Lisa Oliver has been working in the banking industry ever since she graduated from college. She went to work for KeyBank in 1990 and has been the Cleveland district president for the past 10 years. However, her career wasn’t as straightforward as one might expect.
Oliver has come face-to-face with numerous challenges and obstacles throughout her career, and having to overcome those is what made her who she is today.
Early in her career, Oliver struggled with self-confidence in her ability to climb the ranks of a male-dominated industry. She also had to overcome a punch or two to her ego when she was turned down for certain jobs or promotions.
“Many times, you see people who have a desire to move quick and get into the next role and grow and make more money,” Oliver says. “You tell that person they’re not ready for the next job or you tell them no; that was an early challenge for me.
“I was a middle-market relationship manager and the leadership role on our team opened up, and I put my name in the hat for that job. I didn’t get that job. A gentleman from outside the bank got that job. It really upset me. I felt I was qualified and was the next person in line.”
The way you handle that scenario is a huge challenge in anyone’s career and can predict future successes. Oliver had to take the lessons from being passed over and ask the questions to understand why. She began to dig deeper at work and viewed her position at Key as a career rather than just a job for a paycheck.
“That was a huge confidence factor that came from sticking with a career and viewing it that way and not as a job,” she says. “What I realized was it was also helping me grow as a person. My confidence professionally came from failing and fixing it.”
Oliver has seen people achieve success much quicker than she did but believes she was much better off failing and then climbing to the top.
“Those people who have moved quickly and have had little mini successes will eventually have a huge fall,” she says. “When I look at my career, and this goes back to being told, ‘No, you can’t have this next job’ or not winning or being the best or being on top of the pile, that has always been something that has driven me to try harder and learn more.”
Oliver has always been her own biggest critic. That desire to always be a little bit better, improve and make sure you’re willing to understand what your weaknesses are helps build confidence.
Oliver has done that over time. Her ability to gain confidence and find more purpose in her career ultimately led to her getting a leadership role at KeyBank. That role would be the turning point in her career.
“There was a group that reached out to me that was interested in having me go from middle-market into the business banking space and they were looking for a team leader,” Oliver says.
“Being given that opportunity was hugely transformative for me. It helped me start to think about the future and not just what I had to do in that day or that week. What do we want to achieve this year? How do I want people to excel? What will be my next career move and to what is this a building block?”
That process ultimately led to her current position at Key in Cleveland.
“So much of it is about attitude,” she says. “There is a saying about attitude that whether you think you can or that you can’t, you’re right, because you will direct yourself down that path. Whether you know it or not, you are the person who undermines your career, not anybody else, and you have to be aware of that.” ?
How to reach: KeyBank, (216) 689-5580 or www.key.com
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Windows on the River is a full-service banquet facility that provides a truly exceptional experience. Centrally located in the historic FirstEnergy Powerhouse, we offer three specular rooms and two patios that offer dazzling views of Cleveland’s skyline, signature bridges and breathtaking sunsets. Each room is unique with exposed brick and high ceilings.
Whether you are planning a corporate meeting, a wedding or a cocktail reception, Windows on the River is the perfect place. Windows on the River is also the exclusive caterer to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and Jacobs Pavilion, venues that can be added to any event to make it one of a kind.
Our philosophy is simple: We believe that you, the host/hostess, should enjoy the event as much as your guests. Our goal is to exceed your expectations, and we all work toward that goal.
Reach Windows on the River at (216) 861-1445 or www.windowsontheriver.com. Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/windowsontheriver.
Hughie’s Event Production Services
Hughie’s Event Production Services is Cleveland’s premier live-event design and production resource, founded in 1953.
Hughie’s is a worldwide supplier of high-definition video projection equipment, concert-quality audio systems, intelligent moving lights, staging systems and more to satisfy all your presentation and special event needs.
At HEPS, we strongly believe in a team approach to projects and productions. Our staff members are our strength and bring with them a wide range of education and experience. We are committed to offering you the best service in the industry along with superior, state-of-the-art equipment. With all our resources, years of knowledge in the industry, and cutting-edge technology, you can rely on our team working closely with yours to ensure many successful events.
Partner with the pros at Hughie’s to design and produce all your important events, all while saving you money. Receive a free, confidential price quote when you call.
To schedule your next event, log onto www.hughies.com or call (216) 361-4600. Follow us on facebook.com/HughiesEPS.
Whether you’re an executive, a working parent or a woman on the go, your time is at a premium. You wear many hats and juggle multiple responsibilities. Proactively seeking to optimize your health and well-being pays off not just for you. It pays off for your family, employer, community and all who depend on you.
A Woman’s Executive Health Evaluation offers world-class medical and wellness services to bring you the most comprehensive, streamlined Executive Health Evaluation available. Our clinical team includes skilled, compassionate and experienced male and female physicians with the ability to create a valuable and meaningful experience. We have transformed the traditional physical from a data-gathering exam into an integrated, personalized one-day head-to-toe evaluation by some of the top medical staff in the world.
For more information on our Executive Health Program, visit www.clevelandclinic.org/executivehealth or call (216) 986-1236 to speak with our corporate health consultant.
95.5 The Fish
95.5 The Fish and Salem Communications of Northeast Ohio proudly support all women who excel and aspire to excel. We invite you to tune in to 95.5 The Fish starting at 6 a.m. for the Family Friendly Morning Show for uplifting music and content that will help get your day off to a great start.
Speaking of Women who Excel, Brooke Taylor has been co-host of the Family Friendly Morning show for more than six years with her co-host, Len Howser. As a wife and mom of five, Taylor says co-hosting the morning show is a “dream come true,” and she considers “work” one of the biggest highlights of her day.
“For a busy wife and mom, it’s an answer to prayer to be able to go to a job every day where I can connect with other parents and families based on common beliefs and share our joy and challenges,” she says.
Taylor believes the listeners are more than just people who turn on the radio station but are a part of an extended family. She adds, “I am very protective of our listeners. They represent friends, families, and they inspire me every day.”
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What does Anthem do to support women in business? The same things we do to support every business leader — because women expect the same value, innovation and dedication as any other forward-thinking leader. How do we know? Our parent company was named a 2012 “Top 50 Company for Executive Women” by the National Association for Female Executives.
We also listen to the many women business leaders we serve to stay on target. Ohio is ranked No. 9 of the top 10 states for women-owned businesses. And as of 2012, there are more than 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating about $1.3 trillion in revenue and employing 7.7 million people. Clearly, women have a voice in everything we do.
At Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, that means working hard every day to improve the lives of the people we serve.
With the help of many successful women, we’ve been able to:
? Make meaningful connections with our members — from online groups to personal health coaching.
? Develop leading health plans that reflect diverse needs in a changing market.
? Teach people how their healthy choices influence the people around them.
? Inspire kids and their families to choose (and stick with) healthy habits.
? Help lower health care costs with new plans, new payment models and new technology.
Thanks to all the women who lead by example, extend helping hands to our communities and pave the way for the next generation of successful women. ?
Denise Tomechko is vice president of national account management for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Reach her at (800) 928-2902, www.anthem.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HealthJoinIn.
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It’s a fairly common approach when taking on a new job to talk to those people who have been there for a while to learn what the company is all about. Harold Edwards tried this approach at Limoneira Co., and he didn’t like what he was learning.
“To be pretty direct, a lot of complacency and apathy had crept their way into the organization,” says Edwards, president and CEO at the Santa Paula, Calif.-based grower and provider of lemons. “We literally had situations where the people who had worked for the company for the longest period of time were probably doing the least amount of work.”
As Edwards looked at the financial numbers, he could see that the company wasn’t really on the upswing. But it was the attitude of senior leaders at Limoneira that concerned him even more.
“Most evident when I showed up was just a lot of senior-level managers and people who had been with the organization for a long time were not only not aligned with the objectives of the organization but also were very clearly and very evidently complacent about their day-to-day duties and responsibilities,” Edwards says.
The work culture and environment had become a big problem. Edwards needed to act swiftly to get things turned around at the company, which employs 226 people and has been producing lemons since 1893.
“The area where a lot of companies go wrong is they don’t stay current with their dynamic environment and they don’t consistently go through and define those objectives and focus on the alignment or realignment of those objectives every year as the environment continues to change,” Edwards says. “That’s where many companies fall down.”
Edwards hoped his plan would keep that from happening at Limoneira.
Laying out a new course
The changes on the leadership team were first up for Edwards. They were not easy moves to make.
“There were some pretty strong and big power struggles that had bred themselves within the organization,” Edwards says.
“One of my first orders of business as I was building my senior management team was to attempt to eliminate those power struggles. I wanted to get everybody’s full commitment to the vision of the organization and the new, very decentralized structure that we were putting in place to foster better teamwork.”
Edwards made it clear that he wanted to identify new growth opportunities and assess what was working and what wasn’t working to help Limoneira function to its full potential.
“We never had the vision that maybe the way to manage the company in a better way would be to really focus in on the growth of the business,” Edwards says. “And by growth, I mean really make it our business to transition from our focus from just being a producer into becoming a supplier of lemons.
“Surround ourselves and our assets not only with our own fruit but eventually with the fruit of other growers that would allow us to take advantage of our strong brand reputation in the marketplace.”
Those who weren’t committed to pursuing this new path didn’t stick around long, which turned out to be a good thing.
“In a way, it was very emancipating and helpful for the overall organization because as some of those people who were hanging onto their turf exited, you could almost hear the overall organization breathe a big sigh of relief,” Edwards says. “It was viewed as very empowering for many of the other people who were in essence held down or oppressed by some of these former managers.”
To those who feared they might be ousted by this new leader, Edwards worked hard to get them to see that he wasn’t there to conquer Limoneira. He was there to give people the freedom to help the company grow.
“My style is not to micromanage anybody on my team,” Edwards says. “It’s really just to position myself as an enabler and a supporter and to try to see that each one of these individuals is able to have success with the objectives that they’ve laid down for themselves and their teams.”
Building communication channels
The next step for Edwards at Limoneira was not a painful one, but it was a big challenge. His goal was to have his managerial team identify the top five objectives for the entire organization.
“They weren’t financial goals,” Edwards says. “They were more specific strategic objectives. Once they were created, we methodically went through each person in the senior management team, down through the management team, down through every salaried employee and then down through the rank-and-file employees.
“When the exercise was complete, the goal was everybody in the company had their own top five objectives that if they were successful accomplishing, the organization would have the best chance of achieving its top five objectives.”
It’s obviously a lot more challenging in practice than it is on paper. You have to accept that while there may be some hiccups along the way in developing all these objectives, they will lead you to a better outcome if you stay disciplined with the process.
“It really takes a commitment,” Edwards says. “Not all organizations are able to embrace that. There is a downside to innovation. There’s a downside to being really entrepreneurial and, in this case, intrepreneurial. It can be very disruptive. But if you’re willing to embrace some choppiness and disruption to do things better, it will work.”
With everyone committed to pursuing new growth opportunities, Edwards says the past five years have provided a consistent flow of new ideas from employees who previously weren’t involved in such talks.
“We have laid down very specific and very measurable growth targets that have really helped us smooth out the cyclicality and volatility of our business,” Edwards says.
“It’s also gotten all the employees who are involved in this part of our business very specifically focused on what their role and responsibility is. We can determine if we were successful or not. That is a specific objective that really has helped us transition the company and helped us grow.”
Edwards says it’s a message he repeats over and over again that great ideas at Limoneira do not have to begin in his office.
“Encourage people to think outside the box and come up with ideas about how to streamline efficiencies and how to get things done in a more efficient way,” he says. “Don’t just assume or accept that there is only one way to do things.”
Stick to it
When you think you’ve finally driven home the idea that you want employees to feel empowered to share their ideas, you need to resist the urge to stop talking about it.
“Part of the performance management program has a quarterly evaluation process that makes each employee better connected with a greater sense of consistent purpose with his or her manager,” Edwards says. “That allows them to do a better job of determining when an employee is getting it done and when they aren’t.”
Most employees want to make their supervisors and managers proud and want to do their part to help the business. But you have to maintain the dialogue and keep talking about it to make it work.
“The skill of the manager is to make sure that the things that aren’t going to be good objectives and goals, that those aren’t implemented,” Edwards says. “The ones that will really drive the organization forward are used.”
The discipline is not just a means to keep employees on task. It’s to help keep you and your management team on task as well.
“It’s very easy to see if we didn’t stay vigilant and diligent on quarterly evaluation and the communication of those evaluations, that it could very easily become just another thing that the organization was doing and the whole purpose would really be lost,” Edwards says.
One of the final pieces of the transformation at Limoneira has been to make sure the board of directors and company leaders understand the difference between management and governance.
“Part of the board’s responsibility in good governance is to help define and lay out good strategy for the organization as it moves forward,” Edwards says. “What had happened was the board had begun to get involved in personnel decisions. It had actually started micromanaging certain managerial posts sort of at the expense of the authority of the CEO of the company.”
Edwards shared his thoughts that the board needed to focus on strategy and let leaders like himself deal with day-to-day operations.
“By getting the board back to being a part of the governance structure and the management team really focusing in on the management of the company and keeping those roles and responsibilities separate and distinct and very disciplined, we’ve allowed both to operate at excellent levels that have really pushed the company forward,” Edwards says.
The result is a business that has grown consistently, with revenue leaping from $52.5 million in 2011 to $65.8 million in 2012.
“It’s much clearer the level of collaboration and teamwork that is necessary in order for all the employees to be successful,” Edwards says. “It’s forced people to play their roles and responsibilities more in concert as a team rather than as individuals. It’s that new alignment and fostering of teamwork that really set the company in motion.”
How to reach: Limoneira Co., (805) 525-5541 or www.limoneira.com
The Edwards File
Name: Harold Edwards
Title: President and CEO
Company: Limoneira Co.
Born: San Francisco
Education: Undergraduate degree in international affairs, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Ore.; MBA in global management, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Glendale, Ariz.
What was your very first job?
Working on a ranch in Santa Paula. It was physical labor. I was hewing weeds, chopping suckers off trees or laying down mulch and fertilizer. I’m five generations deep in one of six families that represent the largest shareholders of this company. I grew up on one of the ranches that is one of different 15 ranches that the company manages.
What do you enjoy about the work?
I’ve sort of committed myself to making the world my canvas and taking opportunities to be living in a global world that produces and distributes product all over the world. The part of my job that gives me the greatest level of satisfaction is to, in a very small way, play a part in feeding the hungry world.
Why do Europeans consume so many more lemons than the United States?
You correlate it with obesity and the quality of our diets here versus the diets in other parts of the world. Then you look at life expectancy and health and you start to see some trends that are very compelling. If we were just to reach parity with Europe in terms of their lemon consumption, we don’t grow enough lemons here in the United States to accomplish that today. So we spend a lot of time trying to convince people to use lemons in their everyday lives here in the United States. So far we’re starting to see the results of a lot of these efforts take place.
Be clear about your intentions.
Build channels to communicate.
Stay disciplined with your plan.
Most leaders understand that it’s critically important to collaborate regularly on initiatives with their employees, but are they getting all they can out of these interactions?
What leaders may be missing is a new paradigm for employee engagement and competitive advantage.
Many of them are working from an old style of management in which business decisions are made at the top and leaders follow a hierarchy of authority. Senior executives must still set strategy and manage for results, but they can likely achieve better outcomes by letting go.
Authors Craig Schreiber and Kathleen M. Carley explain that adapting a participative-style leadership environment allows people and the business to co-evolve into higher levels, enhancing personal responsibility, accountability, collaboration, innovation and business outcomes.
To do this, leaders need to empower employees to collectively make decisions that drive results and train employees to work in this model.
Employees on the front line are often in the best position to see trends and market opportunities.
Leaders can help drive businesses in new directions and enhance their bottom line by giving lower-level managers and line employees the support and encouragement to assume a much higher level of accountability and responsibility.
Information creation and sharing based on trust are critical components of innovation, according to author R.E. Miles. As they feel more engaged, employees are also more motivated to contribute and add value.
To achieve this, leaders must create an environment where risk within certain boundaries is rewarded so that employees feel comfortable enough to act on their abilities and instincts.
Leaders can support employees by encouraging ideas to grow and flourish among employees rather than through the manager. This will allow employees to identify and pursue opportunities that benefit the company.
The most important — and often most challenging — aspect of leadership is constant follow-through. It is important to discuss leadership techniques with employees and provide training.
Talking through leadership strategies with employees calibrates the group to be more in alignment. It also increases follow-through from employees who feel a part of the process.
Leaders can do this by:
? Discussing best practices among participants
? Identifying leadership needs
? Generating solutions that fit with the needs of the group
? Sharing best practices of employee collaboration throughout the company
? Recognizing work among employees and outcomes
For example, a bank executive wanted leadership training for her front-line managers. Her goal was for them to be able to work out problems and challenges independently or as a leadership group without constantly seeking guidance.
For 10 weeks, we challenged the managers to take more risk and encouraged them to make more decisions at their level. Through group coaching meetings, the employees helped each other consider best alternatives and the executive learned how to manage by letting go. The managers reported feeling more encouraged and engaged, which considerably enhanced results.
Jay Colker, DM, MBA, MA is core faculty for the master’s in counseling and organizational psychology program at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. Colker also maintains a human capital consulting practice and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (312) 213-3421.
A colleague of mine used to live in Russia and was stuck in more than a few traffic jams on those rare occasions when he wasn’t on the subway or a bus. Moscow, a city of more than 10 million people, had a highway system built for fewer cars.
The Russian word for traffic jam is probka — which also refers to a “cork,” which one might encounter in a bottle. When you think about it, that’s an apt description for a traffic jam.
In a similar way, our thinking and the organizations we lead can get “bottled up” too if we don’t have an effective system for reining in our attention and focus.
Thinking can be a bottleneck
One type of bottleneck that can occur is with our thinking. We have all experienced what one psychologist calls a “response selection bottleneck.” This happens when our brains try to react to multiple stimuli at the same time. For example, the “multitasking” CEO allows bottlenecks to occur when he or she believes that it’s possible to effectively tackle two conscious tasks at once.
We know, of course, that most of us can walk and chew gum at the same time. But, as John Medina states in “Brain Rules,” we are “biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.” Medina suggests that we really can’t listen effectively to the conference call and respond to email at the same time.
What is actually happening when we think we’re multitasking is that we’re doing what some call “switch tasking” — we’re switching our attention from one task to another. Some of us may do it more quickly than others, but our brain isn’t really processing two tasks at once.
The most common contemporary example of this fight for attention in our everyday lives is — you guessed it — talking on a cell phone while driving. Medina points out that those talking on the phone are a “half-second slower to hit the brakes in emergencies” because our brains have to switch tasks, and this eats up critical time. He adds that “50 percent of the visual cues spotted by attentive drivers are missed by cell-phone talkers.”
Not only are there limits for individuals, but the organizations we lead have similar limits. Are there organizational decisions stuck at a bottleneck because you have too many competing priorities?
Our organizations are often very complex, which makes it hard for employees to focus on what will lead to individual, team and organizational success. We’re all working longer hours, often feeling like we’re moving from treading water to drowning.
How do we distinguish the imperative from the important?
Here are five tips to get started:
? Identify what you’re best at.
? Figure out what your key stakeholders value and need most.
? Identify where your answers to 1 and 2 intersect.
? Define how you deliver value differently than your competition.
? Develop a clear and authentic way to communicate your value.
As one psychology professor puts it, “We’re really built to focus.” What are you giving your organization to focus on?
P.S. As a bonus tip, when meeting with your senior team to discuss the tips above, are there at least portions of your meetings when everyone’s smartphone can go into a black box until you’re finished? ?
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” To explore how to promote organizational sync through greater focus, you may reach Kanefield at (314) 863-4400 or email@example.com.
Twenty-five years ago, Fred Potthoff and his partner took out a $300,000 line of credit to start their own company. Potthoff backed his half by putting up his house and his retirement savings, and from that moment, it was a race against time to see if he and his partner could sell enough before running out of money.
Fast forward to today, and the company they started, Kroff Inc., a leading water and wastewater treatment and recycling services company, has more than 80 employees, eight different businesses under the Kroff name and annual revenue of more than $50 million. Potthoff’s entrepreneurial gamble paid off, and today, he isn’t stressed about making enough money to survive but rather about finding the right talent to keep the company at the top of its game.
“We are a bottom-up run organization, and we go by the philosophy of hiring bright, creative, entrepreneurial people and giving them the right tools. Then we get out of their way to let them flourish,” Potthoff says.
Even with the company’s eight different businesses, Potthoff has remained an integral part of its hiring process and ensuring that great talent enters the company.
“Some people are surprised when they talk to me first, second or third in the organization as one of the original owners,” Potthoff says. “I tell them, ‘This is the single most important thing that I do in the course of my workweek or month.’”
Since Kroff’s inception in 1988, the company has experienced an average of 24 percent growth every year. The attention to his company’s hiring process, which he calls motivational fit, is what Potthoff focuses on to make sure Kroff Inc. will continue to grow.
Here is how Potthoff hires the best available talent.
Find the best fit
Kroff Inc. has seen some incredible growth over the years and that success is a direct result of the people Potthoff has been able to hire. In fact, each of the organization’s eight businesses started with ideas from sales associates.
“Aside from the original company, my partner and I didn’t come up with any of the other ideas,” Potthoff says. “It was people in our organization coming to us and us listening to them and running with that idea.”
When Potthoff interviews candidates, he is interested in trying to spark that kind of enthusiasm and interest in the company.
“It doesn’t mean that everybody who comes here is going to run their own company, but it’s part of our culture,” he says. “People who fit in well here think that way and look for opportunities. When we interview, the key is looking for that kind of person, so we’ve all been trained in behavioral interviewing and that’s an important component of trying to identify the right person.”
Behavioral interviewing is a key component at Kroff because when the company was first started, Potthoff put a lot of stock into resumes and conventional interviewing. While resumes can provide wonderful statistics about how much somebody sold or how many new accounts they created and a lot of facts and figures, they aren’t as effective at finding the best fit as behavioral interviewing.
“In behavioral interviewing, you get into specific examples and you try to drill down and mine for a number of examples where they’ve shown an attribute in the past,” Potthoff says. “If they say they have an entrepreneurial bent, you say, ‘Give me an example of when you demonstrated this in your past job.’
“Whatever the attribute is, we want specific examples where they’ve done it before and they can tell us a clear story about why they have that talent and where they manifested it.
“It’s a more difficult interview process because often they have to think and dig down to find an example, but that’s what you want. Then you know you’re getting the right person if they can give you a lot of examples where they have demonstrated this capability before.”
While this technique of interviewing has resulted in strong employees for Kroff, it isn’t without its drawbacks.
“Behavioral interviewing is a challenge; you have to sit and wait sometimes for the person to think of examples because you want them to give you very specific, very concrete examples,” he says. “So the interviewing process takes a little patience whenever the candidate is in front of you.”
In Kroff’s case, the company hires a lot of sales engineers, and one of the first challenges is finding an outstanding chemical engineer who wants to have a career in sales.
“Sometimes it’s mixing oil and water, and we’re often looking for personality attributes that aren’t in one person,” he says.
Another challenge is where to find the best talent. The best candidates may be the passive candidates, not the ones shopping their resume around.
“They are the ones who are successful who are doing a great job wherever they are,” Potthoff says. “To try to get their attention sometimes is difficult.”
The third thing Kroff does to find good talent is to check references or see if someone has worked with that person before.
“If you depend on the interview process and the resume, it’s more of a crapshoot,” he says. “If you can find somebody in your organization or get references from reliable people who have worked with the person, then your chance of having success with that person is greater.”
To overcome these challenges and have help in the search process for talented employees, Kroff often utilizes the services of recruiters.
“We’ve picked two or three that we work with and we bring them in to our office and try to educate them to make sure they understand exactly what we’re looking for, because when you’re dealing with recruiters, they’ll often throw resumes at you in hopes you’re going to hire somebody,” he says.
“It is important to invest some time with the recruiter and say, ‘This is exactly what we’re looking for, and don’t send us anybody else.’”
Translate talent into success
While a company’s success can benefit greatly from its products or services, Potthoff believes his hiring techniques and the talent he has been able to bring in are the true difference makers.
“You can have the best products in the world and you can have the best computer software and order entry, but it really comes down to quality people,” Potthoff says. “The key component of our success is that we’ve been very fortunate for the most part in hiring great people.”
Another key component of Kroff’s success has been that Potthoff has done a good job of listening to ideas.
“It’s one thing to give lip service to somebody, but if somebody comes to you with a good, creative idea, you can’t summarily dismiss it because maybe you tried it before or it seems a little harebrained,” he says. “You have to be willing to listen and trust the people, and if you think it’s a great idea, be willing to move and invest in it. When you do that, the culture responds to it.”
A lack of listening is one of the biggest mistakes many companies make.
“I don’t think many companies listen well enough to the people in the field who have their fingers on the pulse,” Potthoff says. “If you’ve hired the right people, they’re closer to the action and the opportunities than somebody sitting up in a corporate office somewhere.
“I’ve seen it in the past where some vice president comes up with an idea about what market the company should go after. It may be a brilliant idea, but oftentimes, it’s not. I think you are better served by getting intelligent, creative people and listening to them when they come to you with a market opportunity, because they’re in a better position in a lot of ways to see opportunities.”
To incorporate this kind of thinking into your organization you have to make the behavior part of your company’s culture.
“View company meetings and company culture as a meritocracy, which is the way we look at it,” he says. “In other words, if we are in a manager’s meeting, I set the tone for the meeting. It’s not myself and my business partner pontificating about where the company is headed and what we’re going to do.
“When you present ideas, everybody has to chime in with what they think the best idea is, and we will hash it out here and the best idea will rise to the top.”
This mentality is an easy thing to say, but it’s a hard thing to accept because you have to set your ego aside and listen to comments and criticism.
“That’s where some entrepreneurs and business owners go array because they are so vested in the company,” Potthoff says. “The way they got the company off the ground is the right way to do it, and it’s hard for them sometimes to hear somebody criticize it. It is vital to stay vibrant and alive, so you have to listen to the new people that you bring in.” ?
How to reach: Kroff Inc., (412) 321-9800 or www.kroff.com
Be involved in the hiring process.
Utilize resources to help you find the best talent.
Once you have the talent use it to grow your business.
The Potthoff File
Co-founder and co-owner
Born: Latrobe, Pa.
Education: He attended Shippensburg University and got a bachelor of science degree in business.
What was your very first job?
I was a lifeguard in the town of Latrobe. It was a great summer job.
What is some business advice you would give to others?
The bulk of my time in business has been in specialty chemical sales … and if you graphed how much time I spend listening and how much time I spend talking, I probably listen 75 percent of the time and talk 25 percent of the time. For anybody in business, that is a good ratio. You can learn a lot more and get a lot more accomplished if you use that ratio to build your business and career.
Who do you admire in business?
If you could have a conversation with someone from the past or present, who would you want to speak with?
I’m a history buff, so there are a lot of people that I’ve read about over the years that I’m intrigued with. Out of the Founding Fathers, I think the most fascinating person to speak with would be Thomas Jefferson. I think he is one of the most brilliant people that I have ever read about, and how fortunate we were to have him as one of the founding fathers.
What are you looking forward to in the future of your business?
What excites me now and what motivates me is watching people underneath me do well personally and professionally.
With the world of business changing faster and becoming more complex every decade, organizations today have to adapt, reinvent, differentiate or die. Over the past few years, the nature and intensity of these changes in the business landscape has created organizational disruption and a realistic need to redesign organizational strategy and leadership approaches.
The process is not easy, and this is why many executives in organizations decide to stay the course, bury their head in the sand, and copy and paste what others are doing. Today, businesses are realizing that they cannot cut their way to prosperity and that their growth potential has been severely reduced due to the continued recessionary trends.
They are starting to look at their business models and are reinventing their value propositions in order to generate customer excitement, boost value-creation programs and capture value through value-based pricing. These companies get it. Many, though, do not.
The following are tips on how you can embrace the value imperative and design and implement leadership initiatives to place customer value at the center of business.
Organize a series of off-site meetings with key people to have a realistic, candid and mindful conversation about your value proposition: Why are customers buying from us? What makes us truly different? Are we paying enough attention to our business model? Are we working on the right projects to support our value proposition?
This meeting should be led by top executives to demonstrate the importance of the process. I recommend you avoid the use of consultants, keep the agenda semi-structured to create conversational flow and reinforce that this is a confidential and safe environment.
Define your core
Identify what your true “core business” is that brings most of your revenue and profits: Are we bringing enough value to customers? Are we losing steam in our differentiation? Are competitors catching up on us? Does the core business need to be reinvigorated? Defining the true core business might end up being an interesting process as a team.
I recommend you avoid the use of the constraining and sterile strategic analysis tools such as SWOT analysis, market forces analysis and others. Start with a white sheet of paper and see where it takes you.
Find ‘hidden assets’
Identify your “hidden assets” that are creating excitement with customers and generating profit but that you have taken for granted, not paid attention to or underestimated. List these assets, celebrate having them and evaluate their contribution to the overall value proposition.
The definition of what a hidden asset is might get tricky, but it is worth having it. Launch the conversation of what-if scenarios: What if we had more of this or we did more of that? What would be the impact on customers?
Based on the previous steps, start redesigning your core business and value proposition by reinforcing the strengths you clearly have identified and by leveraging your hidden assets. While it is important to fix gaps or work on weaknesses, leveraging strengths and hidden assets might have a greater return.
Eventually, the result of this business model redesign process will need to be integrated in the strategic planning process. This process is critical to re-energize your value proposition and your overall business model. It is also a great opportunity to emphasize with your leadership team that all you need to do is create customer value and increase loyalty.
When times are tough, customers will make quality/performance sacrifices, will try other alternatives to reduce costs and will challenge your value proposition. My view is that the best defense is a calculated offense. ?
Stephan Liozu (www.stephanliozu.com) is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors. He specializes in disruptive approaches in strategy, innovation and value management. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Most of the companies I admire in the world I think have a deeper purpose. I’ve met a lot of successful entrepreneurs. They all started their businesses not to maximize shareholder value but to pursue a dream.” – John Mackey, CEO and founder of Whole Foods Market Inc.
What would the world look like if each of us pursued purpose before profit?
Just a glance at the headlines reveals example after example of leadership gone awry: people failing to do the jobs with which they were entrusted, mired in greed, wastefulness and willful deception. Gross abuses of power and criminality are all too common. It seems time for drastic change.
When will we close the door on cynicism and complacency? When will we say enough is enough to self-serving leadership and instead examine the impact we’re having on those around us? How can we begin to seek the greater good before our own interests?
It begins with each of us intentionally pursuing our full potential, striving for a purpose greater than ourselves. When we achieve that, our businesses, communities and people will thrive. Profitability will follow purpose, not profitability for the purpose of self-aggrandizement.
Inspire a vision for the greater good.
Deep down, most of us crave a cause to aspire to that is greater than ourselves. In order to lead for the greater good, we must create an expansive vision of the future that engages and inspires those around us. The vision must be one we’re passionate about; positivity is contagious. Those we lead will see that the objective isn’t solely about personal success but rather about a work product everyone can be proud of.
There are two ways we can begin to do this. One is by bringing together diverse teams to share their dreams for the company and their part in making it happen. For this to be a success, we must create inclusive environments where each person feels safe to fully participate.
The second way is to create opportunities for leaders to thoughtfully engage around what it means to lead for the greater good. How does each person define it? What does it mean for the organization as a whole?
Recognize the power of relationships.
When we lead for the greater good, we focus on what’s best for our organizations and our employees. Leading for the greater good means you don’t browbeat people into doing what you want. Instead it’s about determining if they want what you want and vice versa. It’s about shared goals and full engagement in working toward those goals. This can’t be achieved through coercion or with a megaphone. Instead it requires relationships developed through conversation.
In a June 2012 article in Harvard Business Review titled “Leadership is Conversation,” Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind affirm the role of conversation for today’s leaders. They rightly point out that a top-down leadership approach is on the way out and that leadership that emphasizes conversation is the way of the future. They have coined a model called “organizational conversation,” which simply emphasizes intimacy, interactivity, inclusion and intentionality.
As leaders, we need to ask ourselves, which of my actions and habits limit or prevent relationship-building? Am I contributing to an atmosphere of intimacy and trust,or of fear and exclusion? Which of my behaviors are selfish and which are leading for the greater good? Am I investing the time to meaningfully engage with people and learn from them? Are they open to learn from me?
Damaging behaviors include being distant or inaccessible, overly judgmental and critical, and dismissing the contributions of others. Selfishness and bad behavior have been shown to be contagious, as have positive behaviors. As leaders, we must recognize that relationships can’t take root in a climate where negative behaviors are flourishing. Shifting the climate to one of positivity and interactivity is incumbent on us.
Give credit to others.
Leaders who lead for the greater good aren’t trying to amass credit for themselves. They understand that their employees want and deserve credit too, and they know that by giving them recognition, everyone benefits. It should be obvious that people will be more likely to support your goals when they see your primary interest isn’t self-promotion but rather teamwork. Create opportunities to recognize the contributions of others.
Emotion and behavior are contagious. As leaders, we must consider the ripple effect of our actions. Are we going to radiate selfishness, complacency and negativity? Or will we reach for a worthwhile purpose greater than ourselves and choose to inspire positivity, connectivity and hope in those around us? ?
Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at email@example.com
It could be a deal. It could be a business strategy. It could even be a house. Whatever the project, Joe Nettemeyer is all about making it bigger, better and more successful.
“I had a boss tell me once that I was not a person that he would put into a business to sustain it,” says Nettemeyer, CEO of Valin Corp. “He’d always put me into something that he wanted to build because I couldn’t help but start trying to re-engineer anything I wanted to get my hands on. Building something is an ongoing challenge, but the results give you a huge amount of satisfaction.”
A builder was exactly what Valin Corp. needed when Nettemeyer joined the industrial solutions business in 2001. Despite years of great success in the semiconductor capital equipment business, Valin has been a fast casualty of the computer-chip industry downturn. With a whopping 90 percent of its revenue coming from chip manufacturing, the company’s revenue plummeted by two-thirds in six months.
“Everything crashed, equipment owners crashed, and we went from being a $75 million business to a $25 million business in about 120 days,” Nettemeyer says. “We didn’t lose market share; it’s just that the slides of the market opportunity dramatically contracted.”
As Valin’s new CEO, Nettemeyer realized the 38-year-old chip manufacturer had two options: Continue in the same direction and fall apart or rebuild as a much more diverse business. Here’s how he transformed the floundering company into one of the nation’s fastest-growing businesses.
Shake off complacency
With such a large percentage of Valin’s income tied to shrinking revenue streams, Nettemeyer looked for ways to create new sources of income — and quickly. Acquisitions would allow the company to efficiently diversify its portfolio and grow new business lines.
“When I came in, I realized that we had such a great dependency on too few accounts,” Nettemeyer says. “It was such a huge risk. We had to move into acquisitions. So right in the midst of that turmoil I went out and started borrowing money and buying businesses.”
Not everyone was as excited as Nettemeyer about diversification.
“Experimentation brings rewards and risks that make people uncomfortable,” Nettemeyer says.
“It was challenging for people because they were in a comfort zone. They’d done extraordinarily well for 20 years doing what they were doing, and we were pushing them outside of it.”
In the past, Valin focused on small diameter process management, working with quarter-inch or half-inch tubing. Suddenly, the company was working with up to 60-inch pipe.
Recognizing that he was asking people to make some big changes, Nettemeyer made sure that he and the leadership team were transparent and thorough when they laid out the acquisition strategy to employees.
“I walked the management team through a plan, and we talked about how we could integrate these different technologies and provide solutions versus just selling parts and pieces,” he says.
“There was a lot of communication. I selected all the individuals that I felt were key leaders and we had monthly leadership meetings. We reviewed where we were at, and we had an open book approach to financials. We were measuring the initiatives that we were undertaking. Through that 24-month real crucial period, we were giving monthly feedback.”
Employees appreciated the fact that Nettemeyer didn’t sugarcoat the changes.
“I wasn’t going to pretend that this would all pass,” he says. “There was a core group that really came together and embraced what we had to do.”
At that point, employees who still wanted to take a “wait and see” approach to the market — including two members of Nettemeyer’s leadership team — were asked to go their separate ways.
“I think it’s my responsibility to the company to leave it a better company than it was when I came here,” he says. “That means we’ve got to get out in front. That gives you some heartache and pain. It gives you sleepless nights and scary moments. You have to celebrate the successes, but you also have to say, ‘That was really a dumb idea — let’s stop it.’
“I had to replace some of the management team because they wanted to sit and wait. They thought that the semiconductor industry was going to continue what it always did — it was only in a short-term contraction. Well, that contraction lasted for three years.”
Soon after making Valin’s first acquisition in October 2001, Nettemeyer began buying businesses and product streams that were within the company’s technical bandwidth and that could provide it a competitive advantage. Some acquisitions were a natural expansion of things that the company already did, such as safety devices. Others helped flesh out Valin’s expertise to transform it from a parts provider into a resource for customers.
“We have to find new ways to do things because if you’re going to stand pat, you’re going to get slowly sliced up in the marketplace,” Nettemeyer says. “The biggest struggle we face is the fight against the complacency you get with maintaining the status quo.
“Every year in our planning process, we say, ‘Is this the way that people are going to want to do business with us 10 years from now?’ When you ask that question, everybody says no, and then the next question is, ‘Well, what should we be doing about it?’”
Valin has completed 28 acquisitions since Nettemeyer joined the company 12 years ago, building on technology, and moving more aggressively into light manufacturing, medical devices and service lines. Instead of chip manufacturing, Valin’s biggest markets are now energy, oil and gas. The diversification strategy has allowed the San Jose, Calif.-based company to more than double its size and value over the last five years.
One of the reasons that Valin has been able to integrate so many new businesses so effectively is by having a clearly defined integration process that provides ongoing support.
“The smallest business we’ve bought had $500,000 in revenue,” Nettemeyer says. “The largest we’ve bought had $25 million in revenue. I’d say we spend most of our time buying businesses in the $3 million to $20 million range. We just have to make sure that we take them on at a pace that’s digestible.”
Valin’s integration process goes like this: After purchasing a business, the company converts the business’s IT systems in one weekend. Next, Nettemeyer brings in a team for one week to teach employees how to navigate and enter information into its ERP system. After the tech teams leave, an expert is assigned to stay and work with the business over the following months.
“You teach people, but they forget how to do that and how to make connections,” Nettemeyer says. “We have an embedded expert there for 60 days because we find that’s about how long it takes to get people comfortable with it.
“Then after that we have a call desk that they can call at any time, and they continue to have technical support. It’s getting them integrated into our system quickly that gives us good control over our assets, inventory receivables and cash flow. We’re excellent at doing that.”
Invest in education
While contracting revenue forced Valin to shrink its employee base to 45 employees in 2001, acquisitions enabled it to transition into a variety of new markets. By 2011, chip manufacturing — previously the company’s bread and butter — accounted for just 25 percent of the company’s $150 million revenue. This growth also meant Nettemeyer could begin hiring again, adding employees to expand the company’s businesses across the country.
However, there were some challenges stemming from Valin’s diverse and growing footprint.
On one hand, Nettemeyer and his team — like many manufacturing companies in the U.S. — have had to deal with a dwindling talent pool, specifically, the lack of highly qualified engineering talent in the market. Taking advantage of new business opportunities requires a well-trained work force with the sophisticated skills.
To attract and retain talented people, Nettemeyer has worked to create fellowships with IBM, Texas A&M School of Engineering and The Ohio State University to open opportunities for employees at Valin. Each year, for example, the company sends two promising managers to participate in the Texas A&M School of Engineering master’s program in industrial distribution so that they can learn critical skills to drive the business forward.
“Part of our educational effort is we’re monetizing education and teaching engineers how they can run their facilities more efficiently and prevent downtimes — a huge expense,” Nettemeyer says. “They are more likely to be thought leaders, and you get thought leadership through education.”
Investing in education, both formal and informal, also helps you provide a framework that enables employees to come together and be successful. Having employees aligned behind common goals and a common vision has been critical in a culture that gives Valin a competitive advantage.
“If I have five presenters going around trying to teach something, they are all going to teach it differently,” Nettemeyer says. “We wanted to get uniformity in the message. We wanted to make sure that we’re highlighting the things that we think are important.
“If you don’t do that, people on their own will spend their time managing their own basket and not managing to the goals and objectives that we have to achieve.”
Today, Nettemeyer and his leadership team spend much more time visiting with managers to talk about their priorities and responsibilities as owners. Being a 100 percent ESOP business, it’s important for Valin to have a consistent message about what ownership is and the responsibilities owner have to suppliers, shareholders and customers. Three years ago, the company also hired a doctorate in education employee to develop online training modules that give Valin’s 240 employees in nine states and 15 locations a common process and common approach to management and establishing priorities.
“The education component is critically important for us,” Nettemeyer says. “You buy different companies, and they all have their different approach. Everybody thinks that their way is better. What we have to strive for is being consistent. Being consistent means that people have to have a repeatable positive experience when they interact with our company, and we see training as a huge part of that.” ?
How to reach: Valin Corp., (800) 774-5630 or
The Nettemeyer File
Born: St. Louis
Education: St. Louis University
What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?
I get up at 6 a.m. every morning and read for about an hour and a half, usually something that pertains to work. I have a responsibility to the organization as CEO to stay current with contemporary business. Most of the material I read is focused on economics, insights on how to make better decisions and improve the business or how to sustain our business for the long term.
What do you do to regroup on a tough day?
After a tough day, I like to go home and have dinner with wife of 36 years, talk about our family — four children and three grandchildren — because they are the cornerstone of my life.
What is the toughest business decision you made recently?
I’m making tough business decisions every day, whether it’s the decision to make an acquisition or walk away from an opportunity. These decisions are the challenge of a healthy struggle. If you think it’s easy, you are missing something.
What do you like most about your job?
We’re pushing the envelope. Organizationally, we’ve committed ourselves to being students of our industry … I find that intellectual stimulation to be really gratifying.
How do you find good people?
I remember Ross Perot when he wrote his book, he said, ‘Eagles don’t flock together. You have to go find them one at a time.’ You have to find the people, and you’ve got to have people that have passion and commitment and want to accomplish bigger things. They want to be part of something that they have major accomplishments … you have to be looking all the time for people with that profile.