Dustin S. Klein

Monday, 06 June 2011 16:09

Solutions 101

One of my favorite entertainment genres is the adventure where the protagonist finds him or herself in an improbable situation. Sometimes this comes in the form of a traditional mystery or detective story, but I also enjoy those that contain a supernatural twist.

In these tales, the “hero” faces two seemingly herculean tasks: Figure out what the heck is going on, and develop a viable solution to the problem.

This genre is intriguing for several reasons.

First, I prefer entertainment that’s an escape from reality. Second, these escapes must contain some sort of mystery that lets me follow along and ponder potential solutions. And on both counts I’m willing to accept a step through the looking glass to areas that are, for lack of a better term, “out there.”

In the business world, I’m drawn to similar stories, of course, minus the supernatural bent. (Though it would make for a great story if a CEO mentioned her biggest challenge was that her employees kept turning invisible.)

It’s always interesting to hear from entrepreneurs and CEOs who, when faced with declining sales, a waning product market or tough competition, recognize that their first course of action must be that deep dive to get below the surface of the problem. These leaders know they need to push past the symptoms to find the root cause — the “What the heck is going on?”

During these journeys — just like in those of the fictional stories — there is almost always a transformational process that follows the aha moment. And it’s that transformation that allows the CEO to take a sudden 90-degree turn and attack the problem with a different type of solution.

Understanding a problem isn’t always as simple as it seems. Just like in entertainment, initial impressions can be wrong. The real problem can be masked, and figuring out what’s really going on so that a true solution can be developed requires stepping back and taking a hard look at the bigger picture.

I recommend thinking like a mystery writer — anticipate the twists and turns that will exist. If you don’t take the necessary time to figure out if those declining sales are due to lack of sales activity, a poor product or simply a competitor that is working harder and smarter to steal your clients, you could end up focused on the wrong thing. And when that happens, you’ll never solve your own personal mystery.

Contact Publisher and Executive Editor Dustin S. Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com.

Every day, it seems the social media world is growing, making the physical world around us appear that much smaller. With those changes, the line that previously separated our personal and profe

ssional lives has blurred as websites and applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr and YouTube provide the ability to connect with family, friends and business colleagues to share information, news, videos and photos.

So what exactly defines social media, and where is this new frontier headed? More important, how can we best take advantage of what’s out there?

Who better to answer those questions than Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, the Web’s largest and most powerful network of professionals.

Q: Social media means different things to different people as well as companies. What would be a good definition of social media?

A: Broadly defined, it is the creation of content, information and knowledge, distribution of it, consumption of it, and leveraging social interactions. Whether that’s a status update, sharing an image, a video or a blog post, even re-tweeting a headline or sharing a headline — those are all examples of social media.

I think the social interaction component, the virality, really takes what historically has been behavior we all have done offline, and when you bring it online and digitize it, it starts to scale and moves at a speed with which we haven’t seen previously. It really has the opportunity to change everything it touches.

Q: So what do you see as the true cultural sea change that is being caused by social media?

A: This goes way beyond brand building and customer outreach, which is how many organizations are using social media a basic level. Leveraging social platforms is going to fundamentally change the way we work and how business gets done. It’s going to really revolutionize and disrupt all of it. So whether it’s the way you hire people, find your dream job, transition from cold calling to warm prospecting by leveraging the power of first-, second- and third-degree relationships, or whether it’s exchanging and sharing information, knowledge, insight and data that you need to derive insights to make better and more informed decisions, I don’t think people can really afford not to participate within these platforms.

Q: Since it’s going to be everywhere, where would you start?

A: It starts with recognition. There are three behavioral changes we focus on the most at LinkedIn. First is the way in which we represent our professional identity. Think about that for a moment. The way in which individuals now build their professional brand starts with their profiles. And those profiles, when they’re kept fresh and relevant, are search engine optimized so that when people search for your name or the names of people like you with your experience, your skills, your aspirations, you’re the first thing they see when they do that search on Google.

This ability to carve out a piece of digital real estate that you, yourself, can control to put your best foot forward is an incredibly powerful and valuable dynamic. It’s not just the individual; it’s also your company. There are over a million active company profiles on LinkedIn. And these company profiles not only represent who you are and your company’s identity, but they enable you to build your talent brands, establish the way in which you’re going to recruit and how you recruit, and build word-of-mouth around your products and services. So identity is an absolute cornerstone.

The second is building your network. I think historically, when people hear the expression ‘professional networking,’ they think of the guy at the conference who is handing out as many business cards to people as possible, just building the Rolodex. That’s not what we mean anymore. We mean the way business gets done.

If we believe the world is getting flatter, more global, more digital, more networked, this is the way business gets done — it’s the way people are tapping knowledge, exchanging information — and if you’re not taking advantage of that and building out your network, your competition is.

And then lastly is the whole notion of sharing information and knowledge — collaborating, sharing business intelligence and competitive intelligence. To be able to really derive this kind of insight from whatever networks or social environments you’re operating in becomes an enormous advantage versus those folks who aren’t able to do the same.

Q: Are there some good ways to create a company’s social media strategy, and how do you measure a return on investment from that strategy?

A: Pursuing a social media strategy for the sake of having a social media strategy is not the right thing to do. It will end up being a big waste of time. And it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of folks are doing it because they’re told this is something you have to be doing right now. But try to figure out how you take your organization’s top priorities and leverage social connectivity to create greater value. That, I think, is a very, very smart thing to do. So trying to align your priorities and objectives makes a lot of sense.

If you’re trying to go out and do recruiting using social tools, how is that going to benefit your organization? Explicitly, there are ways of measuring that.

Historically, people are filtering through hundreds or thousands of active candidate resumes. Now technologies exist that you can find the perfect person, which creates huge efficiencies for your recruiters. They can target the ideal candidate instead of constantly spending 90-plus percent of their time saying no.

For your salespeople, how are they tapping first-, second- and third-degree relationships to eliminate cold calls? Think about the effectiveness of tapping warm prospects and how much more business you’re going to be able to do as an organization. That kind of stuff can be measured.

And then there’s the implicit stuff, such as how your company, in and of itself, can leverage social connectivity. A group or the ability for your organization to share news or insights that one person in the company has identified as being valuable to everyone else in your organization is going to be a little more challenging to measure the explicit ROI of that. But implicitly, as people start to share that kind of information, best practices and knowledge, your organization is going to work more productively.

And so it comes back to what are your objectives and how are you going to leverage these technologies to achieve greater productivity.

How to reach: LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com. Read the entire interview at www.sbnonline.com/weiner.

Things could have turned out much different for Ali Brown had she not taken control of her life.

“Ten years ago, I was working as an employee in a tiny company in New York,” says Brown, founder and CEO of Ali International, a multimedia company that provides online marketing tools and strategies, coaching, seminars and instructional literature for more than 50,000 women entrepreneurs worldwide. “I was continually frustrated in all the jobs I had, which made me realize I was unemployable.”

Brown saw only two viable options: “I could be unemployed or self-employed, so I started a little freelance writing business, marketing myself online with an e-mail newsletter.”

That newsletter began to grow and Brown started to gain a following online.

“People started asking all kinds of questions about marketing and how I was growing my little business and asking for all this small business advice,” Brown explains. “So I started writing e-books and selling them to the people who were asking the questions.”

Today, that little business has become a multimillion-dollar operation and an Inc. 500 company. Brown publishes a high-end magazine, is regularly featured on TV and radio talk shows, and last year, she was named one of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women.

Smart Business sat down with Brown to discuss her passion for helping other women entrepreneurs reach their own goals.

Q: Ali, what drives you?

A: The best part is my job is helping other women succeed through starting their own businesses. I offer products, resources, coaching programs and a community that’s dedicated to helping women entrepreneurs. These range from online marketing basics to one called Business Building Blocks.

When people go to start a business, they don’t often know what they should be thinking about in the legal department, marketing department or financial department. So this is Business 101 in a box. You start thinking differently when you’re an entrepreneur, and if you want to be wealthy, you have to learn how to take risks and do it in a smart way.

Q: What makes Ali International’s value proposition unique?

A: My clients and customers say they love following me because they get business advice in a fun, real way. I talk with women who may be running a business from their kitchen table. They’ve got kids running around and they’re juggling their lives. Unfortunately, there are very few role models out there, so I’m able to fill a need in the marketplace.

Q: Speaking of role models, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: It came from one of my mentors:  Aim for the top because there’s more room. There’s actually less competition at the top, so I’ve not looked at the people around me in my industry but at the people who are at the top of the industry. Then, I ask how I can get there and position myself to stay there.

Q: As you’ve worked with women entrepreneurs, what are some of the different challenges you’ve found that they face?

A: There are two that stand out. One is the often-talked about family and work balance. For women who may traditionally be in the home, they feel pulled in different directions. But on a more personal and human level the other challenge is learning how to take risks and believe in themselves. Women are often programmed for safety. It’s in our DNA. We want to be safe and secure, and it’s really scary for women to put themselves out there. They’re often thinking, ‘What will people think of me? Can I really do this?’

So for many women, I see the personal journey even more rewarding than the financial journey because the person they become in the process is priceless. They become this incredible role model for their family and for the women around them. It’s a ripple effect, and it’s really going to change the world.

Q: What’s the first step toward learning how to take risks?

A: Surround yourself with risk takers. You’ll begin to realize that in order to become successful, you have to become comfortable at being uncomfortable. You are often the average of the people who you are around the most, so seek out a network, come to a conference or join a coaching group where people come together and exchange ideas. Figure out the level that you want to be at, and seek out people who are already there.

Q: Where do you find opportunities for your own growth?

One key to growing any business is listening to your customers and clients, but you also need to keep a long-term vision of what you want. I have my path, which is helping women entrepreneurs. But at the same time, I keep an ear to the ground and listen to the topics that they’re interested in and the needs they have. That’s where the coaching came from. I was publishing courses and books, and women still said, ‘I want to talk to you. Can you coach me one on one?’

My events started because they wanted to get together in person. Now, I have a conference every year called SHINE, which has become the premier conference for women entrepreneurs. This past year, it was in Las Vegas. In 2011, it will be in Dallas. It’s a three-day event, and we bring together hundreds of women entrepreneurs.

Even my magazine is about business, life and style for women entrepreneurs. I heard the things they were talking about and created something around it. That’s something you need to keep in mind when you’re looking for ways to grow a company: When you hear ideas respond to them, but you also have to figure out a way that those ideas will make money.

It’s a constant journey of evolving your business model. Match the path you want and the passion you want to get out to the world with what they will be willing to take out their wallets and pay for. You also must figure out how to provide value.

Q: What advice would you offer a woman who is unhappy with her current situation and looking for a change?

A: The first step for any woman who has an idea for a business or any woman who just wants to start a business is to start paying attention. Start paying attention to ideas that you have and write them down. Listen to ideas that people are talking about, then get out immediately to start networking to make it happen because that’s going to change your life.

Q: So what does the future hold for Ali Brown and Ali International?

A: In the next few years, you’ll see me doing a lot more media and television, expanding internationally and having more events, reaching women in developing countries and helping them develop how entrepreneurship can help them.

How to reach: Ali International, www.alibrown.com.

Darla King founded King Business Interiors Inc. in 1998 on the principle of delivering customer service that exceeds clients’ expectations.

As a woman-owned commercial furnishings and flooring company serving Greater Central Ohio, King, the company’s president and CEO, is also a big believer in sustainability and developed an entire line of “green” workspace solutions for its clients. She also created an environmentally friendly program called “Connecting the Dots,” which collects reusable furniture from clients and distributes them to nonprofit and charitable organizations in need.

King was named one of 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and Blue Technologies. We asked her how she overcomes challenges, innovates and gives 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 big challenge was … getting rid of used furniture … how to sell it, move it or donate it so it will not take up space in our warehouse/distribution center. This is very common for furniture dealers, I have found, from our industry association friends. Do we start a separate retail operation? It did not fit our daily business model working business to business for our furniture sales.

We were dealing with bulk amounts — 50 used private offices, 100 stack chairs, 90 tables, 450 task chair, etc. … They take up space and don’t all stack well. When trying to sell them through an outlet store, it was time-consuming, personal expense waiting for traffic, and customers just needed one or two — not 50 or 100 units.

After having the opportunity to serve on a local nonprofit board, I realized the less than desirable office environments they were working within and saw a solution to both problems. We have an abundance of furnishings, and they need better furnishings. We started the ‘Connecting the Dots’ Program — we simply connect the needy organizations with the excess furnishings we have and make all parties happy. Our contribution is to understand their needs, design the space, deliver the product and make it happen. We have made so many organizations look more professional, become more productive and feel much better about their surroundings.

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

An innovative leader, for me, it is putting myself in our employees’ shoes and think what they would need and what can I offer. Sometimes I feel my role is the hostess or problem solver.

We have several young people starting families as they are a part of our company family, and this is so important to us and to them. Kids grow up fast, and we like to say, ‘Don’t miss a ballgame; … get out of work at whatever time you need to.’ They won’t rewind the tape. Our parents are very active with their kids including coaching their teams. Kids come first around here. … We love to watch them grow and are very family-focused. We are after all, a family business, our son, Chris, and our daughter, Chelsea, work with my husband and I here at King. Several of our kids come to work during breaks or if they are slightly ill and need to stay home. Most of our employees have access from their home computers as if they were sitting at their desk at work … so they can be present if they need to be for the children. Is that innovative? I don’t know — but it is part of our culture here.

How to reach: King Business Interiors Inc., www.kbiinc.com. Read more at www.sbnonline.com/king.

The Smart Leaders class of 2010

In August, 2010, Smart Business and Blue Technologies recognized 14 business leaders for their commitment to business excellence and the impact their organizations make on the regional community. Treated to a keynote address by TechColumbus CEO Ted Ford, these 14 leaders comprised the honor roll:

  • Michelle Adams, president, Prism Marketing
  • Jeff Brock, general manager, Loth Inc.
  • Tom Dailey, president, 2Checkout.com
  • Jennifer Griffith, president, Commerce National Bank
  • Darla King, owner, King Business Interiors
  • Elizabeth Lessner, CEO, Betty’s Family of Restaurants
  • Rick Milenthal, president, Engauge
  • Michelle Mills, CEO, St. Stephen’s Community House
  • Janis Mitchell, founder, Precise Resource
  • Neil Mortine, president & CEO, Fahlgren Inc.
  • Debra Penzone, president, Charles Penzone Family of Salons
  • Joel Pizzuti, president, The Pizzuti Companies
  • Bea Wolper, partner, Emens & Wolper
  • Eric Zimmer, CEO, Tipping Point Renewable Energy

Nominate someone for the 2011 Smart Leaders today by contacting Dustin S. Klein at dsklein@sbnonline.com. Honorees will be recognized during the summer 2011.

Sunday, 06 March 2011 21:02

SAP scales down for growth

It used to be that companies wanted to reach the big guys, Fortune 1000 companies, to secure huge deals for their products and services. Today, that philosophy has changed. Sure, people want to land the white whale that will inject large amounts of capital into their business. But they also want to have a stable client base that provides regular, predictable sales and won’t kill the business if one or two suddenly fail or stop doing business with your company.

Enterprise software and hardware giant SAP is no different. For SAP, making the move into the small and midsized enterprise space, otherwise known as SME, had more to do with spurring SAP’s growth than simply diversification — though that didn’t hurt.

Smart Business sat down with Kevin Gilroy, senior vice president, SAP Channels and Ecosystems, SAP Americas, to talk about SAP’s transformation and newly honed focus on the SME marketplace.

Kevin, how has SAP been targeting the SME space?

About 78 percent of our customers are in SME, so we’re a big player there. Our brand is certainly stronger in the enterprise and large enterprise space than it is in the SME, but we have a deep penetration in that space, and it’s been an important component of our strategy. Another is a fast-rocketing business analytics practice, along with an on-demand and mobility initiative.

Today, there’s a fast-growing channel ecosystem that is ramping up the channel partners that were in the program, and now we have 3,000 around the world, including 700 in North America, that are clamoring to get into the program.  And, we’re going through a transformation to make this a step-function improvement. The transformation is around six pillars.

What are those pillars?

Pillar No. 1 is to amplify the brand in SME. The SAP brand is the 25th most powerful brand in the world in enterprise, but you get down into SME and the brand isn’t quite as well known. So we have a whole team working on building that brand.

The second pillar is around a complete re-engineering of the marketing organization within SME. We know that SME is not a one-on-one enterprise selling motion; it’s a one-to-many selling motion. That’s how you scale. It’s not about knocking on each door. Instead, you have to get the marketing machinery out there, so we renamed that team to be ‘revenue marketing,’ not to be confused with ‘brand marketing.’

Revenue marketing is building pipe and demand for our channel to grow the business. Now it’s analytically driven, has the art and science of marketing combined, predictable marketing and predictable analytics in place. I can go to the company executives and say, ‘If you pour this amount of money in the marketing machinery, here’s what comes out of the other side.’

And we will predict it well.

That’s a re-engineering for SME because we had a market into the Russell 2000, but now we’ve re-engineered it to go after everyone else and spur fast growth.

The third pillar is our ecosystem build-out. Our goal is to add 1,000 feet on the street in two years, within our channel base and new channel partners. Now, in addition to those 1,000 salespeople, there’s demo, pre-sales consulting, installation and maintenance people behind it. So it’s probably more like 5,000 people.

How are you measuring that timeline to achieve the goal?

I’m pretty metric-driven and we are already ahead of plan. We’ve added more than 150 feet on the street in the first 120 days (through the end of November 2010), and there’s a pipeline of people knocking on our door to join our program.

One thing of note is that 100 percent of new business in SME will be through the channel partners. We will not take a direct order in new business.  So we’re building out that ecosystem quickly.

What about the other pillars?

The fourth pillar is operational excellence. It’s the experience team. The experience team’s goal is for end customers and partners to be delighted to consume SAP products. We want to make them easy to procure, easy to install, easy to enable and easy to use. It must be a delightful experience.

A doctor who is the CEO of a hospital in Texas said to me, ‘When I plug in my electric razor in the morning, Kevin, I don’t think about the power to the fuse box, to the fuse box to the pole, the pole to the high tension lines, the high tension lines to the power plant. It just works.’

Small, medium-sized business owners and operators, that’s how they think: I want my business analytics to work. I want my ERP system to be up and running and easy to install and easy to deliver. I want to procure it easy. I don’t want a 40-page lease document or finance document. I don’t want a 30-page maintenance document that I have to hire a lawyer or contract officer to understand.

It needs to be easy — one pagers, one-and-a-half pagers. The team teases me, but with everything we do now I say, ‘Is it SME-ized?’

So how do you make it easier?

Again, taking the leasing document. I talked to our CEO, Bill McDermott, about this. I told him I wanted the finance document to go from 20 pages to two pages. He said, ‘No. One page.’ And that’s what they want — something they can fill out on the Web, something that doesn’t take very long to complete.

These guys want to spend their time doing other things. They worry about their balance sheet. They worry about cash flow. They are high risk from their business thinking and lower risk when it comes to their cash. We need to be sympathetic to that.

If you are an SME and I say to you, ‘Here is the maintenance contract for your software.’ If you see this incredibly complex document, you’re going to think, ‘I hate legal bills, and I can already look at this and tell you this is $5,000 legal bill for the lawyer to run.’

But if I hand you a one-page maintenance agreement that you can understand and that you feel confident about and that you have a local channel partner that you trust and who you know has the resources of SAP right behind it, you have a comfort level that’s important and that leads to a delightful experience. So that’s the fourth pillar.

And the final two pillars?

The fifth pillar is designed around talent and training and having a combination of legacy SAP people who really know their way around SAP, know application software and business analytics software cold and a group of new people who are challenging the status quo, have a DNA of partnering and have a DNA of SME. This gives you the best of both worlds.

So the sixth pillar is around products. We want to make sure that our channel partners and salespeople are talking about or developing products on a regular basis. Our channel partners talk to lots of customers every day, so we’re making them a focus group that will go to Waldorf, Germany (where SAP’s global headquarters is located) twice a year and meet with our development and design team. They share what they’re hearing on the streets from entrepreneurs.

What is the next end goal for SAP through this initiative?

We’re not looking at this as a 10 percent growth play. This is a potential rocket ship. Our vision is to go from more than 110,000 users to more than a billion, and SME is going to lead the way.

Describe the profile of your typical channel partner under this setup?

It’s generally a smaller organization, with between 20 and 30 employees, of which four or five are salespeople with a very technology-oriented background. These are people who really understand how to design and implement an application ERP solution or business analytics solution. We are also looking at larger partners, with 30 sales reps and 200 employees.

So what type of products are you offering in this SME space?

Affordable ERP scaled down for the SME creates all the obvious efficiencies of ERP, such as terrific supply chain gains and fabulous returns on assets. They add a lot of value in the way of equity for entrepreneurs who are looking to develop their exit strategy. Potential buyers, whether that’s private equity or other companies, see an SAP-based system and know it’s got value.

We are also seeing a generational shift in the adoption of technology. The baby boomers are retiring or turning the business over to the next generation of management, and those people are much more comfortable with business analytics and with mobility. They don’t want to wait a day, or even 10 minutes, for a report. They want to pull out their iPad and look it up.

Our SME products allow smaller companies to level the playing field with Fortune 1,000 companies because they can do remote management, have field mobility, and have all the analytics that a Fortune 500 company has. We think SME is going to lead the way with mobility-based products.

When you are out there in the field talking to customers, what questions do you ask them?

First, we look for pain points and provide solutions. But I also think that game’s changing a little bit. We’re asking them more about their growth plans these days, and then determining how we can be involved in helping them achieve their growth strategies. That’s one reason why we’ve developed an entire slate of SME products, so that we can be solutions-oriented in that space.

So listening to customers is critical to this evolution, correct?

Listening is a core DNA requirement to be a member of our team. But one of the things that you have to be careful about in SME is that it’s much more difficult to do one-offs. In SME, you really need replicable solutions and you need to discipline yourself not to get into too many one-offs because the cost of sales and the economics start to collapse on you. That’s the mistake that many hardware companies made — they took their enterprise selling motion and moved it down to SME without making real adjustments to the product mix. For them, the economics collapsed. Instead, build some flexibility into the part that the channel partner can play with doing some of the work, themselves, but for us, we look for replicable solutions.

So beyond some customization, what other opportunities are there for channel partners?

They wouldn’t be going to SAP unless they believed it, so there’s a level of predictability with what they know they’ll be able to deliver to clients. Predictability in a lunch school menu is boring, but predictability in a channel partner program is an absolute core component because they want to wrap their business around a predictable model, not a supplier or vendor that’s saying direct one day, indirect another day, 20 percent discount one day, 30 percent discount another day. Who can build a business model around that? So we are extremely predictable and listen to our partners. That’s the only way you can grow a business segment like SME.

How to reach: SAP, www.sap.com

Doing business in China is complex. It requires more than simply a global understanding of business and a need. Rather, it’s a combination of numerous factors — economic, cultural, geographic and political. So it should come as little surprise that those who understand it best are, themselves, complex.

Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn is one of those complex individuals. He’s authored or edited more than 30 books, including the first biography of a living Chinese leader published on the Chinese mainland. He’s been an investment banker and led a top M&A firm. He’s provided consulting services to Fortune 100 CEOs and entrepreneurs. And he’s also a well-known television producer who created and serves as host of the popular PBS “Closer To Truth” series.

For more than 20 years, Kuhn has worked with China’s senior leaders, advising them on economic policy, technology and science, culture and media, Sino-U.S. relations, and international communications. Simply put, he’s one of the world’s foremost authorities on doing business with China.

“Every company has a China strategy whether they know it or not because of China’s impact on the world,” says Kuhn, whose past business expertise includes time as co-owner and president of The Geneva Cos., an M&A firm that represented privately owned, middle-market companies and between 1991 and 2001 initiated and closed more than 1,200 transactions and conducted thousands of corporate evaluations. In 2000, Kuhn sold The Geneva Cos. to Citigroup and subsequently became senior adviser to Citigroup Global Investment Banking.

In 2005, Kuhn wrote “The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin,” which was China’s best-selling book that year. In 2009, he penned “How China’s Leaders Think: The Inside Story of China’s Reform and What It Means for the Future,” which featured Kuhn’s discussions with more than 100 Chinese leaders and officials.

Kuhn, also founder and CEO of The Kuhn Foundation, was a keynote speaker at Ernst & Young’s Strategic Growth Forum in November 2010. After his presentation, Smart Business sat down with him to discuss what executives should know if they want to better engage with the fastest-growing economic power in the world.

Dr. Kuhn, what should American business leaders be thinking about with regard to China?

It’s the second-largest economy, approximately 30 percent of the size of the U.S. But on purchasing power parity, it’s more than half the size of the U.S. Within 20 years, China will be the largest economy in the world.

There are a lot of issues in China in terms of imbalances and needs, and that’s causing a great industrial transformation. But there are a lot of opportunities. Senior leaders tell me — the leaders of the country — that there are some things that have changed in China, reform-related, some things that have not changed, and some things that will never change. What will never change is the need for economic growth and the need to serve the people.

As you look at the issues that China has, and the imbalances, you look at certain industries that will have huge opportunities — social services, health care and education, as well as energy. For smaller companies, particularly for entrepreneurs, there are great growth opportunities in China.

China is a market that has its own characteristics, its own cultural characteristics, its own way of doing business, and the fallacy is that this is only good for big business. China is actually trying to compete more with the big businesses and people over there are looking for more entrepreneurial businesses to partner with. So for American entrepreneurs to associate with Chinese entrepreneurs as they mutually fight the big companies in both countries, that is something that’s supported by Chinese leadership. So the opportunity is definitely there.

How should CEOs and entrepreneurs begin to identify those opportunities?

This is complex. The first rule I have is that you have to like doing business in China. If it’s something that you don’t like and don’t want to do, you really shouldn’t do it. The investment is more in time and your commitment than in financial resources. You have to meet people. You have to see a diverse number of people in your area.

One way to think about it is in terms of your industrial area. Another way is geographically, if you have certain geographic areas that you explore. You will need to have introductions with leaders and potential business partners in several different cities. Then you will see diversity. You will see diversity geographically, you will see it in your industry, whatever industry you are in, and you will begin to get familiar with talking to and getting to know the right people.

Obviously, you should have good advisers — people who know the ground. There are a dozen or so major accounting firms. Of course, (Ernst & Young LLP) is my favorite. I work with them. But all the big accounting firms and consulting companies have different facilities that can be utilized. There are many different ways to go about it, but you shouldn’t be blind.

Another principle is that you should be important. Whatever you do, whoever you are going to work with, you should be important to that individual. If you are an entrepreneur, you get somebody who is going to introduce you to the mayor of a big city. Suppose you get the meeting and you say, ‘Wow, that’s terrific.’ Really, it’s not, because you are not important to that mayor if you are only a small company. They may do it as favor to whomever introduced you to them. I could get you lots of meetings with a lot of people at high levels because they’ll do me a favor. But it’s really of no benefit because where does it go from there if you’re not important? So you always try to be important to whoever you are going to meet. If it’s another company, if it’s an official, you want to be able to bring something that’s important so that they really pay attention to you on a long-term basis.

So what makes you important to them? How do you know?

You have to have advisers, so that you know what the individual is looking for and a certain size company they’re looking to partner with. It’s not something that can be answered in generalities. Rather, it has to be in the specifics of the individual company. Look at it this way:  What does that company have? What is its competitive edge? How big is it? And what does it do?

If it’s a business that is generating revenue — $20 million, $100 million, $1 billion — keep in mind that some people in China are paying to get connections with companies of a certain size.

Then, you have to find the people on the other side where what your company does and what you have to offer is important to them. You have to target the content for people interested in the content, and then the size for that project that is appropriate. If you are building a factory or providing a service, you have to know what people want and what would make you important to them.

Because of my background in corporate strategy and mergers and acquisitions and now substantially in China, very quickly I could look at a company and say, ‘Here’s what you should be doing.’

There are people who can sense that, and they’re the ones you need to be working with as advisers in order to do it the right way.

Does it take a lot of self-analysis by the entrepreneur or CEO to get it right? What I mean by that is when companies think about their market strategy — the niche market they serve, the problems they solve, the solutions they bring to the table and how they can position themselves to compete here — does that translate well to how you should approach your business strategy in China?

Everything you do that’s good business in the U.S., you should do in China. Then you have other things layered on top of it. Everything is applicable because that’s just good business sense — strategy, environmental analysis, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. You’ll see where you’ve got it right and what works for you. Then in China, you have an additional factor — government.

But it’s more granular than that — it’s geographies, it’s companies that are competing, it’s the marketplace. When you are doing business in the U.S., the other companies are your competition and you analyze the competition. But in China, especially for a smaller company, most likely whoever you end up working with will want to do some sort of a partnership.

It may not be an equity joint venture; it may be licensing or joint marketing. There are a lot of structural opportunities, and with those, you are going to form relationships with other Chinese companies. Those relationships are very different than the relationships you would form in the U.S., so in addition to the analysis that you’ll do about why you should be doing in business in China, you must realize that, unless you are leading a large company, you are going to be partnering with someone.

What happens if you don’t find a good partner?

Finding that right partner is critical, and it’s your biggest decision. There are a lot of good stories and a lot of horror stories. Sometimes, people make a decision to partner with one company and give them exclusive rights to all of China. That may turn out to be a good decision. Or, it may turn out that the industry you’re involved with is a very regional industry and that decisions are made regionally.

So if your partner is a company from Guangzhou or Xiamen or Guangdong province and you want to do business down with Shanghai, forget it. The Shanghai people are not going to want to do business with a company that has a partner from Guangzhou and is considered a regional player. So you really have to be very sensitive about what you’re doing and who you’re working with before you make your decisions.

So you really need to spend a lot of time on the front end, analyzing all the factors involved, correct?

Certainly a lot of front-end work is necessary in terms of meeting people, getting familiar with the companies, governments and regions, and understanding how it works. I always advocate taking multiple paths before you begin to even think about making your decision. You should be looking at three or four different approaches — that can be different potential partners, different geographies. I like to work with different geographies, and again, it has to be something where you’re considered important.

If you work in a province, unless your company is doing $700 million or more, you’re not going to meet with senior leaders of that province. You may be working on a municipal level. It depends on who the entrepreneur is. And, there are different associations in China that promote entrepreneurship as opposed to fostering government, state-owned enterprises.

There are a lot of different ways you can do this; you’ve just got to get a feel for it before you really start to make decisions. You shouldn’t marry the first girl you date.

Talk about the importance of understanding the cultural differences. I’ve heard stories about how treating business deals the way we would in America can be a deal killer.

There are some natural business instincts that we all have, and those are all good. But in China, you can’t expect to immediately get down to business. There has to be trust and loyalty built first.

Here’s an example of what doesn’t work:  One venture that I was involved with took a long time to put together. The people from the U.S. side had an old-school superiority attitude toward China. They would dictate that they were going to be coming to the city, landing at 1 p.m., expecting a meeting at 2:30 p.m., then at 6 p.m. they had a plane out. They expected that meeting to happen.

But it doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with a government monopoly or a regional government that is powerful, doing things like that doesn’t sit well. That is really impolite in China — coming in and only expecting to have a meeting. Maybe (the potential partners) expect a dinner afterward, where you get to know each other. So that’s a little bit more of that cultural finesse that’s necessary so people feel good about building a relationship. You need to do that with several different groups as you go forward. It’s not something that once you do it, and then you do your deal, that you can forget about. It’s a commitment. And you need to keep coming back.

The most successful people in China from big companies are the ones where the CEO will come here multiple times a year. That’s the commitment you make.

China is very rigorous in terms of its matching of people that you do business with. If you are working in a city and you have the mayor of a small city — if your business is that size — the mayor will only meet with the CEO of the company. He can’t meet with the No. 2 guy. The No. 2 guy will meet with the vice mayor or someone of that stature. In China, it’s planned in a very socially appropriate way.

You mentioned trust. What does it take to build trust in a country like China, and how big a role does it really play?

It’s becoming more rule-of-law-oriented, but contracts do not mean the same thing here as they mean in the U.S. If a company doesn’t want to honor a contract for whatever reason, they can always find reasons to do so, and your choice is to sue. Suing actually has become more effective now. You can sue. It can be enforced that you can collect. Ten years ago, you couldn’t do any of that. But now you can.

That doesn’t mean it’s good to sue. You don’t want to get to that point. Still, you have to recognize that contracts are not meant to mean what they do in the U.S., and memorandums of understanding, MOU, don’t mean that either.

If you sign an MOU, we’ll say, ‘Wow, we’re going to get that deal done.’ But no, it really means that we had a nice meeting. That’s all it means. It’s a formalization that they can show to their boss, just like a call report — I met with this company, and I can report it to my superior

In that sense, there are different cultural aspects, though those differences are getting less distinct as China becomes more sophisticated. But some of those characteristics will remain a long time. Just as it takes awhile to build that trust, that trust is an entry barrier to others. If somebody else comes along and offers a tiny bit better price, if that trust is there, that won’t matter. Even that’s becoming less true in today’s China. Nonetheless, there is that benefit so that trust is something that can move a company’s ability to do business in China forward.

Everyone agrees that China is the next great superpower, but what does that really mean and what’s next in terms of the country’s evolution?

In every area of human endeavor — economics, business, finance, culture, science, technology, sports, media and military — China intends for its efforts to be among the best in the world. There isn’t a sector that they are not focusing on improving. In every industry of importance, any industry at all, China is going to be developing its companies.

Now, those companies are going to compete with each other, so there are opportunities to ally with some of those companies at whatever level you are working at, in order to help them on their rise. My favorite word in dealing with China is “alignment.” If you try to do exactly what you are doing in the U.S. just to compete and make your company as big as possible and as successful as possible, that ultimately won’t lead to true success in China. You have to think about alignment with government policy, the leaders with whom you do what is in their interest, so that you can align with that.

Sometimes, what seems to be suboptimal from an alignment point of view is actually far better. There are many situations in which getting a smaller percentage of the company will actually turn out to be a greater wealth builder for you, for your company, than if you had a higher percentage, because it incentivizes the other side. You always want to be a resource that that other company uses.

People have stereotypes. They say, ‘Well, how can you trust the Chinese?’ They come at it from the viewpoint that the Chinese were all one entity that gets up in the morning and has a conference call about how to fool the foreigners and get all of their money. That’s, of course, ludicrous. What in fact is happening is that the different Chinese companies within fiercely competitive markets will try to use you as a vehicle, not to cheat you in any way. They don’t care about that. What they care about is competing with their other mortal enemies in that industry.

So if you can help them compete with the other people in their industry, that’s what they are interested in. Even on a provincial or city basis, they compete with each other — cities within provinces, within provinces. All of that is much fiercer in China that it is in the U.S. There’s some competition between states, but nothing like there is in China. So the idea is that you want to be a resource in the right way to one of those main competitors so that they see you as a resource. Then you become valuable, maybe even more valuable than you would in the U.S. And in those situations, even if you have a smaller percentage of the deal, structured properly that can be worth a lot more.

How to reach: The Kuhn Foundation, www.closertotruth.com

Wednesday, 02 March 2011 16:35

Dr. Deepak Chopra on promoting wellness

Wellness is everywhere these days. It’s in the home. It’s in the workplace. And it’s a topic of national conversation. But wellness means more than just staying healthy and eating right.

“When you look at wellness, you have to examine everything — your career well-being, your financial well-being, physical well-being, social well-being, community well-being and, ultimately, your spiritual well-being,” says Dr. Deepak Chopra, wellness guru and founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing.

Smart Business sat down with Chopra, who works with individuals, executives and companies to foster wellness in numerous forms and discussed the impact health and well-being can have on individuals and organizations.

Dr. Chopra, how important is wellness and can you put an actual economic number on that importance?

There is a lot of good data that shows how well-being correlates with economics, and there are huge implications of how one’s well-being affects the bottom line of a company.

It is currently estimated that 15 percent of the work force in the United States is ‘actively disengaged.’ These are unhappy people who go to work each day and make it their business to make other people unhappy. The cost of actively disengaged workers in the American work force is about $350 billion a year. There are another 57 percent of people who are not actively disengaged, but they’re disengaged, which means they’re just punching the clock. That leaves only about 28 percent of workers who are actively engaged.

I’m on the advisory board of the Gallup Organization, and we’ve studied this issue. What we’ve begun to find is that the economic implications of this are not only in the billions but probably in the trillions. What’s more, we don’t understand the relationship between physical and mental well-being and economics very well because medicine has not focused on this. But the fact is that new information shows that your physical well-being is linked to all these other things and there’s an enormous economic impact tied to wellness.

Can you give me an example of how this works?

If you are having an unhappy time at work, for example, such as if you’re not only disengaged but your supervisor ignores you, your likelihood of getting disengaged and ultimately becoming sick goes up by 44 percent. If, on the other hand, your supervisor doesn’t ignore you but criticizes you, your disengagement falls to 20 percent because you’d rather be criticized than ignored. That is because, when you’re ignored, you don’t exist. Finally, if your strengths are noticed by your supervisor or by your colleagues, your disengagement falls to less than 1 percent. That has huge economic implications, not just for a person’s well-being but also for their family.

Likewise, there is data on social well-being, community well-being and financial well-being. If you work for a firm that makes sure there is some safeguard for you not to get into debt, if you have a certain amount of savings taken care of through automated plans and if you can afford to pay your taxes comfortably, those have direct implications on your health and, therefore, on your productivity.

When you actually sit down and analyze it, you can come to the conclusion that, for companies, wellness and well-being may just be your biggest investment because it has huge returns for you economically. Think about it from this perspective: If you have happy employees and you’re happy yourself, you’re going to have happy customers. And if you have happy customers, you’re going to have a healthy company and happy investors.

So you’re saying that there’s a correlation between happiness, health and wellness, and prosperity?

Absolutely. We now know so much about happiness and workplace happiness and how that has direct effects on your neurophysiology, on your biology, on things like immunomodulators (the things that modulate the activity of your immune system), so no longer is the connection between emotions and wellness and well-being disputed.

If you’re a business leader, you need to consider whether you engage emotionally with your employees and even your customers, in order to improve and increase your business. This emotional engagement requires immense amounts of knowledge about what makes people emotionally intelligent.

For 40 years, we focused, as a medical profession, on the deleterious effects of stress. We now know that with people who are stressed, there is a direct correlation with addictive behavior, cardiovascular disease, infections and some types of cancer. But we hadn’t looked at the opposite: If stress could make you sick, could happiness make you better? And the evidence shows it can.

What can someone do to spark that happiness and, in turn, become healthier?

There is a lot of good data on happiness. Happy people see opportunities where others see problems. Happy people have ways of getting over the limiting beliefs that hold them back. Happy people have meaning and purpose in what they do. Happy people make other people happy. And they know the fastest way to be happy is to make someone else happy.

Here’s something worth thinking about: If you have a happy friend, your happiness level goes up 15 times. If your happy friend has a happy friend, it goes up another 10 percent. And if your happy friend has a happy friend who has a happy friend that you don’t even know, it goes up another 10 percent. Here’s why: Because when two people meet, it’s not just those two people meeting, it’s all the relationships and factors in that person’s life that influences their behavior.

These days, we are doing a lot of research on social networks and how they not only improve the quality of life but also the quality of well-being, economics, productivity in the workplace, engagement and even biochemical responses, such as your blood pressure level. It is all tied to wellness and well-being.

Wellness seems to be something everybody should be interested in pursuing, but it goes well beyond just eating healthy, exercising and trying to be happy. You’re talking about a complete behavioral change, correct?

That’s true. I work directly with companies and executives to provide training on leadership skills in this area. True leadership requires several strategies. It requires the ability to listen, but the ability to listen not only as a good observer but as an analytical listener, emotional listener and spiritual listener. Leadership also requires the ability to create a vision, the ability to engage emotionally with people and the ability to enhance your awareness to understand what people need — whether it is your customers, employees or investors.

Finally, leadership requires the ability to strategize and take action.

There is a whole section I call responsibility. When you talk about corporate or leadership responsibility, you talk about initiative, investing the right resources, risk management, values and establishing corporate missions. But what is missing for corporate leaders and leadership training is that as leaders we need to be healthy ourselves, physically and emotionally, and we need to make sure the people we work with we have at least some tools to ensure their health, wellness and happiness. That does require a different way of thinking, and yes, it is a behavioral change.

How do you get to that point? It’s a lot harder than simply waking up a little earlier and working out before going to work or eating that salad for lunch instead of a double cheeseburger.

If you motivate people through fear it usually doesn’t work. There’s a high dropoff rate, and furthermore, fear has its own consequences, such as stress. So many times, when people are motivated by fear, they end up worse than they were before. Instead, people have to be inspired and feel some type of joy in this transformative process. They also have to understand that if they take on this transformative process and take responsibility for their well-being, they’ll be much more productive. They’ll be able to accomplish more by doing less.

Take stress for example. When people are stressed out, they do things they shouldn’t, like drink to excess. If somebody has a hangover because they were stressed out and sought refuge by drinking too much, half the day is wasted just recovering from the hangover. And by the time you’ve recovered, then you’re ready to create another hangover.

So it’s very important for people to recognize that their energy level, their creativity, their ability to motivate others and their ability to produce more is directly related to how they’re feeling inside and their health.

What are some ways people can take to increase their wellness?

There are a few simple things that will help create well-being.

Get good sleep. The importance of sleep has been underestimated. There is an overwhelming percentage of the population of the United States that take sleeping pills to sleep. That doesn’t produce normal, rejuvenative sleep, which is necessary.

Engage in a minimum amount of exercise each day.

Be a little careful about your diet. Don’t be compulsive, but try not to eat anything that comes in a can or has a label.

Have healthy relationships.

Use some technique for stress management, even if it is 10 minutes for meditation, reflection or thinking about how you want your day to go, sitting quietly or strategizing around your priorities.

Build up on your relationships — both at home and in business.

You mentioned relationships. What’s the importance of personal relationships in wellness and well-being, and how can those directly impact one’s mood?

Emotions are contagious. If you’re feeling stressed, even if you don’t say or do anything that’s inappropriate, there’s a phenomenon called limbic resonance. People around you will start to feel stress, their blood pressure will go up and their heart rate will speed up even though they are not aware of it. All of this means that, as a social species, we are constantly monitoring, regulating and being regulated by the emotional state of others around us.

This emotional state not only affects our emotions but our physical state — blood pressure, heart rate, adrenaline levels. If you are emotionally fulfilled, happy, you affect other people not only by what you say or do but by your very presence.

And the opposite is true. If you’re stressed out, you affect people in a negative way, not only emotionally but physically, just by your presence.

So what can you do to keep this from negatively impacting your wellness along with the well-being of others?

There are techniques to change this. You can acknowledge other people’s strengths, help build teams and foster teamwork, and actually make sure that people work only in those areas where they can utilize their strengths.

We have identified 35 strengths where people fall into and found that even if people are really good and productive, if you put them in the wrong seat on the bus with regard to their strengths, they’re not going to be happy, and that’s going to affect their productivity. Therefore, team-building and putting together the right set of talents based on people’s strengths is imperative in the workplace. And, you must acknowledge people’s strengths. We don’t always do this.

We asked people in over 150 countries the same question: Do you like what you do every day?

Only 20 percent of people said yes. We also found out that more people die in the United States on Monday morning at 9 a.m. of a heart attack than any other time because they hate their jobs. These are facts that are immediate and alterable, and they all correspond to wellness.

How important is getting the right amount of sleep each night?

Sleep is very important. Restful sleep is the time when your body rejuvenates. There is a period during sleep, dream sleep, which is when you have some sort of detox activity, where the stress is removed. For many people, between six and eight hours of sleep makes sense.

So what should be the first thing people do to take responsibility in their own wellness and well-being?

Sit for five minutes with your eyes closed. Put your attention in your heart every morning and ask yourself, ‘Who am I? What do I want? And how do I want my day to go?’ If you start living that question, you will spontaneously know what your priorities are. And that will ultimately lead to a healthier, more productive and happier life.

How to reach: Chopra Center for Wellbeing, www.chopra.com

Every day, it seems the social media world is growing, making the physical world around us appear that much smaller. With those changes, the line that previously separated our personal and professional lives has blurred as websites and applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr and YouTube provide the ability to connect with family, friends and business colleagues and to share information, news, videos and photos.

So what exactly defines social media, and where is this new frontier headed? More important, how can we best take advantage of what’s out there?

Who better to answer those questions than Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, the Web’s largest and most powerful network of professionals.

 

Q. Social media means different things to different people as well as companies. What would be a good definition of social media?

Broadly defined, it is the creation of content, information and knowledge, distribution of it, consumption of it, and leveraging social interactions. Whether that’s a status update, sharing an image, a video or a blog post, even retweeting a headline or sharing a headline — those are all examples of social media.

I think the social interaction component, the virality, really takes what historically has been behavior we all have done offline, and when you bring it online and digitize it, it starts to scale and moves at a speed with which we haven’t seen previously. It really has the opportunity to change everything it touches.

 

Q. So what do you see as the true cultural sea change that is being caused by social media?

This goes way beyond brand building and customer outreach, which is how many organizations are using social media. ... Leveraging social platforms is going to fundamentally change the way we work and how business gets done. It’s going to really revolutionize and disrupt all of it. So whether it’s the way you hire people, find your dream job, transition from cold calling to warm prospecting by leveraging the power of first-, second- and third-degree relationships or whether it’s exchanging and sharing information, knowledge, insight and data that you need to derive insights to make better and more informed decisions, I don’t think people can really afford not to participate within these platforms.

 

Q. Since it’s going to be everywhere, where would you start?

It starts with recognition. There are three behavioral changes we focus on the most at LinkedIn. First is the way in which we represent our professional identity. Think about that for a moment. The way in which individuals now build their professional brand starts with their profiles. And those profiles, when they’re kept fresh and relevant, are search engine optimized so that when people search for your name or the names of people like you with your experience, your skills, your aspirations, you’re the first thing they see when they do that search on Google.

This ability to carve out a piece of digital real estate that you, yourself, can control to put your best foot forward is an incredibly powerful and valuable dynamic. It’s not just the individual; it’s also your company. There are over a million active company profiles on LinkedIn. And these company profiles not only represent who you are and your company’s identity, but they enable you to build your talent brands, establish the way in which you’re going to recruit and how you recruit, and build word-of-mouth around your products and services. So identity is an absolute cornerstone.

The second is building your network. I think historically, when people hear the expression ‘professional networking,’ they think of the guy at the conference who is handing out as many business cards to people as possible, just building the Rolodex. That’s not what we mean anymore. We mean the way business gets done.

If we believe the world is getting flatter, more global, more digital, more networked, this is the way business gets done — it’s the way people are tapping knowledge, exchanging information — and if you’re not taking advantage of that and building out your network, your competition is.

And then lastly is the whole notion of sharing information and knowledge — collaborating, sharing business intelligence and competitive intelligence. To be able to really derive this kind of insight from whatever networks or social environments you’re operating in becomes an enormous advantage versus those folks who aren’t able to do the same.

 

Q. You mentioned identity. How accurate do you think people or company’s identities are on the Internet? Who and what should we trust?

When you’re talking about a professional context, I think things change versus a social context. One of the first things people do when they meet in a professional setting is exchange business cards. The more your professional identity is out there, the more opportunities potentially accrue to you. It’s kind of a tried-and-true practice. So when you’re putting your profile out there for everyone to see publicly and transparently, the people who work with you and know exactly what you did, well, they’re going to call you out if you’re not telling the truth.

It’s very much self-policing in a professional context. The comments you see and the quality of interaction from people’s professional identities are very different than what’s shared outside of the professional context. It’s that important. If you’re sharing what you’ve done in a professional context or what your company is about, it’s perfectly transparent.

 

Q. And if you look at work/flex integration, where do those boundaries start and stop?

For a platform like LinkedIn, one of the reasons that we create the value that we do is that no matter where in the world we go, what cities we go to and the members we meet up with, we hear that people want to keep their personal lives and professional lives separate.

That context matters to people, for very obvious reasons. We all went to school, and we all had fun at school. And when I was back at school, not everyone was carrying a camera around in their pockets via a phone and uploading essentially everything that everyone did every minute of the day, having those images tagged and then having those images viewed by everyone they met.

I think people appreciate keeping their personal lives and professional lives separate, if that’s what they want. But there are also environments where those are unified.

 

Q. Should you have different conduct online than you do offline?

Generally speaking, for the most part, you need to conduct yourself online the same way you conduct yourself offline. This whole notion of creating a separate social media policy, save for regulatory environments where you have compliance issues, and there are very hard and fast rules, you really want to conduct yourself the same way. You want to be true to yourself. You want to be true to the values of the company you operate for. I think the sensitivity comes from the dynamic described earlier — when it goes online, it moves at the speed at light. So you’re talking about a far different scale at a far different speed with greater sensitivity.

 

Q. Are there some good ways to create a company’s social media strategy, and how do you measure a return on investment from that strategy?

Pursuing a social media strategy for the sake of having a social media strategy is not the right thing to do. It will end up being a big waste of time. And it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of folks are doing it because they’re told this is something you have to be doing right now. But try to figure out how you take your organization’s top priorities and leverage social connectivity to create greater value. That, I think, is a very, very smart thing to do. So trying to align your priorities and objectives makes a lot of sense.

If you’re trying to go out and do recruiting using social tools, how is that going to benefit your organization? Explicitly, there are ways of measuring that.

Historically, people are filtering through hundreds or thousands of active candidate resumes. Now technologies exist that you can find the perfect person, which creates huge efficiencies for your recruiters. They can target the ideal candidate instead of constantly spending 90-plus percent of their time saying no.

For your salespeople, how are they tapping first-, second- and third-degree relationships to eliminate cold calls? Think about the effectiveness of tapping warm prospects and how much more business you’re going to be able to do as an organization. That kind of stuff can be measured.

And then there’s the implicit stuff, such as how your company, in and of itself, can leverage social connectivity ... or the ability for your organization to share news or insights that one person in the company has identified as being valuable to everyone else in your organization is going to be a little more challenging to measure the explicit ROI of that. But implicitly, as people start to share that kind of information, best practices and knowledge, your organization is going to work more productively.

And so it comes back to what are your objectives and how are you going to leverage these technologies to achieve greater productivity.

 

Q. What’s the most fundamental change coming up?

It’s going to be transparency. These technologies are going to eliminate, if not dramatically reduce, the ability for organizations to conceal the things they don’t want people to know about — both internally and externally.

And the best part of this transparency is the efficiencies it creates in the marketplace. For example, when you take the friction out of the ability for people to move from one company to another, guess where they’re going to end up? They’re going to end up at those companies that are the best places to work because they know those opportunities because recruiters from those companies are able to identify them in ways that were impossible before because they can align their skills, objectives and their aspirations with those companies.

There are myriad examples of companies that are going through situations where they’ve introduced a bad product or service and are getting customer complaints over here. Historically, they’ve tried to hide that. That’s no longer possible because everyone’s an influencer. So if you’re not constantly having dialogue with your customers via some of these tools, you’re going to be punished for it.

Steve Jobs said an amazing thing at a conference I attended when asked whether he liked doing business in an enterprise setting or with consumers. He said he loves doing business with consumers because, at the end of the day, they vote with a thumbs up or a thumbs down. They’re either buying your products or they’re not. That’s the kind of efficiency that’s created when you have this kind of transparency. 

HOW TO REACH: LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com

Monday, 28 February 2011 19:01

Power players

When I was a college student, I interned my junior and senior years at the Akron Beacon Journal as a politics reporter. My desk sat in the back corner of the newsroom, next to an elderly woman named Fran Murphey, who by the time she died in 1998 had spent 55 years as Beacon Journal reporter.

Fran’s desk, or rather series of desks joined together, were a literal patchwork history of Akron. Fran was a legend in the journalism community and built her extraordinary career by telling stories about the “little” ones, ordinary men and women who built the city.

During these two years, from fall 1989 to spring 1991, Akron was in the midst of an economic downturn, just as many similar urban centers were. My drive into downturn ended with a lot of empty storefronts and parking lots scattered across the city, which didn’t provide much excitement for a 19-year-old journalism major.

But the job, itself, was exciting, and Fran helped pass the downtime by engaging me in regular conversation. Soon, I looked forward to picking her brain and listening to stories about the earlier days of Akron, when the city was an economic force to be reckoned with.

In 1999, when I became editor of Smart Business Akron/Canton, I was excited to see what had changed in downtown Akron. At that time, things were just beginning to pick up.

Over the next several years I watched investments in Canal Place, the University of Akron and a strengthened polymers sector take Akron to heights it hadn’t seen in half a century.

So I’m excited to announce Smart Business’ new luncheon series, which each quarter will focus on one of the Akron region’s strengths and feature a one-on-one with the people behind it. Fran would have called them the “littles,” but we’re calling them Power Players.

As we plan our first luncheon, we invite all of you to help us spark lively discussions about the city and region’s economic development by offering your recommendations for speakers. Then, keep your eyes and ears open for our announcement about the yearlong slate of speakers and the first luncheon.

Akron may never go back to the way it was in the early 20th century, but that doesn’t matter. Today, the city and region has established a new future that would have made Fran Murphey proud.

Monday, 28 February 2011 15:20

Servant leader

The president’s message from Laurie Cunnington on her company’s website couldn’t be more direct: “At Ward Williston, we strive to conduct business while always adhering to our core business values. We believe our people are our best assets. We believe in treating our employees and customers with dignity and respect. We believe our customers deserve honest treatment and the best service possible. And finally, we believe that every day we must work to keep Ward Williston a company we can all be proud of.”

For Cunnington and her husband, Thomas, who serves as Ward Williston Oil Co.’s CEO, this means focusing on giving back to the community, supporting employees and operating an oil company that supports domestic oil exploration and production.

Smart Business caught up with Cunnington — whose Michigan-based company explores oil fields in North Dakota — at Ernst & Young’s Strategic Growth Forum, where she was participating on a panel about corporate and social philanthropy.

Why is corporate philanthropy and giving back so important for entrepreneurs and business leaders?

I have a little problem with the phrase ‘giving back’ because I really believe that it’s not about giving back. Rather, a person should be giving all their lives and be part of their character and heart’s desire. When you see someone less fortunate and you have a loaf of bread, you should break that loaf in half and give it to them. It’s not about giving back because it’s not just multi-billionaires. It should really be about that loaf of bread. I should be able to divide it and give it to somebody else.

I’ve seen suffering, and it’s changed me. I’ve seen children in Africa that two or three hours after leaving them will know more suffering than I’ll ever see in my life. This is what motivates me to work hard so that I can do something to help others.

You’re often asked to speak about corporate philanthropy. When you do, what are some of the key points you try to get across?

This is something I feel passionate about. My husband and I do work domestically. If a hospital or local charity needs something, we help. Think about this: Half the world is living on less than $2 a day. I think about whether I could do that. If I could keep everything I have — my fancy cars, my nice house, my nice clothes, but I had only $2 a day, how long could I last and use my brain? I wouldn’t last very long. Yet, I wake up in the morning and more than half the world is living on less than $2 a day. That’s what makes me work hard. I hope others are able to pick up on that message when I talk about philanthropy.

So how can others think about aligning their work with causes they believe in?

Last summer, we all turned on our TVs and saw 11 men die in the twinkling of an eye. Then we watched the Gulf being polluted. We saw people out of work because of the oil spill, so here we were in a remote area in North Dakota and saw all these people suffering in the Gulf. Our people encouraged us to do something about it, and we encouraged them to take the lead. So they put together a fundraiser called Golf for the Gulf. Our tagline was ‘It’s our ocean. It’s our industry. It’s our time to do something.’

Together, we raised a little over $100,000 for the fishermen and oilmen out of work. It was interesting to see how much our people got behind it, but our vendors and customers did, as well. Our vendors had never thought of doing something like this before.

Do you think there’s something to the belief that people want to work for companies that care?

I think it’s a nice thing when you do care for others. I honestly don’t know if that’s why people work for us, but I believe in taking care of our people and that they’ll take care of you. Today in America, people want to get working again. That’s the major thing. They would love to work for a great company but they just want to get working. It’s this way across the country. Ironically, in North Dakota there are more jobs than people, but in Michigan, where we’re based, there are no jobs. People just want to get working, and if they can have a good job and a good boss, that’s wonderful. But they want to feed their families.

When you purchased Ward Williston it was on the brink of ruin, correct?

Yes. I’ve been with them for 20 years. I had done some independent drilling before that, and then an opportunity came to buy this company, which was on its last legs. There were four or five people working for it then. My husband and I took over the company, and today there are about 180 people working for us. We’ve made the Inc. 500 for three years in a row, and we’re very strong now. We drill for oil and service oil fields.

So what’s the toughest challenge you’re facing now?

I work in Michigan, and Michigan has been hit so hard. One of our most prevalent field operations is in North Dakota, and there it’s a boom market. So I have a paradigm shift every day. I’m working with our people in North Dakota and the reality hits me that those workers have a management team that’s located in a depressed market. You have to be on your toes to balance that.

But I have no complaints because the oil industry is very good. We’re doing well, and I believe that for Americans, we have to capture the idea that we, domestic drillers, can fuel America. Right now, there’s a barrel of oil found in the Middle East. That barrel gets on a ship and is brought over. With that barrel, people have fought over it, people have died over it, and we do business with our enemies. But here, domestic drillers, the people who work for me, get up in the morning, put on their work clothes, say goodbye to their families and go produce a barrel of oil. So with that barrel, our domestic drillers can handle the needs of America. That’s why I love what I do. It allows me to run the business and pursue my passions.

How to reach: Ward Williston Oil Co., www.wardwilliston.com