Wednesday, 30 November 2011 19:01

Movers and Shakers

Roscoe Medical, a manufacturer and distributor of home medical equipment, appointed Daniel A. Radish as chief financial officer.

In his role, Radish will responsible for the overall financial and administrative oversight of Roscoe Medical, including the management of the accounting, finance, credit, payroll and benefit administration departments. He has expertise in strategic financial planning, credit and risk management, information technology planning and management from a wide array of industries.

Radish brings more than 20 years of senior leadership and financial experience, most recently as a director with Union Partners, a private equity and performance acceleration firm. In this position, he was instrumental in generating deal flow as well as merger acquisition valuation and analysis, financial planning, fiscal policy development and leadership of the due diligence process. Early on, Radish spent seven years in public accounting and since has held leadership positions throughout his career.

Radish is active in local civic and business communities, serving on several boards. He is a certified public account and holds a B.S. in accounting from Miami University.

Wells Fargo Advisors added two people to its Chagrin Falls office: Stephen Reagh, senior PIM manager, and Gary Fishback, PIM manager. Both Reagh and Fishback hold the title of senior vice president — investment officer. They joined Wells Fargo Advisors from the Pepper Pike office of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.

Moen Inc.

promoted Kevin Campbell to senior director of marketing — wholesale business unit.

In his new role, Campbell will be responsible for leading Moen’s wholesale product marketing, trade marketing, brand management and marketing communications efforts. He will also be deeply involved in developing strategies for the business unit and implementing strategic initiatives.

Campbell has been with Moen for more than 13 years, serving in a number of roles with increasing responsibility.

He started his career with the company in 1998 as an intern and has been an integral part of the organization’s success throughout the years. He most recently served as director of marketing of Moen’s Retail Business Unit, where he was responsible for all product management and marketing communications initiatives for products sold through retail channels including The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, and more. Prior to this role, Campbell held a variety of roles in both marketing and product management across both the retail and wholesale business channels.

Campbell earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from The University of Notre Dame and his MBA from The Weatherhead School of Management.

Brouse McDowell

, a law firm with offices in Akron, Cleveland and Avon, Ohio, announced that Marc B. Merklin has been elected to succeed Jeffrey T. Heintz as managing partner of the firm. Merklin’s term begins in January 2012 when Heintz steps down after eight years as managing partner of the firm.

A member of the firm’s Executive Committee, Merklin is chair of the Commercial and Bankruptcy practice group and focuses on general business counseling, commercial law and business reorganizations. He represents creditors, debtors, committees and trustees in Chapter 11 reorganizations, as well as borrowers in loan transactions and bankruptcy and commercial litigation. He also works on the sale and acquisition of financially distressed companies.

Listed in the Best Lawyers in America editions 2006-2011, Merklin is nationally board certified in business bankruptcy law by the American Board of Certification, a nonprofit organization created to recognize attorneys who are experts in the bankruptcy and creditors’ rights fields.

Published in Cleveland

Ash Shah cut his teeth at a large global trading company that traded in petro chemicals and plastic polymers. After four years in the industry, he decided to start his own business, Impex Group Holdings LP, a worldwide supplier of plastic films and packaging products.

Shah, founder, president and CEO of the $28 million company, now had to deal with the tough entrepreneurial world and the challenges of finding the right employees and growth opportunities. Fifteen years later, he continues to keep those challenges his top priority.

“I think we have been very fortunate of having very good people work in our company,” Shah says. “It’s always a challenge regardless of how large or small or growing or not growing a company is. People are really the key asset more than the products and more than anything else.”

Smart Business spoke to Shah about how he has been able to find the right employees and take advantage of growth opportunities.

Find and retain employees. To retain employees, you have to offer the right package and so on, but it’s also the corporate culture and whether they fit well and you fit well and working as a team. Retaining is more important than finding, especially in the current economy. With unemployment, there are quite a few good candidates out there. So finding isn’t as much of a challenge as retaining them.

You have to make sure that teamwork is very important regardless of how small or large your company is. Having that team culture and that feeling of everybody being a part of the organization … that bonding or family-type togetherness goes a long way. Money is obviously important for everybody, but over the years I think it’s actually more important that they grow to enjoy and like coming to work and working with their counterparts.

It’s like any relationship: a lot of give and take, understanding, and appreciating. For every organization it will vary. It’s difficult to say that one rule applies to everybody, but you have to see within your organization what types of people there are, what their likes are, how can you make it a cohesive unit, and as an entrepreneur, having that cohesive teamwork is really what is going to help any leader grow. People are your main assets and you have to take great care of them.

You cannot please everybody. If an employee doesn’t fit within the corporate culture, despite trying a few times, if it’s not meant to be then that is a good time for them to depart. It’s not at any given cost you have to try and make sure you retain an employee, you don’t. In a genuine situation, you try to understand what their issues are. If they’re valid and if it’s something that a company can do to address that issue and as long as it all makes sense and within reason, the employee can be retained. You have to try to do anything within reason to try and retain employees.

Stabilize growth. The key factors of success in our case have just been responsible growth, keeping our eye on the ball and the matured product that we deal in. With the economy not being good, the basic staple food product packaging products — the plastics, the paper, the foil, which are the main substrates we deal in — actually have grown because more and more people aren’t going out to restaurants and they are buying food from the grocery stores and cooking from home.

As you grow, you have to sustain the growth and not grow too fast or too slow and you have to maneuver the ship in the right direction and that’s a challenge. If you grow too fast, it can have some negative implications and same if you grow too slow. When you’re growing at a pace of 50 percent or so … and you’re growing fast, just like we have for a couple of years, if there was a period of slow down or any major recalls, and you’re growing at a fast pace, it is difficult to pull back and try to maneuver.

Growth is obviously good and important and in most cases very beneficial for the company and its employees, but a sustained growth is even more important. That continued sustainable, matured, responsible growth for any company would be very positive. It is difficult to kind of benchmark or difficult to gauge the speed of growth.

To every specific industry, the leader has to focus on the basics of the financials. You have to constantly do checks and balances whether it’s monthly or on a quarterly basis. If the owner or the CEO feels like the growth is too fast, look at sales or accounts that are not much of a profitable account and whether you really need that account. It all goes back to checks and balances and making sure the bank mandated ratios are met and those ratios are not going too much into the danger zone. For every company, every industry, every sector, the leader has to see if this is a sustainable growth or not.

HOW TO REACH: Impex Group Holdings LP, (281) 416-4449 or www.impexfilms.com

Published in Houston

As he looked around at his executive leadership team, Alain Couder saw no clear disorder or conflict. The reason that his company’s leadership was not effective had nothing to do with a particular leadership style or group dynamic. But then again, the issue wasn’t really what people weren’t doing at all. It was that they didn’t realize what they needed to do.

“They didn’t know what they didn’t know,” says Couder, the chairman and CEO of Oclaro Inc.

Oclaro — the product of two startup companies worth more than $200 million apiece — had quickly emerged as a tier-one company with potential to reach No. 1 in its core optical and high-powered laser markets. After completing three more acquisitions, it had risen to third in its industry and become an employer of thousands of people around the globe. Yet, that meant many of the $393 million company’s employees, who had come from smaller companies, now lacked the skill set required to operate in a larger, global company.

“To get all of those startup people and turn them into a company that can be operating at $500 million in revenue and get to $1 billion was my biggest challenge,” Couder says.

Choose the right people

With a career that included working at both large corporations and small startups, Couder knew from experience that Oclaro was not prepared to scale for the next phase of growth.

“Because of my background working in companies like IBM or HP or others that are really well-structured and well-organized, it was clear to me that Oclaro was not that way,” he says.

So he began the process of putting in place a new leadership structure — one that that made sense for Oclaro’s new size and objectives. He hired an external consultant to go into the company and take stock of its operations, people and processes. By using an outside consultant to evaluate his team, he was able to eliminate partiality and really find out who would be able to help scale the company.

“Specifically what you learn is that they go into the company and see how you operate,” Couder says.  “They see what information systems you are doing. They speak to your managers and then they tell you, ‘This guy knows what he is doing and this guy needs to learn or needs to be replaced.’”

After getting this feedback, the first decision Couder made was to replace three of his key executives. While these personnel decisions can be difficult to make, a CEO has to be confident that the leadership team he or she has in place will be able to lead effectively when moving to the next stage.

“I choose an executive team that is appropriate for the size of the company,” he says.

“I make sure that I treat the people who are leaving well, but that I put in place people who are stronger and can help me scale the company to the next level.”

When you are growing a company significantly, you want to bring on executives who have experience and past success in their area of expertise. They also need to have the right personality and values to be a good cultural fit at the company.

“[It’s] are they going to be able to work in a constructive fashion with the rest of the team?” Couder says. “If you bring in someone who has a very different set of values than the ones that you have in place for the company now, then it just doesn’t work well.”

How do you identify the people who can scale successfully?

“It’s talking about what you want to achieve,” Couder says. “You create a dream of what can be achieved and then you explain what it takes to do it.”

When you start doing that, you’ll have some people who are enthusiastic and some people who start to resist change.

“I work with them and coach them and try to help them improve, but at some point in time when the company scales, some people are going to scale with the company and some people are not,” Couder says.

Once you’ve explained the vision, it’s more worthwhile to focus your time and resources on the people who seem energized about the vision for growth rather than on to trying to convince the opposition.

“You need to spend the time with the people who are enthusiastic and forget about the other ones,” Couder says. “Otherwise, you spend all of your time with people who are resisting and then do nothing in the end.”

Eventually anyone who has a “wait and see” attitude will either leave the company or decide to be part of the change and move with the enthusiastic people. The best thing to do is respect people’s motives and then focus on who can help you grow. While two of the executives that Couder replaced remained within the company, the third one left.

“They are able to drive their own lives and their own convictions,” Couder says. “And that’s fine. That’s part of change management. Not everybody is happy in a larger company. Some people are much happier working in startups and they should go work in startups.”

Empower your people

Leading an organization with more than 3,000 employees meant Couder and his executive team needed to start shifting their attention to more of the big-picture goals and high-level decisions of the company.

“You always need to shoot for the No. 1 position,” he says.

That means people lower in your organization need to shift to take over new responsibilities and decisions, as well.

“When you scale a company, you want to be able to move the decisions lower in the organization,” he says. “So this is the notion of empowerment.

“In a startup, the CEO is at the center of everything, is aware of all the decisions being made, in touch with every customer — he is involved in all of that. As you scale the company, if the CEO continues to do that then the CEO becomes a bottleneck.”

When you take a set of people with a startup mentality and ask them to manage in a larger, more structured corporate environment, you need to give them the right tools and support to be successful in that culture.

“It’s then helping the people you choose succeed in what they are doing,” Couder says.

“And as a result of that, the CEO becomes increasingly in charge of setting the right direction.”

To empower his managers as decision-makers, Couder implemented a global management training program for leadership teams all across the company. The three-day training program included approximately 80 managers and included twice daily training on leadership best practices.

“We coached them on leadership, how to make decisions, how to coach your team, how to train them, how to make them go, how to make them passionate about what they do, how you can create a team that is going to win together and all those kinds of things which are so important to success,” Couder says.

You and your people both want to feel comfortable with them making decisions independently. So first, you need to spend time giving them context of how to make those decisions and their impact on company.

“This is a part of the delegation and control,” Couder says. “As the company gets larger, I delegate more and more, but I want to make sure that we still have the proper controls in place and make sure that everything is moving the way that it should.”

By giving managers leadership best practices and skills that they can pass on to their teams, you push those practices out and the organization itself can become more nimble in decision-making for growth. Moving forward, a good measure of your team’s empowerment is how many decisions get pushed up in the organization. If it seems like too many, sometimes giving yourself some distance to think and reevaluate your own decision-making process can help you gain perspective. It also gives management a chance to brainstorm new ideas independently.

“One of the pitfalls is to always be acting and acting,” Couder says. “In fact, if I take a week of vacation, the team always comes back with new ideas and new things to be done.

“As you have a larger company, the best ideas are in the company. The CEO doesn’t need to have any ideas. He just has to listen.”

Dance to the same music

Lastly, when you are talking about scaling a global, multicultural organization such as Oclaro, which has operations in Europe, R&D in North America and manufacturing in China, to more than $1 billion in revenue, everyone in the organization needs to be working toward the same goal if you are to have any chance of success.

“You need to get the whole team and the whole company to be pushing and pulling in the same direction,” Couder says.

“So it’s also to encourage people to talk to each other and to learn from each other.”

That is where internal communication becomes incredibly important.

“There are three dimensions to the flow of information, top down, bottom up and also networking at the company level,” Couder says.

For a company that is growing very quickly, it’s vital to have good communication so that everyone’s expectation is clear and employees can work in harmony across different departments, divisions or operations.

“We need to make sure that we learn the same dance and that this dance fits the music,” Couder says. “Before in the company, you had different music and different sides and different dances, and therefore, the cooperation inside was a lot more difficult.”

To get everyone on the same page, Couder created a cross-functional task force to simplify and streamline some of the company’s key processes such as product life cycle, and train everyone — executive team included — on a set of leadership best practices. Part of that training included learning a standard vocabulary for operations that would be used by everyone in the company worldwide.

“You create a common language and that helps to have everybody dance to the same music across the company,” Couder says.

“When we talk between different geographies between China and the U.K. or California, we have the same terms and the same words,” Couder says. “We know exactly what we are talking about. There is now no ambiguity in what we want to do.”

When it comes to top-down communication, Couder believes that there is no replacement for meeting with your team in person.

“Through the questions, I get a pretty good understanding of what they know, what they don’t know and what kind of progress they are making,” he says. “That is one measure I use, and unfortunately I can’t find any replacement for travel. Video conference is great, but it doesn’t work for that. …You need to feel and communicate your actions with the people.”

Couder schedules a half hour with each of his direct reports three times a month to talk about their progress and maintain alignment on the organization’s goals. Whenever he travels, he also meets with his leadership teams during brown bag lunch sessions to find out what is working, what isn’t and offer his support to meet any challenges.

With a strong, empowered team that has everyone pulling in the same direction, Oclaro is no longer a bunch of pieces, but one united company that can scale successfully for growth.

“If you want to be able to be organized as a company, you can be empowered but within a certain context, within a certain set of processes and methodologies and tools that are common to everybody in such a way that it boosts harmony in the way we work,” Couder says.

“We know that we now have the best practices and the tools, and the means and the people involved to be able to compete in a much more effective way.”

How to reach: Oclaro Inc., (408) 383-1400 or www.oclaro.com

The Couder File

Alain Couder

Chairman and CEO

Oclaro Inc.

Education: Paris, Ecole Superieure D’Electricite

Born: Paris

First job: Teaching in Africa at the Abidjan University

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?

I have raised six kids and have nine grandchildren.

What do you to regroup on a tough day?

Hiking in the mountains is my favorite getaway.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Strategy

Do you have an innovation tip?

You always need to invent a better way of doing what you do, a better way of communicating, a better way of writing a memo, a better way of making a presentation. It’s not only about product innovation. It’s about finding ways of doing things better in a smarter way. It’s about working smarter, not only harder.

Couder on choosing the company’s name: Oclaro is the new name that we choose to merge Avanex and Bookham. We are big believers that when you merge two companies of similar size and you have one which is acquired and the other which is the dominant … by adding a new name and a new set of values, that helps in fact create a new company. Oclaro stands for optical and clarity, which is how we created the name.

Published in Northern California
Monday, 31 October 2011 20:01

Movers & Shakers

Global Cleveland named C. Lawrence Miller its first president. In this role, Miller will oversee the organization’s staff and be responsible for designing and implementing its strategic programming. 

Global Cleveland is a new civic economic development initiative focused on connecting newcomers to opportunities and the region. Miller brings more than 25 years of talent attraction and international human resources experience to Global Cleveland. Most recently, he served as vice president, human resources, of the Lubrizol Corp. In addition to his 13 years with Lubrizol, Miller held senior leadership positions with Tremco, Diebold, and Ferro Corp. He lived and worked in France for two years and is president of the French-American Chamber of Commerce (Northern Ohio). Miller serves on the board of Cleveland’s Center for Families and Children and is a member of the Human Resource Planning Society.

Britton-Gallagher & Associates Inc. appointed Lee Stacey president and CEO.

Stacey had been president and CEO of Willis of Ohio, an operating unit of the global insurance provider Willis Group Holdings plc, for six years. He assumes many of the current duties of Bruce H. Ball, who becomes Britton-Gallagher’s chairman and will focus on strategic direction and business development for the 69-year-old firm.

Stacey joined Willis in 2005 after having served for five years as managing director, president and CEO of Acordia (now Wells Fargo Insurance Services) in Detroit. Prior to that, he was vice president of the insurance division of Comerica Bank from 1997 to 2000, assistant vice president of the brokerage firm Johnson & Higgins from 1994 to 1997, and an underwriter for Lumbermens Insurance from 1993 to 1994. 

Western Reserve Partners hired Gregory A. Hill as an analyst.  He previously worked for Fifth Third Bank in their middle-market finance group, performing underwritings, financial modeling and leveraged finance analysis. He worked on transactions in various industries, including capital goods, consumer products, construction and health care.

Please send your executive-level promotions to movers@sbnonline.com.

Published in Cleveland

Ted Teele left his job as CEO of one of the largest sales organizations in the gift and home décor industry for an opportunity he saw as new and different. He saw the growth and potential of social media and how that platform could be used in the industry. His idea formed a company called SnapRetail LLC, a 55-employee wholesale supplier of marketing solutions.

“We were looking around and we could see how social media was in an uptick,” says Teele, CEO. “We saw this big opportunity because in our market were these 100,000 independent retailers selling gift products and furniture and home accent products and they all know marketing was changing but they needed somebody to help get them there.”

Teele capitalized on discovering an opportunity in his industry and began to focus on helping independent retailers evolve and adapt to new marketing strategies.

Smart Business spoke to Teele about how to recognize and grow new opportunities.

How do you form partnerships?

When you are working on a partnership arrangement, it’s very important to be able to model the arrangement financially from the perspective of the partner; what is the benefit to them? The way you do that is you ask really good questions and understand what the partner needs.

You should come up with a list of at least five companies that you most want to partner with and then come up with a value proposition. The first meeting should be all about understanding them. You may have some ideas about the value you can provide and you should talk about them, but you’re probably not going to have a complete proposal. You don’t want to come to somebody with a complete proposal when it comes to partnerships because you don’t understand what they need. Once you understand what a partner needs then you can come back to them with some ideas on how you could help meet those needs. If you are able to show value, then they will look at you as an equal.

How do you find the right partnerships for your company?

You have to learn who would be the best partners and who would get value. The first thing is to identify who the companies are that you want to go after. You have to be important to them too. You have to find people that have similar goals. Part of it is just asking. Partnerships allow you to build a brand, extend yourself broader, and get more information.

What are some keys to finding new opportunities?

We’re living in a world that is changing very quickly. If you’re running a company and you’re looking around, whatever your specialty was 10 years ago is now vanilla. You have to create a new special sauce and that’s true for individuals and it’s true for companies. So many companies just hold on to their old business model and they hold on for dear life. You have to be willing to make transformational decisions. You have to be able to adapt to the changing world and you have to be solving a problem that needs to be solved.

How do you find the right people to help grow the company?

There are two parts of hiring any person. There’s the buying and the selling. The buying is finding somebody that is right for the job and selling is having that person want to work for your company. Some CEOs spend too much time on the selling and some CEOs spend too much time on the buying. You’ve got to find the proper balance.

You need to find people that have the right skills, know what they’re doing and don’t need to be told what to do. The second thing you need are people that fit the culture. They have plenty of options and you want them to want this option. You have to be relevant. If you’re not relevant you’re not going to be able to hire great people. People want to solve big problems.

HOW TO REACH: SnapRetail LLC, (877) 459-7627 or www.snapretail.com

Published in Pittsburgh

It amazes me that corporate America still hasn’t learned not to manage people. That’s just one practice blocking the path to effective leadership.

Why are so many managers afraid to hire people who are smarter than they are? I suppose it’s human nature to be afraid of the comparison, and fearful of being seen as less astute, less creative, less experienced and less … managerial.

In reality, shouldn’t your job be to hire people smarter than you are? Isn’t it easier to supervise people who don’t need a lot of managing?

Think of it this way: If the owner of the company hires managers less smart than he or she is, and each of those managers does the same, pretty soon you have a pretty “dumb” company. I call it “dumbing down” the organization.

Does your organization have a culture of “defer-up” when decisions are to be made? If you are making way too many decisions in your organization, even having the last word on smaller decisions that mid-level managers and employees themselves could be making, something’s wrong with the culture in your workplace.

A “defer-up” culture absolves people of making decisions ? and keeps them from getting results. The people that will be dealing with the issue should absolutely have the most say in solving the matter.

Build your dream team

A more evolved idea is to hire the smartest people you can find. In fact, build your dream team ? with the folks that have the strengths you may lack, and have each manager do that down the line.

So if you or anyone in management gets hit by a bus, the organization will be just fine.

Verne Harnish, an author I enjoy, said it best. “A business is simply people doing activities. You lead people and manage their activities. You don’t manage people.”

Most bosses don’t really get this simple rationale behind effective leadership.

As I said earlier, it astounds me that corporate America still hasn’t learned not to manage people. One manages his or her environment, manages equipment maintenance, or manages a budget, but one cannot effectively or realistically manage people.

Why don’t bosses get it?

Maybe it’s because we label so many positions as “managers.” These “managers” frequently resort to bossing, pushing or the worst offense, managing by intimidation.

People don’t like to be managed. Just as teenagers bristled under parental management, as adults, they hate it more.

Instead of thinking of managing people, consider improving equipment, processes, work environment, benefits, human resource programs, etc. Then hire great people. The rest will take care of itself.

Herb Kelleher, the famous CEO of Southwest Airlines once said, “I’d rather have a company bound by love than by fear.” He’s absolutely right.

And then mentor …

There’s nothing like being a mentor or a coach to your employees. I think it’s the icing on the leadership cake.

When you help an employee achieve a goal or coach them to be better, you are giving far more than your time or experience. You are paying your time and experience forward and establishing trust and personal connection. I have found employees appreciate this above almost everything and anything else you can do as a manager.

For example, an employee came to me a couple of years ago, embarrassed that she had never had a checking account. She was a single mother with three kids. Impressed with her frankness and desire to learn, I took her to the nearest bank where she opened a checking account. While we were there, we also talked about establishing credit, and she decided to take the additional step of applying for a credit card.

I’m excited to say in the last few years she bought her first car and then her first home. I can’t tell you how rewarding this process was to watch unfold and knowing you played a small part in it.

Mentoring can most certainly extend to helping someone achieve their career goals, even if that means they end up leaving your organization.

David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at dharding@hardingpoorman.com. For more information, go to www.hardingpoorman.com.

Published in Indianapolis

Ken Weisbacher, president and owner of KW Flooring is no stranger to adversity and overcoming obstacles in his business. The company owns and operates seven different flooring brands such as Carpetland Carpet One, Big Bob’s Flooring Outlet and Buddy’s Flooring America. The 150-employee, $42 million company finds ways to take advantage of its niche markets in carpet, hardwood, tile and concrete flooring.

“The keys to our success generally have been our ability to market to different niches of floor coverings,” Weisbacher says. “We have many different models that we operate that makes us unique. We don’t just have one company that sells to everybody.”

It’s that attitude and constant industry awareness that has allowed KW Flooring to push past tough times and continue to offer various specialty flooring brands.

Smart Business spoke to Weisbacher about how he overcomes obstacles and creates niche markets.

What have been some of your toughest challenges lately?

The biggest challenge recently has been the decline in demand for flooring both residentially as well as commercially. With 22 locations selling flooring, when things are good, we have 22 locations that do very well. When things are bad and you’ve got 22 locations, it becomes a big challenge. We’ve had to downsize. Because there is not as much demand we’ve had to right-size to the market. We’ve had to figure out avenues that we’re involved in that will be successful going forward and which are best to get away from. Over the last three years those have been the types of decisions that have been most difficult.

Most business owners open up a store or get into a type of business and that becomes like a child to you. You want to see it grow and succeed and prosper so it’s very difficult to pull the plug and say, ‘Get out of this or I get in deeper.’ You have to be willing to close your failures and promote your successes. Too many people waste their assets and their energy on trying to turn around their failures and their time and money would be better spent promoting their successes.

How do you grow your successful businesses?

We created half a dozen different companies that specialize in a particular area of flooring. We focus on that and are able to provide a level of service for people that they’re not likely to find in a store that has a more general outlook.

You have to identify a niche that is ignored by other people or underserved by other people or that is really fast growing. The first step is to identify the niche and then determine what you can do to differentiate yourself from others who are trying to serve that niche. You’ve got to do it better than anybody who’s out there doing it now.

What have been some challenges of growth in your company?

The progress has been three steps forward and one step back. It has not been a continual improvement, but things are getting better and I am optimistic about the future. One challenge has been ignoring the impulse to be too quick to hire back a number of employees. Personally I believe you should hire back more slowly because you’ll be more profitable as business ramps back up.

You have to hold back the impulse to bring more people in as you see business pick up. You have to make sure that the people you have can manage the growth by doing a little bit more business than they’re currently doing now. If people are paid on commission and are money motivated, they will appreciate that and it works out well for both sides.

What are the keys to finding a new area of business?

A new area for us is concrete grinding and polishing. There again we saw a niche that was underserved. A lot of retail space is now polished concrete and finished floor as opposed to carpet or tile. So we decided that rather than try to compete against that we would learn how to do it ourselves and get into that market. It is an opportunity that traditional flooring has lost to polished concrete. As we saw more and more of that, we realized we were missing out on it.

You have to be open-minded and flexible enough to say what I did for the last 20 years may not be what I need to do for the next 20. It’s not easy to do because everybody gets into a comfort zone. We all want to keep doing what we’ve been successful at, but there comes a time when you have to say it’s not the same as it used to be, therefore my actions and activities have to change.

HOW TO REACH: KW Flooring, (513) 771-2345 or www.carpetlandcincinnati.com

Published in Cincinnati
Friday, 30 September 2011 21:00

Employment realities

As the U.S. economy continues to falter, unemployment has never been such an influencing factor since the Great Depression. Unemployment stands at between 12 percent and 15 percent, not the 9 percent you hear every day. That number is based on government statistics that come from people registering for unemployment. In reality, it is estimated that there are as many 25 million people who are currently unemployed.

The average monthly paycheck is $3,500. The average monthly unemployment check is $1,000. That means it costs the government as much as $50 billion each month in lost payroll taxes and paid unemployment benefits. The question then becomes, “How does the future look for job seekers, employers and the economy as a whole?” Also, “How does the HR and talent management industry react to the constantly changing landscape during these uncertain times?”

Many manufacturing jobs are simply gone forever. They are not coming back, either as a result of outsourcing overseas or because certain sectors have become obsolete or uneconomic from a production standpoint. Today, more than 50 percent of consumer goods — from semiconductors to washing machines — are manufactured outside of the U.S., and that trend continues to increase. At the same time, new industries are emerging, which are very much technology-driven but will take time to develop their full potential, especially as it relates to employment.

As a result, many companies are outsourcing their help desks and customer service activities to countries like India, which is having the effect of creating something of an unemployable labor pool in the U.S., due to a lack of job training and/or education.

So what this means is that for as far as the eye can see, we risk having a permanent unemployment rate of between 8 percent and 10 percent, compared to what was previously the norm of between 3 percent and 5 percent.

Looking to the future, the private sector of the U.S. economy is going to be far more dependent on service industries than manufacturing. Therefore, the human capital of industry must be re-educated and re-trained to meet this new criteria. Initially, it will be a painful transition that probably will get much worse before it gets better.

Human resource managers are now looking at significant changes in their hiring practices in an effort to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Due to the uncertain economic outlook, companies are relying more on temporary staffing than full-time employees. Fewer companies are outsourcing their search requirements and are scanning the job boards and going to social networks, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and cloud computing to identify job applicants — from CEOs to entry-level trainees. This, in turn, has required talent management firms, such as ours, to essentially reinvent themselves.

No more brick-and-mortar office space. Outsourcing of consultants and virtual delivery has become the norm. And, many client companies have decided not to provide outplacement services when they plan a reduction in their work force.

The retained search business has also become a victim of these changes. Ancillary services, such as executive coaching and leadership development programs, have been put on hold by many employers indefinitely.

As a result, our company, ECS, has adopted something of a hybrid approach that incorporates a hi-tech/hi-touch delivery system, providing the best of both worlds to the candidate, including high-quality virtual programs as well as the more personal one-on-one consultation.

Today, the industry is becoming more sophisticated in the development of online career centers and interactive webinars. Consolidation has also begun to create economies of scale. All of the changes now allow candidates a choice to develop their job search from home by accessing the selected service providers’ website, as well as select online certified job training programs. This change has been slow in coming but is now more the rule that the exception. As such, more focus is being given to alternative careers relative to preferred training options and home office environments.

This will not be an overnight recovery. We anticipate unemployment will continue at between 8 percent and 10 percent well into 2012. Political uncertainty, along with tightening of bank credit, concern about higher taxes and the unknowns of health care reform, virtually guarantee it.

Most people in this country want to work and be successful. If we can combine this desire with a re-education program where we have round pegs in round holes, we really can “win the future.”

A viable solution is creating a task force composed of management, government, labor, educators and HR professionals. This group could begin the process of industrial renewal that will put us on a path toward rebuilding our labor pool into a more practical, sustainable level that will launch us into the 21st century and beyond.

In this land of opportunity, there is room for everyone to succeed in their own way.  That’s what makes America great.

Peter Munson is managing partner of Executive Career Services. Reach him at pmunson@ecspi.com or (310) 442-7734.

Published in Los Angeles

Pre-employment testing, or talent evaluation, is continuing to expand as a general practice as companies strive to find the best candidates for job openings. Turnover reduction, improved success of new hires and saving time during the interview process are just a few reasons to implement this in your organization.

“By having data available before meeting with a person face to face it can maximize the interview time and confirm that what is being said by the candidate is genuine,” says Melissa Hulsey, president and CEO of Ashton.

Smart Business spoke to Hulsey to learn more about how businesses can use these tools to their advantage.

Why use testing when making a hire?

Verification of skills and job knowledge, cultural fit, behavioral predictions and values can all be assessed by utilizing the correct type of pre-employment tests. Knowledge is power and assessment tools are one more power tool to add to the box.

Hard skills account for a critical percentage that varies from company to company and position by position. It is imperative to determine if that candidate can perform the skills for that position. With unemployment at an all-time high it is paramount to be able to rely on a vetting process that is proven and unbiased to enable you to be more efficient in your search and hiring process. It is also vital to establish key benchmarks for each position within your organization and define a way to validate the results.

What kinds of test do companies normally use?

There are as many different types of pre-employment tests as there are different jobs available. Most tests will measure skills, behavior/values or knowledge. It is also important to point out the difference between screening and testing. Examples of screening would include drug testing, background checks, credit checks or medical exams. These results will mostly be definitive or pass/fail. Testing is much more in depth and provides greater information on the applicant. Personality tests assess the degree to which a person has certain traits or dispositions. It can also predict the likelihood of conduct. Cognitive or skills tests can measure memory, speed and accuracy or specific functions necessary for a job. Talent assessment tests can help predict a new hire’s success and potential for promotion. Some important points employers should keep in mind:

  • Tests can vary based on company size and organizational culture.
  • Tests can vary based on the core competencies of each position.
  • There are off-the-shelf products that can perform validated assessments.
  • The pre-employment evaluation process can range from an entry-level basic skill validation to testing that involves several hours spent with an industry/organizational psychologist.

The important point is to have a formal talent evaluation process and tailor it specifically to your organization’s needs through proper benchmarking

Are there certain kinds of testing that employers cannot conduct?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the intentional discrimination of people based on race, color, sex, national origin, or religion. If a company tested the math ability of all its female applicants but not its male applicants this would be called ‘disparate treatment’ and is not legal. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act) say that those over 40 also are now a protected class with regard to disparate treatment.

In 1978, the EEOC adopted the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (UGESP) under title VII, providing employers with uniform guidelines on test validation. As long as tests meet the requirements stated above they should be safe to use in employment selection. One exception to this is the lie detector test; the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) prohibits most private employers from using lie detector tests during the course of employment.

How should tests be conducted?

Tests can be conducted at any time in the interview process. They can be online or in person, written or hands-on demonstrations of a particular skill. The key is to be consistent in how they are administered and evaluated. Update tests often to keep up with changing job descriptions.

Skill evaluation should be conducted in the initial stages of the screening process to validate the candidate’s claims of skill proficiencies and save you the time of going further in the entire process if it is not necessary. Behavioral interviews are beneficial when conducted face to face — this will be a critical opportunity for you to measure soft skills.

It is also beneficial to conduct the talent evaluation process in a ‘real world’ environment. This will provide you a more realistic view of how candidates will perform once they are in a paid seat in your company

How can companies decide what kinds of tests to use? And where can they find them?

When beginning the process of deciding what test is best for your organization, you must first define what you want to measure. Update all job descriptions and have metrics in place to measure performance. Look for the traits your best employees possess and benchmark those qualities and screen for those traits in new hires. There are many assessment vendors that have pre-packaged job assessments from manufacturing to medical. Talk with assessment vendors, staffing professionals and HR professional organizations, or spend some time on the Internet looking at your options.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to pre-employment testing, but there are plenty of resources available to guide you through the process. Enlisting the service of an expert consultant would be well worth the investment.

Melissa Hulsey is the president and CEO of Ashton. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or mhulsey@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta

Michael Zavoina has never agreed that you should change your company depending on the business climate. He subscribes to doing things right the first time and making sure the organization continues that consistency. That’s how The Gateway Engineers Inc., an engineering firm, has remained an industry leader.

“People talk about a difficult business climate,” says Zavoina, CEO of the 128-employee company. “That’s not something I’m a fan of, because it suggests we should do something different in these times than we do in other times and when the economy is good and when the economy is bad. I’m more in favor of the status quo. If you set something up right in the first place, let’s keep going with that.”

The company’s drive to remain consistent and efficient has been paying off and has led to growth.

Smart Business spoke to Zavoina about how he makes efficiency and consistency the company’s top priority.

What are some of the ways you keep the company consistent?

We look at efficiency statistics, and we do benchmarking just like anybody else comparing ourselves to other similar firms. It seems like a lot of companies tend to look at absolute stats, and we tend to look at either relative stats or efficiency stats. Instead of looking at things like pure revenue, we look at the efficiency of revenue, like profitability as opposed to profit. We’ve always tried to continuously improve and get better at the efficiency side as opposed to, ‘Times are good right now; let’s raise prices. Or times are bad right now; let’s lower prices.’ We didn’t do any of that because we’ve always focused on the efficiency side. So when good times come we just do that over a broader volume. When bad times come and everyone’s saying, ‘We need to get more efficient in these bad times.’ Well, we always were efficient. That’s what has always bugged me about operating differently. You should have been thinking about operating efficiently all along.

How do you get the company to focus on efficiency?

The key is trying to get everyone involved with that. We do a lot with focus, and I think focus and efficiency go together. One of the things we say is we focus the project people on projects and the support people on support. A lot of companies have the project guys doing support functions. You could say it doesn’t matter, but then their focus is not there. It’s not just me being efficient. It’s all of us doing those things. You have to find the value in everything and everybody. If you need accounting, then you need accounting. If you need IT, then you need IT. Every one of those plays an important piece and can actually help you.

How do you turn that efficiency and consistency into growth?

We broke ourselves up into nine different market segments, and we have leaders of those that focus purely from a business development standpoint. There isn’t just one person marketing or one person developing business. We set it up to broaden that out a bit and they always have their ears to the [ground], they’re well attended at the industry conferences and well read.

We were successful through the recession, and there is something to be said for being the opposite of complacent. We could have stopped there and not looked for more work and said, ‘We’re good. We’re fat and happy.’ We could have done that, but we just kept doing our gig and developing business and spreading it to different segments and keeping our ears to the ground. Certain things pop up and you have to take advantage of those things and be nimble.

That’s a benefit of being relatively small. We’re not bogged down in structure. We can move quickly and did that on the Marcellus stuff and got in early with some of the pre-eminent companies that are doing business here.

What are the keys to finding new opportunities like the Marcellus Shale?

Try not to prejudge things too much. Try to keep an open mind. You could hide your head like an ostrich in the sand, but then you’re not out there. If you do that, then you’re not out at industry conferences, you’re not reading, and you don’t know what’s going on. You have to remain in tune with what’s going on.

You have to try to be consistent. Don’t only develop business during bad times. Try to keep up your business development efforts even during good times. Don’t just say that. You have to develop goals.

Do the same with relationship building and networking type things. You want to stay in touch with partners even when there is no work. You know at some point it’s going to turn around and you want them to say, ‘Hey, who do we go to?’ They will be thinking of you.

HOW TO REACH: The Gateway Engineers Inc., (412) 921-4030 or www.gatewayengineers.com

Published in Pittsburgh