose and success metrics; and they hold themselves accountable.

However, rarely is it acknowledged that a team is only as effective as its least effective member. It’s like a chain being only as strong as its weakest link. A team cannot realize its full potential if one member is unhappy, working against the team’s vision and efforts, or is behaving inconsistently with what the company is trying to instill in its culture.

The multiplier effect

In mathematical terms, a team’s divisor should be one. The team is as good as it is, not compromised by any single variable. And, when the team is really rocking, there is a multiplier effect that makes its value greater than it otherwise should be. The multiplier comes when teams are hitting on all cylinders and become greater than the sum of the individuals.

However, a non-contributing team member — or worse, one who works against the grain of the team — is like having a divisor greater than one. This diminishes the size of the end product, no matter how large the starting number is. The team will always be less than what it could be.

This weakening of potential can manifest itself strategically, operationally or culturally.

Strategically, it shows up as a leader not supporting enterprise initiatives, not putting the best talent on companywide efforts that will drive major changes, or focusing on a single vertical at the expense of other verticals or the enterprise as a whole.

Operationally, it shows up as a leader running the business in a way that dishonors agreed-to strategies and priorities, or engages in practices that do not support company policy or commitments, or making decisions that favor the local to the detriment of the whole.

Culturally or behaviorally, we see things like not speaking up in meetings on important topics for which they have relevant input, or making/implementing decisions without gathering input from key stakeholders, or behaving in ways that don’t align with the company’s stated values.

Poorly functioning teams a hazard

The ongoing cost of a poorly functioning team can be high. So what can you do about an ineffective team member?

Always start by making the person aware of the effect that his/her actions are having on the rest of the team and the company — and do it in a way that enables learning on both sides. There may be factors not apparent to others that are causing the team member’s behavior.

The conversation must be about listening as well as telling. Feedback should be given by the person’s boss, a senior HR person, or an outside adviser who may be hired to do a 360 assessment. It is important that the dialogue be constructive to enable a more productive future.

If the feedback changes the behavior, that is wonderful. But if not, then ultimately you have to decide whether this individual’s value outweighs his/her cost. If you can’t change the person’s behavior, your behavior may be to change the person.

 

Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., MPH is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” (2010), and author of “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits” (2000, 2007). Dr. Braksick and her team help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or lbraksick@clg.com.

Published in Columnist

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called the Affordable Care Act or just Obamacare, represents one of the most far-reaching government overhauls of the U.S. healthcare system since 1965 when Medicare and Medicaid came into being. It will be phased in over time, with the majority of the changes taking effect in 2014.

The act focuses on increasing the rate of health insurance coverage for Americans and reducing health care costs. Here’s what some area businesses have on their minds about health care reform as the time nears for the full impact of the ACA:

  • Steve Brubaker, chief of staff, InfoCision Management Corp.
  • Craig Shular, chairman and CEO, GrafTech International
  • Alan P. Jacubenta, president and CEO, Mango Bay Internet
  • Rick Hull, president and CEO, Premier Bank & Trust
  • Chuck Abraham, executive vice president/CFO, Hitchcock Fleming & Associates Inc.
  • Rick Solon, president and CEO, Clark Reliance Corp.
  • Andy Zynga, CEO, NineSigma Inc.
  • Jodi Berg, president and CEO, Vita-Mix Corp.

1)      How is your company preparing for changes associated with health care reform?

 

Brubaker

  • With more than 4,000 employees, education is key and our priority is to make sure we provide everyone with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. There are a lot of changes on the horizon and it’s important we communicate these changes in a timely manner. We are doing this though our internal communication channels such as our employee newsletter, employee intranet and face-to-face meetings.

Shular

  • GrafTech has always provided an excellent health care plan to its team members. We are well-positioned to comply with the PPACA. Our plan is affordable for our employees; therefore, no one will be eligible for government subsidies and GrafTech will not be assessed a penalty.

Jacubenta

  • We are in constant contact with our benefits agent whom we have worked with for a number of years and have been very pleased with his knowledge and service. He attends all the latest classes and seminars available to keep us apprised of the latest laws. He will let us know what's changing with the different carriers and how it might have an impact on our current and future coverage.

Hull

  • Most importantly, we are making sure we stay educated on the changes. It is important that we are able to answer our employees’ questions and also be supportive of their needs. Our budgeting process is robust, and we spend a lot of time in this area making sure we are making the right choices for our employees and our company.

Abraham

  • For more than three years, we have been learning about the requirements since the ACA was passed in March 2010. We will review our current plan design with our benefits consultants this summer. At that time, we will assess any changes that may be required for our 2014 renewal, including the possibility of adding a high-deductible option to our current plan.

Solon

  • Our preparation for health care reform has consisted of our human resources staff reviewing the law with our health care providers and consultants. In addition, our legal counsel has reviewed our existing health insurance programs to insure compliance.

Zynga

  • We are working closely with our brokers, Oswald Cos., for frequent and regular updates regarding health care reform and the related steps of adoption. Oswald advises us of both milestones and compliance requirements so we can plan for and execute on each. Staying informed is most of the battle for us right now as we ramp up toward 2014.

Berg

  • We have been educating ourselves regarding the elements of the law through articles, seminars and benefits affiliations. We offer a fairly comprehensive health plan to our employees today and are constantly monitoring the progress, changes and evolution of what is available in the insurance marketplace. So far we do not believe that the changes will have a large financial impact on Vitamix.

 

2)      What are you doing specifically to contain health care costs for your employees?

 

Brubaker

  • As a self-insured employer, we’ve always placed a high value on providing our employees with comprehensive health and wellness programs. Reducing our claims is a priority by ensuring our employees have convenient tools like on-site wellness clinics and fitness facilities to promote healthy decisions, and decrease employer out-of-pocket expenses. Where many companies are cutting back on amenities, we embrace the concept as a driver of employee engagement.

Shular

  • GraFit is a company-sponsored wellness program that includes free biometric screenings and incentives to make healthy lifestyle choices.

We offer employees the opportunity to purchase fresh produce from a local vendor who delivers to our site every week.

Our leadership team helps shoulder the burden of health care costs too. Mid-level managers each pay an additional $150 per month for health insurance; senior-level executives pay an additional $200 per month.

Jacubenta

  • Every year, we go through a process to get health care quotes from different providers. We compare their offerings in order to get the best coverage for the best price. If a change is warranted and it is cost effective, we do it with the least amount of coverage change as possible. The current provider usually matches what we were able to find through quotes, decreasing the overall increase in price.

Hull

We have opted to continue to pay a larger portion of the overall cost rather than pass that on to the employees. In addition, we shop our benefits annually to make sure we are receiving the best possible coverage at the lowest cost possible. We continue to search for new tools to add to our offering that will allow the employees to have all the benefits they need. We also have a wellness program that is aimed at preventive care.

Abraham

  • Even though not required to at the time, our plan implemented coverage for Essential Health Benefits (basic preventive/wellness services), elimination of pre-existing condition exclusions, and an expanded definition of dependent. Additionally, we have tried to raise “wellness” awareness through a number of efforts: encouraging participation in the Heart Walk and other types of exercise, administering “weight-loss challenge” initiatives and sponsoring yoga and meditation classes at the agency. We also discuss regularly with our associates the importance of wellness, use of network providers, requesting generic drugs when available and proper use of urgent care facilities — in short, being wise consumers of health care.

Solon

  • We started several years ago to educate our employees on the types of activities and choices that drive health care costs. We utilize our health care providers and consultants to propose innovative programs to help us control costs, and we have gone to a wellness program to promote individual health care improvement.

Zynga

  • We have a high-deductible HRA plan in place. We have taken the deductibles up to $5,000/$10,000 for premium reduction. We cost-share the premium with employees — the company pays 75 percent and the employees pay 25 percent of the premium. Further, within the high-deductible plan, we set a sub-deductible of $500/$1,000 for each employee, after which the company reimburses 80 percent of claims until the plan deductibles are met. It may sound complicated, but it’s kept us in the top quartile when compared to our peers for affordability of our plan to employees. We are also in the early phases of a wellness program, which we expect over time will help control/reduce cost increases. The biggest motivation for us to have such a plan is simply to provide resources that keep our employees feeling as healthy and energetic as they can, which we hope translates into more fulfillment while at work.

Berg

  • We take a Total Wellness Approach to our employee benefit plans. We were early adopters of an outcome-based medical benefits coverage that encouraged positive healthy behavioral changes among our employees. Through a combination of biometrics, education, fitness programs, and financial incentives driven by wellness promotion, we will experience the benefit in overall reduced health care costs for the long term. We started a tobacco-free campus in 2012, and do not hire tobacco users. Vitamix still pays 100 percent of its employee medical premium; however, we have implemented a high deductible plan that employees can reduce to zero if they meet the criteria for modified NIH biometrics targets. For example, an employee who meets all target range biometrics for blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index and smoking, along with participating in health education, training, or regular physical exercise, will incur no deductible for the year.

 

3)      Do you foresee having employees pay a larger share of company-offered health care coverage?

 

Brubaker

  • We’ve always taken a strategic approach to employee health and wellness. What that looks like right now is adapting our offerings to not only comply with the new requirements, but also to provide our employees with coverage that meets their family’s individual needs. We continue to monitor and will comply with all of the reform’s expanded coverage choices so we can provide our employees with effective and affordable options.

Shular

  • That is not our current intention, but we will continue to monitor and evaluate if a change in the cost share model is required. Over the last 10 years, we have managed our program to an annual average inflation rate of 3.7 percent. This compares favorably to the national average of 6.3 percent over the same period. Our concern is that elements of PPACA do not lower insurance costs, but in fact cause the rates to go up.

Jacubenta

  • Things are unpredictable other than we know that there is a good chance that prices will continue to skyrocket. If we had to, we would ask our employees to pay a share of the expense for health coverage. It depends on what happens in the beginning of 2014 with community rates and what they offer versus staying with private insurance and the cost to the company.

Hull

  • Not at this time. Our goal is to allow our employees continued benefits while keeping them affordable to the employee.

Abraham

  • Our goal would be to minimize having employees pay a larger share. Since we are in a service industry that relies heavily on high-caliber talent, our benefits plan is one of several tools used for recruitment and retention. Our goal would be to continue to make the health benefits as affordable and attractive as possible to our employees.

Solon

  • We have always believed that paying a substantial portion of the health insurance premiums is helpful to recruiting the best people. We do not contemplate increasing the percentage that our employees pay.

Zynga

  • We pride ourselves with trying to have a healthcare plan in place that is affordable yet quality coverage for our people. While I think it is too soon to draw a line in the sand about the cost sharing, I can say that philosophically we are opposed to increasing the burden on our employees.

Berg

  • We do not foresee this happening in the future; however, until the full impact of the ACA is discovered, we will reserve our opinion on the matter. Some pundits say it will definitely increase overall costs, while others say more competition will reduce costs long term. We are unsure what our health care insurers will do; however, our focus will continue to be on what we can control, and for now that is our wellness offerings and employee incentives toward better health.

Published in Akron/Canton

Earlier this year, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg set off a renewed debate on an old question: Why aren’t more women in executive positions? The answer you get depends on whom you ask. Some say it’s outright discrimination, while others argue that it’s an aggressive, inflexible culture that limits women’s advancement or drives them to opt out.

Who is the CEO?

For anyone who questions that there is a problem, the evidence is quite clear. While research shows a correlation between a company’s financial performance and the number of women in its governing body, women held just 14.4 percent of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies in 2010.

More than a quarter of companies had no women in an executive officer position. And 48 percent of Fortune 1000 companies had one or no women on their boards in 2012.

As an entrepreneur and business owner for 30 years, I know firsthand many of the challenges that women face in the workplace. One of the most pervasive issues is this: a deeply entrenched belief that productivity and effectiveness are defined by the number of hours you spend at the office.

Any executive today knows that working at least 60 hours a week is standard. While technology has simplified our lives in many ways, it has also complicated it. We’re now expected to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ready to respond to requests at any hour of the day or night.

At most companies, the rewards go to those who are willing to put work above everything else, and to do it over the long haul. Those expectations are coupled with a complex and ever-changing global environment that make us — women and men — more fearful and stressed out than ever before.

With that kind of prevailing climate in many companies, it’s no surprise that people looking for a sense of equilibrium choose to leave.

Gender representation needs

Until productivity and effectiveness are redefined to allow and encourage contributions of varying levels, we’ll never achieve fair gender representation. Even worse yet, we’ll never get the best we can from each person. We need to redefine successful leaders not as those who work through the night, but as those who are empathic and balanced, those who cultivate productive and healthy people and work environments.

Eventually companies will have to heed the call to re-examine their work cultures, asking themselves hard questions about who is best served by maintaining the status quo. Finding a balance between work and life is gaining increasing importance and can’t be ignored.

Find the right balance

In a global study conducted this year by LinkedIn, entitled “What Women Want @Work,”  63 percent of respondents defined success at work as “finding the right balance between work and personal life.” To the question, “Would you like a more flexible work environment,” 65 percent answered that flexible working would better enable them to manage career and family.

If you’re wondering how to get started, open-mindedness and creativity are essential. You have to be willing to throw out the old to bring in the new. That means a willingness to redefine roles and responsibilities, focusing on what needs to get done rather than how it gets done.

People don’t need to work overtime or full time to be productive, and responsibilities can be divided in innumerable ways.

We must begin by deeply examining our prevailing notions of work and being willing to consider that people can be more productive and effective if we create more flexible, empathic work environments. Only then will we create truly productive, efficient, profitable businesses that add value to the well-being of individuals, families and communities.

 

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc.®, a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com

Published in Columnist
Sunday, 30 June 2013 20:00

Improving each customer touch point

Business today is more competitive than ever. With a few clicks of the keyboard, every customer can research, price check and read reviews of your product or service. Many times, with one more click, they can have that same product delivered to their door from anywhere in the world. Want it tomorrow? No problem.

So how does a business succeed in this era of the empowered consumer? How can it differentiate itself? I’ve given this question a lot of thought, and the answer may lie in a practice called Customer Experience Management.

Failing on the promise

Let’s talk about customer experience. How many times has a customer service representative ended a conversation by reciting something along the lines of, “I hope you received excellent customer service today,” when the service was less than gratifying? How satisfied did you feel after hearing their script?

Most businesses pay lip service to the idea of superior customer service, but when it’s time to execute, they fail. Their departments are structured to run their own processes smoothly, not to ensure their customers think, or better yet, say, “Wow.”

CEM asserts that if we put our customer’s experience at the core of our business and subsequently construct functional departments around it, we will gain that competitive edge. Yet, truly understanding the customer’s experience while interacting with your business is easier said than done. So, how does one reinvent a company with the customer at the center?

Start at the touch points

Begin by becoming aware of your company’s touch points — all the places a customer comes into contact with your business. Keep in mind that these touch points vary widely. They include obvious departments such as telesales and customer support, but these touch points also include the clarity of the invoice/statement, your website, your ad in the newspaper, a partner or retailer and many more.

We did a quick count at my company and discovered 26 touch points! Too many for sure, since more touch points mean more opportunities for mistakes.

After you’ve identified the touch points, do some investigating. Be the mystery shopper, in person and on the phone. Listen to the language a salesperson uses to describe your product or service. Do it again. Notice the differences between what you hear depending on who is serving you. How did their actions differ from what you wish they had done?

Once you experience every touch point first hand, you might begin to feel your customers’ frustration, pain and sometimes, surprise. Then you can begin rebuilding toward a satisfying customer experience.

Use CEM as a tool

Right now at EVault, we’re working hard to reduce and improve each touch point using a CEM lens. For us, that means creating simple, valuable, authentic and pleasantly surprising exchanges.

We want each customer to feel that every interaction with EVault was worth their time, was clear that we genuinely wanted to help, and that we did something pleasingly unexpected.

How do you want your customers to feel when they interact with your business? You need to find out and then rebuild.

 

Terry Cunningham is president and general manager of EVault Inc., a Seagate company. He founded Crystal Services, which was purchased by Seagate in 1994 and integrated into the company’s software division, which then became Seagate Software. He has also served as president and COO of Veritas Software, and founded, built and led two other successful software companies.

Published in Columnist

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships were built for,” is a quote that hangs in Brig Sorber’s office at Two Men and a Truck in Lansing, Mich. Sorber uses that quote to define the new direction in which his company has been moving.

“I love that quote because this ship, Two Men and a Truck, has been in port for too long,” says Sorber, CEO. “We’ve got to get this into deep blue water. There are a lot of challenges out there and a lot more risk, but that’s where business is done. We need to start moving forward and accept the challenges.”

Sorber and his brother, Jon, started Two Men and a Truck International Inc., a moving company, in the early ’80s as a way to earn money using their ’67 Ford pickup. Today, the business has x4,500 employees, more than x1,400 trucks, more than x200 franchises in x34 states, Canada, the U.K. and Ireland, and 2012 revenue of x$361 million.

“We did it to make beer and book money for college,” Sorber says. “We really never thought that it would get to this point.”

However, in getting to this point, the company had neglected to make necessary changes in order to keep the operation aligned and running well.

“One of the challenges we have had is going from a mom-and-pop-type business to having to grow up and become more corporate,” Sorber says. “We needed to bring in newer and stronger skill sets.”

Here’s how Sorber has helped Two Men and a Truck grow up.

Growing pains

Two Men and a Truck incorporated its first business in Lansing, Mich., in 1985 and began franchising in 1989. The company at this time was run by Sorber’s mom since he and his brother were in college.

Upon graduation, Sorber worked as an insurance agent and also operated his own Two Men and a Truck franchise. He returned to the company in the mid-’90s, became its president in 2007 and CEO, the title he carries today, in 2009. In that time the company had grown significantly, but it wasn’t running as well as it could be. Starting in 2007, Sorber’s job was to help restructure the business.

“We had to take a look at ourselves internally,” Sorber says. “There came a time that I just knew things were broken here.”

Because the company was growing so fast there was no organization chart. It was very loose on who reported to whom. It wasn’t that people weren’t working hard, but things were not getting measured.

“I had an epiphany that something had to change big time,” he says. “I made up something that resembled an org chart on a big piece of paper in my office. I brought in five people that I greatly trusted and had confidence in and gave them three markers — green, which meant that person or that job was important; yellow, which meant I didn’t have an opinion either way about this person or about this job; and red, which meant that this job makes no sense.”

Sorber used that as a starting point to help him identify where the company could restructure and cut costs.

“I wanted to give big bonuses to everyone at the end of the year and share the winnings, but we had to prime the pump first,” he says. “We went from 78 employees down to 51 employees after I went through that chart.

“That wasn’t because we were losing money. It was because by the time we realigned everything, there were some people here who weren’t doing anything.”

To avoid issues such as this, you have to have metrics that you measure to make sure whether you’re doing well or not.

“My metrics are No. 1, customer satisfaction,” Sorber says. “Find out how every one of your customers feels about their service. No. 2 is trucks and driveways. We want to put more trucks in more driveways every year.

“No. 3 is franchisees. Make sure your franchisees are profitable and have the tools to grow. No. 4 is giving back to the community.”

Metrics are a crucial aspect of success, but so is a mission statement that helps employees and customers know what the business is about. It also makes your decisions as a CEO simple.

“If your mission statement is strong, it should be limitless,” he says. “For us, we had our mission statement when we had 25 franchises, and now we’re well over 200 and it still applies. You also need core values that comprise what’s important to your company. Once you have those, you have to stay within the confines of your core values.

“When I was a younger executive I thought that was stuff you say to be nice. It’s something that’s serious. You can’t go into work and keep turning the wheel and expect better things to happen. You’ve got to maintain your mission statement, core values, measure what you’re doing, and then you have to look for ways to make things better.”

Bring in key people

As Two Men and a Truck went through these necessary changes, new employees and executives had to be brought in to give the company the right skill sets to continue growing.

“Sometimes we hold onto our executives too long, and we get comfortable with them,” Sorber says. “They may not question what you’re doing. Not all of them, but many of them can be fine with the status quo and as the world is changing they’re not forcing you as a CEO to question what you’re doing.”

You can’t settle for the people who are in your key positions. You need to find people with the right skill sets and make sure they stay within your mission statement and core values.

“Bringing in new individuals is kind of like working on an old house,” he says. “You think if you put new windows on the house it’s good, but then the siding looks really bad. The same thing happens in business when you get somebody that’s great in a department. You start to think, ‘What if I had someone like that in marketing?’”

Sorber brought in executives to fill his company’s voids, and they began offering all kinds of new ideas for the business.

“When I started bringing in these key executives, they wore my carpet out because they have fresh eyes for the business,” he says. “They asked why we did this or that. Many of the things we were doing were the right things, but it’s good for you to make your point about why you do it.

“The new executives will say, ‘That makes sense’ or ‘That’s different.’ Other times they’ll say, ‘OK, but did you ever think about doing this?’”

That is how your business goes through an evolution, and it starts bringing in more modern thinking and different approaches. A business will have a life cycle of only so long, and you need to continually reinvent it because your customer is changing. If you bring in new people they may bring the great ideas you need.

“It’s really important as a president or CEO to hire people who are smarter than you in their specific fields,” Sorber says. “Our job as president or CEO is to look more strategically at where we want the business, make sure the executives play nice together, ensure there’s harmony in the business and keep an eye on those important metrics.”

During the course of the past six years, Sorber has been able to successfully do all those things within Two Men and a Truck. Randy Shacka became the company’s first non-family member to serve as president in 2012. Now, Sorber and Shacka are looking at the future outlook of the business.

“We think we will be a $1 billion company by the year 2020,” he says. “In the last few years we’ve been doing a lot of internal work on fixing where we are broken and getting the right people in here. Now we want to be more than just a moving company. We want to be a company for change.”

How to reach: Two Men and a Truck, (800) 345-1070 or www.twomenandatruck.com

Published in National

Many executives do not view the content they distribute as intertwined with their organization’s unique product or service. However, the two are interchangeable. Your product or service has differentiators that cause your clients to select you instead of the competition. Those same factors apply in content marketing.

If your goal is to engage prospects and ultimately lead them to conversion, you must create content that keeps them engaged. Success comes from creating consumable pieces of content that together form a singular thought leadership message and distributing those pieces across multiple channels. You never know through what channel someone will engage with your brand (or branded content), so the message needs to be consistent.

There are a few simple rules to doing this. Your content and what you’re selling should meet four criteria. It must be:

 

 

  • Useful

 

 

  • Relevant

 

 

  • Differentiated

 

 

  • Available

 

 

Useful means the content, as well as your product or service, has a defined use for a target audience. It addresses:

 

 

  • How do I use this?

 

 

  • How does this help me?

 

 

  • What problem does this solve for me?

 

 

Here’s an example: According to a recent IDC Research report, 49 percent of the entire U.S. population currently uses a smartphone. By 2017, that number is expected to reach 68 percent. That means that within four years, more than two out of every three Americans — regardless of age — will be connected via smartphone. Therefore, a useful product a company might offer could be a solar-operated phone charger. And useful content to distribute to a target audience may include “How to make your daily life easier with these top five iPhone apps.”

To be Relevant, the product, service or content must be new and interesting, and mean something to the market or industry. Your audience will ask:

 

 

  • What does this mean to me?

 

 

  • Do I need this?

 

 

Let’s say your organization provides a website portal that connects insurance companies. New and interesting content that means something might be, “How your health care plan will be affected by reform . . . and what you can do to prepare for it.”

In a world filled with noise, you must demonstrate how what you do is Differentiated from competitors and explain:

 

 

  • How does your content, product and service compare to the competition?

 

 

  • Is it unique?

 

 

Let’s go back to the smartphone example. If you sell or service iPhones and Android-platform models, think about creating engaging content that examines the needs of today’s smartphone user, and then go beyond the basic functionality.

It’s also imperative to understand your target audience and the target audience for each product. Android-based smartphones are primarily aimed at businesspeople. iPhones, for all their bells and whistles, are not. This differentiation has led to a lot of confusion in the marketplace when consumers compare one against the other. Understanding this allows smart marketers to create engaging content such as “The top 10 needs of businesspeople: A comparison of Android phones vs. iPhones.”

Finally, your product, service and content must be Available and easily obtained in any channel.

If you run a benefits company that works with employers, for example, health care reform provides a timely opportunity to help clients make sense of the landscape. This might entail delivering a variety of consumable content that’s available to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through any channel.

This could include a video that explains the difference in options available to employers. It could be a social media campaign that outlines the top five differences between the health care insurance exchanges and employer-sponsored health care. Or, it may be a series of print mailers or webinars, or even a dedicated microsite that’s filled with content that details what employers need to know.

When your goal is creating engaging content, your ability to consider — and address — each of these factors may be what’s required to transform engagement into measurable conversion.

Published in National

This is no fish story. Instead, this column is about one of the most important roles an owner or CEO must fulfill on an ongoing basis.

Leaders spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with the issues du jour. These range from managing people, wooing and cajoling customers, creating strategies, searching for elusive answers and just about everything in between. These are all good and necessary tasks and undertakings. Too frequently, however, these same leaders delegate this effort to others or ignore it altogether. To be “in the game,” you have to know when to fish or cut bait.

Successful fishermen know that to catch a fish they have to sometimes cast their lines dozens of times just to get a nibble or bite. The first bite might not result in reeling in that big fish. Frequently, a nibble is just a tipoff as to where the fish are swimming.

The same applies to reaching out — casting a line, if you will, to explore new, many times unorthodox, opportunities for your organization. These opportunities can be finding a competitor to buy, discovering an unlikely yet complementary business to partner with or snagging a new customer from an industry that had heretofore gone undiscovered.

All of this takes setting a portion of your time to investigate unique situations, as well as a healthy dose of creativity and the ability to think well beyond the most obvious.

Too many times even the most accomplished executives lack the motivation to look for ideas in unlikely places. Some would believe that it’s unproductive to spend a significant amount of time on untested “what ifs.” Just like sage fishermen, executives can also cultivate their own places to troll.

Of course, networking is a good starting point, particularly with people unrelated to your business, where sometimes one may fortuitously stumble onto a new idea that leads to a payoff.

Other times, a hot lead might come from simply reading trade papers, general media reports and just surfing the Internet. The creative twist is reading material that doesn’t necessarily apply to your own industry or to anything even close to what you do. New ideas come disguised in many forms and are frequently hidden in a variety of nooks and crannies. This means training yourself to read between the lines.

Once something piques your imagination, the next step is to follow through and call the other company or send an inquiry by email to state that it might be worth a short conversation to explore potential mutually beneficial arrangements. This can at times be a bit frustrating and futile. That's when you cut bait and start anew.

However, reaching out to someone today could materialize into something of substance tomorrow. The often skipped but critical next step, even after hitting a seemingly dead end, is to always close the loop with whomever you made contact. Even if there is no apparent fit or interest at the moment, it’s easy and polite to send a short note of thanks and attach your one-paragraph “elevator” pitch.

That same person just might be casting him or herself, be it in a month or even a year later, and make contact with a different organization that’s not a fit for him or her, but recall you because you followed through and created awareness about your story.

This just might lead the person with whom you first spoke to call you because you had had the courtesy to send that note. Bingo — you just got a bite all because of continuing to cast your line.

Good CEOs and honest fishermen also have one other important characteristic in common: humility. They know that when a line is cast it won’t result in a catch every time. But if nothing is ventured, it’s guaranteed there will be nothing gained. Don’t let that big one get away. Just keep casting.

Published in National