Real Estate & Hospitality
David Kim and Jerome Fink co-founded The Bascom Group, a private equity firm primarily specializing in value-added multifamily real estate investments, in 1996. At the time they acquired their first multi-unit property, California was facing a foreclosure and job crisis. The market was unstable and investors were weary, but the two went on to develop in markets across the U.S.
The two again encountered challenges during the recent financial downturn. They were able to overcome them by piecing together a different organizational structure that essentially kept all employees on the job. In a period in which transactions were scarce, Kim and Fink assigned new roles to each acquisitions member, roles that consisted of supporting an operations team counterpart with revenue and expense management.
In addition, the duo renegotiated with lenders to avoid financial troubles with their loan-based investments and properties. They restructured their loans and optimized their equity, which allowed them to make more strategic buys of distressed properties.
These and other strategies led Bascom to an 8 to 12 percent increase in operating profits between 2008 and 2010.
Kim and Fink always take care of their employees, providing them with the opportunity to have an equity stake in their real estate funds, which promotes a sense of working toward a common goal.
They both believe that investing in people, talent and the community will enable continued and sustainable growth, with particular focus on health, wealth, education and lifestyle.
Giving back to the community is a key success factor for Bascom that provides a symbiotic relationship between the community and the company. When the community prospers, their properties benefit, which leads to wealth creation for the company.
How to reach: The Bascom Group, www.bascomgroup.com
Real Estate & Hospitality
Doug Bauer, Tom Mitchell and Mike Grubbs are home building industry veterans with more than 60 years of combined experience. That is why, when the industry was in the depth of recession in 2009, they knew it was time to make a bold move.
They started TRI Pointe Homes, a next-generation homebuilder focused on the design, construction and sale of innovative single-family detached and attached homes in planned communities in major metropolitan areas in the West. The company lives by three words — think, renew and inspire.
Friends, family and colleagues thought they were crazy to start a new home building company when many of the industry giants were going under, but they knew that this was an industry of cycles, and that when it sank to the bottom, it would be followed by an upswing. And sure enough, four years later, the company they built is not only profitable, but also the focus of a successful IPO. TRI Pointe Homes became the first homebuilding company to go public since 2004.
Bauer, who is CEO, Mitchell, who is CFO, and Grubbs, who is COO, like to set very high goals for themselves. Their successful collaboration is based on their shared discipline and focus, and their unshakable belief that they could succeed. Part of their success is due to being nimble in their decision-making. They analyze the facts, make a decision and go. They may not be right every time, but they don’t waste time sitting around and questioning decisions.
Despite all the achievements the three partners and their company have seen, they still strive to do more; they believe success is a continuum. They are looking to their next mountain. The company currently operates in Northern and Southern California and Denver. TRI is looking to grow in its current markets, and, if market conditions warrant, possibly expand to select markets in Texas, Phoenix, Nevada and the Northwest.
How to reach: TRI Pointe Homes, www.tripointehomes.com
Real Estate & Hospitality
Alan J. Fuerstman began to show his natural aptitude for the hospitality industry at the young age of 17. He was still in high school and had started to work part time as a bellman at a Marriott Hotel in New Jersey. It was his attention to detail, ability to serve guests and willingness to always lend a hand that was quickly noticed by management.
The result was an offer to join Marriott’s management team after Fuerstman graduated from Gettysburg College. He quickly rose through the ranks at a number of luxury hotels before being recruited by Steve Wynn to open the prestigious Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.
Through all this, Fuerstman gained experience and put himself in position to pursue a personal vision he had been thinking about. He wanted to create something new, a small ultra-luxury hotel that prided itself on gracious hospitality and attention to service and detail without the stereotypical pretentiousness of a five-star hotel.
As founder and CEO of Montage Hotels & Resorts, Fuerstman has been involved in all aspects of the company’s growth. He didn’t have brand awareness, but he did have a strong sales and marketing vision that could focus on the core differentiators that Fuerstman was confident would win over prospective guests.
And while he has taken a hands-on approach to every aspect of Montage Hotels & Resorts’ growth, Fuerstman never fails to demonstrate the importance of his people and the value that they bring to the culture and the company.
He doesn’t focus on awards and doesn’t want his employees to feel pressured to do something that isn’t possible. His attitude is to “focus on your own backyard first,” believing that consistent effort and dedication to your job will bring you all the recognition you and your business deserve.
How to reach: Montage Hotels & Resorts, www.montagehotels.com
Family Business Category
When Eve Yen came to the United States from Taiwan nearly two decades ago, she was thinking like both an entrepreneur and a mother. She hoped that starting a business would allow her to feed both her passions and, most importantly, provide a better education and opportunity for success for her daughters.
Yen started Diamond Wipes International Inc. in 1994 as a manufacturer of disposable wet wipes. She had worked on a similar venture in Taiwan but hoped to find greater success in the United States. She started modestly with just one machine in a facility no bigger than a two-car garage.
In those early days, she would travel to local restaurants and food service distributors with her wet wipe product. She found success, and today the company’s products are distributed to more than 2,000 clients worldwide. Diamond Wipes now operates a 130,000 square-foot facility in California and a 60,000-square-foot factory in Ohio.
In addition to restaurant wipes, the company also has found great success in contract packaging, which is now its fastest-growing business.
Yen, the company’s CEO, is determined to keep manufacturing in the United States. She believes that wet wipe products should be freshly made and distributed via the shortest distance to the customer, but she’s also conscious of the energy and fuel costs that come with product transportation.
That awareness of what she wants and how she wants to do it has been a key factor in Yen’s success building Diamond Wipes. And it has allowed her to take even greater steps, such as the construction of a 3,360-panel solar power system to generate electricity for the Southern California manufacturing facility.
And just as Yen looked for a chance to prove herself in the early days, she affords the same opportunity to today’s future leaders. She never shies away from hiring young college graduates full of energy and creativity.
How to reach: Diamond Wipes International Inc., www.diamondwipes.com
Family Business Category
All was not well at Nature’s Best in 2005 when Jim Beck stepped into the role of CEO. The company’s CEO had stepped down from the family run business because of a clash with the owner, who happened to be his mother, about the future of the business.
Operations had become very expensive and the company had cut ties with Whole Foods, which made up 36 percent of the company’s revenue. Beck had been with the company focusing on IT development, but he had not previously been part of any discussion about strategy and leadership.
It wasn’t going to be easy, but as it turned out, severing the relationship with Whole Foods was actually a good thing for the company’s future. The relationship was no longer profitable for Nature’s Best and the break allowed the company to establish itself as a key distributor for independent health food stores.
Another challenge was to redesign the company’s production line and implement new software as well as consolidate operations into one building.
When all was said and done, Nature’s Best became much more efficient and was better positioned to expand into new markets and open new distribution centers.
As the company continued to evolve and even create its own brand, Beck made sure that his people felt like part of the growth. That was a key motivating factor behind his support of Greener Initiatives, a program that started as a grassroots co-op dedicated to providing healthy food for employees, their families and customers. Beck doesn’t want employees to see their work as just a job, but as an opportunity to make a difference and put their unique talents to use.
One of Beck’s next major goals is to expand eastward by acquiring a gourmet food company on the East Coast and propel his company to even greater heights.
How to reach: Nature’s Best, www.naturesbest.net
As summer begins, more of us will be taking some well-deserved vacation time, but business doesn’t grind to a halt just because you happen to be away from the office. That means more entrepreneurs and business executives will be relying on online and mobile banking tools to stay in touch with their business finances.
Given the need to access financial information in real time, what does the future hold for online and mobile banking? More importantly, how can these resources help business executives make better decisions for meeting their strategic goals — now and in the future?
Smart Business spoke with Susan Brown, senior vice president and Marketing Group manager at California Bank & Trust, about how online and mobile banking tools are helping executives not only access account information, but also provide sophisticated technologies for meeting complex business and treasury management needs.
Why has mobile banking become so important to business customers?
In today’s fast-paced business environment, you can’t afford to be out of touch with your finances. It’s become more essential than ever for entrepreneurs and their teams to have 24/7 access to a variety of business metrics, such as account balances, payables, receivables, cash on hand and more.
In the past, traditional online banking tools accessible via desktop PCs and laptops met these needs, but smartphones and tablets are now becoming preferred devices for accessing information. A recent report predicted that by 2014 smartphone shipments are likely to top 1 billion units, and that by next year sales of tablet devices will exceed sales of traditional laptops.
Data like this makes it clear that mobile devices are going to be key tools for business leaders to get more done in less time.
Has mobile overtaken online banking?
Mobile banking is not different from online banking — you’re just using a different device and tools to access information remotely. The more people rely on tablets and smartphones, the more mobile apps will grow in popularity. The most likely scenario for the near future is that most business users will adopt a hybrid approach, using traditional online banking tools in the office and mobile apps on the road.
Why is online banking expanding from transaction-oriented to customer-centric?
The best financial institutions are customer-centric. These banks focus squarely on strong relationships between their clients and business bankers. Clearly, customer-centric institutions want online and mobile banking resources and technologies to reflect and mirror those values.
Transactions are important, so of course online and mobile services need to support high-transaction volumes. However, the real value is banking experts helping clients make the best use of sophisticated tools to meet complex needs, such as cash management and fraud prevention. This is why a customer-centric approach will continue to be a focus.
Will the popularity of online and mobile banking impact the future of bank branches?
When online banking first emerged, many in the industry thought it might mark the end of branch banking. However, face-to-face contact is still important, especially in a business-banking context. Many transactions, such as those involving deposits and cash withdrawals, require a network of branches. There will be a gradual decrease in the number of branches, but branch banking isn’t going away anytime soon.
What online or mobile options are available?
Most people know they can pay bills online, check the status of payments and review balances, but there are other online tools that offer more sophisticated capabilities. For example, businesses can use advanced treasury and cash management solutions customized to meet highly specific needs.
What new capabilities under development could be used in the future?
Institutions are investing in user friendly and interactive websites, as well as introducing new apps that allow clients to service their banking needs from tools like mobile devices and iPads. As the capabilities of these devices grow and devices are introduced, banks will develop new, interactive ways to support their clients’ growing needs that complement the traditional avenues.
Susan Brown is senior vice president and Marketing Group manager at California Bank & Trust.
Mobile: To learn more about California Bank & Trust’s business mobile banking app, now optimized for iPads, visit www.calbanktrust.com.
Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by California Bank & Trust
Family Business Category
When Gennaro “Jerry” Paolone founded Car Sound Exhaust Systems, Inc. in 1981, it was in response to an opportunity he saw to be a distributor for exhaust components. Three years later, he transformed the company into a manufacturer of performance exhaust products.
Since then, the company, more commonly known as MagnaFlow, has grown to 300 employees with worldwide distribution and the support of luminaries such as legendary race car driver Mario Andretti.
The success at MagnaFlow is the result of a strong and enduring focus on the customer and the employees who serve that customer. Robotics and automation have become a bigger part of the workflow process, increasing productivity on the factory floor. But he doesn’t see such an investment as an excuse to phase out his hard-working employees.
Rather, the chairman and CEO’s goal is to use technology to the company’s advantage and provide employees with the tools they need to manufacture more products more efficiently.
Take the installation of a fully integrated paperless warehouse management system in 2007. It allows the company to ship more than 1,000 parcel orders a day, giving customers a means to reduce inventory by not holding slow-moving products that can instead be delivered within two days. Paolone leads by the philosophy that you can always find a way to do it better. If you don’t, you will quickly fall behind.
He has faced his share of challenges over the years, but Paolone has always tried to view them more as opportunities. The result is a company that now distributes products to more than 88 countries through its home base in Orange County and its subsidiary in Rome, Italy.
How to reach: Car Sound Exhaust Systems Inc., www.magnaflow.com
“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships were built for,” is a quote that hangs in Brig Sorber’s office at Two Men and a Truck in Lansing, Mich. Sorber uses that quote to define the new direction in which his company has been moving.
“I love that quote because this ship, Two Men and a Truck, has been in port for too long,” says Sorber, CEO. “We’ve got to get this into deep blue water. There are a lot of challenges out there and a lot more risk, but that’s where business is done. We need to start moving forward and accept the challenges.”
Sorber and his brother, Jon, started Two Men and a Truck International Inc., a moving company, in the early ’80s as a way to earn money using their ’67 Ford pickup. Today, the business has x4,500 employees, more than x1,400 trucks, more than x200 franchises in x34 states, Canada, the U.K. and Ireland, and 2012 revenue of x$361 million.
“We did it to make beer and book money for college,” Sorber says. “We really never thought that it would get to this point.”
However, in getting to this point, the company had neglected to make necessary changes in order to keep the operation aligned and running well.
“One of the challenges we have had is going from a mom-and-pop-type business to having to grow up and become more corporate,” Sorber says. “We needed to bring in newer and stronger skill sets.”
Here’s how Sorber has helped Two Men and a Truck grow up.
Two Men and a Truck incorporated its first business in Lansing, Mich., in 1985 and began franchising in 1989. The company at this time was run by Sorber’s mom since he and his brother were in college.
Upon graduation, Sorber worked as an insurance agent and also operated his own Two Men and a Truck franchise. He returned to the company in the mid-’90s, became its president in 2007 and CEO, the title he carries today, in 2009. In that time the company had grown significantly, but it wasn’t running as well as it could be. Starting in 2007, Sorber’s job was to help restructure the business.
“We had to take a look at ourselves internally,” Sorber says. “There came a time that I just knew things were broken here.”
Because the company was growing so fast there was no organization chart. It was very loose on who reported to whom. It wasn’t that people weren’t working hard, but things were not getting measured.
“I had an epiphany that something had to change big time,” he says. “I made up something that resembled an org chart on a big piece of paper in my office. I brought in five people that I greatly trusted and had confidence in and gave them three markers — green, which meant that person or that job was important; yellow, which meant I didn’t have an opinion either way about this person or about this job; and red, which meant that this job makes no sense.”
Sorber used that as a starting point to help him identify where the company could restructure and cut costs.
“I wanted to give big bonuses to everyone at the end of the year and share the winnings, but we had to prime the pump first,” he says. “We went from 78 employees down to 51 employees after I went through that chart.
“That wasn’t because we were losing money. It was because by the time we realigned everything, there were some people here who weren’t doing anything.”
To avoid issues such as this, you have to have metrics that you measure to make sure whether you’re doing well or not.
“My metrics are No. 1, customer satisfaction,” Sorber says. “Find out how every one of your customers feels about their service. No. 2 is trucks and driveways. We want to put more trucks in more driveways every year.
“No. 3 is franchisees. Make sure your franchisees are profitable and have the tools to grow. No. 4 is giving back to the community.”
Metrics are a crucial aspect of success, but so is a mission statement that helps employees and customers know what the business is about. It also makes your decisions as a CEO simple.
“If your mission statement is strong, it should be limitless,” he says. “For us, we had our mission statement when we had 25 franchises, and now we’re well over 200 and it still applies. You also need core values that comprise what’s important to your company. Once you have those, you have to stay within the confines of your core values.
“When I was a younger executive I thought that was stuff you say to be nice. It’s something that’s serious. You can’t go into work and keep turning the wheel and expect better things to happen. You’ve got to maintain your mission statement, core values, measure what you’re doing, and then you have to look for ways to make things better.”
Bring in key people
As Two Men and a Truck went through these necessary changes, new employees and executives had to be brought in to give the company the right skill sets to continue growing.
“Sometimes we hold onto our executives too long, and we get comfortable with them,” Sorber says. “They may not question what you’re doing. Not all of them, but many of them can be fine with the status quo and as the world is changing they’re not forcing you as a CEO to question what you’re doing.”
You can’t settle for the people who are in your key positions. You need to find people with the right skill sets and make sure they stay within your mission statement and core values.
“Bringing in new individuals is kind of like working on an old house,” he says. “You think if you put new windows on the house it’s good, but then the siding looks really bad. The same thing happens in business when you get somebody that’s great in a department. You start to think, ‘What if I had someone like that in marketing?’”
Sorber brought in executives to fill his company’s voids, and they began offering all kinds of new ideas for the business.
“When I started bringing in these key executives, they wore my carpet out because they have fresh eyes for the business,” he says. “They asked why we did this or that. Many of the things we were doing were the right things, but it’s good for you to make your point about why you do it.
“The new executives will say, ‘That makes sense’ or ‘That’s different.’ Other times they’ll say, ‘OK, but did you ever think about doing this?’”
That is how your business goes through an evolution, and it starts bringing in more modern thinking and different approaches. A business will have a life cycle of only so long, and you need to continually reinvent it because your customer is changing. If you bring in new people they may bring the great ideas you need.
“It’s really important as a president or CEO to hire people who are smarter than you in their specific fields,” Sorber says. “Our job as president or CEO is to look more strategically at where we want the business, make sure the executives play nice together, ensure there’s harmony in the business and keep an eye on those important metrics.”
During the course of the past six years, Sorber has been able to successfully do all those things within Two Men and a Truck. Randy Shacka became the company’s first non-family member to serve as president in 2012. Now, Sorber and Shacka are looking at the future outlook of the business.
“We think we will be a $1 billion company by the year 2020,” he says. “In the last few years we’ve been doing a lot of internal work on fixing where we are broken and getting the right people in here. Now we want to be more than just a moving company. We want to be a company for change.”
How to reach: Two Men and a Truck, (800) 345-1070 or www.twomenandatruck.com
Many executives do not view the content they distribute as intertwined with their organization’s unique product or service. However, the two are interchangeable. Your product or service has differentiators that cause your clients to select you instead of the competition. Those same factors apply in content marketing.
If your goal is to engage prospects and ultimately lead them to conversion, you must create content that keeps them engaged. Success comes from creating consumable pieces of content that together form a singular thought leadership message and distributing those pieces across multiple channels. You never know through what channel someone will engage with your brand (or branded content), so the message needs to be consistent.
There are a few simple rules to doing this. Your content and what you’re selling should meet four criteria. It must be:
Useful means the content, as well as your product or service, has a defined use for a target audience. It addresses:
- How do I use this?
- How does this help me?
- What problem does this solve for me?
Here’s an example: According to a recent IDC Research report, 49 percent of the entire U.S. population currently uses a smartphone. By 2017, that number is expected to reach 68 percent. That means that within four years, more than two out of every three Americans — regardless of age — will be connected via smartphone. Therefore, a useful product a company might offer could be a solar-operated phone charger. And useful content to distribute to a target audience may include “How to make your daily life easier with these top five iPhone apps.”
To be Relevant, the product, service or content must be new and interesting, and mean something to the market or industry. Your audience will ask:
- What does this mean to me?
- Do I need this?
Let’s say your organization provides a website portal that connects insurance companies. New and interesting content that means something might be, “How your health care plan will be affected by reform . . . and what you can do to prepare for it.”
In a world filled with noise, you must demonstrate how what you do is Differentiated from competitors and explain:
- How does your content, product and service compare to the competition?
- Is it unique?
Let’s go back to the smartphone example. If you sell or service iPhones and Android-platform models, think about creating engaging content that examines the needs of today’s smartphone user, and then go beyond the basic functionality.
It’s also imperative to understand your target audience and the target audience for each product. Android-based smartphones are primarily aimed at businesspeople. iPhones, for all their bells and whistles, are not. This differentiation has led to a lot of confusion in the marketplace when consumers compare one against the other. Understanding this allows smart marketers to create engaging content such as “The top 10 needs of businesspeople: A comparison of Android phones vs. iPhones.”
Finally, your product, service and content must be Available and easily obtained in any channel.
If you run a benefits company that works with employers, for example, health care reform provides a timely opportunity to help clients make sense of the landscape. This might entail delivering a variety of consumable content that’s available to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through any channel.
This could include a video that explains the difference in options available to employers. It could be a social media campaign that outlines the top five differences between the health care insurance exchanges and employer-sponsored health care. Or, it may be a series of print mailers or webinars, or even a dedicated microsite that’s filled with content that details what employers need to know.
When your goal is creating engaging content, your ability to consider — and address — each of these factors may be what’s required to transform engagement into measurable conversion.
This is no fish story. Instead, this column is about one of the most important roles an owner or CEO must fulfill on an ongoing basis.
Leaders spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with the issues du jour. These range from managing people, wooing and cajoling customers, creating strategies, searching for elusive answers and just about everything in between. These are all good and necessary tasks and undertakings. Too frequently, however, these same leaders delegate this effort to others or ignore it altogether. To be “in the game,” you have to know when to fish or cut bait.
Successful fishermen know that to catch a fish they have to sometimes cast their lines dozens of times just to get a nibble or bite. The first bite might not result in reeling in that big fish. Frequently, a nibble is just a tipoff as to where the fish are swimming.
The same applies to reaching out — casting a line, if you will, to explore new, many times unorthodox, opportunities for your organization. These opportunities can be finding a competitor to buy, discovering an unlikely yet complementary business to partner with or snagging a new customer from an industry that had heretofore gone undiscovered.
All of this takes setting a portion of your time to investigate unique situations, as well as a healthy dose of creativity and the ability to think well beyond the most obvious.
Too many times even the most accomplished executives lack the motivation to look for ideas in unlikely places. Some would believe that it’s unproductive to spend a significant amount of time on untested “what ifs.” Just like sage fishermen, executives can also cultivate their own places to troll.
Of course, networking is a good starting point, particularly with people unrelated to your business, where sometimes one may fortuitously stumble onto a new idea that leads to a payoff.
Other times, a hot lead might come from simply reading trade papers, general media reports and just surfing the Internet. The creative twist is reading material that doesn’t necessarily apply to your own industry or to anything even close to what you do. New ideas come disguised in many forms and are frequently hidden in a variety of nooks and crannies. This means training yourself to read between the lines.
Once something piques your imagination, the next step is to follow through and call the other company or send an inquiry by email to state that it might be worth a short conversation to explore potential mutually beneficial arrangements. This can at times be a bit frustrating and futile. That's when you cut bait and start anew.
However, reaching out to someone today could materialize into something of substance tomorrow. The often skipped but critical next step, even after hitting a seemingly dead end, is to always close the loop with whomever you made contact. Even if there is no apparent fit or interest at the moment, it’s easy and polite to send a short note of thanks and attach your one-paragraph “elevator” pitch.
That same person just might be casting him or herself, be it in a month or even a year later, and make contact with a different organization that’s not a fit for him or her, but recall you because you followed through and created awareness about your story.
This just might lead the person with whom you first spoke to call you because you had had the courtesy to send that note. Bingo — you just got a bite all because of continuing to cast your line.
Good CEOs and honest fishermen also have one other important characteristic in common: humility. They know that when a line is cast it won’t result in a catch every time. But if nothing is ventured, it’s guaranteed there will be nothing gained. Don’t let that big one get away. Just keep casting.