In 2008, Joel Fruendt knew things had to change. Clarke Mosquito Control, a global environmental products and services company where Fruendt served as general manager, made it a strong priority to build sustainability into the business in such a way that positively impacted the business.

“We were determined to change an industry that hadn’t changed in 50 years,” Fruendt says. “With the implementation of this major initiative, we integrated sustainable, fiscally sound practices in all areas of our business.

Because of this, Fruendt was named one of 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and U.S. Bank. We asked him about the dramatic shift and what innovation means to him.

Q: Give us an example of a business challenge Clarke faced, as well as how you overcame it.

The sustainability initiative was a major paradigm shift. My role was to ensure that this philosophy was integrated into everything we do, every situation we face. Together as a company, we identified the three passions that drive our business: innovation, sustainability and community.

From the launch of Natular, the first reduced risk product for mosquito control, to converting our corporate fleet to hybrid vehicles, Clarke has put aspiration into action. Through changes to energy use and system-wide green policies, we have set forth clear goals to reduce waste, tap renewable energy resources, drive sales of NextGen sustainable products as identified in our Clarke Eco-Tier™ Index and reduce our carbon footprint. Introductory projects aimed at replacing paper-heavy processes not only significantly increased productivity and improved efficiencies, but generated a savings of nearly $100,000 in the first year.

Q: In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

In 2002, Clarke set out to build a new, green larvicide from the ground up. After six years and over 35,000 hours of development and regulatory review, Natular became the first larvicide to have five formulations OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) Listed, enabling them to be used in and around organic agriculture. In 2010, we received the highest honor of our industry — the 2010 U.S. EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. This award recognizes outstanding chemical technologies that incorporate the principles of green chemistry into chemical design, manufacture and use. Natular is the fifth pesticide ever to be awarded this recognition and the first public health product.

How to reach: Clarke Mosquito Control, www.clarke.com

Read the entire interview with Joel Fruendt at http://people.sbnonline.com/fruendt

Published in Chicago

Surviving this economy has been a challenge for all companies, especially those in commercial real estate like Casco Contractors Inc. But it’s not the biggest challenge on President Cheryl Osborn’s mind.

Her sights are set higher — on not just surviving but maintaining stable growth through the downturn. She achieves this by creating open lines of communication to stay in tune with her employees’ workloads and putting technology in place to manage projects and keep everyone in the field informed, as well.

These processes have helped the firm, which specializes in Commercial Tenant Improvements, keep efficiency, quality and consistency first. And now, Osborn is looking forward to projected 2011 revenue that nearly doubles last year’s.

Because of this, Smart Business, ThinkASG, IBM and Union Bank named Osborn to the class of 2011 Smart Leader honorees. She shared how she maintains quality during growth and applies innovative technology to better manage her team.

Q: Give an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

Stable, managed growth is probably the biggest challenge that we have faced. Maintaining stringent quality standards can be challenging when a company is growing quickly, but our reputation has been built on the quality of our service, so quality control is something we take very seriously and always have in mind every step of the way. To maintain quality:

  • I provide my employees with every possible tool to help them manage their responsibilities.
  • I maintain open lines of communication to stay aware of workloads. And when someone is struggling, I work with them to determine if they are actually overloaded or if perhaps they need help managing time and resources better.
  • When I deem necessary, and once I’ve assessed that the company volume can support it, I hire additional people to fill positions at various levels of management or support.

 

We have created processes for the field and the office that specifically focus on efficiency, quality and consistency. We also use technology to improve communication and ensure that everyone involved has the latest information — something that is critical in an industry where changes are frequent and not having the correct information can cause major setbacks to both the budget and the schedule. Our superintendents all have e-mail via BlackBerrys, access to high-tech cameras, and we can send them drawings electronically — which is something that is very cutting edge.

How to reach: Casco Contractors Inc., (949) 679-6880 or www.cascocontractors.net

Read the entire interview with Cheryl Osborn at http://people.sbnonline.com/osborn.

Published in Orange County

Usually when your natural gas provider decides to replace thousands of miles of pipeline, it spells potential inconvenience for customers. But when you’re working with Columbia Gas of Ohio, the company is one step ahead. That’s because President Jack Partridge keeps the company’s customers front-of-mind — which is pretty innovative in the regulated utility industry.

Because of this, Smart Business, U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies named Partridge to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leader honorees. He told us how he maneuvers challenges like these with communication, setting his company apart with innovative service.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

Several years ago, in the interest of safety and reliability, we knew we needed to significantly accelerate the replacement of major portions of our 20,000-mile natural gas pipeline system in our 61-county service territory (capital spend of more than $2 billion during the next 20 years). We knew we were going to be in customers’ backyards and busting up pavement on the streets of the communities we serve more than ever before. We also realized we needed our regulators to authorize us to recover this investment of major capital in Ohio.

We launched a proactive, comprehensive communication/education plan targeted to all our stakeholders — from one-on-one meetings with community and government leaders to presentations for civic organizations to bill stuffers and door hangers and news releases — all with the same message: ‘Yes, we are going to be visible in your community. We will minimize disruptions. The benefits are: first, safety and reliability, more jobs, property tax benefits to the community, economic development benefits, better sizing pipe to growth areas, less leaks, lower O&M expenses, etc.’

In terms of our regulators, we conveyed we will be investing more capital in Ohio than ever before, and the investment will enable us to keep our costs down.

To date, this program has been extremely effective. We have seen no material increase in complaints. I credit this to effective communication and very effective operations planning and execution.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

We are innovators in the utility industry in terms of how we maximize value in a regulated environment and how we work with our customers.

Utility companies, being regulated, typically file rate cases to recover their costs from customers. This usually involves nine months or more of litigation (beating your customers up, in a legal sense, in a hearing room). We have adopted an innovative approach to this combative, unproductive process. We gather all our stakeholders around a table in a collaborative fashion prior to filing a rate case to find out what their needs are, be candid about our needs and negotiate true win-wins. Our objective is to file a settlement with the PUCO for approval — ideally a multiyear agreement that’s agreed to by all parties. We have been successful — our most recent rate case was in 2008 and resulted in a settlement approved by the PUCO. This has allowed us to establish more positive relationships with our customers and regulators.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

We serve the entire Central Ohio region and realize we have an obligation to not only supply customers with reasonably priced natural gas every day but to be good community partners in terms of providing corporate, philanthropic and employee participation contributions. In terms of direct economic impact, natural gas prices are the lowest they have been in the last eight to 10 years. This has a huge positive impact on residential, commercial and industrial customers.

I personally serve as chairman of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce board, and I am a member of the Columbus2020 board and the Columbus Partnership. These require a great deal of time, but it’s time well spent. The Columbus2020 Economic Development initiative is for real and will provide great value for the investment in our Central Ohio region.

How to reach: Columbia Gas of Ohio, www.columbiagasohio.com

See all of the 2011 Columbus Smart Leaders on the next page.

Together with U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies, Smart Business named the following honorees to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leaders:

*Indicates Women Presidents’ Organization Breakthrough Business Leader

Published in Columbus
Monday, 18 July 2011 15:02

Innovating with applied creativity

Denny Griffith doesn’t have to try too hard to bring creativity into his organization. At the Columbus College of Art & Design, where he’s president, it already runs in everyone’s blood. His job is applying that creativity to achieve the college’s mission of preparing tomorrow’s creative leaders for professional careers.

“Applied creativity” is the college’s term for innovation, and it’s just as much a part of its DNA as the artistic creativity that manifests in paintings and sculptures. But this kind of creativity transcends into Griffith’s leadership, resulting in a growing organization.

Since coming on board as the college’s third president in 1998, Griffith has overseen renovations and new construction — like Design Square Apartments, the Loann Crane Center for Design and the college’s famous 10-story ART sculpture — not to mention the growth he’s seen academically and in community outreach and exhibition programs.

On top of it all, Griffith still teaches some painting and business classes and continues his personal work as an artist.

Because of this, Smart Business, U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies named Griffith to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leader honorees. He shared how he overcomes challenges and innovates as a leader to keep the college on the creative edge.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

When I arrived at CCAD in 1998, it was clear we needed to improve the quality of our facilities and academic infrastructure to elevate our institution’s competitiveness with other regional and national leaders in art and design education. Over eleven years, we completed a 25-year campus master plan. We accomplished this via careful planning, constituent input and leveraging both our borrowing capacity and growing philanthropic profile to obtain the requisite financial resources to build and renovate a number of buildings. We now have the ‘urban learning village’ we dreamed of. And, along with our neighbors — Columbus State, State Auto and the Columbus Museum of Art — are working with the city to further develop the neighborhood as the ‘Creative Campus.’ So we have critical mass and collaboration, and it seems to be about to garner city investment in neighborhood infrastructure. All good stuff.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

CCAD is by its nature concerned with fostering innovation, or what we call ‘Applied Creativity.’ Our graduates can be found across the country and around the world, in businesses large and small, in the entertainment and fashion industries, and in galleries and museums. In every way, CCAD alumni shape culture. And so innovation and creativity are part of our DNA.

As a leader, I simply try to support my people as best I can with the resources available. I also try to do my job with joy and with vigor. Leadership to me means setting the vision and developing a splendid team, then giving that team a great deal of responsibility, freedom and accountability, and getting out of their way so they can use their special expertise to advance the college.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

We work to continually improve the college and increasingly engage it with our community via internships, service projects, cultural and educational interactions, and the happy pursuit of beauty, creativity, design innovation, memorable visual communication, and the unabashed celebration of individuality. We are the leading economic development engine for the creative economy.

How to reach: Columbus College of Art & Design, www.ccad.edu

See all 2011 Columbus Smart Leaders on the next page.

Together with U.S. Bank and Blue Technologies, Smart Business named the following honorees to the 2011 class of Columbus Smart Leaders:

*Indicates Women Presidents’ Organization Breakthrough Business Leader

Published in Columbus

As the largest municipal transit operator in Los Angeles County, Long Beach Transit has a very specific mission:  serve the area’s residents, employees and visitors with world-class service.

With Lawrence Jackson at the helm as president and CEO, Long Beach Transit has done just that, and in the process, it has become a nationally acclaimed public transit system that serves more nearly 30 million customers each year.

It hasn’t been easy, but Jackson has done the job well.

“In a time when public agencies are struggling with huge deficits and unfunded services, conservative fiscal management has allowed us to operate as a business for over 47 years with a balanced budget, never missing a single day of service,” he says.

Because of this, Jackson was named one of the 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and Chase Bank. We asked how he keeps Long Beach Transit on time and on budget.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

Until we started our specialized Dial-A-Lift program, it was nearly impossible for persons with disabilities to get around. For our residents who were unable to ride a fixed route bus system, Dial-A-Lift was a successful public/private partnership with our local taxi company service, Long Beach Yellow Cab. This made a huge difference in the lives of many people — who were not otherwise able to leave their homes. On the business side, we sought ways to make the service more cost effective and efficient by making our vehicles part of the taxi fleet. Long Beach Yellow Cab now has accessible taxi cabs for the general public while Long Beach Transit was able to lower its total operating costs by nearly 50 percent.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

Long Beach Transit has always been a leader in working to improve the environment, well before regulatory deadlines. We were the first transit agency in California to use ultra low sulfur diesel fuel and install particulate traps on our entire fleet of full-sized diesel buses. We then pioneered a new propulsion technology with the purchase of hybrid electric buses, replacing aging diesel buses in our fleet. Long Beach Transit now has the largest fleet in the nation of hybrid gasoline electric buses, and we can boast that these buses have the lowest emissions of any transit bus currently available. The effort was so successful that several other Southern California transit operators joined in purchasing hybrid vehicles for their fleets.

Long Beach Transit is also a leader in real-time bus arrival information. We were first in Southern California, and third in the nation to provide real-time technology via the web and now offer trip planning through Google Transit. We also make real time bus arrival information available at bus stops, on board the bus, and from a customer’s phone.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

Long Beach Transit is a critical link in the economic and social well being of the area's residents, employees, and visitors, who have positively rated the system’s overall service quality above 90 percent. We are a nationally acclaimed public transit system providing a wide range of transit services to nearly 30 million customers annually. The organization directly employs over 700 people plus 100 private partnership persons, with an annual capital budget and operating budget of $100 million.

How to reach: Long Beach Transit, www.lbtransit.com

Published in Los Angeles

When the aviation industry suffered both an economic and public perception downturn, Dave Brittsan and his team flew into action.

“In order to overcome the challenge, we attacked the marketplace with aggressive pricing and service models,” Brittsan says. “We connected with our customers by serving individual needs and increased our fleet inventory by 50 percent.”

Brittsan was named one of 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and U.S. Bank. We asked him how he overcomes challenges, innovates and gives back.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

On Nov. 18, 2008 the big three automakers flew in their companies private aircraft to Washington D.C. to ask Congress for a bailout. The ensuing media frenzy took the public by storm and the private aviation industry felt the negative effects immediately. Fearful of professional backlash, executives opted for commercial air travel shifting a once thriving engine of efficiency and productivity to statements of wasteful spending and a fat-cat mentality. The business aviation industry — a predominantly American industry — was faced with a depression-like downturn.

The task to bring the business back was monumental, but was based on fact that we had known all along. Time spent working in the air equals productivity and information security. Bypassing ominous security lines at large commercial airports drives efficiency. Passengers leave on their own schedule, not an airlines’.

Our customers have trusted us for more than 20 years. When we presented the facts, we not only shed light on the drastic misconception, but we furthered our position as the trusted aviation source; we nurtured our relationships with customers.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

We empower our people to find solutions for our customers. We are nimble and resourceful to ensure on-time and convenient travel arrangements are made for our customers. We are passionate and committed to treating every customer with fairness and integrity, dignity and respect. And, perhaps most importantly, we aspire to constantly nourish and develop deep lasting relationships with our customers.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

We are one of the largest employers in Waukegan, Ill., and host the annual Air Show, which draws from all over northeast Illinois and southeast Wisconsin. Philanthropically, we work with charities (that) we have a true passion for. I work with the Cradle in Evanston, for example, as both of my children were Cradle Babies. Our COO has a passion for classical music and has joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra board. Our managers support educational foundations such as the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund and the United States Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots holiday gift drive. It is about more than just giving money or time; the passion for the end goal is just as important.

The airport generates over $750,000 in sales tax revenue each year, $90,000 of which goes directly to the city of Waukegan earmarked specifically for economic development. Recent projects include restoration of the Historic Genesee Theater and a downtown revitalization initiative.

Most importantly, business aviation is key to keeping commerce growing, making Chicago a leader in innovations and efficient business strategies.

How to reach: DB Aviation, www.dbaviation.com

Published in Chicago

When Debra Penzone was announced as president of the Charles Penzone Family of Salons in 2008, the company was faced with the start of the worst economic crisis in history.

“I felt adamant about not laying anyone off, not cutting wages and still supporting our community,” Penzone says. “With these three areas needing to remain, we had a tremendous amount of work and strategy to figure out. “

Her team worked together to eliminate unnecessary spending and were challenged rethink every aspect of business. As a result, the Penzone Salons support and create career paths for more than 520 professionals and their families in the local business community.

Penzone was named one of the 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and Blue Technologies. We asked her how she overcame that challenge, how Penzone innovates and the importance of giving back to the community.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced as well as how you overcame it.

Everything that we had planned on accomplishing my first year totally changed. Luckily, we realized early on that we needed to immediately make changes to every area and budget for the year. Our team successfully worked together to streamline the processes and eliminate unnecessary spending to allow us to cope with the economic issues. I realized that if our team could navigate through these challenging times, we would be able to face the future with conviction that our brand and our team are strong.

Also, as the leader of the organization, it was very important for me to inspire and reassure our team that we would be able to change and adapt to move our company forward. The team morale was very important because they are hands-on with our guests. We had to educate them on the changes in our world economy while at the same time empowering them to see the value of their service. While many competitors started to discount their brands we remained committed to believing that especially in these times our services are even more needed and we continued on without cutting prices.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

During this time, we brought in outside consultants to help us reimagine our brand, strategy and marketing plan. The research helped us to think outside the box and challenged us to see new opportunities. Our reimagine projects included launching a new website with an updated online booking system, videos, social media and a new brand campaign. We also reimagined our services, training and customer service.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

We support and create career paths for over 520 of our professionals and their families. We are very committed to our community by volunteering hands-on, giving back by fundraising and donating our services for events. Through these very difficult times, I made the choice to make sure we were still there to support our many nonprofits because I knew, now more than ever, they needed our support and help. I realized that this would be the area many companies would immediately cut out of their budgets. Our team pulled together to continue to give and help others.

How to reach: Charles Penzone Family of Salons, www.charlespenzone.com

Published in Columbus
Friday, 29 April 2011 13:58

Commanding teamwork to ensure trust

Achieving buy-in is a tough task for any leader. But when you’re Brigadier General Roger W. Teague and the people you need to get on board include senior Department of Defense leadership, Technical Intelligence community and even U.S. Congress – achieving buy-in is a grand feat, indeed.

As Commander of the U.S. Air Force Space Based Infrared Systems Wing, Space and Missile Systems Center, Teague had to build and maintain the trust of these key stakeholders after the $10 billion program faced some initial challenges and delays.

By ensuring communication through daily progress reviews and uniting teams around common goals, Teague lead the program past obstacles toward success, delivering unprecedented infrared surveillance to the country.

Because of this, Smart Business, ThinkASG, IBM and Union Bank named the decorated commander to the class of 2011 Smart Leader honorees. He shared how he leads his team to tackle tough issues, innovate with leading technology and give back to the communities they protect.

Give an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

The Infrared Space Systems Directorate is a national leader in technology. Our space and ground systems feature cutting-edge technology and provide the United States with the world’s best missile warning and technical intelligence capabilities. The Space Based Infrared Systems (SBIRS) Program has been in development since the mid-1990s. As a new development, the highly technical $10 billion program experienced several unforeseen challenges during early stages of development. These challenges were mitigated through proactive leadership, teamwork and an unfaltering dedication to our No. 1 customer: the warfighter.

Recognizing successful programs must be based on solid teamwork and collaboration among each of the participating organizations, we placed great importance on establishing and maintaining trust, communication and mutual understanding of a common program vision and goals. We ensured an emphasis on teamwork, trust, respect, and team behaviorsguided by jointly defined core values implemented across all program elements, including team members of the U.S. Air Force and our valued mission partners from industry. The program defined core functions and responsibilities across all program segments and held key leaders and managers accountable for performance.

We also focused on daily progress reviews, tackling tough issues that were imacting program progress, and developed individual action plans to resolve each of them. Technical discussions were frank and focused on reaching solutions and consensus on a path forward. This helped the program to identify, address and eliminate dozens of technical and program risks associated with first-time integration of the SBIRS geosynchronous satellite, and to successfully field the system.

Firm program commitments were established and the team continued to build positive relationships critical to program success. The program soon began making major strides to successfully deliver this critical national security space program and fulfill our commitments and vision to deliver unprecedented global, persistent, infrared surveillance capabilities to our warfighters and the Nation.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

We receive continual feedback from space operators and warfighters that the capabilities and products from our system are outstanding. There is a strong appetite for delivery of more Overhead Persistent Infrared capabilities, more data and faster transmission of data.

As a reflection of the program’s positive performance and criticality of this mission area, the SBIRS program was given additional funding by Congress, encouraging us to continue to find ways to better exploit and deliver the data being provided by on-orbit sensors. In an era of shrinking government budgets, this additional funding was a big vote of confidence for the program and reflects the outstanding performance our systems are providing to ground troops and intelligence community users.

The Infrared Space Systems Directorate continually provides relevant “lessons learned” feedback from our developmental and operational experience, gathered across our portfolio of space-based infrared programs, to the wide array of Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) programs. Many of our ideas and experiences are cited as best practices at the Center.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

The Infrared Space Systems Directorate, as a leading member of the Space and Missile Systems Center, is involved in many local community activities. Many members of our team participate in Career Days at local schools where students are informed about how education leads to exciting job opportunities, the experiences of being deployed to locations around the world as a member of the U.S. Air Force, and the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in education.

We also organize and participate in food drives for local food banks, beach cleanups, clothing drives for the homeless and visits to Veteran’s Hospitals, as well as providing care packages to those deployed from the Space and Missile Systems Center. We are always willing to pitch in at a moment’s notice to support others.

The Space Based Infrared Systems (SBIRS) program reaches across the United States and the world, contributing to our national and international economies. The Space Based Infrared Systems Program employs more than 9,700 personnel across 23 states and works in partnership with more than 50 large and small businesses, providing a multitude of parts for the construction, integration and launch of the payloads and ground facilities.

The SBIRS payload is built right here in Southern California, and the satellite is integrated in Sunnyvale, California. SBIRS satellites are launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., and the satellites will be operated by Air Force crews located in Colorado. All across these locations are thousands of people at work daily - designing, building and integrating key systems and assemblies for the Space Based Infrared System.

Internationally, the SBIRS program employs hundreds of people specializing in payload component production and sustainment of our crucial Relay Ground Stations (RGS). Just as our domestic suppliers and their employees, our international partners continue to proudly represent critical assets to the SBIRS program.

How to reach: Los Angeles Air Force Base, (310) 653-1131 or www.losangeles.af.mil

View the Infrared Space Systems Directorate factsheet

Published in Orange County
Friday, 29 April 2011 13:39

Keeping growth in check

Surviving this economy has been a challenge for all companies, especially those in commercial real estate like Casco Contractors Inc. But it’s not the biggest challenge on President Cheryl Osborn’s mind.

Her sights are set higher – on not just surviving, but maintaining stable growth through the downturn. She achieves this by creating open lines of communication to stay in tune with her employees’ workloads and putting technology in place to manage projects and keep everyone in the field informed, as well.

These processes have helped the firm, which specializes in Commercial Tenant Improvements, keep efficiency, quality and consistency first. And now, Osborn is looking forward to projected 2011 revenues that nearly double last year’s.

Because of this, Smart Business, ThinkASG, IBM and Union Bank named Osborn to the class of 2011 Smart Leader honorees. She shared how she maintains quality during growth and applies innovative technology to better manage her team.

Give an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

Stable, managed growth is probably the biggest challenge that we have faced. Maintaining stringent quality standards can be challenging when a company is growing quickly, but our reputation has been built on the quality of our service, so quality control is something we take very seriously and always have in mind every step of the way. To maintain quality:

  • I provide my employees with every possible tool to help them manage their responsibilities.
  • I maintain open lines of communication to stay aware of workloads. And when someone is struggling, I work with them to determine if they are actually overloaded or if perhaps they need help managing time and resources better.
  • When I deem necessary, and once I’ve assessed that the company volume can support it, I hire additional people to fill positions at various levels of management or support.

Surviving in a struggling economy (is another challenge). I take pride in the fact that I have been able to maintain my workforce with no layoffs, even when the economy has taken a serious dip and other companies were closing their doors. We have done this by adapting – not only our services to our clients, but internally adapting the way we do business. By shifting responsibilities and rallying everyone to pitch in, even if it sometimes means handling tasks that aren’t generally in their job descriptions, we’ve managed to weather leaner times and keep our valued employees on our team.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

We have created processes for the field and the office that specifically focus on efficiency, quality and consistency. We also use technology to improve communication and ensure that everyone involved has the latest information – something that is critical in an industry where changes are frequent and not having the correct information can cause major setbacks to both the budget and the schedule. Our superintendents all have e-mail via BlackBerrys, access to high-tech cameras, and we can send them drawings electronically – which is something that is very cutting edge.

Our in house team uses a specialty software program to manage our existing workload, our pending projects and our projects in closeout, which helps keep our coordinators organized and able to handle all the “balls in the air.”

We communicate with our clients constantly using technology, which helps give them the peace of mind that the projects are going well. Communication is key, and technology is an amazing tool for that process.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

By maintaining a stable workforce, I provide my employees with job security and an excellent benefit package that we continually work to improve. By providing employees with the peace of mind that comes with job security and good benefits, they are more confident about their spending capability and ability to support their local businesses. I also offer them flexibility with their hours so they can implement my “family first” ideal, which furthers their performance and the company’s success.

I also encourage and support charitable work throughout the community by funding causes employees bring to my attention, allowing employees to take time off for charitable causes in order to make a difference. I am a huge believer that giving back is a definitive fueling mechanism for the local economy.

How to reach: Casco Contractors Inc., (949) 679-6880 or www.cascocontractors.net

Published in Orange County

Don’t tell Adam Coffey, president and CEO of WASH Multifamily Laundry Systems LLC, that his business isn’t capable of innovation. That will just get him started on telling you why you’re wrong.

“Our business, like many mature businesses, often continues practices or procedures that were adopted decades ago,” Coffey says. “As time goes by, the reasons for implementing the practice become lost; yet, the organization holds on to outdated methods that as the world evolves, actually complicates business. It is incumbent on a ‘Smart Leader’ to constantly validate everything an organization does to make sure that sound decisions made long ago are still relevant to today’s world.”

To put it into perspective, Coffey’s company collects coins from 300,000 machines every month. His firm’s counting rooms process more than 1 billion quarters a year, and they handle more than 250,000 service calls annually, with an average response time of 11.2 hours and a 97 percent first-time fix rate.

Over the course of the last three years, his team’s productivity has increased by more than 34 percent as a company.

Coffey did this through a $7 million investment in cutting-edge technology, and as a result of bringing best-in-class technology to his laundry company, his margins have climbed to be the best in the industry, his customer satisfaction has improved, and in the two worst economic years since the Great Depression, his company has enjoyed the best two years of organic growth in its 63-year history.

Because of his ability to change in the face of complacency, Coffey was named one of the 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and Chase Bank. We asked him what keeps him thinking ahead, how he overcomes challenges and about the importance of giving back to the community.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

Our company operates what are essentially 42,000 small (self-service laundries) with hundreds of thousands of coin-operated washers and dryers. More than 2 million people do laundry in our rooms each week. Back in the 1960s, the company faced a threat from professional thieves who were experienced at picking locks. The technology of the day made the machines easy targets to a skilled lock picker and a great deal of revenue was lost.

To combat this threat, lock companies developed very sophisticated ‘pick proof” locks. Our company went one step further and developed a very intricate method of insuring that the same lock was only used a specific number of times in a given ZIP code or territory, which also prevented lost, stolen or illegally made duplicate keys from being used in a small geography. These steps and procedures implemented in the 1960s virtually ended this threat and were considered to be a big success at the time.

Over the course of the 50 years that followed, our company faced significant challenges to coin collector productivity because of having to inventory and keep track of literally thousands and thousands of unique keys. These processes slowed down production in our plant because the machines being prepared for field use all required different series of locks and keys, which had to be found, tracked, installed and recorded.

As I began to look under the hood of the company I was running, I started to ask ‘why’ more and more. What I found to be the most common answer was simply, ‘Because we have always done it this way.’

Our company today faces absolutely no threat from professional lock pickers. Today, our biggest threat comes from crack heads with sledgehammers or portable torches. Keeping the intricate keying methods alive works wonders for lock pickers from the 1960s — who are now over 80 years old — but it does little to help with today’s threat of a drugged up guy with a sledgehammer. This guy isn’t into picking a lock; he is into absolute destruction to find enough coins to buy his next rock.

By recognizing a changing threat, the entire company was able to move forward and get beyond what was a viable and necessary solution 50 years prior and begin to design a more streamlined process that is still equally as viable but much more cost-effective in today’s world.

Smart leaders must always be challenging status quo and revalidating processes and procedures to make sure the company is operating and evolving to face today’s challenges, not yesterday’s problems.

 

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

Running a large laundry company with essentially 42,000 small Laundromats, 300,000 coin- and card-operated machines that more than 2 million people are using each week may not seem very sexy or high-tech. After all, it’s just laundry. However, that assertion is just plain wrong.

When I came to this company seven years ago, I spent the first 90 days traveling to 28 branch offices in 20 states talking to 100 percent of my 1,043 new employees. I did ride-alongs with each major job classification in our company — collectors, installers, service technicians, sales reps and managers. What I found was a company full of proud people with very long tenure who were drowning in duplication of data entry, outdated practices and suffering from a complete lack of coordinated use of technology.

It didn’t take long to walk in the shoes of the line employees to figure out what was broken and what needed fixing. The people performing these jobs every day provided me with the best insight into their struggles and, in many cases, gave me the beginnings of ideas on how to solve them.

Smart leaders talk to their people and learn to walk in their shoes. Smart leaders don’t make cuts for the sake of saving money; they let technology redefine the jobs and processes, which, as a result of implementation, lead to productivity enhancements.

Upon returning from that initial road trip, I created a 400-plus page strategic plan with my leadership team that we spent almost six years implementing and finishing. Today, our company has an enterprisewide IT system, where data entry is only performed once and where our data-warehouse-driven dashboards now allow business leaders to make informed decisions based on fact rather than intuition. In business, it’s not what you think that matters; it’s what you know.

Our vehicles have GPS tracking, we use state-of-the art satellite dispatching and routing, our counting rooms are integrated via computers to our ERP system, and our processes are streamlined to reflect the needs and realities of today’s world. This technological journey we are on has no ending as we continue to invest $1 million a year in updating and enhancing our capabilities.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

Our company has been in continuous operation for 63 years. Today, we employ more than 500 people in Calif., Nevada and Hawaii. More than 2 million residents of apartment communities, colleges, military bases and hotels use our 42,000 locations and 300,000 machines each week for their laundry needs.

Over 1 billion quarters are collected and counted in our high-volume, high-speed counting rooms, which makes us the largest depositor of quarters to the Federal Reserve, west of the Mississippi. We are the second-largest commercial laundry customer in the United States for our principal suppliers Whirlpool, Maytag and Speed Queen.

Our fleet of more than 400 vehicles is all purchased locally as are many of the supplies and services we consume. Our company works hard to be a good partner to local charities, homeless shelters and to those less fortunate than ourselves. As our company continues to grow and expand, we are actively hiring and working to provide a better environment for our employees’ families and consumers. Our use of energy-efficient, front-load machines save California billions of gallons of water each year.

It is companies like ours that represent the backbone of California business and economic development. We are proud to have our HQ in El Segundo, Calif., and look forward to our next 63 years of growth and prosperity.

How to reach: WASH Multifamily Laundry Systems LLC, or www.washlaundry.com

Published in Los Angeles