Polly LaBarre is the co-author (with Bill Taylor) of “Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win.” The strategies, tactics and advice in “Mavericks at Work” grew out of in-depth access to a collection of forward-looking companies. These maverick companies are attracting millions of customers, creating thousands of jobs and generating billions of dollars of wealth.
Here is a portion of my interview with LaBarre about the book, which covers forming strategies, unleashing ideas, connecting with customers and enabling employees to achieve great results.
Q: Describe what you mean by “maverick.”
A: Mavericks are different, edgy and independent of spirit. Their personal style or message may not appeal to everyone. But that’s precisely the point. Mavericks are defined by the power and originality of their ideas. They stand out from the crowd because they stand for something truly unique. What’s more, they take stands against the status quo, in defiance of the industry elite and offer compelling alternatives to business as usual. Mavericks may be fighters, but they’re not rebels without a cause. Their sense of purpose is not only powerfully distinct (Think: Southwest Airline’s quest to democratize the skies); it’s provocative and disruptive (Think: HBO’s declaration of originality, “It’s not TV. It’s HBO”).
Don’t confuse mavericks’ unswerving commitment to a cause and their lack of patience for the status quo with the egotism, monomania and power mongering modeled by too many celebrity CEOs and moguls. Mavericks, in fact, have a sense of humility.
Q: Are mavericks born or made?
A: It’s probably a little bit nature, a little bit nurture. We wrote this book to nurture the maverick in all businesspeople. What red-blooded working person wakes up in the morning, looks in the mirror and says, ‘I think I’ll stand for business as usual today’? We all want to make a mark, forge our own path and express ourselves in the world. It’s just that some of us need more of a nudge down that path than others.
Hopefully, the maverick individuals and ideas we present are inspiring and instructive enough to move people. The 32 companies we feature have vastly different histories, cultures and business models. We examined glamorous fields like fashion, advertising and Hollywood, as well as old-line industries like construction, mining and household products. The maverick leaders of these organizations are young, old, women, men, Americans, Europeans, charismatic and preacher-like, retiring and almost reticent. They just don’t fit any one mold.
Q: How does a maverick survive within a traditional company?
A: We encountered a bunch of mavericks inside big traditional companies. They all seemed to have a couple of survival strategies in common: They unleashed tough questions and critiques of their organization without losing their sense of loyalty to it. They’re the kind of questions every CEO should be asking. For example, Jane Harper asked of IBM, ‘Why would great people want to work here?’ And Larry Huston, now vice president of innovation at Procter & Gamble, argued, ‘The current business model for R&D is broken. How can P&G possibly build all of the scientific capabilities we need by ourselves?’
Mavericks don’t just ask questions, they act. We saw this again and again: They just got started, usually without a budget or formal permission, by designing an experiment around their question. Jane Harper launched an experimental Extreme Blue lab in Cambridge and spent a couple of years begging and borrowing resources until the program’s impact became clear.
Mavericks look for peers and fellow travelers outside the boundaries of their company. Not surprisingly, mavericks tend to click when they meet other mavericks. They’re great networkers and learners and are always looking for kindred spirits for support and ideas.
Q: Who is the quintessential maverick in American business?
A: Herb Kelleher and the team at Southwest Airlines. In the midst of the financial carnage and heartaches of the airline business, there’s one company that keeps growing, keeps creating jobs and keeps generating wealth. And that, of course, is Southwest. Southwest didn’t achieve these results because its fares were a little lower than Delta’s or its service was a little friendlier than United’s. It achieved those results because it reimagined what it meant to be an airline. If you ask Herb Kelleher what business he’s in, he won’t say the airline business or the transportation business. He’ll say that Southwest is in the freedom business. The purpose of Southwest is to democratize the skies, to make it as easy and affordable for rank-and-file Americans to travel as it is for the well-to-do. That’s a pretty commonplace idea today but largely because Southwest fought the entrenched conventions of the industry so doggedly in pursuit of that purpose. Its unrivaled success is based on its unique sense of mission rather than any breakthrough technology or unprecedented business insight.
Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of ten books including Enchantment, Reality Check, and The Art of the Start. He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through www.guykawasaki.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It seems that every other week there’s a major story in the media about a company claiming that one of its competitors has purloined a cherished secret that provided an unfair competitive advantage. This is all part of running a business in today’s fishbowl environment, where sensitive information is too abundant and can be obtained by almost anyone and everyone who is so inclined.
In this era of heightened visibility, some of the best companies, especially high-tech firms, play everything incredibly close to the vest, particularly when it comes to providing information about current sales trends, new products and projects that they are exploring or developing. This is because such information is a coveted company asset. In today’s “victory at almost any cost” world, too many are looking for that edge to leverage whatever they can to stack the odds in their favor.
We also read too frequently about how easily these secrets have somehow wound up in the wrong hands. Sometimes a loose-lipped employee simply talks too much to too many people in the wrong places. Occasionally, someone simply leaves a briefcase or smartphone, jam-packed with confidential information, in a bar, at a restaurant or on a plane.
What’s not talked about much is the frequent practice of competitors simply asking what appear to be innocuous questions of lower-level personnel in a company in order to garner nuggets of “inside information” usually without risking the perils of violating any legal statutes. It’s also common practice for Wall Street security analysts to simply walk into a retail store, as an example, and begin asking questions about trends, what products are selling and which aren’t. It all gets down to the reality that it never hurts to ask a question because one never knows when a valuable tidbit will be revealed.
Like it or not, this is just the way it is, and there will always be people who ask and others who tell. What can you do to protect your coveted information? The answer is basic: mandate that providing revealing responses to specific questions is a violation of company policy and could result in draconian consequences for anyone who spills the beans, no matter if well-intended. Once your employees and suppliers know the ground rules and the consequences, you’re one step closer to closing the possibility of vital information inadvertently slipping through the sieve.
The best way to accomplish this is to establish, enforce and continually reiterate a “one voice, one company” policy. This translates into all hands within your organization knowing what can be told to outsiders and, more importantly, what can’t. This policy must be in writing and must state what types of questions are off limits. It must also explain how the questioner is to be handled when the interrogatory is posed. In my retail chain experience, we often had competitors, vendors and industry analysts visit stores and ask all types of questions. Candidly, I don’t blame them, but with a clearly understood policy, employees know how to respond by referring the questions to headquarters and a specific department or individual. Ninety-nine percent of the time the person asking the question never follows up with the corporate office because he or she knows the desired answers will not be forthcoming.
Most employees want to please their employer and most want others to think they are in the know. When you create an ironclad policy, it takes the pressure off of your people and adds another layer of security about things no outsider needs to know. For your suppliers, require that each sign a confidentiality agreement and specify that you have a simple “one strike and you’re out” policy. Also use your own secret shoppers to test your vulnerability by having them ask the forbidden, just to verify that the company veil is not being lifted by the unauthorized.
This protocol is certainly not foolproof, and periodically, there will be lapses — the most frightening of which are the ones you’ll never learn about. It all gets down to a numbers game. Confidential information, just like the cash, equipment and other assets on your balance sheet, can never be taken for granted and must be protected. Anyone can look in your fishbowl in this day and age, but it is your job to make sure that what they think they might find is not what they get.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.
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Are we grateful for the things we have? Are we grateful that we live in a country where the government can’t seize our businesses, where there’s no threat of rebellion and where we can go home to the comforts of our modern homes?
Many people in the world don’t have any of those luxuries. Some can’t even look forward to a good meal or clean drinking water. Most of us here in the United States don’t have to worry about such problems because the people that came before us worked hard to create a nation that has an amazing standard of living. The generation before us rose from the troubles of the Great Depression, led the fight against Nazi aggression that killed millions and returned home to finish making America into a superpower, but do we ever pause to think about the contributions our mothers and fathers made to make things easier for us today? They lived in small houses, often sheltering multiple generations, and worked long hours to make a better life for their children and grandchildren and selflessly went off to war to protect our freedom.
Do we ever think about any of that? The answer for many is no. Gratitude is in danger of becoming a lost art as we focus on accumulating money and possessions, always looking to be better or richer than the next person.
How many times have you read about or talked to someone who had everything you could ever ask for — nice home, nice car and no money problems — lamenting the fact that he or she doesn’t have as much as or more than someone else? We sometimes catch ourselves comparing who has more instead of who has less.
As business leaders, we should have some sense of moral obligation to help those within our sphere of influence, whether it’s our peers, employees or the person who lives down the street. We should be doing our best to look out for those around us, but too often, our days are consumed with the details of business.
Our world may be built on information, but wisdom is lacking. Business has been boiled down to statistical analysis and quarterly earnings reports while people are just another line on the ledger. There is often little room for gratitude in corporate America, and that’s a shame.
When our focus is on accumulating things, we can never enjoy it, because we don’t know how. How can we enjoy something when we’ve already raced off to try to get more? Like a kid tearing through a pile of Christmas presents, we never really take the time to appreciate each gift.
In this season of giving thanks, we should take a moment to think about those who came before us and who helped us get to where we are. Let’s thank those around us for a job well done and consider reaching out to someone who could use a helping hand. But most importantly, let’s consider putting our lives in perspective by thinking about those who are less fortunate.
When we focus more on gratitude, we’ll make a difference that’s far more effective than any business plan. It will allow us to take the time to celebrate success and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Gratitude doesn’t require a giant donation or a huge event; sometimes the little things are more effective.
In the end, we’ll find that the only things truly worth accumulating are good will and happiness. It’s in our control to start helping everyone around us get their fair share, and that’s something all of us can be thankful for.
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cabela’s, the world’s largest direct marketer of hunting, fishing and related outdoor merchandise, considers its stores to be destinations that draw customers from a broad geographic area. So it was unusual when the company decided to open a store in Allen, Texas — just 40 miles away from a Fort Worth, Texas, location that boasts a 230,000-square-foot showroom with amenities that include a museum of animal displays, an indoor archery range and two large aquariums.
“It was kind of a tough choice to make. There are no other stores that close to each other in the company,” says Steve Andognini, general manager of Cabela’s Allen. “This store is considerably smaller than the Fort Worth store. It was a concept store for Cabela’s, less than half the size of the Fort Worth store, but with the same amount of product and the same assortment, just in a smaller design.”
Smart Business spoke with Andognini about the store and the Allen community’s response since it opened on April 14, 2011.
Why did Cabela’s decide to open a store in Allen?
We do a lot of research before going into a market. Allen had a great combination of good demographics and users of our products and our brand. We do a lot of zip code surveys and we know where customers are who are already purchasing from other stores and from our catalog, and we knew that this area would be extremely popular for our business.
What we found was that instead of the Fort Worth and Allen stores pulling business from each other, both have actually grown their business in the past year.
To what do you attribute that success?
One of the great things is that the area around Allen is thriving. We’ve been very fortunate to have some great, very loyal customers and also a great talent pool for our employees. There’s so much local pride, almost a small-town pride that’s here, and that benefits the store greatly. The local economy’s strong; the housing market hasn’t been as affected as it has been in other markets in the U.S. where there are Cabela’s stores.
How does Cabela’s differ from other outdoor equipment retailers?
Cabela’s sells fun. But the company has also stuck to the same values that Jim and Dick Cabela started it with 51 years ago. We know our customers and understand them better than any other outdoor retailer. We say it’s in our nature. From all levels of the company, from outfitters in the store to the CEO, everyone is passionate about living the outdoor lifestyle. They choose to spend their time away from work in the outdoors. That can include a variety of activities — Olympic trap shooters have worked at the store, a professional kayaker works here now — but they all do something. It all ties back to the outdoors and what we do, and we all do it because it’s fun. We’re here at Cabela’s because it’s like a toy store for us.
What are some of things that make a Cabela’s shopping experience special?
There are several hundred wildlife displays throughout the store. Everywhere you’re shopping, you’re surrounded by wildlife from all over the world in full-scale displays. In the back of the store, there are two aquariums with fresh-water fish.
There are also clinics, demonstrations and events at the store for free. When you walk in on a Saturday, you’re surrounded by activities — you can try out a product, sample food, and take part in a lot of things other retailers don’t do. Customers come here all the time on the weekend just to see what’s going on because they know they’re going to have fun.
Unique to the Allen store is a master ammunition reloading specialist, a former Marine sniper, who teaches reloading classes at the store.
Any other ways this store varies from others in the Cabela’s chain?
All the concepts of Cabela’s are still here, but in a scaled-down version because we don’t have the second floor. One thing that’s different is that instead of entire sections of the store dedicated to the wildlife displays, they are incorporated throughout the store so they are everywhere you shop. The goal with building this concept store was to somehow find a way to give the customer an experience that’s equally as exciting as that of the Fort Worth store but within a smaller environment.
Allen was built with a one-story floor plan, different lighting, fixtures and layout, which makes it a more efficient building. Going forward, all of the stores will be built more or less like Allen’s.
Would you recommend that other companies open businesses in Allen?
Absolutely. I’ve been in retail for 10 years, mostly in management positions, and this has been the friendliest, most enjoyable retail environment of the five or six markets in which I’ve worked. It’s because of the great customers in the community and the great amount of talent working here — from young people going to school to retired men and women. There’s a really diverse candidate pool with a lot of talent in this market. I can say, hands-down, that Allen’s a great place for someone to come and start a business.
Steve Andognini is general manager of Cabela’s Allen. Reach him at (214) 383-0502. Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.
Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Allen Economic Development Corporation.
During the life cycle of any business, there are successes and missed opportunities. Even the most accomplished business leaders tell me that while they were ultimately successful, they committed missteps along the way. Often, they attribute these missed opportunities to inattention or “blind spots” that, when looking back, should have been obvious. Why is the seemingly obvious often missed?
Successful business leaders tend to be confident, independent thinkers. This independence can lead to insulation, with an overreliance on an individual or small cadre of the management team.
Other members of the team, or individuals deeper in the organization chart, are heard but not necessarily listened to. At best, they are heard through a filter of preconceptions held by the senior leader or inner circle, thereby limiting the value of the input. At worst, they are completely ignored.
While few have perfect vision, business leaders can limit their blind spots. An outside perspective from experienced resources can provide informed foresight in advance of making critical strategic decisions. Better decisions increase management effectiveness and drive results. How can you gain this invaluable outside perspective? There are several alternatives we have found to be effective, alone or in combination, including:
- Thoughtfully constructing a company advisory board
- Participating in a reputable business forum
- Engaging a qualified consultant
- Obtaining an investor partner
Public companies always have a formal board of directors with regulated fiduciary obligations. Private company boards of directors tend to be much less formal, with wide variances in effectiveness and impact, depending on the particular company.
In both cases, the formal statutory board is typically dominated by insiders. We have found the establishment of an advisory board consisting of just key company leadership and several outside individuals to be effective in providing needed external perspective.
These individuals can have specific industry or functional expertise, such as sales or operations. Their input is typically independent of management’s internal preconceptions.
Multiple business forums exist that can provide peer-to-peer external perspectives, providing business leaders a sounding board for strategic decision-making.
Solis and its portfolio leaders are members of the Young Presidents’ Organization (www.ypo.org), Sage Executive Group
(www.sageexecutivegroup.com), and Vistage (www.vistage.com), among others. For a business forum to be effective, it must provide a confidential format in which senior leaders can feel comfortable candidly sharing and receiving insight.
Many senior leaders roll their eyes when we suggest hiring a consultant to assist in providing external perspective. We agree that consultant relationships, inappropriately qualified and structured, can be ineffective.
Hence, it is critical to thoroughly vet a potential consultant and clearly define expectations. Create objective criteria against which to measure the success of the relationship and design compensation accordingly. By tying compensation to clear deliverables, you’ll limit the chances of a consultant relationship becoming the negative stereotype.
The most transformative way to gain an outside perspective is to bring in an equity investor partner. If the investment relationship is correctly structured, the partnering can be a powerful source of external knowledge and experience. Professional investors bring experience across many companies, often in different industries. This often surfaces insight that business leaders didn’t know they didn’t know.
Obtaining an investor partner doesn’t have to mean ceding control of your business. For example, there are financial firms that take minority equity stakes in private businesses — albeit typically with “ratchet provisions” that increase ownership if the company underperforms — and our firm has pioneered a true 50-50 partnership structure. When selecting a potential investor partner, key factors to keep in mind are the experience an investor partner brings, your level of comfort with the partner and the chemistry between the two parties.
An outside perspective can help business leaders make better decisions and produce superior results. See what you’ve been missing.
Craig Dupper is the managing partner at Solis Capital Partners (www.soliscapital.com), a private equity firm in Newport Beach, Calif., focused exclusively on lower middle-market companies.
Laurence Mawhinney’s recession story is all too-familiar. His company took it on the chin, losing 25 percent of its workforce in the U.S. and forcing those who remained to do more with much less.
“Our team was experiencing enormous change in a very short time frame, and we had stopped investing in our people as part of our cost-cutting,” says Mawhinney, the president of Fisher & Paykel Appliances North America — which is the regional wing of New Zealand-based appliance manufacturer Fisher & Paykel.
“It was necessary at the time but very damaging to the morale of our team. And all of this is going on while the macro picture is pretty ugly out there. The general feeling among people wasn’t very positive.”
The challenge for Mawhinney was to turn around the mindset of the 200 employees in Fisher & Paykel’s North American footprint.
“We’ve had to refocus our team, help people become positive and forward-looking,” he says. “We’ve started to reinvest heavily in our team, and that has really helped to grow our business. It has helped reset our people’s minds to a positive state and realize that the company is focused on the future, focused on helping them and growing the business.”
But Mawhinney’s investment wasn’t just monetary. He and his team committed countless hours strategizing, communicating and promoting the culture.
Mawhinney and his team aimed their leadership agenda at one overarching goal: to strengthen the culture of their company, restore employee confidence, then harness the power of a newly motivated workforce to propel their region of Fisher & Paykel into the next chapter of its history.
“Once we realized that the way forward was pretty clear and we had more blue sky than dark clouds, that is when we saw that we really needed to change, to focus our culture and reinvest in our people,” Mawhinney says. “We needed to convince them that the company was on track and this was going to be a good place to work both now and in the future.”
Get the message
Nothing much has changed in terms of values over the years: Honesty is still the best policy.
When Mawhinney started to see evidence that the recession was loosening its grip, he didn’t try to minimize the damage that it had done to the business. In his communication with his people, he acknowledged the severity of the crisis, the extent to which it had damaged morale throughout Fisher & Paykel’s North American region and the distance that everyone would have to cover on the road back.
As the calendar progressed through 2010, Mawhinney kept employees updated on the financial state of the organization and gave them a clear picture of what areas of the company were performing well and not performing well.
“You have to be very honest, you show them your bottom line, you show them the areas that aren’t performing, and then you show them how to turn it around,” Mawhinney says.
“People are very understanding. It was a very difficult climate, so it’s not like people were driving home, listening to the radio and hearing good business news. It was all very negative. Everyone understood that and took a mature approach to realization of what we had to do to turn the business around.”
Mawhinney realized that the reassurance he could offer to his people was minimal at first. Once the economy started to show some signs of improvement, nobody knew if the improvement would be major or minor, fleeting or sustainable.
In addition to keeping employees in the know, the most important action you can take in that type of situation is to give employees a voice. You can’t simply mandate that they follow your prescribed plan of attack. You have to allow them to question the status and stability of the company and put your future plans under the microscope.
Though you may want everyone to completely buy in to your plans and fight the recession as a united front, each person has to come to his or her own conclusions about the situation.
It’s your company, but it’s their livelihood.
“What we did was centered very much on getting individuals together and listening to them, hearing what their concerns were and addressing the group from the perspective of really trying to understand what they’re going through, then presenting them with a strong business plan that we worked to develop together and using that as the way forward,” Mawhinney says.
“That was really a key to turning around the morale and the individual mindset throughout the company from a negative one to a very positive one.”
Crisis communication is usually about treading water. Employees simply want to know whether the ship is sinking — igniting the boilers and plotting a direction is of less importance until your people are confident that the company’s future is stable.
“At first, your communication will be along the lines of, ‘When do we stop making cuts? When can people stop worrying about whether they’ll have a job in the future?’ They want to know what steps you are taking to provide stability and eventually perform a turnaround,” Mawhinney says. “In our case, our people wanted reassurance that the company wasn’t just taking away and cutting to save.
Once the economy leveled off and we were able to stabilize the business, we started to demonstrate our commitment to the future. We were able to reinvest in our people and show them some wins, which was really critical.”
Grab some wins
A long-held truism in baseball is that pennants aren’t won in April, but they can be lost. The same can hold true when facing a turnaround or recovery in the business world.
You won’t slingshot your company to new heights of profitability and success in the initial weeks and months on the rebound, but the initial wins you do get, however small, are crucial for building the momentum that you will need to ride later.
Without those early wins to galvanize your company and build employee confidence, your recovery plan can stumble out of the gate and you’ll find yourself behind from the get-go.
As Fisher & Paykel started to rebound in the North American marketplace, Mawhinney made it a point to emphasize early wins to his people and demonstrate the importance of small victories at the outset.
“We started to be very successful with our outdoor products that we sell,” he says. “We were able to pick up market share in our outdoor division, which was very profitable for us, and it made for a nice improvement to our bottom line.
“Another big win was when we started to bring individuals together for retraining exercises, our cultural reinforcement and cultural understanding. They’re sessions that we have been running for over a year now.”
In the training sessions, Mawhinney and the leadership team placed the recession and recovery in a historical context. The real victory was in showing employees the staying power of the company. In more than seven decades, Fisher & Paykel had weathered numerous recessions and downturns and had overcome it all to develop into an industry leader.
“We sat down as a group and talked about the culture of the company,” Mawhinney says. “We talked about the history of the company, how the culture evolved due to that history and where we have come from. This company is over 70 years old, and we have been through similar cycles before.
“We used that history to draw analogies to where we are, what we have been through and how we’ve bounced back. That history, and the resilience of the culture, was very useful as far as getting people to understand that what we were going through was a cyclical event. It wasn’t a singular catastrophic event. We had been through this before.”
Early wins improved employee confidence in the future of the organization, which in turn strengthened their belief in the guiding cultural principles of the Fisher & Paykel organization — which is essential to any rebound or turnaround. Without a strong culture, your business isn’t healthy, regardless of the economic climate. Without a strong culture in a down economy, your business could face an existential threat.
“The culture has to be in everything you do,” Mawhinney says. “Everyone needs to be included at every level of your business. It’s important that your team understands that your culture can be a competitive advantage. In today’s environment, that can make the difference.”
Reinforce your culture
Mawhinney added momentum to the initial wins by continuing to link them back to the cultural principles of the organization on a daily basis. If employees can see how their daily tasks help advance the culture, and advance the success of the business overall, it can serve as an important motivational tool.
It’s something Mawhinney demonstrated by involving people in the strategic planning process.
By giving employees a view of, and input into, the strategic planning that was aimed at pulling Fisher & Paykel out of the recession, Mawhinney and his leadership team were able to give employees a sense of the steps management was taking to improve the company’s outlook, and how each person’s job affected the company’s ability to realize its goals.
“We had to develop a new strategy for a difficult time, and everyone was involved in that strategic planning,” he says. “The core values are clearly defined throughout the organization, and our teams have integrated those core values into everyday processes so that they are transparent to all.
“It includes defining the culture and defining a plan to implement the culture, which is really key in terms of stabilizing during difficult times and having that strong culture that can really carry you through.”
Mawhinney’s emphasis on promoting initial wins and on strengthening the culture has had the desired effect. Fisher & Paykel is exiting the recession with a renewed focus on the future. The company has begun making new hires and reinvesting in its existing workforce and has rebounded financially. The company’s North American operations generated $124 million in revenue during 2011.
“Maintaining a culture is really a function of having a strong training culture, as well as mixing the old with the new,” Mawhinney says. “What we found through these pretty challenging times is that the experienced and longer-term employees have really helped the new hires that we have made.
“Our new employees need to understand that our culture is different from what you might normally experience in a U.S.-based company, and it really helps us.
“We believe that you need to have an open culture. That is what I think we really have. It’s a culture where you can feel free to speak your mind and that if you have ideas, put them out there. If we can’t use them, we’ll at least consider them for later.
“It’s critical that employees feel a sense of ownership in what they do. Encouraging an open and creative culture will really help your business, and as the leader, you have to walk the talk if you want that type of culture.” <<
How to reach: Fisher & Paykel Appliances North America, (888) 936-7872 or www.fisherpaykel.com
The Mawhinney file
Born: Stratford, New Zealand
First job: I worked for Television New Zealand before joining Fisher & Paykel, where I’ve worked for 21 years. I’ve worked in the U.S. since 1997.
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?
Innovation is great, but the bigger question is whether it solves a problem. You need to ask what your problems are, and respond to that. I’m looking for the people around me to offer solutions when they encounter a problem.
What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?
You must have a creative spark, and have the ability to incubate new ideas. That means you have to demonstrate the kind of leadership that allows you to develop a creative culture in your organization. Also, you have to help employees see that what they do each day really matters to the company.
What is your definition of success?
Achieving positive results for retailers and shareholders, which will continue to allow us to invest in the future growth of the business.
When hiring a member of the IT team, weeding through all of the candidates out there is a tremendous challenge. Particularly if you are a smaller organization, it is likely that a non-technical person is doing the interviewing. In that case, it is very difficult to determine whether or not the person you are talking to actually knows their stuff. Even someone with a very technical background can be fooled by an impressive resume and a smooth talker.
“IT people are weird. I should know — I’m one of them,” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. “They are the hardest to hire and even harder to retain, and are sometimes hard to fire, as many of them make themselves indispensable as they convince management that their skills are unique. Many of them have technical egos that are larger than life.
“At Cal Net, we have roughly 35 talented IT engineers that we had to hire, train and retain. And we’ve had to let some go over the years. We would like to think that we have this down to a science.”
Smart Business spoke with Schuler about the best process for hiring and retaining the right IT people.
Should IT people be interviewed differently than other potential hires?
Like with any position, you should be screening for the personality traits. An egocentric IT person is the last person you want on your team. Some interviewers are naturally talented at sniffing this out. For others, I would recommend a personality profile. In my opinion, personality is more than 50 percent of what you should be screening for.
Another of the most important traits is good communication skills. We have all experienced the IT guy who wants to sit in a closet somewhere to minimize his contact with humans. If they do make enduser contact, it is usually a painful experience, as they will say the least amount possible so that they can head back to their cave. You should have the expectation that your IT person will be able to communicate as effectively as anyone else in the organization.
How should a company screen an IT person?
Start with, ‘Tell me about your IT environment at home.’ If they give you an answer along the lines of ‘I have three physical servers, running seven VMs for testing, and I’ve got my own mail server running Exchange, and I’m running VDI for my primary workstation,’ then that is a good first step. They view this as their ‘sandbox.’ If they respond, ‘I’ve got a laptop at home and I try to stay away from the computer as I get enough of it at work,’ then they probably aren’t a good technical fit. You want your IT folks to be passionate about technology, and most of them do their best research and learning at home, after hours.
The second easy way to screen is to have a short technical quiz that can be administered by anyone. Feel free to email me for our quiz.
Last, and perhaps the most time-consuming and difficult process, is to put them through a technical lab. We require that our new hires come in and build a network in an eight-hour time period. We have a point system that scores the candidate, as no one ever finishes the lab. This gives us an excellent assessment as to what they do know, and what it is that they need help with. Depending on what you are looking for, there are companies that will administer these sorts of labs for you. If you are testing on Microsoft infrastructure skills, we can administer this sort of lab.
What are some of the challenges of retaining IT people?
In general, IT people are motivated by advancement and the quest for knowledge. In organizations where there isn’t any room to move up nor is there anything new to learn, IT people will stagnate and usually move on.
Good IT people are always looking to explore and learn the latest and greatest technologies. Just as they have a sandbox at home, they want to work for an organization that invests in IT and gives them an opportunity to learn.
Good IT people are also looking to move up the food chain. While some IT folks are motivated heavily by pay, many are more motivated by an increase in title and responsibility.
How can these challenges be overcome?
Quenching the IT person’s quest for knowledge isn’t always the easiest thing to do. There are two ways to attack this. First of all, if you hire someone who is a master of all of the technologies that you are currently running, you’ll get someone who can hit the ground running, but you will also get someone who becomes bored quickly. On the other hand, if you hire someone with like experience and aptitude, but not exact experience in the technologies you are running, you will give someone an opportunity to learn. You will obviously have to weigh the business risk in doing this — and while they are learning you may want to supplement their skills with a consultant — but it can be well worth it in the long run. In short, I recommend slightly ‘under-hiring’ for the position.
The second way to attack this is to give your IT person some latitude when it comes to decision-making. If they want to implement a new technology that is reasonable from a cost standpoint, and delivers business value, I would err on the side of letting them do it. Even small concessions can give your IT person a sense of worth and something new to learn.
Last, in terms of advancement, don’t ‘over-title’ a person. Don’t call your lone IT person ‘IT director’ right away. Create a career path: network administrator, senior network administrator, IT manager, IT director and so on. Even very large IT organizations should be using this model. Look for increases in responsibility along the way, along with small increases in pay. Thinking out a career path before you hire someone will go a long way in making sure that they hang around for a long time.
Zack Schuler is the founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at ZSchuler@CalNetTech.com.
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As each element of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act unfolds, those who provide health care for American communities continue to pursue the legislation’s Triple Aim goals of better care, better health and better management of costs.
Smart Business spoke with MemorialCare Health System President & CEO Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., to discover more about this.
How are you preparing for health care reform?
MemorialCare is committed to bold goals in clinical and service excellence, steadfast fiscal discipline and in staying ahead of the curve. We are now implementing new approaches that we do anticipate will improve and ensure the satisfaction of our patients, our continued partnerships with physicians and engagement with employees while growing our capacity to greatly improve health care for our communities. We’re expanding ambulatory care, adding more hospitals and broadening outpatient offerings with the goal of delivering the very best value across all of our 250 facilities.
Well before reform began, we implemented substantial changes, moving from a system of caring for the sick to one focused on improving each individual’s health and wellness. Then, beginning some two decades ago, top physicians began an ambitious
effort to come up with a more scientific approach to the improvement of medical outcomes. Those efforts — today involving thousands of physicians, nurses and other clinicians who are studying the best medical care around the globe — have led to
MemorialCare surpassing the national standards regarding both evidence-based, best-practice medicine and medical outcomes.
What options are there for physicians?
MemorialCare has a very proud history of physician leadership and engagement. Partnership opportunities with our 3,000 affiliated physicians range from the joint ventures, leadership, management positions and participation in the MemorialCare Physician Society, to joining our employment and Independent Practice Association (IPA) models, and collaborations that involve innovative medical technology. We will continue to forge unique partnerships that will favorably impact an integrated approach to the delivery of health care while also ensuring a sound future for our physicians. Earlier in 2012, MemorialCare Medical Foundation announced that it would be affiliated with Greater Newport Physicians and would acquire the Nautilus Healthcare Management Group. By offering a range of partnership opportunities and forging strengthened alignments with physicians, we’re positioned to provide the best possible care, offering patients a choice from among the Southland’s best physicians, and carefully managing health care costs to both employers and consumers. Critical to this broad-ranging physician partnership approach is our commitment to maintaining strong relationships with independent physicians, medical groups and IPAs, and offering physicians myriad opportunities through the MemorialCare Physician Society.
How does technology improve medical care?
Groundbreaking medical technology has proved to yield faster, improved diagnoses; superior, less invasive and more targeted treatments; reduced hospital stays; quicker recoveries; and enhanced quality of life for our patients. The 320-Slice CT Scanner — the most powerful X-ray imaging device — provides high-quality imaging for early and accurate diagnosis and treatment of the heart, brain and tiny blood vessels. Robotic surgery enables physicians to operate with amazing precision through very tiny incisions for heart, gynecology, urology, gastroenterology and cancer procedures. MemorialCare, with one of the West’s busiest robotic surgery programs, boasts the county’s first national robotic surgical training center and is among only a few hospitals that have introduced robotic technology into a hybrid cardiovascular suite.
MemorialCare Cancer Institutes have the latest cancer diagnosis and treatment modalities for adults and children with the most sophisticated treatment technologies that are available today. The MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institutes are offering
comprehensive centers for diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of cardiovascular disease with advanced, world-class care.
Digital technologies that take the form of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) are allowing clinicians to have immediate
access to a patient’s health and medical history, maximize the clinical quality and patient outcomes at points of decision-making, reduce medical errors and vastly improve patient care. MemorialCare was the very first health care system in Orange County to initiate comprehensive EMRs for its hospitals that can now be found in physician offices and ambulatory sites. Many patients are accessing their health records to track and improve their own health and wellness.
Are health and wellness efforts working?
Our Good Life program works to improve the health and wellness of our employees and their families through our fitness challenges, our nutritional offerings and support for chronic conditions. Employers can take advantage of our expertise to improve the health of their staff with on-site screenings, physicals and more. MemorialCare can help employers adapt to health reform, trim health benefits and health costs and improve productivity. Further, as the only health system in Orange and Los Angeles counties with adult and children’s hospitals, we offer lifetime care and help consumers take control of their health and their lives.
Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., is the president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System. The Southern California not-for-profit integrated health care delivery system includes Long Beach Memorial, Community Hospital Long Beach, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente; MemorialCare Medical Group; Greater Newport Physicians, an Independent Practice Association (IPA); MemorialCare HealthExpress retail clinics; and numerous outpatient health centers throughout the Southland. For information, go to memorialcare.com.
The changes occurring with the implementation of the America Invents Act (AIA) are important for the United States and for anyone thinking about filing a patent application. The AIA puts the U.S. on the same first-to-file patent system as the rest of the world. This means that the first person to file a patent application is the first to invent. However, because of the changes, companies need to be more vigilant about their inventions and act quickly when they have something patentable, especially in industries that are highly competitive.
“There needs to be a plan of action,” says Sarah S. Brooks, an Attorney at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. “Have a patent attorney lined up and have someone monitoring the technical department so your company can file right away. This might involve restructuring the company’s reporting chain.”
Not adapting to the new rules could mean someone else claims your invention first.
“If you don’t file and you’ve got something on the market that you’re selling, there’s nothing stopping another company from taking that and filing their own patent application and they’ll be the presumptive owner. So there are serious consequences for not filing right away,” she says. “If this occurs, there is a process called a derivation proceeding that could help you if you can show that the patent applicant derived its invention from you, but you will have an uphill battle because you have to prove this by substantial evidence and it may be difficult to get this evidence.”
Smart Business spoke with Brooks about the AIA and what companies should do to prepare for the changes it brings.
What is the AIA?
The AIA, passed in 2011, is the biggest change to U.S. patent law since the 1950s. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a backlog of patent applications, and the new law is an effort to streamline the patent system.
The major change coming through the AIA is to move to a first-to-file system, which aligns the U.S. system with what the rest of the world uses. Previously, the U. S. was on a first-to-invent system, which meant that even though you didn’t submit your application first, you could prove you were the inventor by going through an interference proceeding to determine the proper inventor. However, interference proceedings were contributing to the backlog in the USPTO. Therefore, the AIA attempts to streamline the process with the derivation proceedings previously
What are the key changes in the act that companies should know about?
In addition to the first-to-file provision, which takes effect March 16, 2013, there will be a significant change affecting the grace period for public uses, patents, publications and sales. Previously, you had one year from a prior patent, publication, public use or sale in which to file your patent application. Now, that grace period has been eliminated with just a few exceptions. The one-year grace period now only applies to prior sales and publications of the inventor, not to prior sales and publications of others. In addition, the AIA also bars someone from getting a patent if his or her invention is sold anywhere in the world by anyone other than the inventor before a patent application was filed.
One more change, meant to streamline litigation, is a new proceeding called a post-grant review. Through this, a third-party can claim your patent is invalid on any grounds within nine months of the patent being issued. Post-grant reviews will offer a cheaper solution than standard litigation in the courts and may be used instead of re-examinations, which are similar but don’t operate within the same time frame.
Finally, the AIA allows a company to file a patent in its own name if the invention has already been assigned to the company or if the inventor is obligated to assign the patent to the company. This eliminates the need to file assignments with the USPTO.
How does the AIA change the way companies should conduct business going forward?
You can’t sit on your invention, especially with the rush to the patent office seen in certain industries, like the smartphone industry. Previously, you could go through an interference proceeding to prove you were the first to invent, but that’s been eliminated and replaced with the derivation proceeding in which it will be harder to prove you are the true inventor.
Filing for a patent quickly won’t be a problem for big companies that have the infrastructure already in place. It will be problematic for smaller companies and independent inventors because they don’t have their own in-house legal department and the process is expensive. Therefore, you’ll likely need to line up a patent attorney.
You also have to be careful of another bar to your patent. If someone other than the inventor is making, using or selling an invention or publishing information about it, there is no one-year grace period for this type of prior art. Prior art is all public information disclosed about an invention before a given date.
Will the AIA simplify or make the patent system more complex?
It will likely do both. It will simplify and streamline the process in some ways, such as possibly increasing the speed with which applications are granted. But while people and companies are getting accustomed to the new rules and what they mean, there might be an increase in litigation. Further, although there has been lots of publicity about the AIA, most of the news is about the change to the first-to-file system, not the other changes coming that are just as important and have to be dealt with.
Sarah S. Brooks is an Attorney at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. Reach her at (424) 214-7025 or email@example.com.
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It takes years for an owner to build a business, but only a few weeks for an unscrupulous employee to destroy all of that hard work by committing multiple acts of fraud. Approximately 75 percent of employees have stolen from their companies at least once over the course of their careers, according to the International Foundation for Protection Officers, and about half of those offenders will steal again.
The risk is greatest in small to mid-size companies with limited staff, where one person is solely responsible for processing financial transactions and signing checks.
“Executives are asking for trouble if they don’t background check prospective employees or segregate financial transactions because the accumulated losses from internal fraud are capable of bringing a small company to its knees,” says Charlie Ott, a vice president and regional manager for security at California Bank & Trust, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Zions Bancorporation.
Smart Business spoke with Ott about the growing risk of employee fraud and the most effective ways to prevent it.
What are some common types of internal fraud?
Trusted employees, with access to the company’s bookkeeping system and bank accounts, can siphon off funds by setting up phony vendors in the accounts payable module and paying erroneous invoices. Or, they may surreptitiously switch account numbers in the online bill pay system and use company funds to pay personal credit cards, mortgages and car payments. Some use software to replicate blank check stock or insert their name into the payee line. Other times, they submit phony receipts on expense reports or deposit company checks into their personal accounts.
Fraudsters spend every day looking for opportunities and honing their craft, and they’re bound to succeed unless you are vigilant and take a few preventative measures.
Which preventative measures are most effective?
Internal fraud starts with people. So even if you hire referrals from trusted employees or family friends, it’s critical to conduct several interviews, a background investigation and reference checks before extending an offer. Repeat offenders often target small businesses due to their lax vetting practices, and background checks aren’t that expensive when you consider what’s at stake.
Once you have established strong hiring practices, consider opportunity. Based on your business and accounting practices, where do opportunities exist for an employee to defraud your business? What controls are in place to deter employees from defrauding your business? You can mitigate opportunity by making it difficult for fraudsters to conceal their deeds, which is done by apportioning accounting and banking duties among several employees and conducting random checks on financial and banking activity. As an example, have one person open the mail and enter invoices into the system, another approve the payments, and a third person sign the checks, make deposits and reconcile the monthly bank statement. Finally, safeguard the company’s legal filings and resolutions so fraudsters can’t access sensitive company information and use it to open up a phony bank account. Typically, fraudsters test the waters by stealing a small amount of money to see if anyone notices, then they increase the frequency and volume of their illicit activities. Also, they typically act alone; rarely do they act in concert with someone else, as that raises the risk of getting caught.
Is there a way to minimize the risk of check fraud and counterfeiting?
Keep cancelled checks and blank check stock under lock and key, and only release small batches of checks as necessary. Take advantage of your bank’s fraud prevention programs like positive pay and reverse positive pay, which are specifically designed to spot and stop payment on counterfeit, altered or forged checks. Even if your company is small and writes very few checks, you can still look for altered, forged and counterfeit checks or account anomalies by using online banking to view activity and photos of cancelled checks. Finally, don’t let the bank statement sit on your desk; nip fraud in the bud by reviewing your statement the minute it arrives.
What can executives do to avert technology breaches and phishing?
Every company should have virus protection software and a firewall installed on its network, and executives should ask their banker about programs like Trusteer that are specifically designed to spot fraudulent or suspicious electronic banking activity. Keep hackers from gaining access to accounts by using a standalone computer to process banking transactions, utilizing dual authentication and having two people approve transfers of funds between accounts. Educate employees on the risk of phishing and fraudsters’ tactics so they aren’t duped into providing passwords or login information. Never allow multiple users to use the same password or logon name. Keep passwords under lock and key, changing them from time to time, especially when an employee leaves or takes on different responsibilities.
How can executives help prevent fraud?
Don’t be so consumed with growing your business that you overlook the need to establish rigorous accounting policies and procedures or communicate a zero-tolerance policy for deviations. Inspect what you expect by ensuring accounting procedures are followed and seek professional advice by commissioning an outside audit annually. Spot irregularities by reviewing accounting and banking activity at least once a week and ask questions so employees know you’re paying attention. Ask about a sudden increase in invoice activity, the addition of a new vendor or a large change in account balances. Spend time with employees and have lunch in the cafeteria occasionally because you might be surprised at what you learn by just hanging around.
While it may be impossible to eliminate internal fraud, you’ll be able to minimize it as long as you’re vigilant and take a few precautions.
Charlie Ott is a vice president and regional manager for security at California Bank & Trust, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Zions Bancorporation. Reach him at (510) 808-1644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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