32 best management ideas Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2008

We’ve all had days where we would rather not open the newspaper, turn on the TV or pick up the phone for the fear of learning about more bad news.

Unfortunately, there have been a lot more of those days for all of us lately.

The stock market is going through extreme ups and downs, capital has dried up, and key customers are cutting back. You start to wonder where the sales are going to come from to enable you to make this quarter’s budget. If things don’t turn around soon, you’ll have to consider drastic cutbacks yourself.

In times like these, what’s a CEO to do? The answer: Get back to basics. Focus on the things you do best and do them as efficiently as you can. Use your strengths to exploit your competitors’ weaknesses and outhustle them.

It’s often the simple things that made you a success in the first place, and it will be the simple things that keep you afloat during the economic storm.

With that in mind, we’ve assembled the best pieces of advice garnered from Philadelphia’s top leaders from throughout the year. We think you’ll find some great ideas to help you improve your business within these pages, and we encourage you to keep this issue as an ongoing reference to help you find your way through the trying times that lie ahead.

Make culture personal

Matt Emmens, chairman and CEO, Shire plc

It’s easy to say you have an entrepreneurial spirit in your company. It’s much harder to actually live it.

At Shire plc, Chairman and CEO Matt Emmens keeps his company’s entrepreneurial spirit alive by introducing actual entrepreneurs into his company, then driving his creativity-first culture down to the level of each individual.

When Shire makes an acquisition, a major factor in whether Emmens’ leadership lets the acquired company operate with a higher level of autonomy is whether there is a strong entrepreneurial presence within the leaders of the new unit.

The stronger and more relevant the ideas and products coming from the business unit, the more freedom Emmens gives its leaders.

He says it’s all about one word: passion. “We like to have those people stay on and have their passion continue to influence the business,” he says. “We basically license the drugs but keep that company separate and doing its thing because you don’t want to lose the knowledge and creativity those people have.

“Then, later, when they need help in terms of capital and resources, we can provide that. But having the flexibility to keep the passion of the entrepreneurs that started each of these companies is important to us.”

By keeping your company’s creative impetus close to the ground level, you can keep your company closer to your customers. Emmens says any business needs to give the people closest to your customers the freedom to operate and meet their needs. Only when your customers’ needs aren’t being met should you intervene.

“It’s about not being in touch and not responding to external environmental changes,” he says. “It’s like the idea that you built the cheapest and best buggy whip when there are no more horse buggies.

“It’s the idea that you have to stay close to the customer and really understand the challenges of the industry and what you have to overcome in order to be successful. Many businesses are at risk for thinking that they are the reason for the market existing. They’re not. Businesses have to follow the needs of the marketplace.”

Plan for growth

Gerald Shreiber, founder, president and CEO, J&J Snack Foods Corp.

Gerald Shreiber, the founder, president and CEO of J&J Snack Foods Corp., has a favorite saying when it comes to growth: “You have to reinvent yourself before someone else does.”

Either you are going to be proactive in leading the evolution of your business or you are going to be reactive in trying to keep up with the businesses that evolved first.

That’s why any growth needs well-defined, measurable goals in place that your company can work toward. With defined goals also comes the responsibility of consistently reviewing them, something Shreiber has his management team do monthly.

“You need to establish your goals, measure your goals and make sure the goals are reviewed,” he says. “First, there is always the financial part of it. If you measure it monthly as we do, it becomes a report card, just as you received in school. It’s a summary of your time-frame goals.

“As a public company, we are measured on sales history, historical growth, future growth and past performance, and to that end, I’m most proud of the fact that my team has led us to 36 years, meaning 144 straight quarters, of profitability and increased sales growth for each year.”

Shreiber says the key to maintaining a growth-oriented mentality, regardless of the manner in which you want to grow, is to never become content. No matter how much growth and success you have under your belt, always believe that you can — and should — do more.

That is a mentality that needs to start with you and your senior leadership. If your company’s leaders are all on the same page and communicating the same values to every employee in your company, you will be able to achieve widespread buy-in and get the full resources and manpower of your company channeled toward the direction in which you want to point the company.

“You can be satisfied and proud of what you’ve accomplished, but you need to have other managers share in the culture and vision,” Shreiber says. “In that respect, I feel very lucky because my company is very fortunate to have leaders who have been a part of our growth and existence. That’s a must for any growth-minded company.”

planning to pass the torch

Mark Martino, chairman and CEO, Maaco Enterprises Inc.

By just about any measurement, Tony Martino was a healthy man. In his mid-70s, he was still active in the day-to-day operations of Maaco Enterprises Inc., the company that runs the eponymous auto body paint and repair shop chain he started in 1972. He was a highly successful self-made businessman whose start-up credits also included AAMCO Transmissions Inc. in the late 1950s as well as a Philadelphia-area recording studio and record labels.

Nothing kept his father down for long, says Mark Martino, so when he had trouble recovering from a series of colds last year, it drew some concern from those close to him.

“It was uncanny that it would take him two to four weeks to get over a cold,” Martino says. “In December, he caught a cold that was so bad it developed into pneumonia. He wasn’t a guy who ran to the doctor all the time, but he went to get some antibiotics for the infection. But they drew some blood, and when the tests came back, they found a few leukemia cells.”

Tony Martino spent 25 days in the hospital battling the disease.

“We thought he was going to make it right up until the last few days,” Martino says. “But right at the end, he took a turn for the worse.” He died on Jan. 27, less than three weeks after his 75th birthday.

Preparing an estate, particularly one that includes a large business entity like Maaco, involves some large-scale planning. But if the past year has taught Martino anything, it’s that the problems are in the details.

“In a fundamental way, my father was very astute, and with regard to his estate, he had worked with very top-notch people and had everything really drawn up, all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed,” says Martino, who succeeded his father as chairman and CEO of Maaco. “I can see how important that is, because as specific as it was, it really does-n’t take into account all the intangible things that occur when someone of such magnitude passes away, all the small issues.

“You have to sit down and take time to think about all the ramifications. Everyone involved did a very good job, but there are so many loose ends that you have to figure out.”

If your business is part of your personal estate, Martino says it’s never too early to put your wishes in legal writing and discuss the future of your business with your family.

“Even though my father was 75, my grandfather and grandmother passed away just in the past couple of years, and they had both just turned 95. So it was a shock in that he expected to live another 10, 15 or 20 years,” he says. “You have to be prepared. Even if it’s properly presented and written up, it’s important to, at some point in your life, express your desires to your family members.”

Make a case for change

Bill Yoh, president and CEO, Yoh Services LLC

To blaze a new trail, you need trailblazers. That’s why, as he formulated Yoh Services LLC’s go-forward plan, President and CEO Bill Yoh wanted to get the company’s best and brightest involved from the outset.

Over the span of months, Yoh gathered between 80 and 90 of his company’s top performers together for a series of workshops aimed at identifying new potential paths for the company.

“We wanted to ask them, when you think of the most-admired companies, who do you think about?” he says. “What are some of the best practices you have encountered in your career that could be beneficial here at Yoh?”

The information gathered in those meeting was then distilled down to help form the company’s new operating model and go-to-market strategy.

Yoh says getting employees involved in forming your company’s new strategy is an essential first step in achieving long-term buy-in.

“The beauty of that was it was kind of developed by the people, for the people.,” he says. “It facilitated the buy-in for the new way we were going. The people who participated, you could see their fingerprints on a lot of the outcomes.

“What also happened was we were able to define a succinct way of doing things, enabling people to jump to one side of the fence or the other, to come along with the new strategy or to part ways because they didn’t agree with the direction we were going in.”