Cease and desist letters can be used for more than stopping trademark
infringements — they can be invaluable marketing opportunities.
“There are a lot of ways to turn a possible negative into a real business positive,” says Tom Speiss, shareholder and trademark attorney at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. The letter could be used to initiate a conversation about a potential acquisition or licensing opportunity.
“You want all CEOs and key decision makers to read your letter and say, ‘This is a company we need to meet,’” says Speiss.
Smart Business spoke with Speiss about how to capitalize on cease and desist letters.
What is a trademark cease and desist letter?
Simply put, if a company owns a trademark and sees another using it in the same space, the letter is intended to get your competitor to ‘cease’ using your mark. Rather than filing suit, which should be a last resort, a well-crafted letter with your position statement and a clear articulation of your rights to the mark may be all you need.
Are certain elements necessary for the letter to hold legal significance?
The best offense is a well-planned defense. First, you must be able to confirm receipt of the letter. If you later file suit, you will have proof that your competitor received the letter, giving you a better opportunity to claim damages, especially if willful infringement can be proven.
Second, the message in the letter needs to be clear. It should state that you have superior rights to the mark, what those specific rights are, and it should include the trademark registration number. Specific is terrific here — there should be no doubt about what you are claiming and how you’d like to remedy the situation.
How can you ensure the letter has the intended effect?
Do your research. Make sure you are well within your rights before asserting a claim. Once the alleged infringer
receives the letter they will likely conduct their own investigation about your company, so be prepared.
Then order a trademark search report. The report will give you a more complete picture including: a list of applications and registrations at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a list of abandoned and pending marks, state registered marks, business and domain names, and Web use. You will want to have a solid case for your claims before you draft the letter.
How could it be used as a marketing opportunity?
We all have one chance to make a first impression. This is a terrific opportunity to demonstrate your industry prowess and position your company as a viable suitor or partner. Perhaps you are a prime acquisition target. Or, maybe your strategy includes growth by strategic acquisition. Maybe there’s a licensing deal in your future. Whatever the case may be, if the recipient of your letter sees you as a clean and professional organization, this could be one way to start the conversation toward something much greater.
How would you advise companies considering this strategy?
Think with the end in mind. Before you write the letter, think about your desired outcome and talk about it internally.
You will want to make sure the letter is accurate and viable so you can continue to pursue your desired opportunities in the marketplace. Then, put your best foot forward. Keep in mind, your letter may be read by unintended recipients such as news media or your main customers.
If you write a strident and aggressive letter, your competitor may find a way to use it against you in the marketplace. Don’t let them do that. Make sure you give your recipient a reasonable ‘out’ by not forcing them to mount an aggressive defense out the gate. When done right, you could turn your competitor into an ally.
Tom Speiss is a shareholder at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. Reach him at (424) 214-7042 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WEBSITE: Find Tom Speiss’ profile at www.sycr.com/thomas-j-speiss-iii.
Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth
You need operating cash to grow your business, but securing a traditional commercial loan isn’t always easy for small and midsize business owners. Fortunately, Small Business Administration (SBA) loans are a worthwhile financing option. An SBA loan typically offers longer terms, more competitive interest rates and, best of all, bankers can be more lenient because the government guarantees up to 75 percent of the loan amount.
“An SBA loan is a sensible option for businesses that experienced a decline in sales and profits during the recession,” says Santiago “Chico” Perez, SBA sales manager for California Bank & Trust. “Bankers can consider your financial projections, along with historical data, when evaluating your loan application.”
Smart Business spoke with Perez about the growth opportunities through an SBA loan.
When should business owners consider an SBA loan, and how do these loans differ?
New ventures traditionally have a hard time securing working capital, but you may get $100,000 to $5 million through a SBA loan, as long as you’ve run a similar enterprise and propose a viable business strategy. You also can use SBA funding to purchase another company or procure equipment or inventory to fulfill a new contract.
Generally, SBA loans can offer more favorable terms. For example, you only need 10 percent down to purchase real estate, and you can roll fees into the loan balance. SBA loans feature higher loan-to-value ratios, longer repayment periods and no balloon payments. Companies often qualify for higher loan amounts because they can amortize the purchase of buildings over 25 years or equipment over the remaining economic life, and need less cash flow to service the debt. Owners also can use funds to buy raw materials, finished goods or equipment to expand into new markets.
How does the SBA’s underwriting criteria differ from traditional commercial loans?
Bankers will review standard requirements such as financial statements and credit reports, but some criteria differ:
- Projections. Bankers consider future sales and historical data when evaluating loan applications. Ensure your projections are realistic and correlate with current financials and forecasts. For example, earnings won’t automatically double with a larger facility or new equipment. Instead, explain how the equipment lowers operating costs or how you’ll use the extra space to add a new production line. Substantiate claims with copies of customer agreements and contracts.
- Resumes. Tout your management team’s industry experience and track record.
- Ownership. Owners with more than a 20 percent stake must submit signed personal financial statements and tax returns.
- Down payment. Lenders must determine the source of a borrower’s down payment, even if the funds are in an escrow account.
- Collateral. The need for collateral hinges on the loan purpose and program so review underwriting criteria at SBA.gov, and state both in your proposal.
- Tax returns. Owners must supply three years of tax returns, financial statements and balance sheets to qualify.
Does the SBA offer other support to small business owners?
The SBA provides myriad tools and support to help owners create a loan proposal and navigate the underwriting process. Small Business Development Centers offer free assistance with financial, marketing, production and feasibility studies, and many centers engage local experts.
The SBA also provides mentorships, free counseling and business plan expertise through the national nonprofit SCORE.
What else can owners do to successfully navigate the lending process?
Loan approval hinges on an accurate, thorough proposal, so take your time and seek expert advice. Bankers want to hear the story behind your numbers; be ready to explain how you overcame adversity and how you’ll use the SBA loan to take your business to the next level. Help your banker understand your customers by including links to your company’s website, LinkedIn page or Facebook page in your proposal. Finally, you can accelerate the process by selecting an approved Preferred Lender who can approve loans without submitting the entire package to the SBA.
Santiago “Chico” Perez is SBA sales manager at California Bank & Trust. Reach him at email@example.com.
Website: California Bank & Trust is an SBA Preferred Lender. Learn more at www.calbanktrust.com/smallbusiness/loans/small-business-loans.html.
Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by California Bank & Trust
Imagine it’s a hot day. You’re thirsty and hungry, but don’t want anything unhealthy. There aren’t many options available to meet all those needs. In the early ’70s, the concept of the smoothie was born out of this unmet need. Opened in 1973, Smoothie King Franchises Inc. was the original smoothie brand.
In 2001, Wan Kim had this same urge to find a healthy option to quench his thirst and satisfy his hunger. He had his first experience with a Smoothie King smoothie while studying at University of California at Irvine. The high quality, healthy product had him hooked immediately.
Kim was so impacted by the product that he became a Smoothie King franchisee in South Korea. Since 2003 he has owned several Smoothie King franchises, and in 2012 when the opportunity came about to own the brand, he jumped at the chance.
“I bought the company in July 2012,” says Kim, Global CEO. “I really love this brand. It’s not because I’m the owner, but because we have great products. There are a lot of changes still happening, but it’s exciting.”
Smoothie King, a 300-employee, more than $230 million organization, is now 40 years old. The brand has more than 700 stores and a presence in the United States, Korea and Singapore. Despite the company’s established age and fairly big size, a new owner and plenty of potential market opportunity leave the brand in growth mode today.
“Our next five-year growth plan is to open 1,000 stores in the U.S. and 500 outside the U.S.,” Kim says. “Last year the company did about 26 franchise openings. This year in the first quarter the company has done 40 to 45 signings.”
Kim’s experience as a franchisee and now a franchisor has given the company new life and Kim is excited about where he can bring the brand and its smoothies in the near future.
Here’s how Kim is spreading the word about Smoothie King in the U.S. and overseas.
Understand all areas of your business
Kim was a franchisee for nearly a decade in South Korea. His stores were some of the highest grossing for Smoothie King before he became CEO.
“Obviously franchisees and franchisors have some different views, but eventually the bottom line is to make a better brand,” Kim says. “The path they take can be different, so you have to keep communicating to each other and look at the bigger picture.”
Kim has a very unique advantage over numerous other franchise CEOs. He now has experience as a franchisee and a franchisor.
“I have both aspects and know what a franchise wants and needs, and I know how I need to communicate,” he says. “In any kind of business, sometimes people forget why we do it. So that’s why I keep communicating and keep telling our people why we do this business. We have a great mission and a great vision. We just have to talk about it.
“A lot of people want to make money and be comfortable and I get that and that’s very, very important, but there has to be another reason why we do this. Smoothie King is a healthy choice and our mission is to help people live a better lifestyle.”
While the company’s mission is to help people live a healthier lifestyle, Kim wanted to make sure that the company’s franchises were in good health also.
“As soon as I bought the company I looked at how many single franchisees we have, because when I was a franchisee I thought becoming a multi-unit franchisee was actually very challenging,” he says. “As a franchisor, they don’t understand what kind of challenges franchisees have when they have a second or third location.
“I started to visit some multi-unit franchisees that we have to look at what kind of system they have in place. Today, we are assembling all those systems so that whenever we have a single franchisee try to become a multi-unit franchisee we have some system to help them grow.”
Having those systems in place will become very beneficial as Kim continues to look at ways he can expand the brand.
“Right now we are in growth mode and are opening a lot of stores and also expanding into other countries,” Kim says. “When you grow, you are hiring a lot of people and when you’re expanding outside the United States you encounter different cultures. In order for me to assemble all those differences I need a really strong mission for why we do this business so that it doesn’t matter what kind of culture or background you’re from.”
Prepare for growth mode
Today, Kim is focused on growing the Smoothie King brand outside the U.S. and in the Southern parts of the U.S. where the company has a strong presence, but a lot of potential still remains.
“We want to make sure that we secure our market before we expand to a different part of the U.S.,” Kim says. “That expansion is happening in Florida, Texas, Georgia and other southern parts of the U.S. Going outside the United States we are looking at Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan and the Middle East. Our goal is to open two markets this year and two more markets next year.”
Fast-paced growth like Smoothie King is expecting requires a strong culture and mission that make the company attractive anywhere it goes.
“When you are in growth mode I would advise that you want to have a really strong culture in your organization, so that whomever you hire can be blended into your culture,” he says. “You have to set up a strong mission, vision and keep communicating with your employees.”
When you take your company outside of the United States you will experience a lot of cultural difference, and you have to be prepared for it.
“A lot of times when people don’t have any experience with different cultures they will think it’s wrong, but in fact it’s different,” Kim says. “In order for you to go to other countries and do business you have to learn how to respect their culture. If you don’t respect their culture they will know immediately. You have to educate your employees.”
The vast cultural differences Smoothie King employees will experience as the brand continues to expand isn’t the only change they’ll have to accept, they’ll also have to buy into the sheer amount of growth that Kim sees in the company’s future.
“A lot of times when companies grow employees don’t really see how far we can go,” he says. “When we start to grow there is a lot of work coming in and a lot of things are changing. It is very important that I need to keep communicating with employees that we can get there, because if you don’t believe we can get there, then it’s not going to happen.”
One of the first things Kim did when he bought the company was to tell the employees about the growth plan and a lot of people didn’t buy in.
“They were thinking, ‘Oh, it’s a new owner; of course he’s going to be thinking of growth, but it’s not possible,’” he says. “So I had to keep communicating that it’s going to happen and one by one, I started to show them that this would happen and then it really happened and people believed in the plan. I know there are still people who don’t believe where we can go, so I still have to communicate.”
Kim bought the company a little more than a year ago and he is having a blast seeing the company succeed little by little.
“I tell my employees to imagine if we were the size of any big fast food company, the world could be a different place,” he says. “It’s not just about making money and having success. It’s also about influencing more and more people to live a healthier lifestyle.”
How to reach: Smoothie King Franchises Inc., (985) 635-6973 or www.smoothieking.com
Workplace contentment, fulfillment or wellness may be intangible, but it will affect the growth and success of your business. When it’s present, there are obvious, unmistakable signs, says Satinder Dhiman, Ph.D., Ed.D., associate dean of the School of Business, chair and director of the MBA Program and professor of management at Woodbury University.
“When you go into an organization, you can almost smell it,” he says. “Being highly fulfilled takes a conscious decision; it’s not something that just comes about.”
Businesses have less absenteeism, turnover and stress leave when employees have a sense of belonging, enhanced contribution, and more engagement and trust.
Smart Business spoke with Dhiman about how to encourage highly fulfilled employees.
Why do executives need to be concerned with workplace contentment?
A recent Gallup survey found that 47 percent of employees feel disengaged, and when that’s the case it will affect the bottom line. People just going through the motions are more likely to be absent and leave the company. There also are about, depending on the survey, 17 to 20 percent of employees who are positively disengaged.
Organizations are not just numbers, and you don’t want to pursue profits in an unbridled manner. Remember that businesses are about people.
What are the characteristics of highly fulfilled employees?
These employees have a sense of ownership and commitment. They focus on what is right, are generally more appreciative and concentrate on making things work. They are aware of their contribution to the organization and know how it adds to the bigger picture.
This then leads to high emotional intelligence. They are in better control of their own feelings, so they are better equipped to deal with the feelings of others. And better interaction leads to greater trust, which is the glue holding things together.
Research shows corporate communication failure happens not because the message was wrong, but because it was interpreted wrong. There was distrust of the messenger.
How can management increase workplace contentment?
A great employer will inspire employees through actions, not just words or slogans. To achieve this, approach employees in a holistic manner, appreciating all skills and abilities. There’s a joke that at his retirement party, an employee said, “For 40 years you paid me for my hands; you could have had my brain for free.” Also, strive to create a culture of appreciation. Instead of catching people doing something wrong, catch people doing something right.
Fulfillment engages the body, mind and spirit. So, take a genuine interest in employees’ well-being and what is happening with their emotional makeup. You want to help employees attain their dreams — send a few staff members to a local conference, provide tuition reimbursement or be flexible on hours to allow them to go to class.
If employers support employee education, many fear employees will gain skills and leave. However, in addition to being more productive while working for you, think of the economy as a whole. You hire people who have been trained elsewhere. Your employees gain skills and go elsewhere. There is no real gain or loss.
Of course, bonuses and pay raises don’t hurt in terms of building trust and appreciation.
Why is personal fulfillment so important?
Workplace fulfillment is more likely when employers and employees are fulfilled in their own lives. It trickles down.
Attaining personal wellness comes from self-knowledge or understanding your purpose in life, as well as selfless service. Once those two pillars are in place, certain mental habits or gifts contribute and help create a sense of self-fulfillment. They are:
- Pure motivation.
- Taking a vow of harmlessness.
By focusing on each of these habits, you can create personal fulfillment. And, by sharing it with your employees, achieve organizational well-being.
Satinder Dhiman, Ph.D., Ed.D., is an associate dean, School of Business; chair and director, MBA Program; and professor of management at Woodbury University. Reach him at (818) 252-5138 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Book: More on this subject can be found in Satinder Dhiman’s new book, “Seven Habits of Highly Fulfilled People: Journey from Success to Significance.” Find it on Amazon.com.
Insights Executive Education is brought to you by Woodbury University
Recently, I had the privilege of attending the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year conference in Monte Carlo. I’m back to report that entrepreneurship is alive and thriving around the globe!
It was a whirlwind of a trip, packed with networking, thought-provoking panel discussions and personal interviews. We heard from a remarkable panel of speakers including Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize recipient; Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web; John Cleese, award-winning actor, author, humorist and Monty Python legend; and many more.
I also had the opportunity to sit down with some of the world’s most accomplished entrepreneurs. These business leaders come from more than 60 countries that combined represent a staggering 94 percent of the global economy.
In this issue and in the months to come, you’ll learn what the world’s greatest entrepreneurs have to say about leadership, innovation, overcoming challenges, bringing their visions to life and much, much more. You’ll also hear from the leadership at EY as to the importance of celebrating entrepreneurship.
Transforming vision into reality
“Be careful about making assumptions. Those assumptions can lead you down a pretty dangerous path. It is OK to make assumptions and have confidence but you had better do your due diligence as well. An assumption is having those critical for the business make sure it is happening. I am very trusting of people and in the past have had some unfortunate instances where I did make assumptions about something and they were completely the wrong assumptions.”
Dr. Alan Ulsifer, CEO, president and chair of FYidoctors
“Growth obviously continues to be a challenge. The markets demand growth if you are a publicly traded company, and growth is a metric of how the business is doing. If you want to continue to attract the best people, attract the right sources of capital to your business, you have to demonstrate that things are going well and growth is one measure that people look to. I think that if you are a business in an established market, growth can be a challenge because those markets by and large are growing more slowly. So in order to get more rapid growth, many companies are looking at emerging markets and trying to figure out what their strategy should be for emerging markets, those that have double-digit growth potential.”
Bryan Pearce, Americas Director, Entrepreneur Of The Year and Venture Capital Advisory Group EY
“One of the toughest things for me was that people have a certain image of my country, Colombia. They don’t trust a company there to have good quality and do good work, but I am very proud to offer those qualities from Colombia. It is not easy but it is something that you can accomplish. I have been down a lot of times, but the good thing I have noticed is that every time something like that happened, I have been able to obtain positive things out of it. I have been broke multiple times, but from being broke I have been able to learn from it and rebuild.
Mario Hernandez, founder and president, Mario Hernandez
Jim Turley leaves his post as Global Chairman and CEO for EY with deep admiration for the entrepreneurs who continue to use their vision and spirit of innovation to change the world.
“They have got this wonderful ability to think outside themselves, to look at the world outside these windows and see the needs that exist out there,” says Turley, who officially retired on July 1.
“Then they’ve got a vision to create a product or service or an idea to meet the need they have seen. They have got the courage to risk everything and they are as persistent as can be. Most of them fail the first time out. But they get up, clean themselves off and do it again.”
“Work carefully with a few people who get a twinkle in their eye. If you talk about your idea, some people will respond with excitement because they get it, but not everybody. Maybe you talk to 300 people and three people will get it. Work with those three people. The web took off because a few people all over the world got it. You get the support from a few people who get it and then it builds from there.”
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web
Corey Shapoff has a job that many would envy, booking well-known musical acts such as Maroon 5, Katy Perry, Christina Aguilera and Kelly Clarkson for live concerts and private corporate events. But he doesn’t take much time to stop and think about all the famous people on his call list.
“I’m a grinder,” says Shapoff, president and founder of SME Entertainment Group. “I’m the kind of guy who is always looking to what’s next. You’re only as good to me as your last deal.”
It’s that instinctual drive to always try to do it better that is embedded in the true entrepreneur and allows the next vision to become a reality.
“It’s hard for me to turn it off and say, ‘That’s great,’” Shapoff says. “I’m always thinking about tomorrow. You just can’t take things for granted in our business.”
“The skill sets of an entrepreneur involve understanding how to create business. So if you’re going to give back, why not work with kids who need it the most and actually teach them and help them to be entrepreneurs. That’s what is going to grow our economy and create stability where otherwise we’re going to have a lot of social unrest.”
Amy Rosen, president and CEO, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship
“When you’re an entrepreneur you feel like you have never met a deal that you didn’t like. You only have limited resources and limited time to be successful. You have to stay disciplined and focused and being able to say what we are not is every bit as important as being able to say what we are.”
Jim Davis, president, Chevron Energy Solutions
“It’s important that you have teamwork and all your top players are well motivated with passion, principles and values. We make sure that people know where we are going and what our main objective is for that year. We promote teamwork inside and outside the company. Our directors have to make sure they are sharing our company values and principles with each of their team members.”
Lorenzo Barrera Segovia, founder and CEO, Banco Base
“For entrepreneurs you get a great idea, you start your business and then you have to keep focused. Keep executing that idea if that idea is big enough. Never fall into the temptation of getting out of your business or change it unless it’s strategic. Secondly, try to get financing as late as you can. Never get financing as soon as you can. Thirdly, create a great team and culture, because that’s what will prevail and create value for shareholders and your community. That’s how you scale your business. The last one is to dream big.”
Martin Migoya, CEO, Globant
“It was nothing but a gut feeling. The only thing I knew was there was a big opportunity in yogurt. I grew up with yogurt. Being from Turkey yogurt was a big part of our diet. I wasn’t sure if I could do it – break through in the world of yogurt in retail.
The category was owned by two major companies; Dannon and Yopliat owned about 70 percent of the market, and they had been there for years. As a startup you go to the specialty stores first. That’s how you start and you grow and once you reach a certain level then you go to the big retailers.
I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to go to the big retailers and be in the regular dairy aisle. That was a crazy idea and nobody thought that would go, but at least we tried. When we tried, we convinced one retailer in New York, ShopRite. The result from that was we were able to expand to a couple of other retailers. After the second or third customer that we had success with for our yogurt, I knew it wasn’t going to be about selling, it was about making enough.”
Hamdi Ulukaya, founder, president and CEO, Chobani Inc.
Wakefulness is not the first trait you may think of for effective leadership. Empathy and reflection aren’t typically considered strategic business values. And that emotional intelligence should be a factor in hiring is foreign.
However, corporate America should be about more than just the bottom line — a stakeholder approach with social responsibility is key, says Joan F. Marques, Ph.D., Ed.D., assistant dean of the school of business, chair and director of the BBA Program, and an associate professor of management at Woodbury University.
“Effective leadership consists of a mix of hard and soft skills,” she says. “A major part of being an effective leader is being human, vulnerable, seeing the big picture, the purpose to what you do.”
Smart Business spoke with Marques about the responsibility of corporate leadership.
How does the notion of the awakened leader sync up with the bottom-line mentality that drives corporate America?
Is corporate America awake? Yes and no. In the past two decades, we’ve seen evidence of corporations run by individuals excessively focused on profits. A great many leaders are still driven by a bottom-line mentality. It even drives our students — I once had an MBA student who wanted a ‘massive bank account.’ But the process of waking up involves realizing there is more to life than money. Many people go through life sleepwalking, never questioning it. In the book ‘True North,’ Bill George writes of ‘crucibles,’ suggesting that most people wake up only when confronted with loss, illness or something painful.
There needs to be a middle path. You cannot ignore profit, but it should not happen at the expense of others. If you consider the well-being of customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders, getting to a certain level of profitability will probably take longer, but your conscience will be intact.
Thankfully, a growing number of business schools are awakening to this trend. Many are addressing the responsibility MBAs have to the larger community, taking into account workplace spirituality and ethical leadership. It’s a break from the kinds of leaders they were grooming in past decades.
You’ve suggested that empathy and reflection are key corporate values. What’s the best way to ensure they find their way into corporate best practices?
Empathy and reflection are personal and interpersonal values, and the best way to incorporate them is on those levels, preferably starting at the top. Of course, some believe these values don’t belong in the workplace — just as so many examples prove the necessity of including them.
Consider Starbucks. Their products aren’t cheap, and on price alone there doesn’t appear to be much empathy. But below the surface, the company has done a lot. Empathy and reflection were foundational for the company, stemming largely from Howard Schultz’s personal experience growing up. For years, Starbucks has been providing health insurance to part-time workers, the company ceased using milk that includes bovine growth hormone, and it has looked at how it uses and conserves water.
Another example is Costco, which works with only a 15 percent markup. Costco employees get stellar salaries for that industry, resulting in a happier workforce that treats customers better.
Cases like these show that empathy and reflection have value, long-term.
Businesses are good at hiring for cognitive intelligence, but how are they at screening for emotional intelligence?
Generally, businesses don’t screen for emotional intelligence, which is inherent in stakeholder approach and social responsibility. In order to screen for it, they would need to practice emotional intelligence first.
We did a study on how business students, especially undergraduates, look at leadership values. Empathy ranked lowest in perceived importance for leaders while charisma and networking came out on top. Respondents saw no place for emotional intelligence.
So far, there has been a mutually supporting dynamic at play: the business world demanded short-term profits and students delivered it upon entering. As business educators, we are facing the immense task to evoke a paradigm shift. We’re diligently working on it.
Joan F. Marques, Ph.D., Ed.D., is assistant dean of the school of business; chair and director, BBA Program; and associate professor, management at Woodbury University. Reach her at (818) 394-3391 or email@example.com.
More wakefulness quotes, points to ponder and action plans can be found in Joan’s book, “Joy at Work, Work at Joy: Living and Working Mindfully Every Day.” Find it on Amazon.com.
Insights Executive Education is brought to you by Woodbury University
One of my favorite business books, which also made it as a Broadway play and a big-screen movie, is “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” written by L. Frank Baum in 1900. My hero in this story is not the young orphaned Dorothy, nor the Cowardly Lion, the desperately in-need-of-some WD-40 Tin Man, nor even the Scarecrow in search of a brain.
Instead it is the Wizard. To understand why the dubious Wizard is my favorite character, one must get past the portrayal of him as scheming, phony and at times nasty.
To appreciate the man behind the curtain, recognize that he is a very effective presenter, though at times this ex-circus performer behaved a bit threatening. OK, he was a jerk, but the point of this column is to take you down the yellow brick road on the way to the enchanted Emerald City and corporate success.
From this tale there is a lesson that one can say all sorts of things, not be visible, and yet still have a meaningful impact.
Another takeaway is that playing this role provides plausible deniability. This absence of visual recognition is particularly beneficial in negotiating when you, as the boss, use a vicar, aka a mouthpiece, to speak on your behalf. This allows you to have things said to others that you as the head honcho could never utter without backing yourself into a corner.
Another plus is you can always throw your mouthpiece under the bus if necessary, of course, with his or her upfront understanding that sometimes there must be a sacrificial lamb. This is not only character-building for your stand-in, but also many times presents an unprecedented opportunity for him or her to learn in real time.
Perhaps the Wizard was the first behind-the-curtain decision-maker, but today this role is used frequently in business and government. In a similar vein, the “voice” of Charlie from the well-known 1970s TV series “Charlie’s Angels” was always heard, but he was never seen.
Frequently there is much to be said for using anonymity to float a trial balloon just to get a reaction. Think about a son having his mom test the waters by talking to dad before the son tells him he wants to drop out of junior high school to join the circus. Maybe that’s even how our former circus-drifter-turned-Wizard-of-Oz got his start.
In the negotiating process it is important to have a fallback when the talks hit a rough patch by instructing your vicar to backpedal, saying that he or she has just talked to the chief and the benevolent boss said, “I was overreaching with my request.”
This also serves to build a persona for the boss-behind-the-curtain as someone who is fair-minded and flexible. All the while, of course, it’s the boss who is calling the shots and maneuvering through the process without getting his or her hands dirty.
The value of using this clean-hands technique is that it enables the real decision-maker to come in as the closer who projects the voice of reason, instead of the overeager hard charger who at times seems to have gone rogue.
It actually takes a bigger person to play a secondary role behind the curtain rather than always be in the limelight. It also takes a hands-on coach and counselor to maneuver a protégé through the minefields to achieve the objective.
However, accomplishing the difficult tasks through others is true management and the No. 1 job of a leader who must be a master teacher.
After you have guided a handful of up-and-comers a few times through thorny negotiations, you will gain much more satisfaction than if you had done it yourself, while engendering the respect and gratitude of your pupils. They in turn will have learned by doing, even though they were not really steering the ship alone.
The final step is to let the subordinate take credit for getting the big job done. This will also elevate you to rock star status, at least in his or her eyes. Soon those who you’ve taught will emerge as teachers too, and the big benefit is that you will populate your organization with a stellar team of doers, not just watchers.
So, forget about the Wicked Witch of the West and move backstage for the greater good of the organization.
A few years ago, one of my friends embarked on what he deemed an ambitious, yet simple plan: Write a New York Times Best Seller.
“Ed” had reason to be optimistic: His first two books had sold well and he had successfully leveraged them to launch a burgeoning consulting practice. Ed also had a nationally known book publisher to handle distribution for this book, and he had developed a comprehensive marketing and promotions plan for the launch.
Ed felt all the pieces were in place and was sure he would succeed. His goals were two-fold: break out from the pack and grow his business, and hit the New York Times Best Seller’s list. While his head told him the first goal was more realistic, his heart was set on the second — publicly claiming it was his only true benchmark of success.
Needless to say, Ed’s book didn’t make the list. Few books do. That doesn’t mean Ed’s book was a failure. Quite the contrary, it was a huge success.
As a result of Ed’s book, he landed numerous speaking engagements with organizations and companies around the world. He began to command four- and five-figure speaking fees from those engagements, and his book was purchased and distributed to every attendee.
Further, Ed’s speaking engagements lead to dozens of private companies hiring him to provide one- and two-day seminars, where he taught executive teams how to implement the ideas he espoused in the book. Ed was also presented with numerous business opportunities for new and existing clients to tackle initiatives beyond the book’s subject matter that he had not previously considered but were related to his expertise.
Finally, Ed did sell thousands upon thousands of copies of his book in bookstores nationwide and online through booksellers like Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. His book was in the hands of the right people — and lots of them — and he had established a national profile.
Viewed through this lens, there is little doubt that Ed’s book was wildly successful — even if it wasn’t a New York Times Best Seller and even if it didn’t stack up to his primary benchmark.
This is the reality of book publishing. Each month, I speak with dozens of entrepreneurs and CEOs about their nascent book ideas and the possibility of having Smart Business Books handle development and publication of their stories and manuscripts. I begin every conversation the exact same way: “If your goal is to have a New York Times Best Seller, we’re not the right option for you.”
That’s because you should write books for the right reasons. If your only goal is getting on a best-seller’s list, then your ambitions are off the mark. Writing and publishing a book is not like a professional sports team’s season — there isn’t one winner who takes the championship and a bunch of losers who fall short. Publishing a book is not an all-or-nothing proposition.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t aim high with your goals, and having your book become a best-seller is certainly one way to measure success. Setting reasonable expectations, however, is essential.
So why write a book?
One of the most important questions you should be able to answer when thinking about writing a book is, “Who is going to read it and why?”
As Ed’s story demonstrates, a book is a very useful business development tool. It is an immediate conversation starter, an excellent credibility builder and one heck of a leave-behind. If you’re engaged in marketing, why not capture your expertise through a book?
Another reason is to celebrate a milestone or establish a legacy piece. It could be for a 50th or 100th anniversary, or to recognize the history of an organization upon the founder’s retirement or death.
And, if you are interested in helping others succeed, a book is a great way to share your expertise or what makes you and your organization special. For example, if you’ve built an amazing corporate culture where productivity blossoms and innovation flourishes, the “how” and “why” are good subjects for a book. And if you’ve been involved with several mergers and acquisitions, consider sharing what worked and what didn’t, and the lessons learned along the way.
Whatever your story, the key is having a reason to share it with others. The bottom line: It’s your story. Make it count.
There are lots of ways to run a successful dental practice, which became one of the biggest challenges facing Steve Bilt and his leadership team as they contemplated the future of Smile Brands Group Inc.
“Defining a simple agenda that supports what your customer wants and needs, understanding who that customer is and then delivering that value has been a big challenge,” says Bilt, the $600 million company’s co-founder, president and CEO.
“I could look inside the 400 different units we support and say, ‘OK, you can find every model under the sun in some way, shape or form working. But if we’re going to continue to expand and refine our services and systems to better serve and support those units, there has to be more consistency in what we do.’”
It’s a question that any business with units spread across the country or around the world must answer for itself. Bilt says it’s only getting harder to come up with the right answer because the market and customer needs are constantly evolving.
“So what may have been a focused-enough strategy five years ago is a path to doom five years from now,” Bilt says.
But as the members of Bilt’s team began to wrap their minds around what needed to be done for the company’s 3,800 employees, more than 1,300 affiliated doctors and hygienists, and their patients, they kept coming back to one philosophical belief.
“There’s no one absolutely right answer, but the right answer is one answer,” Bilt says. “If you think that through, it’s not saying my way is better than your way. You don’t have to make that call. You just have to say, ‘Look. We have to decide on one way, which might be a hybrid of models with each of us bringing something to the table.
“‘But what we have to do as a team is decide on one way and pursue that one way and make sure our systems support that one way and our talk and our attitude and everything we do down to our DNA supports that one way of us adding value into the marketplace.’”
Provide the best service
The operational evolution at Smile Brands was a four-year process that included a number of different opinions, ideas and suggestions. But one of the core ideals that the group settled on was finding the best way to harness all the dental skill that existed in the organization in order for customers to receive the best care.
“We used to say let’s just create a cocoon of support around this doctor so they can just be a doctor, period,” Bilt says. “Don’t have any other level of resource for them other than the fact that they get all the freedom to be a doctor.”
The problem with that type of practice in today’s world is it wastes so much potential to share expertise and solve problems.
“Any peer group is going to have some people who excel at one thing and have a lot of experience,” Bilt says. “But if you’re out in the dental office by yourself staring at a problem you haven’t seen before, you say, ‘Oh boy, I’ll figure this out by trial and error,’ which is what you would do 15 years ago. Or you’d pick up the phone and say, ‘Here’s what I’m looking at. What do you think?’”
Bilt felt Smile Brands had the capability and thus needed to make it possible for dentists who encountered these unique problems to be able to connect with a colleague in real time and reach a solution in minutes.
“There’s this opportunity in this digital age to create an incredible peer group in a lonely profession,” Bilt says.
The ability to use technology to solve problems or even for training purposes was just something that was too good to pass up. And the best part, Bilt says, is that the integration of the right technology at Smile Brands would also reduce expenses.
“The customer has somebody who has access to stuff that is so much more powerful,” Bilt says. “That gives the doctor the ability to charge less, which is great for the consumer as well. The combination of doctors being able to be just dentists so that they can see more patients means they have an ability to charge less because they have higher volume, and all the technology helps them lever their cost structure down.”
You get a great idea for your business and everyone is energized to make it happen. It’s at this point where trouble can be lurking.
“We all love that rush of the initial front-end strategy planning and brainstorming session that we all do,” Bilt says. “What we don’t tend to love is the concept of change management and how do you get from here to there?”
It takes work and effort to make a change happen and some of that work can be painful. This can very easily lead to the drifting of attention away from one project that has suddenly become a lot of work to another project that seems so much more fun to talk about.
“You allow another shiny strategic initiative to start while the change management and implementation of the prior one is incomplete,” Bilt says. “You don’t go back and measure whether the first shiny initiative did what it was supposed to do and then you get distracted with the next one and forget about ever measuring the prior one. That cycle can go on for decades. That gets people into a lot of trouble.”
One key to avoiding stress and keeping your organization focused is to let people who have expertise in certain areas apply that skill to get the work done and isolate the flaws before full implementation.
Listen to their needs, their suggestions and their feedback on the best way to implement your new system.
“The docs are our thoroughbreds, and we’re the plow horses,” Bilt says. “If we’re doing it right, the plow horses plow and the thoroughbreds run. That’s really the point of the model. Let them be the thoroughbreds they are and let us plow the fields or build the track. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Define what you want to accomplish and get it into a plan that everyone understands and agrees to. Make sure they are aware that while there will be highs and lows along the way, the end goal will make it all worthwhile.
“My role is to help provide some vision for what we’re trying to do,” Bilt says. “What do we hope to accomplish? I try to provide support for people executing it so that they can do it properly to make sure the phases are properly led, staffed and resourced to have some level of establishing accountability for the results of each phase.”
Be a good communicator
Another major step in the transformation of Smile Brands was figuring out how to roll out the changes at each of the 400 locations. Who goes first? Who needs the upgrade most? Which locations will be the hardest to change?
Bilt says there’s no perfect way to roll out a big change. But he says communication is always the key to making it work.
“Most people are less attached to the outcome that they want in terms of where they are in the order of priority than they are in understanding why you made the decision you made,” Bilt says. “I love to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. That shows respect for me. Then I want to know how I’m impacted. Are you getting to me and if you are, when? What should I expect?”
Bilt poses a scenario in which somebody might feel strongly that his or her location should be the first to be upgraded because it is the company’s most profitable unit.
“You could say, ‘You know what, I agree with you,’” Bilt says. “‘That’s why you’re going last. You are the best market. You want to go first because you’re the best. I’m saying you go last because I’m not going to mess with you. I can’t afford it and it’s too risky.
“‘So I’m going to the worst market because if we screw it up, it costs us the least.’ We could have the exact same rationale and the exact opposite conclusion.”
Explain to people your thought process behind the implementation of change and they’ll be much more likely to be onboard with you.
“You have to do it multiple ways,” Bilt says. “I always say the rule of three when it comes to communication. If you have a new concept or an important concept, you better give it three passes to get it communicated because there is always a gap between what we think we’re saying and what people are hearing.
“It just takes multiple passes to get it right and allow them to process it and understand it.”
As Bilt looks back on the process, he says there are always things that could have been done better.
“Everything is a journey,” Bilt says. “So how did we go along that journey and how did we carry ourselves and how did we perform and how did we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off when it got tougher than it was supposed to get? Those are the stories that make a career.”
How to reach: Smile Brands Group Inc.,
(714) 668-1300 or www.smilebrands.com
The Bilt File
co-founder, president and CEO
Smile Brands Group Inc.
Born: New York City
What was your very first job?
Delivering The Denver Post in the snow. Back then, it was a crazy job for a kid. You took capital risk. You had to buy your newspapers from the newspaper. You had to deliver them, collect your own money, then pay back your cost of the newspapers and you kept your margin. So if a grumpy old neighbor didn’t want to pay for the paper, it was the 13-year-old kid losing out and not the newspaper. So I learned a lot of lessons on that job.
Who has been your biggest influence?
I have to give a lot of early credit to my dad. He helped me when I was going to fall down too far in the newspaper job by helping me fold the Sunday paper or pull the cart through the snow when it was too deep to physically move it. He did help with that job to make sure I had some success or at least got that job done.
The other thing is he was really good about not knowing all the answers to the stuff he was dealing with in business. He’d actually bring up a lot of the questions he was facing at the dinner table and let me opine.
I got this notion that a business is a living, breathing thing that had to be managed and cared for and fed. It was very formative from that perspective to be able to hear and listen and participate in some of those conversations about what makes a business go and how does it go and how do you do it and how do you care for it?
Don’t try to do it all.
Communicate at every turn.
Finish the job.
Your ability to attract investments can make or break your business. Extra capital allows companies to expand their operations and find new customers. Most business owners do eventually reach the point where they need some sort of outside investment — whether it’s from family, a bank or an actual investor — to help them make major purchases and grow.
One of the most common ways for a business to get extra money is by incorporating and then selling stocks. Unlike a loan, issuing stock allows you to raise money without taking on additional debt.
But there are a few things you need to know before you look at raising capital for your business:
You will have to give up some control of your business.
Incorporating a business turns it into its own, separate legal entity. Your ownership of that entity is dependent on how much corporate stock you own. As you sell off that stock, you dilute the ownership of the company. Furthermore, when you incorporate, you have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the stockholders and the corporation.
The interests and desires of the stockholders likely coincide with your own — both parties want to see the business succeed and make money. Just remember that when you do begin to sell stock, you are empowering the holders of that stock to influence major business decisions. Before you begin selling stock, make sure you’re ready to take the opinions of your investors into serious consideration when you are running the company.
You will need actual data to back up your pitches to investors.
If you are at the stage where you are ready to start looking for investors to help you expand, chances are that your business has done pretty well. It’s not enough to point and say, ‘Look, we survived and made money!’ You need hard numbers and data — how much revenue is your business generating? What is your current revenue-to-debt ratio? How will this investment impact your future earnings?
Buying stock in a company is already a gamble because if the company doesn’t do well, the investment could be lost. So be ready to show potential investors that your company is in a position where it can create a good return on their investment.
You will have to pitch yourself, in addition to your company.
Everyone is “passionate” and “committed” about what they do when they run a business — investors have heard those buzzwords plenty of times already. Investors want to know who you are, what your credentials are, and why they should trust you with their money. Sell them on your experience, and the experience of anyone else helping to run the company.
If they are confident in you, they will be confident in your business and be much more willing to invest. Issuing stock and finding investors can be a jarring experience. Once you start selling that stock, you lose some control of your business, and suddenly the needs and demands of your investors must be taken into account when you make major business decisions.
You also have to be ready to prove the worth of both your company, and of yourself as one of the company’s directors. If you are ready to let go, and are prepared to pitch the heck out of your business, your employees and your own career history, you will find investors willing to roll the dice and put some of their own money into your business.
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @deborahsweeney