Fred Koury

Friday, 20 December 2002 09:21

Another new year

January marks the beginning of another new year, but this column is going to sound very similar to the column I wrote last year.

Many companies would just as soon forget about the past two years, but we can't. It is crucial in times like these that a company's leadership remains focused and calm. Don't panic.

Last year I shared a friend's story about a pilot flying during a bad storm. He said that no matter how bad the weather, the pilot is trained to remain calm and stay focused on the end result of landing the plane safely.

As CEOs, we are piloting our planes through the business storm. I didn't know then was how long the storm was going to last, but the principles remain the same.

Here are some recommendations to help keep you focused.

1. Make the tough decisions. Leaders should not be afraid. People want to be led and know that the person leading is making decisions for the good of the company. The slow economy means more difficult decisions lie ahead. Be prepared to make them.

2. Manage profit. To exist today, a company must be profitable. Focus on areas that bring in revenue and re-evaluate those that don't. Drop less profitable products and services.

3. Be innovative. Know what separates you from your competitors. In order to serve your customers, it is critical to offer something that differentiates you from the pack.

4. Be patient. Good things come to those who wait. The farmer sows the seeds and has to wait the entire season to see the results of that labor. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.

A new year brings new opportunities, and with new opportunities come new challenges. The economy may improve or it may get worse, but either way, it's up to you to remain calm.

You are the pilot of your business, and people's livelihoods are depending on you. Stay the course, and good things will happen.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:01

In principle

The year was 1504, and a young Spanish aristocrat was biding his time in the southern ports of Spain. The wealth of the New World was pouring in from lands discovered by Christopher Columbus.

His attention seized, the young man, at the age of 19, set off for Hispaniola. Seven years later, he helped the Spanish conquer Cuba and was the first mayor of Santiago. Not content, he yearned to do more. So in 1518, at 32, he sold everything and acquired six ships and 300 men. Less than a month later, he set sail for the mainland of the New World. En route, he acquired more ships and men and landed on the Yucatan peninsula with 11 ships, 608 men and 16 horses.

Here, his men were welded into a cohesive force. But soon, fear and discontent grew among his men and they wanted to turn back. In their ships, they saw their escape to safety and comfort. At this point, Hernando Cortez committed to the unknown land, ordering the ships burned, cutting off their only escape. The rest is history. Cortez conquered the Aztec empire with his 608 men and 16 horses.

Cortez had three advantages over his much larger Aztec opponent: commitment, vision and leadership.

How committed are you to your company? Are you willing to burn the ships of your escape?

Cortez realized that a great empire, the Aztec empire, was within his reach. He committed himself and his men to conquest. Cortez, with the help of his new Indian allies, faced Aztec armies 100 times larger than his force.

The problem with many companies is not the lack of good ideas. It's the lack of commitment. With an escape route, we won't fully commit to our companies. We look at the opposition (competition) and give up, surrendering our plans. We want to go back to our ships and escape to comfort.

How many times have you had a great idea, only to find someone else had the same idea? The only difference between you is that the other person acted on it. Lack of commitment leads to mediocrity. We might succeed at the endeavor, but our success is never what it could have been had we been committed.

Lack of vision breeds lack of commitment. Without vision, it's hard to know what your commitment is. Without a target, how can the emotional, physical and spiritual resources of your organization be focused? Ask yourself, 'What am I trying to accomplish?'

Does your company have a mission statement? Do your people know that mission statement?

Once the vision is known, people choose to commit or not. Cortez, unlike many of us, forced his people to commit to his vision by burning his ships.

Leadership is key to vision and commitment. The sayings, "The blind leading the blind," and "A fish stinks from the head," fit this model. Great companies with dynamic vision and growth are not accidents. The leaders had vision and commitment, and welded their employees into a cohesive force to conquer their plan.

Cortez, before his march on the Aztec capital (present day Mexico City), drilled his troops into a fighting unit. Without a leader willing to lead, the company flounders. Success is haphazard and the result of chance rather than any concerted planned effort.

If your company has problems, look at yourself first. Employees tend to model their boss. If you won't believe in your company and products, you can't expect your people to. If you are not willing to commit, you can't expect them to.

Michael Dell, 35, has assembled the fifth largest computer manufacturer in the United States. Through his leadership, Dell Computer grew faster and smarter then its rivals.

So what can you do?

First, know that you are the head and your people are following your lead.

Second, know your vision.

Third make a commitment to your vision.

Lastly, be willing to burn your ships to reach your full potential.

Fred Koury is CEO of Small Business News. He can be reached at fkoury@sbnnet.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:52

Be counted

In the 1996 presidential election, there were more people of voting age that stayed home than went to the polls. The numbers continue to dwindle and the polls reflect it. People are disgusted with both Democrats and Republicans and no longer feel a strong allegiance to either party.

The number of voters listing themselves as “other” doubled from 1992 to 1999, leading to a fractured political landscape full of questionable candidates and extremist views.

Voter apathy continues to grow, caused by broken pledges and the feeling that one vote doesn’t matter. People don’t take the time to study the candidates or the issues, and cast their votes based on name recognition alone. Too often, a lot of money and a campaign based on telling people what they want to hear wins the election.

There are too many career politicians recycling the same rhetoric and not being held to their promises. You may be asking, “What does this have to do with me?” The answer is, “Everything.”

Each of us needs to stand up and be counted. We do have the ability to make the difference. We need to demand more from our politicians than a good marketing strategy that tells us what we want to hear. This is where you can make change happen.

First, it is important to recognize that the ability to vote is a privilege. People here take the right to vote for granted and don’t see its value. In some Third World countries, where democracy is seen as a privilege, voter turnout is close to 100 percent. For us to make a difference, we must exercise our right to vote.

Second, we need to be well informed on the issues and the candidates. Yes, there is work involved to become an intelligent voter. However, it is beneficial to take the time and do things right while we still have a voice. Just because we have the ability to be heard today doesn’t mean it can’t be taken away tomorrow.

Lastly, your vote can make the difference. The “other” category will attract more and more candidates such as Jesse Ventura — a former pro wrestler and now the governor of Minnesota — a man with questionable credentials. Ventura won a three-candidate race with only 37 percent of the popular vote, meaning the majority of people in Minnesota are represented by someone they didn’t vote for.

Unless you want people like this representing you, you need to take your vote seriously. If you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing. Please vote.

Fred Koury (fkoury@sbnnet.com) is president and CEO of SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

Road to success

One thing that I have come to realize about our readers is that you never sit still. You are continually looking for ways to improve and expand your businesses.

This could mean increasing revenues within the core business, decreasing expenses, making new acquisitions, beginning new startups or conducting mergers. Being in a leadership position, our audience carries the responsibility of what direction the company should ultimately go to keep moving forward. Below are five simple steps to ensure that your company continues on the road to success.

1. Fail to plan, plan to fail. Too often, companies operate on a daily basis, with no real vision of where the company is going. Everyone needs a plan. A football team wants to win the Super Bowl. A movie star wants to win an Oscar. What are you trying to accomplish? Regardless of the size or scope of the plan, until we have one, we are operating with tunnel vision.

2. You are only as good as the people around you. Once you have assembled a plan, whether it is big or small, it is important to look at the people around you to see if they can implement the plan. A football coach needs an offensive and defensive coordinator to carry out the game plan. They, in turn, delegate to their subordinates. A weak link at any level can derail the entire effort.

3. No one is above it all. Once you feel you have the right plan and people in place to implement it, it is time to bounce it off your advisers. We all need advisers with experience, who are not caught up in the day-to-day operations and can offer an objective second opinion. Whether it is a family friend or a board of advisers, get outside advice. It is important that we take the time on the front side to do things right to ensure our success on the backside.

4. Create checks and balances. Once a plan has been established, the team is in place, and the advisers have signed off on it, there must be mechanisms in place that reward the successes or failures. This is very important to measure progress. There is a famous proverb that says, “He who gathers money little by little will make it grow.” The same thing applies to your business. It is all the little steps that get you where you want to go.

5. Know where are we going and what are we going to do when we get there. Once all of the above has taken place, measure your progress and effectiveness. Decide where you want to go from here. For some, this might mean selling the business and moving on to other challenges. For others, starting the process over with even greater goals for the company will be the answer. Just know what you want to do before you arrive so you’re ready when it happens.

The road to success can be a long one, but with proper planning and the right people helping you, the ride will be a smooth one. Enjoy the trip.

Fred Koury (fkoury@sbnnet.com) is CEO of SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:49

Join the PAC

In this pre-primary season, we are all enjoying fall evenings that are free of attack-style political ads, but now is the time to do some homework. Before the mudslinging begins again, let’s decide which candidate will best represent the needs of business in your region.

We should not wait for the politicians to bring the campaign to us for the next election. We should demand clear positions now on issues that matter for businesses. Together, we can make the candidates hear our voices and address our concerns.

On a daily basis during the past 10 years, we have received numerous telephone calls, letters, faxes and most recently e-mails with questions on many topics and issues that affect businesses.

Because of our large readership, leaders within the business community have looked at us as much more than a chain of local business publications. We are viewed as a large advocate of business and are in a position to influence change.

In an extra effort to help our readers make the most informed decisions come Election Day, we are considering starting our own Political Action Committee along with a newsletter that would help educate and inform our readers on the politicians running for office. This would be sent to anyone who would like to participate.

For those unfamiliar with the political process, a PAC is an independent organization that provides more financial flexibility than individual campaign donations, allowing groups of people to pool their resources to educate voters on issues that may affect them. Individual campaign finance limits don’t apply to PACs.

Congress opened the doors for PACs in the wake of Watergate in 1976, when it passed a campaign finance act that allowed people at the federal and local levels to form groups that wielded more power through their combined donations. Besides donating money directly to a candidate that supports ideals shared by members of the PAC, these organizations can independently finance television and radio ads for or against candidates or issues.

Some major organizations, such as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, AFL/CIO and Teamsters Union have their own PACs to further their causes.

The goals of this PAC would be to:

1. Donate money to candidates who are pro business, regardless of political party affiliation.

2. Create a more unified voice for business owners and leaders, and bring attention to the issues that affect them.

3. Educate our readers about issues that may affect their businesses and the politicians who have a direct influence on corresponding legislation.

4. Influence change to help businesses grow and prosper.

Our right to vote is a privilege and should not be taken lightly. Many people don’t bother to get involved because they don’t see the importance of voting and elections, or the power that politicians wield over the business community.

Take, for instance, the two people who represent your state in the U.S. Senate. Members of the Senate help shape federal laws and regulations that affect every aspect of every business, including tax codes, postal regulations, minimum wage, trade laws, anti-trust legislation and health care reform.

Actions by elected officials can determine whether you stay in business or go broke, so it is vital that each elected official represents the best interest of business.

Unlike many of the politicians who will be campaigning for your vote, we don’t hide our agenda. We are in the business of helping businesses succeed. Please share your feedback.

Fred Koury (fkoury@sbnnet.com) is president and CEO of SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:36

Meeting goals

Some members of my senior management team told me in early July that it was time for our annual company meeting and that we needed to plan for it.

They reminded me of the importance of the meeting and how we needed to make sure the day was filled with recognition, education, communication and motivation.

As we started planning, I thought about what a long way we have come with these meetings. In the past, there were times I dreaded these meetings, and I am sure our people did, too.

We used to do them just to do them. They were often too long, lacked a clear focus and strayed from our objectives. Through experience, we have put a much greater value on the meetings than we did in the past. This is especially important, because there is a direct expense related to having them.

In the past, it was hard, at times, to gear up for this yearly event. At one meeting, which took place during a challenging time for the company, one of our employees asked in front of the entire work force, "Don't you have anything good to say this year on how the company is doing?"

I remember I was so burdened with difficulties in a number of our expansion markets that I stood there with a blank stare on my face and nothing to say. It took the next several months to pick up the morale in the company, and I was scolded to never do that again.

I was told if I were upset, I should get up there and fake it, because it wasn't fair to our people, who came in once a year from all our offices, to get that type of response. I was further told I needed to look as if I am always in control.

I thought to myself for a short moment, "Maybe this is the person that should be running the company." It was a valuable lesson in management.

We have come a long way from those days. This year, we decided to go all out with our company meeting. This was quite easy for several reasons. First and foremost, this is the best year we have ever had after the first six months.

Our employees have won numerous awards from several professional organizations. We have created several events, that have been wildly successful, that have opened up sponsorship opportunities for area companies. With these and many other victories to celebrate, our meeting was a great success.

Here are four steps to ensure a great meeting.

1. Recognition. The day was filled with recognition for our employees. We have had outstanding years in the past, but sometimes didn't recognize the people who deserved it the most.

2. Education. We had all of the department heads, as well as the market managers, give updates on how each area was doing as a way of getting people involved. We strongly believe in benchmarking as a means of measuring our progress in every department.

3. Communication. We had a guest speaker who spoke on communication and team building. This proved to be a very beneficial exercise.

4. Motivation. This was built into the schedule from morning until the end of the day. We started with a great continental breakfast and a warm welcome. We kept the meeting moving quickly with a lot of involvement. Our goal was to keep people from getting bored and keep them involved throughout the day.

We received more feedback than we ever had in the past, which shows us we acheieved our goals. People didn't want to leave. We decided instead of overwhelming them with information, we would give them just enough so they couldn't wait to come back. Fred Koury (fkoury@sbnnet.com) is president and CEO of SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:35

CEOs don't surf

The Information Superhighway. It's supposed to make everyone faster, leaner and more competitive.

Look at your stock report -- probably on the Internet -- and note all the high-flying Net stocks. Maybe they're not as high as they used to be, but investors obviously see the Internet as the future of business.

By the way people talk, every bit of news and information is available online. Just turn on your computer and it's at your fingertips -- after your fingertips spend a few hours sifting through piles of irrelevant information returned by search engines. This is why most search engines turned themselves into portals, displaying the most sought-after information -- news, stocks and sports scores -- on the home page.

This may be fine for the masses, but what do business leaders want from the Internet?

Recently, we conducted a number of surveys of our readers and created several focus groups to find out about their Internet needs. Interestingly, there was a consistent pattern across the board.

Not surprisingly, those participating in the survey are all busy people who spend most of their day trying to make their businesses better. However, when it comes to spending time on the Internet, there is a certain amount of frustration. They know it is a valuable resource but are not exactly sure how to get the most out of it in the least amount of time.

They want information but don't have the time to search for it.

If you are targeting your Web site at this audience, here are four things to keep in mind:

1. Ease of use. CEOs are not Internet savvy. Keep things simple and to the point. Navigation of the site should be intuitive. Put a link to each relevant section in a prominent place on the home page.

2. Time efficiency. The Web is too complicated to use efficiently. Plug-ins, animation and lots of graphics look nice, but can make it more difficult to communicate your message. They also greatly slow download times, so you may be losing a potential customer before your page ever finishes loading.

3. Local insight. CEOs primarily buy, sell and network in their home communities. It might be called the World Wide Web but your best bet may be to focus locally. Advertise your site locally and focus on local customers.

4. Cost efficiency. Make it worth their while to visit your site. If someone is pressed for time, why should they come to your Web page? Will they save money? Get information quicker than through other means? Get a comparison of rates? This is where you can gain a competitive advantage. If you can make better use of a CEO's time, you've just given him or her a reason to buy a commodity from you rather than from the business across the street.

When done properly, buying products on the Internet can save a great deal of time and money. There will be significant growth in higher-end products and services purchased online. More than 50 percent of CEOs indicated either a high or very high interest in e-marketplaces. High interest was shown for things such as group discounts or the e-mall concept, as well as for getting price quotes for products.

The Internet might reach the masses, but if you're marketing to CEOs, make sure you take the proper approach in appealing to this market.

Fred Koury (fkoury@sbnnet.com) is president and CEO of SBN magazine.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:34

The purpose of our success

The joy we derive from success can be nearly bottomless.

To transform an idea into a profit-making venture is the goal of every business, and the process is not unlike watching your child change from a helpless infant to a crawling baby and finally, to a toddler taking his first wobbly steps. Anyone who has been involved in starting a business and watching it grow into a vibrant enterprise can instantly relate to the deep sense of pleasure it brings.

But success can just as quickly become a sword with two edges. Money and power can transform the humble friend you grew up with into a ruthless cutthroat who will stop at nothing on the road to becoming an arrogant Master of the Universe. Like drugs, success, when it's attained, is sweet, but we can never get enough, despite a spiraling search for ways to sustain the pleasure. The addict always needs a slightly larger dose to top that last high.

And yet we inevitably set goals to achieve ever greater success in a vain attempt to surpass ourselves; rarely do we take the time to enjoy the fruits of our labors. The paradox is that success demands a certain amount of discontent -- healthy in proper doses, though never when that discontent turns destructive.

Hollywood is overflowing with examples of the excesses that often come wedded to success. The soap opera lives of many of its leading figures make them the figures of Greek tragedy: After attaining fame and wealth, their lives begin to spiral out of control as they wander from one drug rehab center to another, forever trying to one-up that initial high.

Is there a purpose to all this seeking after success? Is the goal of success merely to build a bigger and brighter monument to ourselves before we die?

There are two other life questions we should ask ourselves as we go about growing our businesses. Why do I want to be successful? And what will I do when I am? Only by first answering these questions can we hope to begin charting our course.

Those who search for happiness in our possessions are destined for disappointment. The rush is fleeting, the satisfaction short-lived.

Why not try an alternate path? You need not practice philanthropy on so grand a scale as Carnegie's to derive a full measure of psychic pleasure. The next time you feel down, try visiting a nursing home and talking to someone who has no one else in life. Or volunteer to cook dinner at a homeless shelter. See if life doesn't soon begin to take on a deeper meaning.

You'll depart from this session of service with a great feeling, and it won't cost you anything but a modest investment of time. You'll receive in emotional satisfaction several times what you gave in time and effort.

The purpose of your success, once shrouded in impenetrable fog, may well come into sharp focus as you pursue goals more meaningful than the hunt for ever-greater love of self. And you won't have to share your little secret with anyone. You alone will know about your good deed, and that's more than enough.

Try it and let us know the results. Fred Koury (fkoury@sbnnet.com) is president and CEO of SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:33

A supreme decision

This year brings one of the most important elections for local business owners. There is a very real -- and potentially ongoing -- threat to being able to build and grow a business if the current environment does not change.

Most people will assume I am referring to the presidential election. I'm not. The more important battle, at least from a business owner's perspective, is being fought right here in Ohio for arguably the most powerful job in state government: Supreme Court justice.

The court has taken on an increasingly anti-business slant in recent decisions that should raise alarms in the minds of business owners throughout the state. The main reason it doesn't is that the major media outlets spend their time reporting on Supreme Court issues that impact individuals, not those that impact businesses. Of course, what is a business but a collection of individuals banded together with common economic interests?

So what, exactly, has the court decided of late? Try these examples.

  • An employee killed in an auto accident is entitled to underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage under the employer's policy, even though the worker was NOT driving a company vehicle and was NOT on company business when the accident occurred. (Scott-Ponzer v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co., 1999)

  • Supervisors and managers may be held personally liable under state discrimination laws, potentially resulting in individual discrimination suits and defense costs for all supervisors in a company's management hierarchy. (Genaro v. Central Transport Inc., 1999)

  • Employees who suffer purely psychological injuries on the job may bring common law action against their employers, effectively extending a company's liability beyond the existing workers' compensation system. (Bunger v. Lawson Co., 1999)

The court also overturned tort reform legislation that would have curtailed the outrageous punitive and noneconomic damage awards being dished out by juries.

If you think these kinds of decisions don't impact business, think again. Better yet, just ask the Michigan Chamber of Commerce what it thinks. This summer, our neighbors launched an advertising campaign to lure businesses out of anti-business Ohio and into pro-business Michigan.

Here's what one of its ads said, under a photo of a storefront with a going-out-of-business sign:

"We understand the Ohio Supreme Court has rejected reasonable legal reform. In Michigan, we know a good legal system is fair to consumers, families and businesses. ...When it comes to legal reform, Michigan uses common sense."

As much as I hate to admit it, the Michigan chamber hit it right on the head: The Ohio Supreme Court lacks judicial restraint. Rather, we are saddled with a group of judges whose judicial activism has led to a number of antibusiness rulings, such as overturning tort reform legislation. These judges have been the majority in all of the decisions mentioned above.

Fortunately, we have the ability to change what is happening. Justices Alice Robie Resnick and Deborah L. Cook are up for re-election this month. Resnick is one of the most anti-business of them all. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce gave Resnick a pro-business score of 18 percent. Cook's rating was 59 percent.

Resnick's opponent, Judge Terrence O'Donnell of the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals, offers a reasonable alternative. While we may not be certain how much of an impact he would have on the court, it's hard to imagine anyone being more anti-business than Resnick. In fact, O'Donnell has stressed his intention to show "restraint" in his deliberations.

Cook's opponent, Judge Tim Black of Hamilton County Municipal Court, appears to be a solid trial judge who is tough on crime. But he has openly criticized Cook, saying she has "the overwhelming support of the insurance companies." In addition, The Columbus Dispatch reports that Black willingly describes himself as "progressive." The fact that Black is supported by the same groups backing Resnick -- big labor and trial lawyers -- speaks volumes.

When you head to the polls Nov. 7, don't just go prepared for the national campaigns. Be prepared to make a difference in how the Ohio Supreme Court affects your business. Fred Koury (fkoury@sbnnet.com) is president and CEO of SBN.

Thursday, 28 June 2001 20:00

Key component

We all lose top employees. The reasons are varied -- they may want to change careers, a spouse's job transfer may take them out of town or they may decide to be a stay-at-home parent.

The person leaving is doing so for his or her own best interests. However, it's often difficult for a company's leaders to look at the departure as a positive, even though they do their best to disguise their disappointment. It's not that we don't want to be happy for that person; the difficulty is that we are the ones left behind to fill the gap and make up the difference.

The difficulty is greater when the business is based more upon a person than a product. Relationships with customers the employee has nourished over the years have to be re-established with someone new. Having an understanding of your customers' businesses and knowing them on a personal level is a major competitive advantage -- an advantage that walks out the door when that key employee leaves.

If we look at the person we are losing, we only see the potential negative impact to our business. However, if we look at that person and all he or she has done to help the company get where it is today, we'll be grateful we had them with us as long as we did.

Here are several steps to ensure that our perspective and attitude are in the right place when we lose a top employees.

1. Be prepared. Don't let a major portion of your business walk out the door with the employee. Make sure the knowledge of all key employees is shared or documented. Where possible, cross train employees and have more than one person work on important accounts. That way, if one leaves, the other can continue the business relationship without starting from scratch.

2. Examine your business model. Top people can do dynamic things, but major portions of your business shouldn't rely on one person. Evaluate all of the responsibilities this person has and see if he or she is replaceable. If someone else could not come in and easily take over the job, you might want to consider changing your business model.

3. Be professional to the end. An important employee should be treated like one until he or she leaves. Sometimes when we know someone is leaving, we stop paying attention to that person as we scramble to deal with the departure and fill the opening. Other employees are watching, and you are setting a tone for them. This person has played an important role in your business to this point and should be treated professionally. Situations change, and he or she may want to return some day.

4. Promote from within. This gives other people a chance to move up. Studies show that a major reason for leaving a company is a lack of advancement opportunities. You may be losing one employee, but retaining a future star.

Losing a key employee is never easy, but it doesn't have to be traumatic. If you are prepared, have a proper business model and don't rely too much on one person, a departure can turn out to be a positive experience for both you and the employee. Fred Koury is president and CEO of SBN Magazine.