When you’re a powerhouse player in your industry, the key to success is often the ability to step back and take stock of who you are, where you are and where you’re going. Sometimes, an existential approach is intuitive; it’s easier to self-reflect when you’re beginning a new venture or making a monumental change.

But what about when you’re experiencing success? Taking stock when you’re on top is far from redundant; in fact, figuring out where your accomplishments have come from makes you more likely to duplicate them. Here are some suggestions for seizing the moment and sizing up your business.

Don’t agonize — organize

Rather than rely on the year’s end to inspire a big-picture appraisal, set quarterly dates to dissect core activities, finances, human resources and sales/marketing strategy.

Not only will it save you from feeling overwhelmed by the immensity of an annual assessment, but it will help you reassess and realign continuously, which can help make transitions more seamless — especially when they are unexpected.

Turn projects into projections

A few years after launch, Petplan transitioned to being an entirely paperless organization. Initially the transition was a success, and operationally, the project had already paid dividends.

But as time went by, it became apparent that we needed to create a tangible product for our clients. We decided to publish a glossy pet health publication for policyholders to help communicate our company’s core values and add a “touchable” touchpoint to our customer communications.

To our delight, Fetch! magazine was an overnight success and has grown its readership from 50,000 to more than 250,000 in just a few short years. The magazine project led to some new projections about ad revenue, and we eventually began selling space in its pages.

Because of big-picture thinking in small, regular doses, we were able to take an internal project, build off it to create something new, and then leverage that to add to the company’s overall profitability.

Find a fresh set of eyes

When trends need to be changed, getting back on the right track is essential, but sometimes the people closest to the “problem” are the least likely to be able to solve it. One of the best ways to chart a new course is to bring new talent to the table. This could mean finding a mentor, hiring a new executive or perhaps finding a visionary investor.

When we launched Petplan, we focused almost exclusively on sales, and all of our customer communications reflected that. Soon, it became clear that we needed to rework strategy to include not just sales but customer service.

To help us course-correct, we turned to Vernon W. Hill, the founder of Commerce Bank. Vernon joined our board as chairman and brought extraordinary experience around customer satisfaction to the company.

This year, in an effort to evolve partner veterinarian relationships, we’ve placed a heavyweight at the helm of our veterinary channel: Steve Shell. A fresh set of eyes can invigorate vision — whether it comes from the people above you or the employees you entrust with managing the daily activities of your business.

When you commit to unplugging from the daily drudgery to assess the scope of your operations a few times throughout the year, you’ll soon find that the only place to go is up.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. She holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

Published in Columnist

The old term “putting lipstick on a pig” refers to prettying up a mediocre asset right before you want to sell it. Prior to marketing, the seller makes changes that cause things to look better than they really are under the surface. There is little difference between a cheap paint job on a used car to hide rust or new carpet in a house to cover cracks in the foundation and short-term cosmetic changes at a company justified as “preparing for sale.”

Here are four key mistakes business owners often make when trying to prepare their companies for sale:

?  Shallow bench: Sellers often hold off hiring personnel in key management positions such as senior vice president of sales, controller and manager of procurement. They do this to minimize administrative costs in hopes of increasing sale value. Most buyers will evaluate the leadership team and make purchase price adjustments to account for those vacant positions.

The leadership team (both the C-suite and upper management) is a critical value-driver for buyers of businesses. As such, business owners should always maintain the strongest, most complete team whether the business is for sale or intends to remain independent.

?  As-is, where-is: Often, sellers neglect making necessary investments in machinery, facilities or IT systems to preserve cash and/or pad the bottom line. Any sophisticated purchaser of your business will take into account the need to remedy inappropriately deferred capital expenditures and a buyer’s perception of these deferred costs could be greater than those if the business had been maintained all along.

Well-run, growing businesses require ongoing investment. Machinery wears out, IT systems require updating and facilities need refurbishment. While every capital expenditure should be highly scrutinized based on cost and overall contribution to efficiency, deferring critical investment in hopes of increasing sale value is a mistake.

?  Pump-up the balance sheet: Another mistake sellers make is in the area of working capital. Balance sheet cash can be increased by more aggressively collecting receivables and extending payables in ways that are inconsistent with historical practices.

To detect this, buyers of businesses often include a “working capital adjustment” in their purchase consideration. If the company has been pulling cash out by collecting accounts receivable and/or extending payables, there will likely be a negative working capital adjustment.

Strong businesses have consistent working capital and cash-conversion cycles, and temporarily changing best practices can irreversibly impact vendor and customer relationships. Maintaining consistency will preserve these relationships and be rewarded in the purchase multiple offered by a discerning buyer.

?  Run on a shoestring: Some sellers try to operate their businesses with the bare minimum of liquidity in order to increase perceived working capital. This is more difficult to identify, since there is a fine line between capital efficiency and too little operating cushion.

Buyers will again employ a working capital test and closely evaluate the historical monthly fluctuations in receivables and payables. If there are certain months where larger fluctuations necessitate an operating cushion, this will be factored into the purchase value.

Once lost, liquidity can be difficult to regain. It is better to always operate the business leanly but with enough liquidity to provide cushion for seasonal working capital variances and to support ongoing growth.

While the decision to sell your business requires a new perspective, it doesn’t necessitate changes in fundamental operating principles. Making short-term cosmetic changes in an attempt to “prepare the company for sale” will ultimately be visible to the buyer, can create lasting customer and vendor challenges, and won’t be rewarded in increased sale value.

Focus on fundamental operating principles and maximize the value of your business — no lipstick required.

Craig Dupper is managing partner at Solis Capital Partners (www.soliscapital.com), a private equity firm in Newport Beach, Calif., focused exclusively on lower-middle-market companies.

Published in Columnist

Does your company employ a multigenerational workforce? If so, your organization might significantly benefit by adopting a reciprocal mentoring program that leverages talents, skills and knowledge to bridge generational gaps surrounding technology — such as social media — corporate culture and team building.

Given the generational divide, older and younger workers often feel disconnected when it comes to adapting to technology, corporate culture and working as a team.

With reciprocal mentoring, workers across all generations individually and collectively play a pivotal role in creating multigenerational buy-in to the workplace changes that accompany the adoption of technological tools such as social media, cloud computing and text usage that will streamline workflow communication, processes and practices.

Reciprocal mentoring takes the traditional mentoring concept of a seasoned employee guiding a worker’s development and transfers it from a one-way relationship to a two-way or team-building relationship in which newer or younger employees also impart their knowledge and guidance.

It can be especially important when it comes to the integration of newer technologies into the pre-existing corporate culture and workflow processes. To create a dynamic program, it’s important to understand the intrinsic generational differences within your workforce.

Consider your longtime employees. When someone has been on the job for an extended length of time, they form ideas and habits that have been repeatedly reinforced by experience and success.

When they are introduced to a new tool, piece of information or technology, some might feel threatened because it changes what they know and how they have become used to doing things, and the immediate challenge will be to figure out how they might adapt this new knowledge into their existing work practices.

As you add younger workers, it’s important to understand that the Y2K generation, or millennials, have a much different set of motivators from many baby boomer, generation X and generation Y employees.

Millennials thrive in situations that allow them to take ownership of their skills, knowledge and work. Challenge and change are key motivators for most millennials.

A successful reciprocal mentoring program will allow your millennial workers the opportunity to impart their technical savvy, to teach seasoned employees how to leverage and navigate the world of social media and the time-saving and efficiency tools available by leveraging mobile, messaging, text and cloud computing technologies.

In my company, we have taken more of a team-building approach to our reciprocal mentoring. We have set up a schedule of twice-monthly lunch-and-learn events. For these lunch-and-learns, we have put together a calendar of topics that my staff and I feel are of interest and importance to our business. We have tapped every employee, from entry-level to executive, with a topic or series of topics that each will present during one of the events. To keep things organized and to provide structure, we have set up the following outline for each presentation:

?  Who is presenting? Give us some of your personal, professional and/or academic background.

?  What is the topic you are covering?

?  Why is it important to our organization?

?  How can it or does it help move our organization forward?

?  How and/or when do we put it into practice?

?  What are some examples, case studies or best practices surrounding the topic?

During the presentation, we ask the presenter to use presentation tools to provide a show and tell of the topic he or she is covering.

By providing employees a forum to share their skill sets and knowledge, we create an environment where individuals feel they are making a valuable contribution to the entire team. By presenting in a team-like atmosphere, we are fostering individual presentation skills and creating an environment of team support, knowledge-sharing and problem-solving.

Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria Social Media Marketing and Online Reputation Management, Shazaaam Public Relations and Marketing Communications, and Promo Marketing Team, which conducts product sampling, mobile tours and events. Her companies have been seven times named a 101 Metropolitan Detroit Best and Brightest Company to Work for, a two-time Crain’s Detroit Cool Company to Work For and a National Best and Brightest Company to Work For. She can be reached at alenhoff@shazaaam.com. Follow her on Twitter @alenhoff.

Published in Columnist
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:00

Five strengths of the vulnerable leader

The biggest misconception in corporate America is the thinking that vulnerability and weakness are synonymous. They couldn’t be more opposite. If you don’t think so, think about the kind of managers

you want to work for and respond yes or no to the following:



  •  Has all the answers.



  •  Does not ask for suggestions on the ability to lead more effectively.



  •  Refuses to confront sensitive interpersonal issues.



  •  Frequently keeps office door shut with a sign on it that says, “Not Now!”



This last one may seem like a joke. It isn’t. At a particular organization, this is promptly displayed for all direct reports and those who pass by to see. Yikes.

To clarify, vulnerability in leadership is not reflected by managers who are quivering bowls of insecurity that freak out twice a day, questioning themselves out loud on every decision.  Vulnerability is demonstrated by managers who have both the confidence and courage to make tough choices.

Yet, in the process of these choices, they are willing to reach out for help, because it’s in the best interest of the organization as well their continued development.

The following are five areas that demonstrate the strong, vulnerable leader. Do a quick self-assessment as to how you measure against these:

Ask the opinion of those lower in rank.

Many managers view their competencies as milestones they passed, no different than a child who has learned to crawl then walk. Why look back? Yet, the perspectives of those under you not only builds morale and makes team members feel valued, managers may learn a fresh perspective they never considered.

Be willing to apologize and admit fault.

No one wakes up and thinks, “I can’t wait to screw something up so I can make a public apology!” Yet, the well-managed ego of a leader knows that both trust and character is on the line when it comes this one.

Get feedback from direct reports.

This is a distinction as the strong, vulnerable leader proactively seeks specific areas to be more aware and effective. This willingness to be enlightened is paramount for modeling continuous improvement.

Ask customers to critique your service.

Verbal critiques are best here so dialogue is involved. We have a propensity to bristle when those not making or selling our products or services chirp up. But the perch from which they view our approach to service not only offers a different vantage point, but one that may increase future business and referrals based on the openness of that relationship.

Tell colleagues to hold you accountable.

Empowering a circle of trusted advisers, above and below you in rank, creates a positive environment, one that knows higher trust, support and stronger likelihood of better performance outcomes.

Which one of these qualities resonates with you most? If you immediately have a couple in mind, that’s a good sign. If you are willing to openly discuss these with those you work with, that’s a great sign. Stay vulnerable, my friends.

Joe Takash is the president of Victory Consulting, a Chicago-based sales and leadership development firm. Joe is a keynote speaker for executive retreats, sales conferences and management meetings and he has appeared in many national media outlets. His firm, Victory Consulting, coaches executive teams and individual leaders, helping them maximize strategic execution.  Learn more at www.victoryconsulting.com.

Published in Columnist

A merger or acquisition is a sensitive process for all parties involved. Misinformation can abound, egos can be bruised, and business relationships can be damaged. One major cause of problems for companies entering a merger or acquisition is rumors and misconceptions that are allowed to run rampant through all levels of employees and stakeholders, as well as communities surrounding the businesses.

Employees, customers, vendors, community members and other key audiences hold specific interests in every company. To facilitate a smooth transition, companies must provide clear and concise information about the merger or acquisition to all stakeholders.

Implementing a transparent communications program ensures that all interested parties understand exactly how the deal will affect them. Without transparency, stakeholders begin to lose confidence. Flawless response time and a defined communication strategy are crucial to effectively ease any concerns.

Precise planning and messaging

Companies must prepare to beat fast-paced rumors months ahead of a merger or acquisition becoming imminent — especially with the speed information travels in today’s tech-savvy world.

Nothing is worse than having your employees find out about a major change in their company from an outside acquaintance. Why didn’t anyone at work inform them? Will they lose their jobs? These concerns should be addressed long before the rumor mill kicks into action. This takes proactive planning.

Initiating a proactive strategy will uncover communication considerations impacted by a merger or acquisition such as employee, key customer, investor, vendor and media announcement strategies, the company name, updating or merging of websites, and a host of other things.

“Key messages” that contain useful and comprehensive information should be prepared well ahead of time, with planned face-to-face meetings with those most affected by the deal, a detailed implementation timeline, and a plan for 11th-hour changes are essential to create a smooth transition process.

Internal communications

When announcing a merger or acquisition, it is imperative to provide accurate information and to avoid making promises that cannot be kept. If management takes the time to discuss the deal’s benefits and drawbacks, employees are more likely to respond positively instead of resisting change.

Employees expect straightforward and honest information about what the deal means for them. Anticipate questions that may arise and have a solid answer for each. Regular updates should be communicated through management, question-and-answer sessions, staff meetings and company news vehicles. The announcement to your staff must be a top priority — even ahead of key clients. But if planned properly, the announcement can hit all stakeholders within a matter of moments.

External communications

You may want to meet with key clients in person. A global announcement can be distributed via email within minutes of a staff announcement to not only clients but also other interested parties. A personal letter can always follow. But don’t stop there. Be sure to reinforce the benefits of the merger in all communication going forward.

Vendors will also be concerned about how the transaction will affect contracts, tax and credit information. A post-announcement letter can address these concerns and include any changes to important information.

Print and electronic media outlets are powerful tools and should be used accordingly. One designated spokesperson should be available at all times to speak to reporters. Communicating with key media outlets during a merger or acquisition offers a means for publicizing a company’s name change and launching new market and/or services announcements.

The perfect mix for internal and external communication plans involves implementing communications quickly, utilizing all available communication routes and delivering consistent, clear and accurate messages. Companies that make communications plans a priority during a merger or acquisition will emerge from the process as an organization that stakeholders, employees and the media can trust. ?

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 22-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com, @brandpro or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

Published in Columnist

Why do we believe offshoring is inherently bad? What makes a job “belong” in the U.S.? Both questions are based on the assumption that trade creates winners and losers. However, a job producing something overseas does not eliminate a job in the U.S. My experience has shown that a properly executed strategy can and should create winners on both sides.

A U.S. company that implements offshore manufacturing to complement its domestic operations affords competitiveness and room for growth. This, in turn, fuels an increase in R&D, sales and even domestic manufacturing. That means more U.S. jobs, not less.

Instead of the commonly used offshoring versus on-shoring idea, let’s replace it with “right-shoring,” and intelligently ask, “Where is the best place to make something?” My business answers this question for our customers every day. To do so, criteria beyond cost must be considered.

Global trade no new idea

The idea that America would magically create jobs if we simply shut down all imported goods is far more complex than most people know. International trade has been a staple of the world for millennia and will continue to grow as more countries become better equipped to handle new business.

For more than a decade, my company East West Manufacturing has been dealing with international trade and helping American and Georgia-based companies manufacture components and products from nations all over the world, including Vietnam, China and India. With the growing diversification out of China into Southeast Asia, Vietnam in particular, is on the fast track to become a very strategic manufacturing center.

Countries like Vietnam are inviting foreign investment as China’s labor costs increase, the tariffs on exports rise and companies look for alternatives. Along with the new Trans Pacific Partnership that will offer manufacturing benefits to all its 11 members — China is not a member — Vietnam has the potential to become the new China for certain products and capabilities.

Our company has had feet on the ground in Vietnam since we built our first facility in 2006, and I have seen the shift first-hand. We have recently opened two new divisions in Vietnam, both complementary. The first is a new division to produce printed circuit boards. The second is a medical products division also in our own ISO 13485 facility where we are certified to manufacture plastic and metal parts, as well as electromechanical assemblies for the medical device industry.

It’s not ‘here’ or ‘there’

Why Vietnam? Following Japan’s trajectory of 30 years ago (at least from a quality and cost perspective — remember that Japan was once synonymous with “cheap” — now Japanese car brands routinely take home world-class quality awards), China now competes and loses to countries like Vietnam when it comes purely to price.

Vietnam is eager to follow the Chinese economic growth model and has jumped on the lower links of the value chain and is steadily inching its way upward. Pulling from the pool of our own customers as examples, products and components for markets like HVAC pumps, material handling/conveyor systems used in warehousing and distribution, and even medical devices are all successfully produced in Vietnam.

In today’s flattened-world economy, the concept of made “here” or “there” has little meaning. Few end products are completely made in any one country. American cars contain wire harnesses put together in Mexico from wire made in Georgia, engine components machined in Eastern Europe assembled into finished engines in Michigan, sheet metal produced in Pennsylvania and fasteners cold-headed in Taiwan.

In a world of lean, automated manufacturing where global business is the norm and not the exception, the need to source and make things in the right place has never been more important. ?

Scott Ellyson is the CEO and co-founder of Atlanta-based East West Manufacturing, a domestic offshore manufacturing company. Ellyson has spent two decades in the manufacturing industry, specifically in the areas of strategy, supply chain logistics and operations. Reach him at sellyson@ewmfg.com.



Published in Columnist

One thing that most bad bosses have in common is lack of awareness that they’re bad bosses. With so much at stake personally, nobody wants to believe they are the problem. Not only is that bad for decisions, it’s bad for careers and employee health as well.

It’s no surprise — bad bosses are toxic. According to an independent study by Florida State University College of Business, employees stuck in “bad boss” relationships experienced more exhaustion, job tension, nervousness, depressed mood and mistrust. They also were less likely to take on additional tasks, such as working longer or on weekends, and were generally less satisfied with their job.

Many experienced HR professionals have noted: “People don’t leave their jobs in a company; they leave their managers.”

Compared to the obvious tirades, bad boss behaviors can be more subtle and include unreasonably discounting input, the “silent treatment,” failing to give credit when due, not keeping promises, blaming others to cover up mistakes or embarrassment, making unwarranted negative comments and obsessive micromanagement. Many are simply unaware of the huge negative impact of some of their behaviors and resist any thought that they are wrong — until it may be too late.

The real problem

The problem is that left untrained, we are all susceptible to making errors in judgment based on blind spots in the way we perceive reality. My experience is that once bosses are afflicted they may subconsciously shut down the very thing that can help: diversity of thought. So even if you are convinced that you are the greatest manager around, you would still be wise to check for bugs in your own thinking. Here are five signs that you may be a bad boss.

1. Do you act in ways that discourage questioning of your views and assertions?

2. Do you tend to distance yourself from responsibility for error?

3. Do you check with your subordinates to see if your communications are inconsistent or ambiguous?

4. Are you inclined to blow off ideas that are not consistent with your point of view?

5. Do you seek and reflect on feedback from others regarding your behavior?

Avoiding blind spots

Identifying blind spots in our thinking is essential to making quality decisions. Yet few bosses have the intellectual courage to ask their subordinates to rate them in these areas. That creates a paradox. How can someone have all the answers before they ask the questions? The idea that bosses and supervisors would rely on intuition for something this important makes little sense.

So here is an idea. Ask your team to anonymously rate you in these five areas. Compare with your own rankings and discuss improving your blind spots with the team. And note: If you have the immediate reaction to dismiss this exercise, you may have a blind spot!

A new kind of leader

Companies want employees who can systematically pursue important goals, recognize and analyze significant problems, communicate essential meanings, and assess their own performance on the job.

The responsibility of leadership is to create a culture where these behaviors can thrive. That requires a mastery of ourselves rather than command and control of others. ?

Larry J. Bloom spent 30-plus years helping grow a small family business to more than $700 million in revenue. He is the author of “The Cure for Corporate Stupidity: Avoid the Mind-Bugs that Cause Smart People to Make Bad Decisions,” consultant, board member and owner of a start-up media and software company that promotes better thinking. He was born and resides in Atlanta. For more information, please visit www.curecorporatestupidity.com or contact Larry at bloomlj@gmail.com.


Published in Columnist

Ronald Reagan was well known for not only his confidence but also his positive outlook and sense of humor. He had a way of never taking himself seriously and always found a way to find humor even during the direst times.

In fact, following the assassination attempt, he told his wife, “Honey, I forgot to duck.”

His constant positive outlook made him appealing to voters and is one of the reasons he continues to score high in polls ranking presidents.

Do we approach life and leadership the same way that Reagan did? Do we always take a positive outlook into the start of each day?

Some CEOs act as if being in charge makes them a victim and complain of the burden. Leadership is a privilege that all of us should learn to enjoy. We have to train ourselves to enjoy the process, not just the end result.

Let’s take some time to reflect on the victories, no matter how small, and celebrate them. Learn to reflect on the great clients we have and the great people who work for us instead of focusing on the one unhappy customer or an employee with a bad attitude. But most importantly, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

Each day that passes is a day that we do not get back. We have to look at each day as a series of moments and find the happy things that put joy in our life.

These can be simple things — a funny comment from your child, something silly you heard on the radio or a bright, sunny day. When we start focusing on these small joys in life and start stringing them together, we’ll find that an entire day has become joyous. Enjoy the time you are in now and don’t spend so much time fretting about tomorrow. Be intentional: Start by writing down four little things a day at work that bring you joy on a daily basis and build from there. This can even be a conversation around the watercooler that makes you laugh. String together a few days like this, and we are well on our way to a more joyous life.

By developing this habit, we will be more inclined to treat people better, and they, in turn, will treat others better, which will increase the overall positive culture of our workforce. The work environment is a bigger factor in why employees leave than money is, so focusing on providing a more joyful environment will also help your business in the end.

Whether in business or in life, it all comes down to being joyful. Happiness is fleeting based on circumstances, but joy becomes permanent once we have cultivated it. Start by focusing on the little joys and build from there. Remember, people won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you treated them.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

The more there is available of something, the less it costs. Conversely, when there’s a limited quantity of that same something, the more it’s coveted and the more expensive it is. This is a rudimentary concept, but few companies know how to effectively manage the process to ensure they balance supply with demand in order to maintain or improve the profitability of a product or service. Of course, before you can maximize profitability, you must have something customers want, sometimes even before they know they need it.

Think about precious metals, fine diamonds and even stocks. The beauty and a portion of the intrinsic value of these things are effectively in the eyes of the beholder. In reality, much of their value or price is determined by the ease or difficulty of obtaining them.

As for equities, as soon as everyone who can own a given stock has bought it, then, in many cases, the only direction that stock can take is down because there are simply more sellers than buyers. On the flip side, when few people own a stock but everybody decides they want it, for whatever the reason, that stock may take a precipitous upward trajectory.

A case in point is Apple. At one time, when its per-share price was more than $400, $500 and even $600, everyone thought the sky was the limit and the majority of institutional funds and many home gamers, aka small individual investors, jumped on the bandwagon. The stock reached $705 a share in the fall of 2012, and just when all of the market prognosticators were screaming, “Buy, buy, buy,” there were too few buyers left (because everyone already owned it) and the stock fell out of bed. In many respects, Apple was still the same great company with world-class products, but there were simply more sellers than buyers and — poof — the share price evaporated, sending this once high-flying growth stock to the woodshed for a real thrashing.

The question for your business is how can you manage the availability of your goods or services to maximize profit margins? The oversimplified answer is once you have something of value, make sure that you create the appropriate amount of tension, be it requiring a waiting list to obtain the product or service or underproducing the item to create a backlog. However, this is a delicate balancing act, because if it’s too hard to get, then customers will quickly find an alternative, and your product will become yesterday’s news.

Some very high-end fashion houses, such as Chanel, have it down to a science. It can be very difficult to walk into a marquis retailer today and obtain one of its satchels without being made to jump through waiting-game hoops, just for the privilege of giving the store your money in exchange for the fancy schmancy bag. That stimulates demand and keeps the price up because customers tend to want something they can’t seem to get.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

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Published in Akron/Canton

Procrastination eats up a ton of energy — in worry, negativity, angst and efficiency, not to mention wasting time itself.

When you think about the basic allotment of time you and I have each day, I can’t think of a more precious thing to waste.

It’s been said that when you eliminate procrastination forever, you become a “master of your time.” But how to end that thing we all do — especially when we are up against a difficult project or deadline?

Time to reinvent yourself.

Begin by retooling yourself. Start with time management, and divide your day into “small bites.” Schedule and organize each portion of every day. Set daily goals, then prioritize and organize your schedule to meet those goals.

If you are most productive in the mornings, schedule your most intense tasks then. If you are full of energy toward the middle of the day, don’t waste that part of the day on lunch.

Work to eliminate time wasters such as frequent checking of email, side chats and taking phone calls when you are in the middle of the most productive (scheduled) part of your day.

Make this month your most productive month by ending your tendency to procrastinate — forever.

Get in the right frame of mind.

What else drains your energy? No doubt about it, cynicism and skepticism is heaped high and pretty prevalent now, professionally, politically and personally. Much of it is warranted and probably even useful.

The best place to be, though, is open-minded and open-hearted.

Sure, you could say that’s a pretty “Hallmark moment” perspective. But carrying heavy chips of skepticism on your shoulders absolutely closes you off to hearing the good and mires you down in negativity.

Develop a more caring attitude.

Care more. Ghandi and Jesus embraced the concept. So did Mother Teresa. In fact, so did Steve Jobs. And although he wasn’t liked very much, Jobs was known for caring deeply about what he was making and how it was used.

But really, who talks about caring these days? Certainly not most businesspeople or Congress or those depicted in reality shows.

In business terms, caring is what you do to increase customer retention and keep the value of your brand. Caring = profitability. But caring also gives you a compass. It’s the reason you do the work you do in the first place.

I recommend not just simply caring but caring more. Sure, the mantra may help your organization’s bottom line. More importantly, in the process of caring more, there’s an opportunity to take “the road less traveled,” the road of someone who truly cares about what’s being made and who it is for.

Beware of consequences of apathy.

It has been said that anything left to its own devices with no oversight will degrade to its lowest common denominator and eventually lose its beauty and function.

That’s why we have laws, industries are regulated, bushes get pruned and products have designers.

It’s also true with regard to leadership. A business leader not only sets standards but also helps prune and hone his or her business, staff, products, methods and strategies.

A good leader sets the tone for all this and doesn’t get bogged down in the details. But — the leader is careful to take the pulse of the business area, to make sure those very same standards, staff, products, methods and strategies are not losing beauty and function. It’s an artful dance.

This time of year is natural for taking stock and looking ahead. Take some time to see what pruning needs to be done for the betterment of your business. ?

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

Published in Indianapolis