Steve Price Featured

8:00pm EDT October 24, 2006
 When Steve Price was appointed president and CEO of JAMS, he was determined to restructure the company around core values instead of profits. With the alternative dispute resolution company on the brink of bankruptcy, Price organized a buy-out by a group of its arbitrators and mediators, putting the company in a position to focus on the best interests of its customers. Since Price joined the company in 1997, revenue has nearly doubled and will be about $100 million this year, making it the largest mediating company in the world with more than 10,000 cases per year. Smart Business spoke with Price about how a strong company culture contributes to success.

Take control of your culture.
The greatest challenge has been where the core values that I believe in so much were not there. There were institutional blockages to them.

Those institutional blockages could be in a large company or in an organization that was more focused on short-term results than long-term results, more focused on the stock and the stock price than where the company was going and what was happening inside.

It was part of the reason that I left Citibank and decided that the only job I would ever have in the future would be president and CEO. That’s because I realized I needed the space to create the kind of place that I could be proud of, and where there would be results all around.

Develop culture from the top down.
It includes mutual respect, teamwork. Most important for us is trust and neutrality. If we don’t have that, we don’t have a business. And you can’t get it from your clients unless you have it inside the company, as well.

You foster it by having it come from the CEO on down. The CEO has to be the role model for this. You make it clear that the company will not tolerate any breach of trust among (employees), or certainly not with our clients. We meet regularly and we talk about how important the values are. The key theme of all those meetings is culture and how we work together to get things done.

Lead by example.
Be authentic, be a role model, be collaborative, and roll up your sleeves and be outside your office. I hope I’m an authentic person. I hope what you see is what you get, and that’s the way I would like all of our people to be.

I hope I’m a role model of those cultural ideas and values. I don’t make any major decision myself or even with our board of directors without talking to a lot of individuals and a lot of panelists. That’s absolutely essential.

Be hands-on.
Nothing’s too small for anyone to do if it needs to get done. I will roll up my sleeves and do anything I need to do when I’m in one of our offices or when I’m here. We have everybody who’s willing to do that.

If a computer is broken and you know how to fix it, fix it. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at or where you’re at. If a client needs help with something, help the client. If a piece of information is needed, get it.

Measure satisfaction.
The most important metric in a service business is satisfaction. We do satisfaction studies every 18 to 24 months among three groups: our clients, our panelists and our associates.

If those rise and if those are good, the profits are going to be just fine. If they’re not, then we’re going to run into trouble. They are an advance indicator of problems or of success. I really believe they are way more important than the financial data that many CEOs pore over every day.

Remember the ‘Golden Rule.’
The fundamental way to build loyalty first and primary is to give it. I don’t believe we can ask our clients or our associates for loyalty to us if we don’t have loyalty to them.

It’s got to be a partnership, and it’s got to be a two-way street.

We need to treat all three of those constituencies with respect. We need to recognize the contributions they make to JAMS’ short- and long-term [success]. We need to treat them really as part of a family — part of a group that is interdependent on each other — if we’re going to be successful.

Give back.
We really believe in giving back and in serving our community.

The JAMS Foundation is a nonprofit foundation that is funded by virtually all of our owners — and now we have over 70 owners — at 1 percent of their income. Over the last three years, we’ve given out over $1 million in grants.

We don’t think of it as philanthropy or charity. We have a fundamental obligation to help the society that we are in, the communities that we work in, get better ... and help a broader constituency than just those who come to us. We think that’s a part of our persona. It’s a part of who we are.

HOW TO REACH: JAMS, or (800) 352-5267