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Andrew E. Brickman says anything is possible if you’re persistent in pursuing your goals.

He’s proven that with the success of Abode Living’s recent development projects, despite a downturned economy that has particularly devastated the real estate market. Only one town home remains for sale of 27 at the upscale 27 Coltman in Little Italy, while the first phase of million-dollar town homes at Eleven Rivers in Rocky River has sold out.

Already on to a new project, Clifton Pointe in Lakewood, the managing partner and director attributes Abode’s success to innovation and quality fostered by a culture of employee empowerment.

Brickman emphasizes that his staff members are partners — not just employees — in the business. He looks to his nearly 200 current project employees to help him continuously improve the company and serve its customers well.

“If you have an opportunity to interact with people at all levels within the organization and you can see what they’re doing and you know what their position entails, you can work with them to help empower them to do a better job,” Brickman says.

To empower employees, ensure your compensation system directly relates to productivity, as opposed to a standard cost-of-living payment system.

“Rewarding people based on merit and productivity versus a fixed rate of compensation is — if practical — a more effective way to create a type of culture that I think will foster the most favorable results,” Brickman says. “I don’t think the fear of losing their job motivates people.

“I certainly believe in a pride of ownership — that if it’s yours, you’re going to generally take better care of it.”

Give employees more responsibility to further their sense of ownership in the company by allowing them the flexibility to make their own decisions, get creative and take risks.

Brickman’s director of branding and marketing developed a charitable partners program that committed Abode to match donations made by customers, suppliers and contractors. Despite the monetary cost, Brickman says the program has resulted in increased exposure to Abode’s target demographic.

“Creating a sense of significance and importance within the employees’ psyche relative to the overall success of the company creates a sense of confidence,” Brickman says. “It further empowers them, makes them feel more responsible and more a part of the organization’s success.”

Promote open communication so that employees feel comfortable sharing ideas and critiques.

“Foster an environment that leads to more people willing to speak up to try and make changes or try and identify problems sooner rather than later,” Brickman says.

“The people that (CEOs) surround themselves with have to be willing to speak frankly and speak their minds so that if they don’t understand the vision of the CEO, it can be refined and it can be improved upon.”

Brickman’s vision is for his employees is to go above and beyond the Golden Rule to satisfy customers, treating customers better than they would want to be treated in the same situation.

Employees who feel personally invested in the success of the company, and thus their performance on its behalf, will actively embrace this vision of excellent service. This benefits the company, as well as its customers and ancillary support.

“A relationship should be a win-win relationship,” Brickman says. “We should try and be focused on how we can help (customers and suppliers) improve themselves and their business. And that’s kind of the culture I’ve tried to create within the organization, one based on optimism, passion and persistence for always trying to do the best that we can.”

How to reach: Abode Living, www.welcometoabode.com or (216) 721-0027

Listen up

It’s not just about how you can serve your customers; it’s also about how your customers can serve you. Andrew E. Brickman hosts “share its” to get outside input from customers and suppliers before starting a project, ensuring issues are identified and worked out before starting.

“Make these people feel like they’re an important part of the project, that their opinions matter and that we appreciate them taking time out of their busy schedule to weigh in on it,” says Brickman, managing partner and director of Abode Living. “By doing that, you get people who really care, who are sincere and who aren’t just there to say yes to the project.”

Be professional and hospitable by hosting these collaborative meetings at a distinguished venue.

“By hosting it in a fine-dining establishment, we create a certain sense of quality — that we’re committed right down to providing a quality experience for the people who are in attendance,” Brickman says.

Communicate with customers to find out what they value in a product or service to give you an edge over competitors.

“If you don’t have something very special and you can’t relay that to your customers, then you’re going to have a commodity,” Brickman says. “And if it’s a commodity, it’s just a race to the bottom in terms of price.”

Published in Cleveland

As the head of a hospital, Steven Moreau preaches the power of preventative medicine.

Just not to patients.

Moreau isn’t a clinician, so he doesn’t directly dabble in the medical responsibility of prescribing healthy lifestyle choices for those who come through the doors of St. Joseph Hospital of Orange seeking treatment.

The president and CEO of the hospital since last December, Moreau concerns himself with preventive medicine for the hospital itself — a 3,000-employee network of staff members that is a living, breathing organism in its own right. It needs constant care and maintenance to remain healthy and functional and able to conduct its mission of providing the best possible health care to its patients.

When Moreau took over the top post a year ago, he quickly identified strengths and weaknesses, and set about addressing the areas of concern at the hospital, which generated $627 million in revenue during fiscal year 2010.

“The one thing I knew coming aboard was that St. Joseph Orange is a high-performing organization with outstanding results in many areas that matter the most, such as clinical quality and patient satisfaction,” Moreau says. “We were also very strong in nursing and financial operations. But I also learned very quickly that our biggest challenges were around reducing costs, partnering with our physicians and growth. We had to find ways to grow in a business that is challenged and in an economy that is shrinking.”

To address the challenges of growth, Moreau needed to build a strategic plan with the help of his leadership team. The plan centered on improving processes, and increasing employee and physician engagement. To make it all happen, Moreau needed to increase the organizational efficiency of the hospital and plug the entire staff, at all levels of the organization, into the processes that would help shape the hospital’s future.

In a word, St. Joseph of Orange needed to get lean.

Earn your black belt

To increase efficiency in his organization, Moreau looked outside the hospital field, and even the medical industry in general, to the automotive industry. The performance improvement model that Moreau chose to implement was centered on lean methodology, made famous by Toyota.

St. Joseph of Orange had a lean-based plan in place for several years prior to Moreau’s arrival, but Moreau wanted the hospital’s staff to develop an even tighter focus on the principles of lean methodology, which include constant improvement of processes and the elimination of unnecessary redundancies.

“We use all of the tools of lean methodology in looking at our processes and how we can provide care,” Moreau says. “That is one way, on kind of a micro level, that we use lean methodology, and we have had significant success in improving operational metrics.”

The focus on lean processes has reached into all areas of the hospital’s operations, including medical care. Moreau says lean thinking has had a very tangible effect on patient care, even helping prevent the spread of disease.

“Patients that are brought into a hospital and put on a ventilator are prone to getting pneumonia,” Moreau says. “After all of our lean work, we put in a process, and (as of August had gone) 51 months without a ventilator-associated pneumonia case. Our process has won us national awards, and it includes steps such as raising the head of the bed and ensuring that someone is checking on the patient regularly. There are also numerous evidence-based steps about the way people are treated, the kinds of medications they’re given and ensuring that the steps are followed 100 percent of the time for every single patient. We write a checklist for every patient to make sure those practices are done consistently, no matter which doctor is providing the care. It’s fundamental that everybody does the process the same way.”

Moreau considers any process that solely involves St. Joseph of Orange to occur on the “micro” level. On the macro level — involving the St. Joseph Health System in general — Moreau also works with the heads of the other hospitals and facilities in the system to reduce the cost structure across the board.

“That means looking at something we call ‘value imperatives,’” Moreau says. “We’re looking at items we have identified in a number of areas where we can use best practices — from not only the health care industry but from business in general. We look at how we can centralize, consolidate or apply best practices to get fundamental costs out of our infrastructure.”

Developing a strategy built around lean methodology takes vision on the part of management and engagement on the part of the work force in general. Everyone in the organization needs a set of common goals, and the resources to reach those goals.

“You really need to have two things to implement lean methodology,” Moreau says. “One, you need a culture that embraces performance improvement. That’s fundamental, that you have to create a culture of people that want to be the best. That takes a lot of education and awareness that the status quo is not acceptable. You have to get the organization to the point where they’re saying ‘If anybody can do it, we can do it.’”

The second ingredient is the commitment from leadership to provide resources and support that will enable your people to make the necessary changes.

“That involves committing peoples’ time, as well as resources support, for them to accomplish the goal,” Moreau says. “For us, part of those resources is that we have a professional staff that supports them. We have a quality department that includes trained facilitators. In fact, the director of our lean methodology comes from Ford. So we brought in someone from an industry that had applied these concepts, someone who was able to bring many of the insights to us and help us implement the lean methodology in a hospital setting.

“Fortunately, we have a pretty strong infrastructure for lean with the facilitators, and then my role as the CEO is to actively support our teams, acknowledge the great work they’re doing and make sure they have the direction and support they need.”

Stop, look and listen

Sometimes, you don’t see the results of heightened efficiency. You hear it — or actually, you hear silence.

St. Joseph of Orange has a pneumatic-tube delivery system that carries prescription bottles from the hospital pharmacy to various points throughout the hospital. When a delivery arrived at its destination, it would slam into the end of the tube, creating a noise that would jar the eardrums of anyone within listening distance.

As part of a larger initiative aimed at reducing noise in the hospital environment, Moreau and his staff listened to the input of staff members, and installed soft bumpers in the pneumatic tubes, cushioning the impact when a package arrived at its destination and deadening the sound.

Moreau and his staff promote lean thinking throughout the hospital by getting team members to think in the first place. If you ask for input on how the work environment could improve, you’re asking for your employees to observe their surroundings and identify areas in which the status quo doesn’t align with the goals that you and your management team have stated. You’re asking them to become field scouts for your mission.

At St. Joseph of Orange, Moreau enlists the help of every constituency under the hospital’s roof, including patients. Moreau helped to assemble performance improvement teams comprised of employees from every department in the organization, and asked patients to serve as well.

“It is a combination of staff-level people who have expertise in their areas, who are supported by black-belt and green-belt facilitators who are experts in the lean process,” Moreau says. “We have doctors, nurses, pharmacists, maintenance workers, housekeepers — anybody who impacts the process we’re looking at right then. And then we invite patients to offer input, so they can participate in the solution. Patients offer additional insight as to whether the improvements we’re making are actually making a difference.”

Monthly, Moreau gets the idea juices flowing throughout his staff by hosting a breakfast forum. Many CEOs have a sit-down meal during which staff members can ask questions, but Moreau takes it a step further. The 100 or so people who attend are tasked with finding the questions that the people in their department want answered.

“That’s kind of their ticket to the breakfast,” Moreau says. “Find the issues and submit them to me via e-mail. At the breakfast, I answer all of the questions submitted and then we print the questions and answers so that everyone in the organization gets the benefit of it. You do something like this not only to address concerns, questions and rumors, but also to build a level of trust between the CEO and the staff.”

Without trust, it’s extremely difficult for anyone in a position of leadership to drive a common set of goals throughout a large organization. Without everyone on board, Moreau says he would have had a hard time implementing any type of lean methodology, because staff members wouldn’t have identified many of the efficiency problems that could have been solved by lean processes.

“The questions and answers are important, because if somebody has a question, what it’s doing is bringing it to the forefront,” he says. “If one person in the organization has a question or comment, undoubtedly others have it too. It could be as broad as ‘Where are we going as a company?’ or as narrowly-focused as ‘I don’t like the food in the cafeteria.’ But in the end, by having anyone able to ask any question they like, when you answer it, it’s giving everybody in the organization the ability to recognize the rationale for what you’re doing. That is what builds trust.”

Moreau also creates dialogue opportunities with management by sharing data on how the hospital is performing against its goals — both good and bad. Another key factor in building trust is the willingness on the part of management to give everyone in the organization a complete view of how the organization is performing and how initiatives are progressing. If you try to paint a rosy picture, and your team finds out the truth isn’t as positive, you will damage the trust factor.

“You have to be willing to shine a light on the areas where you’re not the best,” Moreau says. “If you shine a light on that, the competitive spirit of most people will win out. I think some leaders fall into the trap of sharing information that is only the good information. They only want to share what they’re doing well, and move away from highlighting what they’re not doing as well. But I think a high-performing organization focuses on the areas where they’re not doing as well, areas where they need to do better. Then, you use that as a burning platform for change.

“That is really leadership’s role, to define what success looks like and to engage the team. Then, to bring resources and focus, which will enable your team to overcome obstacles. I’ve had a lot of success in past organizations creating those burning platforms for change, and rallying people around those. It’s really that transparency and those platforms for change – and your commitment to give them support – that allow your people to step up and perform.”

How to reach: St. Joseph Hospital of Orange, (714) 633-9111 or www.sjo.org

The Moreau file

Born: Los Angeles

Education: B.S. in microbiology, San Diego State University; M.S. in medical technology, California State University, Dominguez Hills; MBA, University of Redlands

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

You have a lot of power in your position. The CEO has an incredible opportunity to impact the organization’s success, and the success of the people you work with. So show an interest in development of the organization and the people that work with you. You can make a huge difference in their development and performance.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader?

Fundamentally, you need experience and competence in your given field. But you also need strong interpersonal and communication skills. Confidence and a willingness to continuously learn are also key traits. In the health care field in particular, you need passion and a calling for helping others.

What is your definition of success?

Being your best, and that means helping an organization or individual real their optimum potential.

Published in Orange County

For Andreas M. Schulze Ising, running a global company is both his biggest challenge and his biggest advantage. The president and CEO of Advanced Polymer Technology Corp. doesn’t get to work within the confines of one country operating in a certain way with a standard set of rules and regulations. However, he thrives on the ability to draw from different environments and points of view to advance the capabilities of the 200-employee global manufacturer of polyurethane-based materials, synthetic turf products and sports flooring applications.

The company has development teams around the world to aid in its global business, but keeping those teams in contact and working together is a constant, yet well worth it effort.

“When you’re just focused on one country, it’s an easier task because government and guidelines and the mentality of the folks in a certain country that you’ve experienced work in a certain way,” Ising says. “When you mix and match those and you work in the American industry and you have to incorporate the German way of thinking or the way things are handled in Australia or Hong Kong or China, then you really have an interesting task.”

Advanced Polymer Technology’s ability to pull from very different environments and perspectives allows the company to be an industry leader in innovation. It’s that ability that landed it the task of supplying surfaces to the Olympic authorities for the games in 2012.

Here’s how Ising keeps Advanced Polymer globally connected in order to develop innovative quality products.

Develop a global framework

Advanced Polymer manufactures and installs running tracks, tennis courts and artificial turf for rugby, football, soccer and many sports facilities and schools across the globe. The company has to be able to understand how business works in different parts of the world in order to succeed.

“It’s always a little bit of a struggle when you have locations, specifically production environments on a global basis,” Ising says. “You have to provide those folks with the right truths to make them understand how things work on a global basis. When you have brand names that you market globally, you have to make sure that you comply with the rules and regulations in a certain country but use those to excel the company and get everybody on the same boat to make sure things are going in the right direction.”

One of the key things to running a successful global business is to really provide people with a direction.

“You have to be able to see beyond the future and what the market requires,” he says. “How can the folks on hand and how can doing innovation fit into that picture and excel the company forward? Give them a straight line and the proper advice and have a plan for how the company can survive so people have a clear idea of what the next steps are. It’s very important to make sure that on the global level that this mission is clear across boundaries and clear across the country. It has to go beyond the local customs and how people think on a local basis. Because as a global company, it’s very important that the mission statement and the brand strategy is very clearly defined and can be grasped by everybody to make sure that it’s a team environment and teamwork that goes forward and extends in the right direction.”

To help Advanced Polymer keep tabs on how things are going in other countries and where each region can benefit from one another, Ising uses a global development team.

“We have a global development team of Ph.D. candidates … on hand in Europe and the states and Australia, and they create and test products to the market,” he says. “They have such an influence from the local markets and they understand the local requirements, so when you put all that together, you don’t just have the creativity of a specific area or a certain way of thinking whether it be German, Australian or Chinese, you actually cross the boundaries by having these guys talk together. It’s a very simple tool and it gives you a platform where ideas get brought to the table and discussed.”

If you operate on a global scale or even if you just operate in one country, you have to have a way for different regions to communicate and share ideas that can benefit the business.

“We look from three different directions from three different continents on similar products that we can enhance and modify based on local demands or local requirements,” he says. “As you can imagine they have very, very different conditions in Australia versus in Germany. In the United States, you have not just forest areas, you have deserts and extremely cold areas where the requirements for certain flooring products or sports flooring products are very different. There are different performance characteristics that are very dependent on the environment, temperature and light. Having the input from these different continents gives you quite an interesting mix of ideas and points of view and perspectives of what is right. The most important thing is to have an open mind and try to see things in a different global environment from that perspective.”

Innovate on ideas

Different perspectives are what allow you to develop ideas. You have to bring people in who actually look further beyond this perspective to help progress the company forward.

“In the end it’s all about innovating things,” Ising says. “It’s all about coming up with this new product. It’s always being a step beyond the competition. That’s probably one of the key focuses. We have a company that works in many different directions not just the sports flooring industry, but we make polymers for optical materials and you can imagine how extreme the bandwidth is between a simple tennis coating to something that will find it’s way into an optical application.”

While working on products for different industries creates challenges for the company, it also allows it to find innovations it otherwise wouldn’t find.

“For example, a running track that has up to 70 percent renewable resources,” he says. “With all these different technologies we have on hand in all these different areas, we have done a great job overlapping amongst those areas and coming up with a whole range of products.” 

Whenever possible you have to allow your employees who operate in different areas of the company to interact so they can offer different perspectives and ideas and be challenged to innovate.

“You have to always be able to challenge somebody to step out of their own bubble and look at it from a customer basis, but also from a very fresh angle,” he says. “I think that’s also a key in our company since we have the global approach you always get all sorts of views out of very different perspectives. You have to make sure that you don’t get stuck with a certain way of looking at things. You always have to be able to challenge what you do and look at it from a different person’s perspective, a different market perspective, or a different requirements perspective because only then will you be able to overcome these problems and get this aha effect.”

You have to understand that when you’re looking at a problem for so long, it becomes the same old thing. Putting a different spin or twist on a situation can get you another step in the right direction.

“When you work within the sports environment you are always challenged,” Ising says. “You’re always challenged by the athletes, by the directors and the guys that actually use the products. There’s always an idea that comes from this market. On the other hand being so versatile and not being just a sports flooring business, but having a lot of high-tech applications like the optical industry, you challenge the standards that are not common in the sports flooring side or the industrial flooring side. You get a complete different set of requirements and you get a complete different set of eyes that look at things and can tell you how that is met. Then you have to have the ability to take those estranged views from a different environment into a more common environment and sometimes it has a very eye-opening effect.”

The biggest key for Ising and Advanced Polymer’s innovation comes from the fact that the global employees communicate in meetings, over the phone, and through e-mail platforms to provide different opinions from different environments that trigger the thought process and make products better.

“The key is you have to really challenge people,” he says. “You have to really everyday make sure that you ask the right questions, that you have people on your team that do the same thing, that really push that question and have good ideas and different perspectives on things so that you have a good discussion that will shed light from different angles on other things to do.”

Maintain a collaborative environment

In order to keep people in your company interacting with one another and sharing ideas, you have to make sure communication between them is easy.

“You have to always be able to communicate,” he says. “I have to communicate from my perspective to the communicators and I try to convey the message to them to do the same things within their teams — have an open mind, have an open ear, listen to people and really try to give good feedback and really try to question things in a positive way, in an upbeat and creative way.”

Advanced Polymer also uses a simple platform to communicate ideas to everybody within the corporation to get instant feedback.

“You come to work in the morning and you open up your e-mail and besides your normal e-mail, you have these little idea snippets, these little comments, these little challenges every day that people can take a look at and think about the day-to-day business, but again be challenged or poked to comment on these questions or ideas,” he says. “Everybody uses it in the company. Any request that goes into a development project is going to be put on that and discussed instantly.”

You don’t have to be on time for conference calls and forced to wait because not everyone is dialed in and you don’t have to fly anywhere to speak to someone.

“You get these things and you can respond very, very fast and it makes things so much easier because you really have an instant feedback and people can attach pictures and excel sheets and it’s out there for everybody,” he says. “To have a quick idea discussed amongst your peers that are involved in this is so much easier. It’s also kind of fun, because you don’t have to elaborate forever, you just put this out there and the idea is taken further by other colleagues in the organization.”

It is very beneficial to have ways for employees to share ideas amongst one another, but you also have to determine which ideas are the best.

“We have certain levels of R&D work that is basically on a more creative level that we discuss once a month in a management meeting where we look at these things and determine what has potential, what fits into our vision of the company, and what we can move forward,” Ising says. “Based on those decisions there is always something in there that we can take and actually incorporate into existing products or we go ahead and work it into new ideas and new products. It’s really a process of listening to the folks in your company. It’s a function of that and it’s a function of your market intelligence. What does the market tell you that you need? What are your potential possibilities within the company? It comes down to understanding what your company is able to do and reflecting that into the market environment.”

At the end of the day you have to have a passion for what you do and a drive to constantly do it better.

“That’s what sports are all about — being competitive and looking beyond your means and trying to exceed the next challenge and that’s what we do at our company very well,” he says. “It’s all about innovation and it’s about the people your company has and bringing that together.”

HOW TO REACH: Advanced Polymer Technology Corp., (724) 452-1330 or www.advpolytech.com


-         Develop a global framework and mission that allows you to best utilize your team

-         Get different perspectives to unlock hidden innovation

-         Implement communication methods to maintain innovation and best practices

The Ising File

Born: Muenster, Germany

Education: Master’s degree in textile polymer chemistry from Bergische Universitat Wuppertal

What was your very first job?

I had many jobs during my childhood since my parents emphasized that life is not free. The one that stuck most with me was working as a delivery boy for medications in my mom’s pharmacy. We had to bike for miles to drop off prescriptions come rain or shine from 20 degrees to 110 degrees. Sometimes the work was more than one could endure. But what counts is getting the job done.

Who is someone you admire in business and why?

This would be my first boss. He touched me because of his vision and the ability to turn that into reality. He was probably the best listener and had that amazing ability to bring the right people together to achieve highest results.

What is your favorite country to do business in and why?

It is most certainly America. A country filled with people wanting to live the American Dream creates an environment of fast pace but also the desire to move ahead with business and life to create that amazing environment all Americans live in. Things happen in the U.S.; people try, try to excel in their own life/career and move others with them. The U.S. also provides a very pragmatic business environment that gives everybody the tools to become great entrepreneurs.

Do you have an APT product you are most proud of?

APT has worked for a very long time to be the industry leader in quality. Our product lines prove that. We have lately focused on environmental-friendly products within the polyester and polyurethane-based product families, utilizing many renewable resources in our formulations. Latest developments created a new generation of running track based on the legacy track, Rekortan, used in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, called Rekortan G13 that is based on up to 70 percent renewable chemistry. It’s not only a track that runners will love for its accommodating features but will also provide a surface that will exceed the current requirements for sustainable and green building and construction codes.

Published in Pittsburgh

Gary Kiedaisch is charged with leading one of the strongest consumer product brands in the country. The chairman and CEO of No. 1 cooler manufacturer Igloo Products Corp. understands that achieving the top spot didn’t happen overnight or by accident. It took Igloo’s industry awareness, brand building and unmatched innovation to keep the manufacturer atop the cooler industry.

The $250 million, 1,200-employee company originated the cooler category in 1947 and for more than 60 years it has held the No. 1 market share. Kiedaisch has helped excel Igloo’s brand and its products and has the ongoing challenge of keeping the company relevant and continuing its reputation as the top cooler manufacturer.

“We have, in my humble opinion, the best products in the category,” Kiedaisch says. “I don’t think anybody has a lineup of coolers like Igloo does. We live, eat, sleep and breathe coolers.”

While Kiedaisch can enjoy the comfort of leading a No. 1 market share company, he hasn’t been resting on his laurels. Here’s how Kiedaisch combines a strong brand with industry leading innovation to help grow Igloo Products Corp.

Build and advance your brand

Research shows that three in every four U.S. households own at least one Igloo cooler. Igloo has achieved this level of market penetration by being the best at what they do.

“We specialize in coolers,” Kiedaisch says. “Our two main competitors, Coleman and Rubbermaid, are generalists. The cooler business for them is a fraction of their whole. Coolers are our shirt, and with them, they are a sleeve on their jacket.”

Igloo’s ability to continually produce high-quality, durable cooler products is what helps drive the company’s reputation and relationships.

“We are delivering to our customers a truly great product that they need and we have good relationships with them,” he says. “What that shows is our branding and they’re going to then put our brand on the shelf front and center because retailers want to know what they’re buying and that consumers have confidence in it. That’s the first stamp in the marketplace.”

There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of marketing dollars for coolers and that is because the cooler itself is a billboard.

“Once you sell a cooler, it’s not going to get used only by one person one time and put away in a closet,” Kiedaisch says. “The first time it gets used it’s probably going to get used by at least three, maybe four, maybe five people. It’s going to be taken out repeated times and when it is taken out it is going to be the center of the party. You use it when you go to the beach or going to camp. I’ve got some contractors restoring a property in New Hampshire and at lunch time they’re all sitting around their Igloo coolers and its part of their daily life. They live with those products.”

The many uses of a cooler along with the quality and durability of each one of them have helped Igloo sell more than 20 million coolers a year, which exponentially builds the brand.

“You’ve got 20 million impressions going to the marketplace multiplied by two, three, four or five, utilized four or five times a year with a life cycle of how ever many years coolers go on and you just have a huge penetration in American households,” Kiedaisch says. “That’s why the brand is so well-known and recognized.”

To make your brand well-known and recognized you have to not only have a product that people want to use, but you have to associate your brand with things that your products are regularly used for.

“In sporting goods products there are many, many likes; for example skis,” Kiedaisch says. “You watch the Olympics and you see the skiers coming down and at the end of the race they pick up their skis and there’s a big billboard with the name of their ski right beside their head and that’s what’s commonly called sports marketing. I call it opinion-reader marketing and hundreds of thousands of consumer products companies use that strategy.

“It’s the same with car racing. I think it’s great that Chevrolet is on a NASCAR because that’s a Chevrolet engine and that’s a pretty tough piece of equipment. When you get a company’s brand on a NASCAR vehicle that has nothing to do with automotive or mechanical or engineering or doesn’t have a part in the vehicle, that’s just trying to get your name in front of the consumer demographic, but there is very little correlation between the two. It’s a very expensive and very indirect way to build a brand.”

Igloo tries to team up with events or activities that directly correlate with the use of its products.

“We sponsor the FLW Tournament, which is the biggest bass fishing tournament in the country,” he says. “We’re on television with bass fisherman and … they have to bring these fish in for weighing and they have to keep them alive, so they put them in an Igloo cooler. That’s similar to the NASCAR race where our equipment and gear is being used by the celebrity. That is direct cause and effect and the person choosing a cooler at the moment of decision is going to recall, ‘This is the one that’s used by all those FLW guys, I see on TV all the time.’”

Discover avenues to grow

In order to lead a consumer category for more than 60 years, you need more than a good product to continue that dominance. You need to have strong employees that can recognize the right business strategies.

“Anybody will say that the toughest leadership challenges are always getting the right people focused around the right business strategies and having them executed and implemented with precision,” Kiedaisch says. “The most important thing is to really surround yourself with experts in fields of the discipline that you do business in. If you’re in the consumer products business and you sell products through whatever it is that’s your specialty, you need people that understand the habits and behaviors of not only the end user but the retailer that you’re dealing with and how they interface with their consumers.”

Kiedaisch has been able to surround himself with people who are experts in the cooler industry and that expertise has led to growth for Igloo.

“Since 2008 we’ve grown this company significantly,” he says. “We’ve grown more than 20 percent and in the specialty channels outside of Walmart, we’ve grown close to 30 percent. It’s come from recognizing what we do and doing what we do better.”

Igloo’s strong brand and market dominance has led to penetration in 70 percent of American households in a category that has penetration in 90 percent of American households.

“You could argue the market is saturated and there’s no room for growth or you could argue that it’s a staple of life that the product that you make, almost every household needs one or two or three,” Kiedaisch says. “All you really need to do is bring them new reasons to buy one — compelling new reasons to buy a replacement or take new consumers. It’s a combination of sustaining what worked before and also bringing new innovation into the category to improve it.”

To continue to grow your company, your products and your brand you have to be in the right mind set. You can’t be turned away at the first sign of adversity.

“You have to make sure that you know your business and never, never, never give up,” he says. “If what you try today or this morning didn’t work quite as you wanted it to, take a look at it and see what went wrong or what assumption was incorrect and keep going until you get the result you think you want. That’s not to say you go until death. Sometimes certain strategies are wrong and you need to course correct. You only course correct when there is clear evidence that the direction that the group felt the company should be going is unquestionably proven to be wrong.”

When you are trying to be new and different and make a stand in an industry there are always people who will disagree.

“There are a lot of naysayers, especially when you’re trying to do something new and you’re trying to be great, that are going to want to slow down or dumb it down or maybe not chase that ring and then you settle,” Kiedaisch says. “The worst thing that I’ve ever seen other executives do is settle. That’s when you get companies that don’t have great performance in their products, great performance in their innovation, great performance in their financials, and they don’t have, in my opinion, motivated and happy executives and employees.”

Innovate the industry

Kiedaisch and the employees at Igloo refuse to settle for anything less than their best. The company is always looking for the next innovation to keep its products relevant.

“It’s all about the quality and efficiency of the product,” Kiedaisch says. “It’s got to outperform anything else that’s out there in the marketplace and that’s what we’re constantly working on. If you’re not constantly reinventing your product there’s no reason to replace it, there’s no reason for somebody to be motivated to buy it, and you’re not going to have very good sales.”

Reinvention is what Igloo is great at. The company explores numerous avenues to make a good product even better.

“Take for example our soft-sided coolers,” he says. “The original soft-sided coolers are just square sewn together boxes with insulation in them and they were lunch boxes and they looked like that. What we’ve done is we’ve developed a series of bags, totes and across-shoulder messenger bags that are insulated and have fashion and design to them that women will carry to the office or men will carry to a boat that doesn’t look like it’s your lunch pail, yet it is.”

Igloo looks to other industries and product functions to get inspiration for its innovations.

“What we did was we studied the women’s handbag business and how women carry their daily accessory needs,” he says. “We look towards the luggage industry and we look toward the refrigeration industry to see what they’re doing. I don’t know who came out with wheels first, but I would bet that the luggage industry came out with wheels first and you can’t buy a piece of luggage today without a wheel on it.

“We’re in the food transportation and storage business. If you’re in that business you look at what other companies make products that move personal items by an individual and you can learn things from those people as to what you can do with your company.”

Igloo did something similar when designing its new rickshaw-inspired glide cooler. It took a page out of the Chinese lifestyle.

“We looked at the Chinese rickshaw and saw these frail people carting around two heavy people in a two-wheel wagon,” Kiedaisch says. “The art to it was the balance of the rickshaw and that the handle is set away from the wheels and acts as a lever. So we created a cooler that has a handle that extends out much like a rickshaw and you reduce the weight of lifting it by 50 percent and you also move yourself further away from the cooler so if you’re pulling it the cooler is far enough behind so it’s not bumping into your Achilles tendon.”

Kiedaisch doesn’t just look to similar industries or functions that could contribute to a cooler. He also watches how consumers utilize the products.

“We wander around a lot,” he says. “I’m often accused of being a chief product manager myself. We respect the fact of how the product plays. We watch how people use products. We look to related industries and how they manufacture products and what you can bring to the consumer in ways of better performance or better value and then we will incorporate it into the product. I probably on any given day of the week will see four or five innovative new things that the team will check and see if there is something we can do to incorporate that technology into our products.”

Innovation doesn’t stop at finding new ways for a product to be used it also applies to the ways you make a product.

“I’d challenge what technology ends up being used in the manufacturing or materials that are used in your products,” Kiedaisch says. “If Igloo didn’t do that we’d still be making metal fabricated coolers and they’d be horribly expensive.”

HOW TO REACH: Igloo Products Corp., (713) 584-6800 or www.igloocoolers.com


-         Build your brand and align it with uses that directly correlate

-         Use your brand and turn it into growth for your products

-         Take what you do best and innovate to make it better

The Kiedaisch File

Born: Cambridge, Mass.

Education: Attended college for two years and was studying pre-law before joining the military.

Do you have a favorite Igloo product?

My 28-quart personal cooler that I use to travel to and from my boat with.

Who is somebody that you admire in business?

I admire Jack Welch and Steve Jobs. I say Jack Welch because when he ran General Electric, he had his hands on the ball. He had constant meetings with his employees and he was always motivating his employees and sharing where the company was and where it was going. I say Steve Jobs because he not only [ran the company] but he was the chief product development guy and he understood that the wellness of Apple Computers is as good as the last innovation you came up with and he drove that.

If you weren’t a CEO what job would you have?

If I were not running a company, I would be a lawyer of some sort because it is very similar to what I do. It’s getting the facts, preparation, presentation, cause and consequences, and it’s high stakes, winner takes all.

Cool facts about Igloo:

- Igloo is the No. 1 cooler brand in the world

- No. 1 market share in the U.S.

- No. 1 cooler brand used in the marine channel

- No. 1 cooler brand used on commercial worksites

- No. 1 brand recognized by consumers in the cooler category

- Igloo adds more new coolers to its line each year than any other cooler brand

- Playmate is the most recognized cooler product in the U.S.

- Almost three in every four U.S. households owns an Igloo cooler

- Igloo offers more than 500 different products

- Igloo coolers are sold through more than 15,000 outlets in the U.S. and around the world.

Published in Houston

All Steve Shifman is hearing and reading today is how companies aren’t hiring, aren’t investing and aren’t growing. While that has certainly been the trend over the last couple of years with economic uncertainty still looming, Shifman has had the opposite challenge at Michelman Inc., a 250-employee global developer of water-based coatings for flexible film packaging, paperboard and other products.

“We’ve kind of bucked the economic trend during the downturn of the last few years,” says Shifman, president and CEO. “We continue to expand both here in Cincinnati and also around the world, and we’ve continued to hire.”

The company hasn’t been cutting costs or staying conservative to ride out the uncertainty. Instead, Shifman and his employees are embracing the position they are in and are hiring top-level talent and developing strategic plans to allow the company to keep growing for years to come so the organization can capitalize on its opportunities.

“It’s not growth for growth sake,” Shifman says. “Growth is important because we know that by doing that, we can continue to bring in the kinds of capabilities, skills and tools that will help our customers to win.”

Here’s how Shifman developed and led a strategic growth plan to allow Michelman to achieve its mission of helping its customers and continue to grow.

Formulate a direction

A strategic plan helps paint a picture for your organization of where you ultimately want to take the company. It provides a clear direction and strategy to get you there.

“We’ve made some decisions on the kinds of investments we’d like to make and what we’re prepared to do in order to grow the business a little bit more rapidly, particularly because we’re trying to find new solutions to help customers to win,” he says. “We started serving some of these industries and we recognized there’s more growth potential within these industries. There are more needs that need to be filled, let’s go invest around those industries so we can bring in new solutions and hire new people and build new facilities that will help us to serve those industries better.”

Shifman took this focus on customers and industries and made it the top priority for Michelman’s strategic plan.

“It’s very important to start with the customer in mind,” he says. “There are different ways you can organize a business. There are some businesses that organize around their production and they’re primarily manufacturers and some businesses are primarily around technology and those are right for them. In our case, our business begins and ends with our customers and we understand the markets and the industries we serve so well, so we start with those industries and with those customers and then we try and understand the kind of skills we need to serve the customers well — the kind of resources, assets, the kind of depth, the kind of distribution networks, etc.

“You have to understand who you’re serving. Understand what their needs are and help them to understand not only their needs today, but the needs they’re going to be facing over the next five or 10 years. Help them look around the corner to figure out where their businesses are going. Everything starts with the customer, starts with the industries and the markets that we serve and then we work closely with those industries and those customers to figure out where we think the future is going and then come up with our tactical plans to get there.”

In order to understand who you are serving you also need to understand the marketplace.

“We very much take an outside-in view of the marketplace,” Shifman says. “What I mean by that is we’ve organized our businesses around sets of customers in certain industries that have similar problems or similar challenges. That’s important to us, because instead of being a company that simply sells products, we’re a company that really focuses on industries that have needs and then we build solutions for those industries and then we build teams of people around these industries that have expertise. We work to hire people out of the industries that we serve. They understand the industries, they speak the language, they understand the challenges, and they can help us design solutions for those industries in a way we feel many of our competitors can’t.”

While there are many ways to put together a strategic plan and countless reasons for one, all those differences are moot unless you have smart people to help you.

“You have to get really smart people in the room to be part of the process,” Shifman says. “Plans created by one or two people off on high and handed down to the masses and say, ‘Here, go implement,’ tend to be less successful than those that are created by people who are actually going to be involved in executing, particularly in a business like ours where understanding the industries and understanding the customers is so critical. Also, have a grand vision. I believe in setting very large strategic goals for our company that challenge the company. If you really want to improve in something, set big goals. Don’t set them in the abstract. Set them because you know that by achieving these goals, you’ll continue to create a better place for your organization in the marketplace.”

Get buy-in

A strategic plan or new direction will only be a success if you can build buy-in around it and gain support for what you hope to achieve. To do this, you must focus on communication.

“I’m a lucky guy, because I get to spend most of my time talking and communicating within the company and then also going out and seeing customers,” Shifman says. “It starts with me because the person in my seat in any organization has to be the one driving the grand vision. So it was incumbent upon me to have a big picture for where I thought we could take the company. We spent a lot of time as a team, first of all, making sure we’re all bought into this grand vision, because if the entire team is not bought in, then it’s probably not going to work. We work very closely together and we work very hard to make sure the team is completely aligned around it. Then it’s an awful lot of time spent with other members of the organization.”

Alignment is critical to the success of any strategic plan. To achieve that alignment you have to have the necessary communication tools.

“We do have some pretty well-tested communication tools that we use,” he says. “I spend a lot of time personally with our business units and business unit leaders visiting our facilities around the world and our people who are out in the field. It’s a lot of regular communication. It’s one-on-one communication. I write a letter to all of our employees every month that I send home, because I want their families to read it. We have lots of company-wide meetings and we have video conferencing systems. It’s just an ongoing communication process. It’s not a one-size-fits all and it’s not a once in a while, it’s constant. Can we do it better? Of course, there’s always a way to improve upon it, but I think it’s something we focus on a lot here and we make sure we are working hard to keep people aligned with what we are trying to accomplish.”

To aid in the communication efforts and provide total understanding of the tasks required by your employees, it helps to be transparent.

“One of the words that I try to live by is transparency,” he says. “I happen to believe that there are very, very few secrets within our business. We try to make our plans and our objectives and our results within our organization transparent, because it’s hard to hit a target you can’t see. If you make it transparent and you make people a part of the process and treat them like adults, they’re going to behave like adults and they’re going to be part of the process.”

It’s not enough to be transparent on one aspect of the plan or be transparent only for a little while. You have to make transparency and communication a big part of the strategic planning and buy-in process.

“It’s about transparency and it’s about rigorous, regular, constant, robust communication and dialogue,” he says. “Nothing is off limits to talk about, to debate, and to discuss within our organization. It may not be right for everybody, but within our organization, that really contributes to the culture of Michelman. It makes everybody feel as though they’re a part of the business, they’ve got a voice, they can assert an opinion. They’re not just told to do something. They understand why they’re being asked to do something. They have a chance to really debate and discuss that so that they know they’re a part of something bigger, they’re not just doing a job on a daily basis. It really is something that’s been baked into the DNA of our organization.”

Measure your plan

While a strategic plan begins with a vision for the company, a clear mission of what you’re trying to accomplish and the support of your organization, none of it will be beneficial if you don’t measure your plan on a regular basis to make sure you hit goals.

“We’ve got a lot of robust systems in-house that allow us to measure our business on a day-to-day basis, but we also have this high-level strategy map and balanced scorecard that tell us that we’re moving in a perfect strategic direction,” Shifman says. “Our strategy map is our high-level map of where we’re going strategically and we use a balanced scorecard. The balanced scorecard is not how we manage the business, but it helps us to know that we’re on our strategic path.”

The steps to measuring your strategic plan are to first, have a plan to measure and second, be sure to collaborate with others on your team.

“Many people just operate on a day-to-day basis and there’s probably no long-term plan of where they’re trying to take the business,” he says. “At Michelman, we have a very solid past and that past has helped to inform who we are today and we also have a very clear picture of where we’re trying to take the business. And that picture isn’t something that I keep to myself. It’s one that I have approved by my board. It’s one that my executive team is actively involved in helping to create. It’s one that we communicate actively and we share transparently.”

Once you have a plan and vision in place and buy-in from the company, you have to make sure you discuss and measure specific areas of the plan.

“Make sure you’re debating and checking that plan so it isn’t just something that you pull out of thin air, but something that you’ve actually imbedded and something that a team can buy in to,” Shifman says. “Measure yourself against the plan and be willing to adjust if things change. We have long-range plans, but it’s like talking about a battle plan — once the bullets start flying sometimes the plan gets tossed out the window. Our plan is not tossed out the window, but sometimes reality on the ground forces us to adjust our plan, so we need to remain flexible.”

Remaining flexible is exactly why you have to constantly measure your performance against your plan, otherwise if things change, your plan won’t be effective.

“Be willing to change that plan slightly if things that are happening dictate some needs to change the plan,” he says. “You have to also surround yourself with extremely good people, because it doesn’t matter how smart the person at the top is, it really comes down to the people on the team who are really helping to build the organization and execute the plans.”

No matter the reason for your strategic plan, always understand what you are trying to achieve.

“We need to continue to grow in order to continue to build the resource capabilities that our customers are demanding from us,” Shifman says. “With growth come the resources to be able to invest in new facilities, invest in new technologies, invest in new skills and new people.”

HOW TO REACH: Michelman Inc., (513) 793-7766 or www.michelman.com

The Shifman File

Steve Shifman

President and CEO

Michelman Inc.

Born: Springfield, Ohio

Education: Graduated from the University of Colorado and received an MBA from Xavier University

What was your first job and what did you learn from that experience?

I worked on a beer delivery truck in Springfield, Ohio. I was a driver’s assistant. I wasn’t even old enough to buy beer, but I schlepped cases of beer off the truck into bars and restaurants. I realized just how hard people work. I also worked in a warehouse for these guys and there was zero training and one of my first days they tossed me the forklift keys and said, ‘Here, go move this pallet.’ We had guys regularly putting forks through the tops of trucks and you’d see pallets full of beer and wine falling off of the forklift. I realized that’s not the kind of work I wanted to do, and getting an education was going to be really important to me.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?

Surround yourself with really smart people. Recognize what your real strengths are and build a complementary team of people who have the skills and experiences that come together to create an organization.

What is your definition of success?

We define success at Michelman, first and foremost, by whether or not we are helping our customers to win. If we help our customers to win, then we have a right to win as an organization. Personally, I think success is adding value and giving back and being a part of something bigger. I’m a lucky guy. I have a chance to run what I think is an outstanding organization and I also have a chance to work actively in the community. I feel like I’m successful because I’ve got a beautiful wife, wonderful kids and a great family.

What are you looking forward to in your industry?

All I hear about and all I read about today is how people aren’t hiring and people aren’t investing and people aren’t growing and everyone is waiting for a signal from the government before they do anything. In our case, I couldn’t disagree more. Over the last number of years during a period of uncertainty, we continue to hire, we continue to invest and we continue to grow. I’m looking forward to the next few years because we plan to do a lot of the same. We’re on a rapid growth path, because we believe very much in the future of our business. I’m excited about our growth opportunities, because we’re not waiting for others to figure this thing out.

Published in Cincinnati

Samuel Bennett is used to being an individual contributor. Bennett, principal and eastern region client management practice leader for Buck Consultants, an employee benefits consulting firm, has had to adjust to a new mentality in his new role as leader of the Cincinnati office.

The 40-employee office has had to overcome challenges of a tough economy where everybody needs to work a little harder for less. Bennett’s job is to motivate employees and continue to right-size the business.

“The biggest transition into a leadership role out of sales is really making sure people you work with are successful and not just yourself,” Bennett says. “The best thing a leader can do is inspire others to be successful.”

Smart Business spoke to Bennett about how he is adjusting to a leadership role and motivating employees.

First steps

I always go back to, as a company, why are we here? Where are we headed? It’s easy with all the noise of the economy to get internally focused, but what I find is our people are happy and more motivated when they’re focused on the client stuff and not on the internal stuff.

You have to find and focus on the priorities both of your organization and internally on your relationships with your staff. It should be a combination. The staff should be well aware and motivated with the company direction and understand where you’re headed, but also see what their personal value is in that whole scenario and be able to connect that. I think all companies are headed in two directions. They want to grow and they want to be profitable, but if you make your clients happy all that other stuff takes care of itself.

Get to know employees and clients

There are very few people in my office in the first six months of my tenure where I didn’t buy them lunch, take them to breakfast, meet them for a drink or whatever it is to just figure out what it is that they’re about. It’s just a personal relationship-building exercise. You can transfer that over to clients too and getting to know clients on a personal basis. What their needs are, where they’re at in the organization and what their expectations are. It’s more of a communication thing and if you take the time to get to know the employees and the clients, a lot of times you’re headed off in the right direction because most employees and clients will tell you exactly what they want and exactly what they need.

You’ve just got to create that avenue of communication. It’s hard. When you’re in a leadership role you’re tugged in 25 different directions, but if you don’t make the time to build those relationships and you’re focused on the tasks, you’re missing out on the big piece of it.

Motivate employees

You have to learn as much about every individual as you can, because there is no single way to motivate everybody. Everybody has their own little thing that motivates them. Some are motivated by money. Some want autonomy. Some want some credit when things go well. You have to figure out each individual and what makes them tick. Does it work when you kind of spread it like peanut butter and treat everybody the same? I think you leave half the people out when you approach it that way. When you individualize it and really learn what makes everybody tick, you can adjust your style to meet what motivates them.

That takes a while to do. That’s not something you read in a book or is easy to figure out. It takes a little time. There’s no one way to be a true leader, but you can learn from everybody you interact with every day. Adjusting your style to fit your individual employees is more successful than to say, ‘Here’s my style, everyone adjust to me.’

HOW TO REACH: Buck Consultants Cincinnati, (513) 784-0005 or www.buckconsultants.com

Published in Cincinnati
Wednesday, 30 November 2011 19:01

How to really be there when your people need you

Matthew Figgie was in urgent need of a kidney transplant. Fortunately for Figgie, his friend and colleague at Clark-Reliance Corp., Rick Solon, was going to do whatever he could do to help. It turned out that the answer to Figgie’s need was closer than either he or Solon realized.

Another Clark-Reliance employee, Dave McKee, was tested and turned out to be a match as a kidney donor to Figgie. The transplant was done and two years later, both Figgie and McKee found themselves walking in the Cleveland Kidney Foundation Walk chaired by Solon.

The walk raised a record-setting $185,000 and as part of its role as a sponsor of the walk, Clark-Reliance contributed $7,500 as a scholarship donation.

But Solon, Clark-Reliance’s president and CEO, doesn’t stop there with his philanthropic efforts. He and the company helped Cleveland Public Theatre raise more than $200,000 for its 2010 annual fundraising effort. The contributions help promote the work of local artists and enrich the lives of at-risk children and youth, creating an outlet for those often excluded from participating in the arts.

Such efforts are indications of the belief that Solon instills in his employees to leave their mark and make a difference. Employees view community involvement and contributions as a portion of their overall mission.

Solon’s leadership skills have helped develop a corporate culture that empowers employees to be as compassionate about their community activities as they are about their work. The commitment to community is integrated into everyday activities as it generates feelings of respect, giving and enthusiasm. Many employees are involved in numerous community activities.

But perhaps the most rewarding act of compassion was within the company itself when one member of the Clark-Reliance team saved the life of another.

HOW TO REACH: Clark-Reliance Corp. (440) 572-1500 or www.clarkreliance.com

Published in Akron/Canton

You’ve got to show respect when you’re buying another company, especially one with the legacy and prestige of Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. So Tim Maloney tried to use a great deal of tact in the days, weeks and months following the purchase of the well-known wealth management firm by the 288,000-employee Bank of America Corp.

“The first step that we dealt with, and frankly continue to work on every day, was to get people to lower the gloves,” says Maloney, market president for both Illinois and Chicago at Bank of America, which took in more than $100 billion in 2010 revenue. “There can be a defensiveness or concern that somebody is going to lose in this trade or that somebody is going to get steamrolled.”

With the people Maloney came in contact with, he focused on the many good things that both organizations brought to the table in the deal.

“The first step was to get people to understand that there is inherent value and worth in each of these institutions and that we didn’t have to worry about one coming in to overwhelm the others,” Maloney says. “That wasn’t the intention and that’s not how we’ll be successful. Now that takes time and you have to prove that over time.”

Create opportunities for people on both sides to get together and get to know each other so you begin to chip away at those “sides” and start to create one team.

“It really ultimately comes down to having people develop a relationship and a sense of trust with their new colleagues,” Maloney says. “The mythology starts to melt away and people understand that these are skilled, honest and earnest professionals who have similar goals and objectives that I do. They want to take great care of their customers and serve them well and help us grow this company. The most essential step is to get it out of the theoretical and at the relationship level and help people to get to know each other and develop a sense of trust.”

You can’t force people to get together and if you try, it probably will only hurt the integration process.

“Natural selection does work,” Maloney says. “We’ve found people have gravitated and developed relationships that we wouldn’t have scripted in our infinite wisdom, yet they are working very effectively because we made it safe for them to do it on their own and they have taken advantage of that.”

Maloney has found success, particularly in the joining of Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, by finding early adopters or supporters and encouraging them to bring others on board.

“Do everything you can to support and encourage them,” Maloney says. “Make sure you share them back with the broader universe of people who may be taking more of a wait-and-see attitude or being a little bit more deliberate or cautious in pursuing this. Supporting those early adopters was a critical step for us.”

As long as people aren’t bringing others down or being overtly negative about the transition, you can afford to be patient through this process.

“There are going to be people who are either extremely cautious or reluctant,” Maloney says. “That’s OK. But what isn’t OK is anyone taking the position that they are going to undermine or be a detractor.”

Don’t expect your people to do all the work, of course. You need to be out there communicating and providing clear and candid updates on what’s happening.

“Here’s what the issues are and here’s how we intend to tackle it and here’s the help we need from all of you to help us get to this vision or end state that we think will be beneficial for our company, our employees and our clients,” Maloney says. “It’s the authorship up front and the frequent, candid communication that can help all employees row together to get the right answer.”

How to reach: Bank of America Corp., (888) 550-6433

Keep an open mind

When you’re in the process of bringing two companies together, you should enter the integration phase with a willingness to consider all options.

“We have two organizations with lengthy real histories of putting clients’ interests first and lengthy real histories of working as a team,” says Tim Maloney, market president for both Chicago and Illinois for the 288,000-employee Bank of America Corp. “That’s a great place to start from. What is then important is that you are respectful of the strengths that have made those different organizations successful in their own right. Try to build upon those.”

It’s not a matter of trying to make everything the same or trying to make everything different.

“They may take different business approaches and have different methods for very good reasons,” Maloney says. “So those practices that make sense to extend horizontally across the enterprise, we do that consistent with a shared set of values and authorship to drive it out. But at the same time, we’re a stronger company because we do have distinct companies. We do have distinct brands that represent distinct values and distinct ways of engaging clients. We don’t necessarily want to change those.”

Published in Chicago
Wednesday, 30 November 2011 19:17

Amar Panchal: sharing the benefits

When it comes to employee fringe benefits, small- and medium-sized businesses are in a tough position. Fortune 500 companies often offer unbeatable benefit packages, profit sharing and 401(k) matching with which their smaller counterparts simply cannot compete. This begs the question: How can businesses with less to spend secure and retain top talent? It took me 10 years as a business leader to answer this question and the conclusion was surprising.

Employee morale was not necessarily tied to the cost I spent on benefits and perks. Of course, paying employees fairly is important. But what I learned over the years is that small things do matter. As simple as it sounds, I truly believe that small personal touches are responsible for my company’s, Akraya Inc.’s, No. 1 position on the San Francisco Business Times’ 2011 Best Place to Work in the Bay Area list.

Growing businesses often make the mistake of concentrating all their efforts outside of the company to bring in investors and clients. My experience is that it is never too early to start building a strong company culture. Instead of letting the company culture take a back seat, shaping company traditions and customs with the same vision and precision used to shape your products and services is important. This can be as simple as choosing a company mascot or an artifact of significance that symbolizes the company’s values.

At Akraya, celebrating success has always been a cornerstone of the culture. Thus, we installed an old-fashioned dinner bell in a central area of the office that we named the Akraya Bell of Success. Every time an employee completes a project or comes up with a solution to a problem, his or her supervisor rings the bell and the whole team gathers for a round of applause.

While Fortune 500 giants have the budget to wow employees, small- and medium-sized businesses possess the power of flexibility. They simply aren’t constrained by a 500-page policy manual. And flexibility is something employees really appreciate. One way of exercising this is to simply grant time to employees to attend to family obligations or take time off when going through a rough patch. Sometimes, even a small favor like letting them arrive to work half an hour late to avoid traffic can improve their lives.

Another important lesson learned is that when it comes to investing in perks, you should spend on things that really hold value to the employees. Company picnics are great, but they can feel like a burden, especially if the employee already has little time left after work hours. But a couple years ago, I observed that my female employees often complained to each other in the break room that their weekend was spent cleaning their houses and they didn’t have time left to recharge. Thus, I decided to look for a local professional cleaning company and signed my employees up for a complimentary biweekly house cleaning. This new perk became a smash hit among Akraya employees as they gained an extra couple of hours to spend on other things.

Respect and trust are two core values your company culture should be built on. Most employees leave a company not because of perks or compensation. They leave (or stay) because of their boss. At Akraya, we promote a culture where the individual is respected. Starting at the very top, the message is that subordinates are treated with respect. We praise in public but criticize (constructively) in private.

Earning and retaining employee trust is also crucial. Employees don't mind if a leader disagrees to a proposal or request. However, if you do agree and then renege when it is time to pay up, you lose their trust.

When thinking of ways to secure and retain talent, spending on high-cost perks is not always the best solution. Instead, focus on building a strong work culture to draw people to your company. As my favorite line from the movie “Field of Dreams” says, “If you build it, they will come.”

Amar Panchal is the co-founder and CEO of Akraya Inc., which he and Sonu Ratra founded in 2002. He brings more than a decade of management, international business development, technology consulting, product management and software engineering experience to the company. Learn more at www.akraya.com.

Published in Northern California

Thom Stork was walking through The Florida Aquarium one day when he passed by the shark exhibits. As he watched the divers swimming in the tanks, his curiosity led him to begin posing questions to a nearby employee: ‘How many people go in the tank? How often? Has anyone ever been bitten?’ And before long, he asked the kicker: ‘Can we put our guest in there?’

“He looked at me like I was crazy, ran away and came back a few days later,” says Stork, who became president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium Inc. in 2002.  “Then he said, ‘OK. Listen, we can do this.’”

Before heading up Tampa’s not-for profit aquarium, Stork worked as a marketing executive for Busch Entertainment Corp. for nearly three decades. When he retired, he was approached by the aquarium’s chairman with a proposal to bring his marketing expertise to running the organization.

“I said, ‘I’m not a scientist. I’m not a biologist. I’m not an oceanographer. I’m a marketing, business guy,’” Stork says. “And he said, ‘That’s what we need.’”

Since the aquarium implemented its “Dive with the sharks” program, the exhibit has been extremely profitable and remains sold out. It’s these kinds of unique and memorable experiences that connect people to the organization Stork aims to create every day. To accomplish that, he encourages his people to run with their ideas, even when they seem a bit nuts.

“They come to my office,” Stork says. “They grab me in the hallway or they grab me over in the restaurant and say, ‘Have you ever thought about doing this?’ Every time you hear that you go ‘Yeah! Let’s think about that.’”

In addition to offering encouragement, when you ask people to be proactive in trying new things you’ve also got to be able to demonstrate follow through and constructive feedback once they do. Otherwise, people may get discouraged.

“They have got to understand that it failed,” Stork says. “It failed. This did not work, and here is the reason why. Or ask them, ‘Why did it fail?’ Just have that dialogue.

“They know they are not going to be criticized for wacky-ass ideas.”

When a dive master presented his idea for a “Biologist for the day” program to the senior management team, Stork gave him kudos but also asked him to think bigger picture than the proposed $300 annual profit. The employee was able to rework the program, which today brings the organization thousands in revenue.

“I went, ‘Michael, you did an incredible piece of work here, but here is my challenge for you,’” he says. “‘I want you to go back and I want you to figure out how we can make $30,000.’ He was thinking in a not-for-profit mindset.”

Whether it’s creating new education programs or adding unique events and exhibits — the aquarium recently developed a one-of-a-kind penguin attraction — Stork challenges his 159 employees to explore the boundless possibilities for growth while staying committed to the mission of the organization.

“I believe strongly in the adage that there is not an original idea,” he says. “So I constantly look at what other facilities of our type are doing. I read extensively about new products that are out there for zoos and aquariums and theme parks, trying to determine what works in terms of bringing people through the front door. But then I also do put on my mission hat and say is it good for our business, does it further our mission, does it further our culture?

“So today I say, when I do retire, my legacy will be that I was able to take a bunch of scientists, biologists, teachers and environmentalists and turn them into entrepreneurs, to think about how to make the business work.”

How to reach: The Florida Aquarium Inc., (813) 273-4000 or www.flaquarium.org

Capital ideas

Thom Stork, president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium Inc., is always asking guests what they want to see at the aquarium, whether it’s dolphins, sea lions or what he and his team affectionately call “big-ass sharks.” Yet now that the organization is in a position to look comfortably into its financial future, prioritizing what people want versus what the business needs has become more important.

“In the analysis of everything, you have to look at the things you need to do to further round out this facility and this business,” Stork says. “So we’ve spent a lot of time over the last 18 months looking at what we need to do.”

This year, Stork spearheaded a $15 million capital campaign to address the needs of the organization’s 700,000 annual visitors and 100,000 school kids who visit for its education programs. The project, which broke ground in September, will incorporate lobby renovations, expand classrooms — there are currently two — and add much-needed event and exhibit space, including a ballroom to seat 500 people.

“The priority is ‘What do we need?’” Stork says. “All of those things have a return on investment. They will produce revenues for the aquarium which will further grow the aquarium.”

Published in Florida