What is economic freedom? It’s the ability to decide how to produce, sell and consume without unnecessary government interference. Economic freedom powers prosperity and is the key to greater opportunity, more jobs and a better quality of life for all Ohioans.

Since 1893, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce has been aggressively championing free enterprise, economic competitiveness and growth for the benefit of all Ohioans. Our united voice in the state’s legislative matters speaks for the thousands of individual businesses that we represent, thus strengthening the business climate in Ohio.

At the beginning of each new General Assembly, the Ohio Chamber crafts a legislative agenda. These are the goals that our governmental affairs team will strive to achieve in the next two years. These goals help us to fulfill our mission of improving our state for the benefit of all Ohioans.

With an unwavering focus on improving Ohio’s economy and a thorough understanding of the need for public policy supporting business growth and job creation, policymakers tackled many long-ignored problems in state government during 2011-12. And the result has been an improving business climate, a healthier economy and fewer unemployed Ohioans.

Now, we must build upon this positive momentum to further boost Ohio’s economic recovery. More still needs to be done to enhance the ability of Ohio businesses to compete, and we must not allow the state government to return to the old ways of doing business.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s 2013-14 public policy priorities reflect an emphasis on these goals, and all our priorities serve to advance the important objective of fostering economic freedom. We are committed to working with lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich’s administration during the 130th Ohio General Assembly to achieve an enduring economic renewal through the following:

 

Affordable energy

Maximize the economic potential of Ohio’s domestic energy resources and cultivate a diverse portfolio of energy sources and technologies.

 

Business costs

Unleash the job-creating potential of Ohio employers by reducing the cost and complexity of doing business in the state.

 

Government mandates

Provide businesses with the freedom and flexibility to operate and innovate without intrusive government mandates.

 

Government red tape

Maximize regulatory benefits in the most cost-effective manner.

 

Legal environment

Enhance and protect a fair and predictable civil justice system with common-sense reforms that control litigation costs and eliminate lawsuit abuse.

 

State constitutional reform

Modernize Ohio’s system of government and safeguard the Ohio Constitution from abuse by special interests.

Tax climate

Foster a more competitive tax system that encourages business investment, expansion and location.

 

Transforming government

Improve government efficiency, effectiveness and accountability to achieve better results at a lower cost to taxpayers.

 

Workforce excellence

Strengthen the link between education and workforce development programs and the skills needed by employers in today’s competitive, mobile and high-tech economy.

As the voice for business in Ohio and the state’s most diverse business advocacy group, the Ohio Chamber has several information outlets. Follow the Ohio Chamber of Commerce on Facebook (search Ohio Chamber), Twitter @OhioChamber and on the Web at www.ohiochamber.com. The Chamber’s blog “Talking Policy” reports on legislative and regulatory issues that impact Ohio’s business community. The “Ohio Pro-Biz Politics” blog follows Ohio’s political happenings. ?

 

Keith Lake is the vice president of government affairs for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. He oversees the day-to-day operations of the Ohio Chamber’s legislative advocacy program, directs the activities of the lobbying team, follows health care legislation and oversees the political and grassroots programs. Lake is also the principal contact for members of the Ohio House and Senate. He can be reached at klake@ohiochamber.com or (614) 228-4201.

Published in Akron/Canton

When Paul Davis joined Coinstar Inc. in 2008, the leading provider of automated retail solutions had recently acquired 18 different businesses and was at an inflection point, capable of moving in several directions. The Bellevue, Wash.-based company had gone from a single line of business — coin counting — to five lines — money transfer, electronic payment services, Redbox DVD rental, entertainment and coin counting.

Davis had the task of reining in these different businesses that the company had acquired and deciding where to go next.

“One of the first things I did when I joined the company was a deep dive to understand and get alignment throughout the organization about what our core was,” says Davis, CEO of Coinstar Inc.

As a result of that deep dive, Davis landed on the automated resale platform as the company’s core, which two of Coinstar’s businesses — Redbox and coin counting — were focused on. Davis and his team then did an analysis of the remaining 17 businesses, which revealed that they weren’t the right fit.

“Of those 18 companies that were acquired, we sold off 17 in the first two years, so it was a major reshift,” Davis says. “We ended up with our two core businesses today, which are our coin-counting business and Redbox.”

With a much clearer focus on the company’s future direction, Davis was able to play to the strengths of Coinstar. His execution on the strategy to grow the coin-counting business and Redbox earned Davis a No. 4 ranking on the Fortune 500 list for technology visionaries in 2012.

Here’s how Davis evaluated the company and placed Coinstar on a path that would leverage its strengths.

 

Find your direction

Coinstar, a more than $2 billion, 2,700-employee company had primarily been growing through acquisitions before Davis became the CEO in 2008. By divesting the majority of those acquisitions, Davis shifted the focus of the company and its growth strategy to a more organic one.

The company was a clear leader in the DVD rental space, not No. 1 at the time, but it had the clear potential to get there, and in coin counting, it had more than an 80 percent share of the market.

“In these other businesses, they really didn’t leverage what we knew,” Davis says. “Money transfer had very little to nothing to do with kiosks. E-pay had very little to do with kiosks. In the business that they called entertainment, it was a fairly antiquated business that was capital-intensive and we weren’t seeing any growth.”

When Coinstar focused on Redbox and its coin-counting business, it found that all of its money and all of its growth were coming from those two businesses. The other businesses were drains on the bottom line.

“They were prohibiting us from doubling down on those growth sectors and realizing our potential,” he says. “It meant that we had to get rid of these other businesses that had not been integrated.”

Davis’ biggest key to finding Coinstar’s next direction was asking what the “core” of Coinstar was and how the company could leverage that.

“I see a lot of companies, and we were the same way, doing a lot of things that were outside of the core,” he says. “If you think in concentric circles, once you’ve identified the core, we were two, three and four jumps out in terms of concentric circles.

“What ends up happening is it creates a culture where you’re not winning, you’re not in the leadership position, and you start to potentially lose some credibility with your retail partners because you’re not coming to the table as the true leader.”

In Coinstar’s two core businesses, the company was the clear leader and Davis saw great opportunities if the company could leverage that, take advantage and grow that circle.

“The first thing we needed to do was gain alignment around the fact that we thought there was decades of growth in this (automated retail) space,” Davis says. “We did a lot of analysis and saw that there were all these macro-trends around consumers not having time available. Time-starved consumers are comfortable with technology and they love to control their own destiny.”

Coinstar also found that its retail partners could greatly benefit as well.

“We concluded that this was a great space for us to be in and there was a lot of growth potential,” Davis says. “We thought of the category as the intersection between brick and mortar and e-commerce.”

 

Grow and innovate

To build on the opportunity in that space, Davis and his team started their new strategy by focusing on Redbox, because it was a business with immense opportunity. Coinstar had a joint venture with McDonald’s on the Redbox business, so its first step was to buy out the rest of the company.

“We doubled down on Redbox,” Davis says. “At the same time, we said, ‘We’ve got to shift the focus of the company from all the growth through acquisition and instead focus more on organic growth.’”

Coinstar started a new ventures team and put leadership in place to start vetting ideas. The company got ideas from venture capital firms, private equity firms, idea contests, whiteboard contests and an inventor’s network.

“We started getting ideas from all sorts of different pockets and corners of the country,” he says. “Once we saw ideas and thought this had some real potential, this team that we put in place started vetting them.”

Today, Coinstar has eight new ventures on top of both its coin-counting and Redbox businesses. Six are organic and two are strategic investments.

“We looked around as we focused on this automated retail space and there really weren’t a lot of people doing things in there that would be companies we would acquire, so we needed to create the category on our own, and we’ve had quite a bit of success at doing that,” Davis says. “The seeds are at various stages — some are in their infancy with just a few kiosks and others we have multiples of hundreds.”

The company follows a very similar launching process for each of its new businesses.

“We go out and vet it and we look at the size of the category and see if we think that there’s ways or an opportunity for a new solution that’s more convenient and leverages what we know,” he says. “Then we go out and hire someone with deep domain expertise and give them a bucket of money that we tightly control and we put a clock on them to go out and prove the concept.”

The new ventures start with one kiosk and are compared to Redbox and Coinstar in their infancy before being allowed to grow.

“As they clear the hurdles, they get permission and more money to go from three kiosks to 30, 30 to 300 and 300 to 3,000,” Davis says.

The process Coinstar has made so successful is a result of having an innovative culture that breeds creativity.

“You have to be pretty disciplined about creating a culture of innovation,” Davis says. “We really encourage people to try stuff. The way we have managed innovation internally is we think really big. We start small, and once we land on an idea, we scale quickly. But if you fail, you fail cheaply. That’s what we have tried to do over and over again.”

Under Davis’ leadership, Coinstar has grown tremendously. The company has more than 42,000 Redbox kiosks and 20,000 Coinstar kiosks. Redbox recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary.

“Our market share now is 10 points over the next closest competitor in the physical space,” Davis says. “That business at the end of 2007 was about a $500 million business, and we are projected to be over $2 billion for 2012.”

The company’s success in its two main businesses and its new ventures stems from maintaining an innovative, hardworking environment.

“There’s a certain paranoia we have inside the company and a need to constantly innovate and stay focused to deliver,” Davis says. “That’s the mindset that we’ve adopted across the company.” ?

How to reach: Coinstar Inc., (425) 943-8000 or www.coinstar.com

Published in National

It looked to be another great year for Republic Steel.

Coming off its 2005 acquisition by Industrias CH, S.A de C.V. (ICH) — a fast-growing steel producer and processor based in Mexico City — the company had cleared up all its previous debt, the steel industry was flush with opportunity, and as the new

was laser-focused on building a strong team and investing in best-in-class facilities to position the 125-year-old steelmaker for growth.

And that, of course, is when everything went south.

“After October 2008, the whole world changed for the industry,” says Vigil, who joined the Canton, Ohio-based steel company in 2005. “The recession threw us a curveball that we were not planning. I don’t think we were looking ahead. We had really relied on intelligence based just on market view.”

As the largest maker and supplier of special bar quality (SBQ) steel in North America, Republic produces steel for applications such as automotive and energy. It has been developing its steelmaking practices for more than a century. But even a company with annual sales of more than $1 billion wasn’t immune to the shock of the 2008 financial downturn.

Declining demand and struggling customers, who were urgently looking for ways to cut costs and scale back, hit the company hard. Almost overnight, Republic Steel saw its volume of business nosedive.

Streamline your structure

Not yet knowing the full scope of the downturn, Vigil knew that Republic Steel — like its customers — needed to cut costs to minimize the financial fallout. So the first step was to look for ways the company could streamline plant operations.

“At that point, the volume with the plants that we had had a lot of fixed costs,” Vigil says. “We were forced to shrink our footprint to be able to manage our costs and have a profitable business.”

Increasing efficiency without sacrificing quality can be tricky. You need to examine the profitability of every segment of operations thoroughly. First, identify the areas that have the most efficient costs, and second, identify where costs overlap. This process allows you to consolidate the most efficient operations and shut down equipment and functions that no longer make sense.

By making these changes, Republic Steel was able to shrink its footprint to that of a much smaller company in a short time period.

“That was a very different situation for us from 2005, but it was also a very good experience for us to try to model our business for the future,” Vigil says. “It allowed us to look at things in more detail and understand our business and our cost and the opportunities that we had to be more efficient.”

Taking cost out of operations not only allowed the company to produce SBQ steel more efficiently, but it also freed up resources, which Vigil reallocated to enhance the company’s quality, delivery and range of products in its SBQ steel business to provide more value to customers.

“We have to be right there with them making a product that suits their needs,” Vigil says. “Our No. 1 qualification or differentiation in the market is our ability to work with technicians of our customers to develop the products that fit their needs and then produce them consistently with a low cost and high quality and delivering them on time.”

When you’re not making a commodity, you need to be more focused on quality and continuously improving your products to stay competitive, Vigil says. The key to staying relevant was investing in the company’s strengths, such as its years of experience in the steel industry. The fact that the company’s Canton plant was the first-ever producer of SBQ steel provides it with a strong competitive advantage.

“Our brand has good recognition, and we continue to build on that by making our customers really comfortable in the long run that they have a true partner with Republic Steel, a company that knows what it wants and that can adapt to the changing market as needed,” Vigil says.

“With more than 125 years of know-how, you get a very good result. You can continuously provide the same quality that your customers are used to with more efficiency. It allows you first to be more competitive in the marketplace and maintain and improve your quality in the product.”

Since 2005, Republic Steel has reinvested close to $130 million in new equipment and new processes into its core Northeast Ohio facilities, which include plants in Canton, Lorain and Massillon, Ohio. In 2012, the company also announced that it would invest more than $87 million in a new electric arc furnace and equipment at the company’s Lorain, Ohio, steelmaking facility — a move that is adding approximately 450 employees.

The company chose the Lorain plant for the investment because of its close proximity to the existing customer base and to other Republic Steel facilities. Having a smaller physical footprint allows you to allocate resources to growing areas more easily to develop strong teams, while delivering a consistent experience for customers.

“We see a strengthening automotive industry as well as a lot of growth in the energy sector side through the gas horizontal drilling process,” Vigil says. “We see ourselves in a very good position to serve those markets in the long term.

“It gives us an opportunity to serve our customers with more product and a very solid footprint in the long run. Our customers have a supplier that has no debt and that is investing in its business. So we feel that our customers see us as a long-term partner, and they can stick with us for years to come.”

Look to your core

When your company is facing market volatility, past plans and strategies may get tossed out the window rather quickly. To ensure that Republic Steel didn’t lose sight of its identity in the chaos, Vigil used the company’s core values to guide the strategy — specifically two values passed down from its parent company, ICH.

The first was carrying a debt-free balance sheet.

“When we acquired the company in 2005, we inherited some debt from the previous administration,” Vigil says. “We worked very hard to pay it off with our own resources and some support from the parent company.”

Even when the company was losing volume during the recession, Vigil wasn’t willing to take on debt in favor of gaining more financial flexibility. In fact, he says borrowing money often results in the opposite outcome for companies by stifling their spending. Carrying zero debt allows you to make decisions without dealing with banks or lenders.

“Some companies have different opinions about debt, and in certain cases, it allows companies to be flexible and grow faster when an opportunity comes, but we still have that flexibility because having no debt makes us attractive to banks,” Vigil says.

“The recession has been the best proof of the strategy. We tested it through this downturn, and we were able to manage through the recession a lot better than some other companies who have big debt or a lot of interest to pay.”

As a result, the company has been debt-free since March 2006, operating as a true cash-flow company.

“It makes us a stronger company, and it allows us to keep reinvesting even in the downturn because the money that we generate is really for us and not to cover any debt obligations that we have,” Vigil says.

The second core value that helped guide the company through the recession was having a diversified mix of sales. Carrying a wide range of products makes the company a one-stop shop for many customers. So even in the downturn, Vigil continued to make investments to expand Republic Steel’s capabilities in emerging markets, such as natural gas and energy.

“The volatility in our customers’ industries continues to be something that we’re monitoring very closely,” Vigil says. “The economic situation worldwide, starting with Europe being so volatile, continues to have a big effect on our customers’ ability to project their levels of operations.

“Having a more diversified mix of sales allows us to not have all of our eggs in one basket and participate in different industries, and we’re able to better ride the cycles. We, as a company, believe that if we stick with those two values — remaining debt-free and continuing to have a diverse mix of sales — we can deal with the volatility in different markets.

“We’ve prepared our company to be better geared to react now than we were in 2008. Through these changing circumstances, we’ve created a more flexible company with the investments that we’re making, allowing us to grow our strength faster.” ?

How to reach: Republic Steel, (800) 232-7157 or www.republicsteel.com

Takeaways

1. Find ways to cut cost by shrinking your footprint.

2. Allocate resources to growth areas.

3. Guide your strategies with core values.

The Vigil file

Jaime Vigil

President and CEO

Republic Steel

Born: Mexico City

Education: Universidad Anahuac in Mexico City

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?

I like running every morning before going to work; it really makes a difference helping me start every day with great energy and a clear head ready for business.

Best piece of business advice:

I’ve benefited a lot from the experience that my team brings to my decision-making process. That saying that more heads are better than one — that does apply in practice. It’s particularly important in soft science to surround yourself with good members willing to openly give their take on problems so that together you come up with the best solutions.

What do you do for fun?

There is no better way for me to spend my time when I’m not at work than with my wife and kids. From training for a marathon with my wife, to being attacked with toy swords by my three and four year old boys … it’s the best time of my day!

 

Published in Akron/Canton

When Terry Lundgren was first approached by Macy’s in 1993, the retail company was bankrupt. Lundgren, who was chairman and CEO of Neiman Marcus at the time, was asked to come to New York to help turn around the company.

However, Lundgren had little interest in joining an insolvent company, especially since he had a good thing going at Neiman Marcus in Dallas.

With Lundgren’s ties to Neiman Marcus and his previous ties to Federated Department Stores as a former president and CEO of Bullocks Wilshire, executives at Federated persuaded Lundgren to come back with the idea of buying Macy’s.

“I thought that sounded pretty interesting, because I saw the synergy and the idea of the Macy’s brand being spread through the Federated stores,” Lundgren says. “It took six months to convince me, and then six months after that, we bought Macy’s.”

Today, Lundgren has built Macy’s Inc. into one of the biggest and strongest department stores in the country. The retail giant accounts for a third or more of the business for the brands that Macy’s is associated with. However, if you rewind just seven years, Macy’s wasn’t even big enough to advertise during its own Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“The No. 3 most-watched television program in America is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade after the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards,” says Lundgren, Macy’s chairman, president and CEO. “Fifty-eight million people watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every year. It was a spectacular event, and I couldn’t advertise on it, because we weren’t national.”

Lundgren watched the telecast as advertisements from Target Brands Inc. and JCPenney Co. Inc. aired on the parade, but none from Macy’s.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to fix this. We’ve got to think about how we get that Macy’s brand out there,’” Lundgren says.

Through well-planned and well-timed acquisitions and a strategy that brought Macy’s closer to its customers, Lundgren began to turn Macy’s into a force to be reckoned with, and the goal of advertising on the company’s own parade was beginning to look like reality.

“We had a lot of interesting turns in our industry and our company that really represent a lot of what happened in the industry over the last several years,” he says.

In October 2012, Lundgren spoke at an ACG Cincinnati luncheon event about the journey he and Macy’s has been on and what it took to build Macy’s into the powerhouse it has become.

 

Small beginnings

After Federated Department Stores bought Macy’s in 1994, Lundgren became the president in 1997 and then the CEO in 2003. At that point, Macy’s was a $14 billion company with multiple brands and 250 stores.

Lundgren began to test the waters of expanding the Macy’s brand by combining it with other Federated stores.

“Business didn’t go up and it didn’t go down; it just became a non-event,” he says. “It surprised most of us, but we knew it wasn’t a negative.”

During the time of this testing, a prized department store came up for sale — Marshall Field’s in Chicago. Marshall Field’s had a stranglehold on the Chicago market and was powerful in the Minneapolis and Detroit markets as well.

“Those were three markets where we didn’t have any representation,” Lundgren says. “This was a natural opportunity for us to fill in the geography and have key stores in these very important markets.”

Lundgren negotiated to buy Marshall Field’s against one of his largest competitors at the time, The May Co., which was also looking to go national. Lundgren felt confident he had submitted a bid that was in the ballpark, but May Co. ended up offering several hundred million dollars beyond what Marshall Field’s was worth.

Although Macy’s lost to May Co. for the Marshall Field’s stores, Lundgren didn’t lose sleep, because he knew that it would have been wrong to overpay for the stores. He had seen that scenario before.

“We walked away, and that was probably the best decision that the board and my team made because everything changed and the credibility that I developed with my board from that point forward was a game-changer, because I had been CEO only for a year,” he says. “That process turned out to be really positive for all of us.”

One year later, in 2005, The May Co. was in trouble — it had paid too much for Marshall Field’s. The board fired its CEO and Lundgren went in to talk with May Co.’s lead director.

“We did a deal and got great talent merged in with our company,” Lundgren says. “Still today, some of my top leaders are from that May Co. acquisition. It was all good timing, and of course, we got Marshall Field’s through that.”

 

Growth mode

Now Lundgren had to make sure the company saved some money. It went from 11 operating divisions down to seven, taking out $1 billion of operating expense.

It sold Lord & Taylor for $1.2 billion, which May Co. owned, but was not consistent with what it was trying to do. David’s Bridal business was sold for $800 million. It closed or sold 80 department stores that overlapped and sold the credit card business to Citi Group for about $5 billion.

“That was a very big deal — this now was paying for the acquisition in a very significant way,” Lundgren says. “We were quickly getting our balance sheet in order as we were moving forward with these changes.”

Part of those changes was spending a year researching whether they could change the store names to the Macy’s brand.

“What would that feel like?” he says. “If you asked somebody, ‘Would you like to change the name from your favorite store called Lazarus or not?’ They’re going to say, ‘No, don’t touch my store.’ But if you just do it and you treat the store right and treat the people right and put in the right merchandise, people will generally respond to that, and that’s what happened.”

When it came time to make the national announcement that the department stores would take on the Macy’s name, Lundgren went to Chicago to announce it.

“In one day, we changed 400 department stores to the Macy’s brand,” he says. “We went from 250 stores in 2004 to 800 in a two-year time frame. We finally were a national organization and could advertise on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the first time in 2006.”

With Macy’s becoming a national brand, Federated decided it needed to align with its new direction. In 2007, Federated Department Stores became Macy’s Inc.

“Eight hundred of our 836 stores were called Macy’s and 36 were called Bloomingdale’s,” Lundgren says. “Calling the company Macy’s Inc. made more sense when people were thinking about who to invest in.”

 

Get close to the customer

Following the name change, Macy’s was on the move. However, the financial collapse in 2008 caused customers to cut down on shopping.

“They literally put their credit cards away and stopped shopping,” Lundgren says. “We knew we had to do something, and I wanted to do something anyway, but this was a really good time for change.”

Macy’s got rid of three operating divisions in the Midwest from seven and replaced them with a new idea.

“The idea of having a division that’s based in Cincinnati, Atlanta or San Francisco was to be closer to the customer,” Lundgren says. “The problem was we had gotten so big now that each division was looking after 100 or 200 stores, and they were in three, four or five states. They weren’t close to the customer. We had lost that connection.”

Macy’s took the three divisions that it eliminated and replaced them with 20 small satellite groups called districts. The districts had approximately 20 people acting as merchants and planners in each of these areas that would supervise 10 to 11 stores.

“They are in these stores every day, they are talking to our customers and sales associates and they are guiding us for what we should buy for Cincinnati or Columbus, Ohio, or Detroit and Chicago,” he says. “They are the ones who are influencing size, color, types of fabric and the brands that we need to carry.”

Becoming more in tune with the local communities forced Macy’s to do a lot of communication.

“It’s a missed point by a lot of big companies,” he says. “Lots of face time with me and my executive team is important. People want to follow your lead. They want to do what you want them to do, but you have to be clear and consistent.

“You can’t have a list of 28 things. You have to be clear, simple, direct, and you’ve got to say it over and over and over again. If you do that, people will respond.”

Having that local focus made all the difference in the world. It worked so well that even in 2009, when the recession was still clearly under way, those stores were outperforming the rest of the country because of the responsiveness to the local city.

“It didn’t take long for us to say, ‘We’re going all the way,’” Lundgren says. “We eliminated the other divisions and replaced them with 69 of these district teams around the country and had one buying office.”

Creating one buyer in New York City for all of Macy’s rather than the previous seven was a crucial move.

“Most of our suppliers are right up the street on Seventh Avenue in New York City,” he says. “One buyer goes to the Ralph Lauren showroom and says, ‘I’m ready to place my order.’ And they are standing at attention because instead of one of seven buyers, they better hope we like the line, because we’re a third of their business.

“We’re a third or 40 percent of everybody else’s business — Estee Lauder, Coach, you name it — Macy’s is the largest customer for almost everyone that we do business with.”

That consolidation has turned Macy’s into the only store you can buy certain brands because of the power it has with the one purchase mentality.

“The combination of that with the localization of the stores has really made all the difference in the world,” he says. “That was all rolled out in 2009.”

Macy’s executed on that strategy in 2010 and had one of the best years in the history of the company.

“We picked up more than $1 billion in same-store sales that year,” Lundgren says. “The year 2011 was significantly better than 2010. We picked up another $1.2 billion in same store sales. In 2012, we are off to a great start.”

Macy’s Inc. had fiscal 2011 sales of $26.4 billion across its more than 800 Macy’s department stores, 37 Bloomingdale’s stores, seven Bloomingdale’s Outlet stores, bloomingdales.com and macys.com. The company employs 175,000 people.

“I really relate it to that structure — the name change and allowing us to have a national presence but to act locally, and then the strategy, which we have executed the last couple of years,” Lundgren says.

 

Takeaways

  • Look for the opportunities to build your business.
  • Make strategic moves that position your company for growth.
  • Understand what makes your business more effective for customers.

 

How to reach: Macy’s Inc., (513) 579-7000 or www.macys.com

 

Published in Cincinnati

Having employees who tolerate stupidity is literally Phil Libin’s worst nightmare.

“I’ll wake up from a dream in which somewhere, someone at Evernote is working on something right now and they don’t understand why they are doing it — they think it’s stupid. ‘It doesn’t make any sense. It’s dumb. I’m just doing it because somebody told me,’” says Libin, CEO of Evernote Corp., the company responsible for popular Evernote and Skitch applications.

“As soon as you have someone who is doing some work and they don’t understand why they are doing it, then you’re not a start-up anymore. You’re something worse.”

Considering the noteworthy changes that Evernote has gone through over the last two years, it’s no surprise that culture is ingrained in Libin’s mind. Since launching the Evernote product public in 2008, Evernote’s apps have gained fast traction with users who rely on them to organize personal data and information on mobile devices and platforms.

Since 2010, the company has tripled revenue annually while increasing head count from 30 to 250 employees. It also plans to reach a level of 500 employees by the end of 2013.

Taking notes yet?

While Evernote’s success is undeniable, Libin’s permanent challenge is creating what he calls a “100-year start-up” — i.e., maintaining the entrepreneurial culture that makes Evernote great while continuing to grow.

“I want everyone at Evernote, no matter how big we get, to understand why it is that they’re doing something and to see the impact of their work,” Libin says. “If we can maintain that, then we have a good shot of scaling the company in the future.”

Here’s how Libin keeps the entrepreneurial spirit alive at Evernote.

Eliminate obstacles

Like many Silicon Valley companies, Evernote offers employees a number of unique perks, including unlimited vacation time and catered lunches. Yet Libin knows enhancing employee productivity isn’t just about add-ons; it’s about removing the obstacles that inhibit people’s success.

“All of our benefits and our office life are structured around this idea that people who are here want to do excellent work, and it’s our job to eliminate any obstacles that get in the way of that,” Libin says. “Whenever we find things that impede people’s natural desire to be productive, we ask if we can eliminate that.”

Libin and his leadership team actively look for ways to make people’s jobs easier on a day-to-day basis, especially when it involves enhancing productivity. It’s why Libin played an active role in designing the company’s new 90,000-square-foot Redwood City, Calif. headquarters, which employees moved into last summer to incorporate features that improve workflow, such as an open work plan to facilitate open communication.

“It’s the first time that we’ve been in a space that we’ve actually designed,” Libin says. “Our previous two offices have been little start-up things — whatever we could afford at the time. This is the first time we’ve had a chance to think about our surroundings a little bit.

“There are a lot of small things. A lot of times you need something from IT. You need a power cord or an adapter or a keyboard or a mouse or a network cable … so you have to track down an IT person and ask them for it, and then they go into the supply closet and get it. Now you’ve tied up two people: the person who wants it and the IT person. It’s a small waste of time, but it’s a waste of time.”

Evernote solved this problem by stocking a vending machine in the cafeteria full of equipment such as headsets, power cords, mics and keyboards, which employees can freely access by swiping a card.

“You decide when you want something, you can go down and get it, but now it takes one person two minutes to do what two people took 20 minutes to do,” Libin says. “So there’s a lot of stuff like that, where it’s something that’s not a huge thing in itself, but it adds up.”

Ideas to improve a culture don’t need to be radical to make an impact on productivity. Removing a small obstacle can actually have huge benefits, especially if it affects a lot of people.

For example, Evernote’s open work plan makes talking on the phone the biggest source of noise for employees throughout the office. So instead of having everyone work around that, Libin and his team decided to do away with desk phones entirely. If someone needs to make a call, they are encouraged to use one of the company’s numerous conference rooms or meeting spaces.

“We find an obstacle and we try to get rid of it,” Libin says. “You can find 100 things like this and it adds up to a culture where people feel like they are trusted and respected. We don’t have to explain to people that you’re only allowed to take one mouse every six months. We don’t have a policy. Take as many as you want.”

Bring on the best

Evernote isn’t Libin’s first time leading a start-up business. Before founding the company in 2007, his career as a successful engineer led him to serve as president and CEO of the software companies Corestreet Ltd. and Engine 5, respectively. In both cases, Libin found that his programming background played a direct role in his leadership style — and not in a good way.

“At my first company, I had this weird idea about people who work for me,” he says. “I thought, well, I can do their job better than they can, but I’m too important. I don’t have enough time.

“So I’d walk around and look at some programmer writing database code, and I would think to myself, I’m a programmer, too. I could write that better than he could, but I don’t have time so we can let him do it. And I’d look at a sales guy working and I’d think, well I could sell the product better, but I don’t have time so let him do it. I’d listen to the receptionist and I would think my phone voice is so much nicer than hers. But I don’t have time to answer the phone so let her do it.”

What Libin realized is that this superior mentality is self-fulfilling, breeding a culture where leaders are always second-guessing and micromanaging their people and where talented people don’t want to work. But if you’re trying to build a 100-year company, this kind of thinking just won’t fly.

“A lot of people instinctively are afraid of hiring people better than them,” Libin says. “So they tend to surround themselves with people who are mediocre. That’s the thing that kills a lot of companies.”

Finding and keeping the right is critical in fulfilling the vision of a 100-year start-up, which is why Libin encourages his direct reports and managers to follow the “hire better than you” philosophy for any position,

“I have to hire people who are so good that they can wind up running the company, and that’s true all the way down the ranks,” Libin says.

“Really embracing that philosophy is the only way I think you can scale and manage and really reduce stress, because anything I’m worried about, I know that there’s a person who’s much smarter than I am in that function, who’s also worried about it but actually in charge of dealing with it.”

Stay connected

Evernote may have a start-up culture, but the company has also come a long way from its start-up roots. In addition to its employees on five floors of its Redwood City office, Libin now leads an organization with offices in Austin, Texas, to Tokyo, Zurich, Moscow and Beijing.

“As we grow to be a bigger company, we’re not 10 nerds anymore,” Libin says. “We have designers. We have marketing people. We have people from all sorts of demographics. We are really broadened, and that broadens the products that we want to work on.”

It also broadens the scope of any given project, which can create a disconnect between a company’s departments, offices or teams.

“Very often in companies, and especially a big company, if you ask an average employee at the company, they kind of feel, ‘Well, I’m doing a job, the five or 10 people that I’m working with and I understand what they’re doing — they’re doing a good job,’” Libin says. “‘But those other guys two floors above me, I have no idea what they do. They’re probably just dumb.’”

One way that Evernote avoids communication and innovation breakdown is through cross-training. Taking a lesson from a friend who is a submarine officer, Libin implemented Evernote’s Officer Training Program, which mimics the idea of officers who must be trained in many different roles.

Each week, employees who sign up for the program are assigned to several random meetings outside of their department where they are encouraged to act as full participants. While the company is currently tweaking the program for simpler execution, the idea is that both the trainee and the group will benefit from the exchange.

“So if you are in IT and you sit in a marketing meeting, you see that the marketing guys do a lot of work, and they have difficult questions and problems,” he says. “It also works the other way, having a person in the room who hasn’t mastered the jargon. You wind up having to speak differently. You wind up having to think about things that you may not have thought about if you’ve been doing this job for 10 years.”

Other ways that Evernote promotes connectivity are using remote-controlled Anybots for telecommunication and video walls and “windows” to connect Evernote’s domestic and international offices. Set up near the coffee machines, the video walls are synced up to mirror Evernote’s different offices at the same time of day.

“When it’s 9 a.m. here and you’re getting coffee, you’re going to see 9 a.m. in Tokyo as somebody is getting coffee,” Libin says. “The point is you can connect with people. You can see who is there. You can see what they are wearing. You can have this ambient feeling because you know that you’re not the only person there. There are people all over the world working at Evernote that are also getting coffee.”

Experimenting with cultural perks, programs and policies should be an ongoing process, and leaders need to be willing to try and fail.

“The basic idea is we want people to be able to connect in as many different ways as possible,” he says. “When I’m traveling out of the office, and I connect to the Anybots, and I drive it around, and point the laser pointer at people, and yell at them to get back to work, everyone loves it.

“There’s no silver bullet. You say the core value is communication, and then you just find ways to make it a really magical experience.” ?

How to reach: Evernote Corp., www.evernote.com

 

The Libin file

Phil Libin

CEO

Evernote

Born: St. Petersburg, Russia

Education: Boston University

Why there’s never been a better time to be in business: I don’t think it’s ever been a better time to have a company, to be in business. This is the best time in the history of the world actually to be trying to build something because it’s much of a meritocracy than it’s ever been. If you build something great and you really focus on building something great then you get massive leverage in everything else because of app stores, smartphones and social media. If you make something great, then everyone is going to know about it. And everyone is going to be able to get it. … All I really want is to make great stuff. And that’s what all the people who work for me want, and it’s enough. It’s enough now to just make great stuff.

Why stress helps: As a CEO, it’s good to have a balanced diet of stress. You stress out about the product. You stress out about the finances. You stress out about improving about the office space. It’s good to have multiple completely different things to worry about and sort of balance those things.

Libin's best business mantra: I think the most important phrase is ‘simple is hard.’ That says a lot of stuff. In all ways it’s better to be simple than complicated, in terms of your product, your benefits, everything you do. You’re much better off being simple; and it’s the hardest thing to do. Always strive for simplicity, but also realize that it’s far harder to make something simple than to make something complicated.

 

Published in Northern California

For Dan Roitman, much of business is science.

Since founding specialty Internet retailer Stroll LLC in his University of Maryland dorm room 13 years ago, Roitman’s career has consisted of an ongoing series of hypotheses, experiments, data analysis, adjusting of hypotheses and formulation of theories.

Roitman’s scientific approach to business-building has developed a highly entrepreneurial culture at Stroll, in which team members are encouraged to share ideas, innovate and test their assumptions. It’s a mentality that has helped the company sustain a period of rapid growth — 80 percent in 2008 and 50 percent in 2009, followed by a year-over-year 100 percent growth margin from 2010 to 2011. In 2012, the company surpassed $80 million in annual revenue for the first time.

But maintaining a forward-thinking mindset throughout the entire organization isn’t something that just happens. It requires CEO Roitman to hire, train and empower his people to achieve the desired results. It’s something that was driven home to Roitman during the recession, when he had to suspend the growth of the company for a year due to a lack of additional financing from Stroll’s bank.

“That was my biggest concern, because we had always been a growth company,” Roitman says. “Then, due to circumstances beyond our control, we had to put a specific order volume cap on the business.

“It really became more about communicating that this is the challenge, everybody knew what was going on in that environment, you had a lot of economic hardship, you heard a lot about layoffs that were going on elsewhere. I have to imagine everyone was happy that we were doing well, but frustrated that we couldn’t do better.”

Through it all, Roitman has had to focus on motivating his employees, maintaining a sense of transparency, while still encouraging open thought, experimentation and the scientific mentality that had made Stroll a success in the first place.

Embrace best practices

It’s easy to say you embrace best practices as an organization. Actually discovering, selecting and implementing best practices from another entity are another ballgame. Even if you are able to discover and select an outside idea that you think will help your business, there is a good chance you wouldn’t implement it — at least, not in the form in which you discovered it.

“I once heard a speaker talk about the idea of cloning best practices and how most people don’t have a so-called cloning gene,” Roitman says. “If I told you, right now, the secret to making a million dollars in 90 days and if you followed my instructions exactly, you’d make a million dollars; most people wouldn’t be able to follow it exactly. They’d start to think about how to improve upon what you’re telling them.

“Sam Walton would go into any competitor’s store, and even if it was a really shoddy store, he’d find something they were doing better than he was doing. Through that process, through a million little optimizations, he became a formidable competitor and then an industry leader.

“So if someone is doing something better than you are, you should at least recognize that they are and be willing to try it in your business as well.”

But it is a double-edged sword when it comes to adding new policies and processes to your organization. You don’t want to corrupt the external idea, because it was successful elsewhere for a reason, and that is why you want to on-board it at your company. But you also want to give your people an opportunity to think of ways they can improve upon the idea or alter it so it better fits your company’s specific situation.

For Roitman, that is where the need for a culture that utilizes a testing-based, scientific approach becomes critical. His team members at Stroll can propose new ideas and changes to existing ideas, but they have to back the proposals up with supporting data.

“If you have a constant, iterative testing philosophy, the barrier to testing is very low,” Roitman says. “So if somebody is doing something on, say, the marketing side, you ask yourself about the probability of something similar working in your business. What is the probability of this one idea being more successful than another?

“Ultimately, you have finite resources for your various departments, so you do have to have a mechanism for prioritizing — some kind of filter for what you believe the contribution or change will be.”

Roitman ran into a best-practices testing scenario when he and his leadership team noticed marketers in his company’s space were having success with video marketing initiatives. Through testing and quantification of the results that Roitman’s team believed Stroll could expect, the company was able to implement its own video marketing initiatives.

“Since then, we have won two major awards for our video marketing,” Roitman says. “That is an example of us taking a best practice from outside and utilizing it in a way that betters an area of our company.

“In another area, we’ve also brought in an industry expert to advise us on our shipping costs. It led to us having a 30 percent reduction in our shipping costs (in 2011), and we should have another 30 percent reduction (in 2012).

“We didn’t directly adopt a best practice from somewhere else in that case, but the insight from the industry expert that we brought in allowed us to take things to the next level in that area, and it’s information we wouldn’t have gotten any other way.”

Learn from mistakes

Another aspect of having a culture that is focused on experimentation and learning by doing is a willingness to accept mistakes and failure as part of the process. That is, as long as the failure is part of the process and not a part of employee underperformance.

With entrepreneurship as a key building block of Roitman’s culture at Stroll, often he is willing to take new products to market, and let the market determine whether the idea was good or not.

“Obviously, it depends on what level you’re talking about making mistakes,” Roitman says. “But if you inherently have a testing culture, you know you’re going to have failures, and it’s simply going to be a part of the experimentation process.

“But there are failures of concepts or improvements, and there is failure of performance, which is an entirely different category. The performance category isn’t just a matter of experimentation. It’s a matter of setting up support structures so that people don’t set themselves up for failure. You have to work with them to define goals up front that are realistic and all the general management concepts around that.

“Once you’ve defined the goals, you need to check in with your people to make sure they are on track and setting up workable project plans.”

If you’re working with your people to set achievable goals and realistic project plans, it becomes much easier for you and your leadership team to separate a bad idea from a bad performance.

“It’s all in the mechanics around your execution, which you need to have in your processes,” Roitman says. “If someone just isn’t performing, there is an issue there. But if it’s an idea itself that is failing, but everyone thought it was worthwhile to pursue and a reasonable move to make at the outset, there is no problem in that case. And you have to cultivate that mentality within all layers of management.”

To help guard against large-scale mistakes that could have wide-ranging implications for your company, Roitman says you should put platforms in place that allow you to test new ideas on a smaller level, then scale the successful ideas to larger projects involving more people.

It is a tactic that allows you to commit fewer resources to a project initially, while still getting a sense for whether the idea will work — which is a critical factor as many companies are still struggling with resource management in the wake of the recession.

“That can definitely be something you’re doing; we’ve done that ourselves,” Roitman says. “For instance, in our call center, we’ve rolled out a small-scale test in one area, see how that does, then roll it out on a larger scale.

“In some other areas, we’ve broken down into teams across different areas of the company and tried different things in each area. That allows us to gain some insight into how we can work with different needs and different management methodologies.”

As you go through these processes, you have to keep in mind that your role as the leader is to serve as the traffic cop who ensures that the right type and right amount of resources find their way to the right areas of the organization, into the hands that can best use the resources to produce the ideas and product that turn the highest profit.

“Everything is interrelated,” Roitman says. “Departmental activities roll up to the company at large. So my job is to make sure the plan we have communicated is clearly on track, everybody knows the most important things we have to focus on, and there are no other distractions. We have a lot of ideas flying around, which is a good thing, but we still have to maintain focus. As far as the direction you are going, you have to define what is in and what is out — you have to define both.”

How to reach: Stroll LLC, (215) 701-3300 or www.stroll.com

 

The Roitman file

Dan Roitman

founder and CEO

Stroll LLC

Born: Germany

Education: International business and German degrees, University of Maryland

First job: Unofficially, I mowed lawns and shoveled snow. Officially, I had an internship with the Department of Defense after my first year of college.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

The earlier you can establish the elements of a strong culture, the higher the probability of success of the organization. It starts out with just getting revenue and having a business in the first place, but after that, you need to have a vision and clear goals around that vision, and the right people on board with the proper motivation. Having the right operating conditions helps that immensely.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

One thing that we really focus on in our organization is transparency. After that, you need to be able to develop a really strong vision that influences the organization years into the future. People have to know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

What is your definition of success?

Success comes at a couple of different levels. On a micro level, it’s accomplishing something meaningful within the organization. On a macro level, one of the greatest forms is giving back to the community and creating jobs. As we all know, our economy needs sustainable, productive jobs today.

Published in Philadelphia

Don Lowe used to run a simple business.

“We had a small offset machine, we printed black ink on white paper, and sometimes we would bind it for our customers,” he says. “It was that way for many years.”

Franchise Services Inc., which operates printing and marketing services franchises such as Sir Speedy, Signal Graphics and PIP, did one thing and did it well. For decades, it was enough to grow and remain profitable.

But as the 1990s advanced and gave way to the new century, technology started to evolve at an increasingly rapid pace, and Franchise Services quickly found itself at a crossroads: adapt or risk the long-term welfare of the business.

“The digital world changed our world completely,” says Lowe, the CEO of Franchise Services. “Our role is now to look at new technology and ask ourselves if it’s a threat or an opportunity. If it’s a threat, we decide what to do with it. If it’s an opportunity, we exploit it. It keeps us very busy, but it’s also very good for us.”

Lowe has needed to add new technology and new services to fill the expanding needs of his franchisees’ customer base — which comprises primarily companies with fewer than 50 employees. Facing their own battles for survival in an economic climate where nothing is a sure thing, the businesses in Lowe’s customer base need services beyond printing. They also need full-service marketing support with a heavy emphasis on creating and maintaining a strong Internet presence.

“That is why, over the recent years, we have moved from a print-centric model to one that focuses on both print and marketing services,” Lowe says. “We’ve needed to expand the products and services we offer to our customers. If you think about small business owners, they’re always pressed for time; they often can’t even spend time on building the business because they’re already wrapped up in managing what already exists. So they need help on multiple fronts, and our job is to provide that help.”

Providing that help has required Lowe and his team to listen to franchisees and their customers, and gain an accurate read on the best ways to serve customers in a challenging and ever-changing climate.

Know the game

The biggest game-changer for Franchise Services came in the proliferation of Internet-based communication throughout the ’90s. In the span of about a decade, the primary conveyance for the written word migrated from paper stock to computer screens. Items that were normally sent through the mail over the span of days could now arrive in your email inbox in a matter of seconds. Internally, filing cabinets gave way to servers as a means of storing data.

“A number of the products we were producing for customers moved to the Web,” Lowe says. “Customers could use the Internet to distribute price lists on a daily basis, and even some training manuals migrated to the Internet.

“If you think about it, even business cards, letterhead and envelopes, all that business declined from where it was in the ’80s and into the ’90s, because we don’t send letters anymore, we send emails. That was the first indicator that we needed to start finding some products and services to backfill some of the products and services that were losing traction.”

But to find new areas of growth, Lowe and his corporate leadership team had to get plugged in to what their customers needed in a print and marketing services company. For Lowe, that meant studying trends, and frequent conversations with franchise owners across Franchise Services’ spectrum of brands.

“You have to understand specifically what the customers’ needs and wants are,” Lowe says. “Everything starts with the customer. If you don’t understand the customer requirements, you won’t be able to fulfill them. So you need to listen twice as intently as you speak, so you can determine what those needs and wants are.”

You can look to macro-level observations in industry publications to get a read on the next big technology that could affect your industry. But to understand how your business is changing on a granular level, you have to make trips to the front lines. Sometimes, the change that satisfies the most customers in the shortest amount of time is decidedly low-tech and relatively inexpensive to implement.

When Lowe and his team speak with franchisees, they aim to find ways to better connect their services to customers, with an overall goal of improving the customer experience.

“For example, today we provide mailing services at most of our locations, and that is a direct result of understanding that 65 or 70 percent of what we print ultimately ends up in the mail,” Lowe says.

“So why don’t we go that last mile, provide mailing services to our customers, and even take the printed pieces in the envelopes and take them to the post office? That is an example of why you spend a lot of time figuring out what is happening in the market.”

In addition to frequent dialogue with franchisees, Lowe and his team also gather information from customer focus groups designed to provide feedback regarding whether Franchise Services is meeting their needs, and in turn, the needs of the market in general.

“The thing we always try to remember is we don’t produce anything at the corporate level,” Lowe says. “All of our services are delivered at the franchise-network level. So we have to maintain consistent contact with everyone involved in those relationships, both the franchisees and the customers. There cannot be an ivory tower anymore. If you’re not staying in touch with the customer, you’re not staying in touch with the business.”

Become a change agent

To change with the evolving needs of the market, you need to first construct an organization that is capable of visualizing change and realizing the need for change. At Franchise Services, Lowe developed a change-focused organization by hiring people who aren’t afraid of venturing into unknown territory while at the same time being creative enough to devise new solutions to meet ever-changing customer needs.

“It’s a big reason why you hire first for cultural fit, then worry about the skill set needed to complete the job,” Lowe says. “If the person you hired can’t fit the organization, or if the chemistry just isn’t right, it’s not going to work.

“You might be able to make it work for a short period of time, but you can’t build a company with that type of hiring policy. A lot of people know that Jim Collins wrote the book ‘Good to Great,’ where he talks about the need to have the right people in the right seats on the bus, and it’s true. It’s not necessarily just about having good people. It’s also about having the right mix of people, otherwise the organization is going to fail in the long run.”

If you can find employees who are open to and willing to facilitate change, it then falls on you as the leader of the company to provide an environment where they feel the freedom and flexibility to try new ideas and implement new innovations.

Lowe facilitates an environment that embraces change by developing a strong sense of trust throughout the corporate ranks and extending to the company’s more than 500 franchised locations. He develops and reinforces the trust factor by ensuring that communication remains transparent throughout the organization.

You and your people need high ethical and moral standards, which set the basis for the amount of trust that you can develop between management and employees,” Lowe says. “It’s also important that everyone understands what the goals are. We don’t have a large staff, so it is important that everyone is aligned with the goals, both on a corporate and franchise level.

“So we talk to our franchisees about their goals and aspirations for their business, and their results, and through that, we develop a team spirit. That helps to drive enthusiasm and gets people ready to show up for work and get busy doing what you get paid to do.”

Lowe’s willingness to change and adapt, and find people willing to do the same, has helped maintain Franchise Services as a strong presence in its industry. The company’s franchised locations generated $448 million in sales during 2011.

“There are certain skills that are required in this business, but beyond that, it quite frankly comes down to attitude,” he says. “The people that work well in our environment take instruction, but they certainly also understand the importance of dealing with and satisfying the customers. A lot of what we do comes down to how you adapt to customers and serve their needs, as is the case in just about every industry. A smiling face and a soft voice goes a long way in our business, every bit as much as the professional skills they need to have in order to get their job done at a high level.”

How to reach: Franchise Services Inc., (800) 854-3321 or www.franserv.com

 

The Lowe file

Don Lowe

CEO

Franchise Services Inc.

Born: Shelbyville, Tenn. I grew up in Hopkinsville, Ky.

History: I’ve been in business since I was 12 years old, when I was a paperboy. I’m 71 now, so I’ve been in business for almost 60 years. I’ve been a shareholder of this company for the last 40 years.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Hire good people, keep them informed and trust them. Beyond that, set the bar high for achievement, and make sure they understand your culture and promote it.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

Vision would certainly be high on the list. You also need integrity, because people need to follow your lead, and it is very difficult to follow someone you don’t respect. And if your organization doesn’t agree with your vision, you won’t have a fair chance to be successful. Also, working hard is still a great trait in this country. If you work hard, it will put you in good places.

What is your definition of success?

It’s the opportunity to do what I want to do, when I want to do it and with the people who are important to me, and to get our franchise people to do important, meaningful things to help them sustain their businesses.

Published in Orange County

Often overlooked in discussions about improving Ohio’s economy is the fact that actions taken by state and local governments are primary drivers of the cost of doing business. Their ability to levy taxes and impose costly regulations directly impact a company’s bottom line. When governments are inefficient, they need more revenue. When they take a command and control approach to regulations, they often become an obstacle to growth.

To ensure a strong, competitive economy, we need efficient governments that tax less and provide greater value. That’s why the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and our state’s eight metropolitan chambers undertook an important study issued in December 2010, called Redesigning Ohio. It offers a road map for transforming Ohio’s state and local governments into 21st century institutions.

Burdened with an unprecedented fiscal crisis and a projected $8 billion deficit, state government leaders were at an important crossroads. They could continue to accept the status quo or they could embrace reforms aimed at improving services and heightening productivity through greater flexibility and innovation.

The ideas advanced in Redesigning Ohio provided a framework for thinking boldly about ways Ohioans can receive more value for their state and local tax dollars.

Redesigning Ohio offers 10 specific areas for reform. The first proposes changes to the budgeting process itself by employing a unique approach called Budgeting for Outcomes. Two other innovations, Charter Agencies and Entrepreneurial Management, incentivize greater efficiency by providing more freedom to manage in exchange for less funding and by bringing market-based competition to government services.

Redesigning Ohio also proposes pension and civil service reforms that harmonize the public and private sectors and regulatory reforms that use incentives to boost voluntary compliance. In the health care arena, the report urges the government to leverage its buying power to foster greater competition, lower costs and better results. Redesigning Ohio also offers ways to reduce the cost of the criminal justice system and urges a more thorough and regular review of tax credits, exemptions and deductions.

Finally, Ohio has a costly and outdated system of 3,700 local governmental units that must be brought into the 21st century by enhancing productivity and promoting greater collaboration.

Now, two years after the release of Redesigning Ohio, the same nine Chambers of Commerce have issued a Redesigning Ohio Update. The new report details the progress that has been made and sets out the next steps in this critical transformational process.

As a result of bold actions taken by Gov. John Kasich and Ohio lawmakers, clear progress has been made in reforming our criminal justice system and Medicaid program. Most importantly, the reforms are not just reducing costs; they are also improving results.

One of Gov. Kasich’s first actions established the Common Sense Initiative, which focuses on creating a more jobs-friendly regulatory climate in Ohio. CSI has achieved a number of successes that are making Ohio’s regulatory process more transparent, efficient and less costly for businesses.

Also in 2012, the Ohio Legislature enacted public employee pension reforms that are an important first step in ensuring the long-term solvency of those funds and reducing the cost for taxpayers.

During the past two years, many local governments and school districts embraced greater innovation and collaboration, but additional work remains. The successes highlighted in the Redesigning Ohio Update can serve as excellent models for the additional work ahead.

Today, our economy is improving. Unemployment is at 6.9 percent and tax revenues are increasing. But, we cannot allow these improvements to justify a return to the status quo. With Redesigning Ohio as a guide, we must continue the work necessary to transform our state and local governments into 21st century institutions. ?

 

Linda Woggon is executive vice president of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. As Ohio’s largest and most diverse statewide business advocacy group, the Ohio Chamber has been an effective voice for business since 1893. To contact the Ohio Chamber, call (614) 228-4201 or visit the website at www.ohiochamber.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

In a way, John Myers is not unlike the guy who paints the foul lines at the local baseball field. He defines boundaries.

The president and CEO of Rentokil North America, the regional wing of Rentokil Initial — a U.K.-based facility management company that provides, among other things, pest control services — has been tasked with integrating a company that has changed dramatically over the past decade. At one point, Rentokil’s North American footprint consisted of about a dozen operations sprinkled throughout Ontario, the Mid-Atlantic States and Florida.

Then, over the span of two years, Rentokil acquired a trio of pest control companies. With the acquisitions of Ehrlich, Presto-X and Watch All between 2006 and 2008, Rentokil’s growth exploded. The company expanded to nearly 80 locations in 35 states.

But with those acquisitions came differing cultures, policies and processes. Myers had to get everyone aimed in the same direction.

“Most people will tell you that acquisition plans and models fail because the integration wasn’t done as defined,” Myers says. “But it can be really hard to do. You have disparate businesses with long histories and a strong belief in their culture, and there is either a reluctance to integrate or companies integrate too quickly and kind of throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Myers had to figure out a way to balance the best practices of the acquired companies with the need to create a uniform set of objectives and values under the Rentokil umbrella.

“When I first started here, I was new to the business and rather agnostic toward each of the brands,” says Myers, who took over the company at the end of 2008. “What I saw was that everyone agreed that we needed to change, but when I started making changes, they all said, ‘No, what we meant was, you need to change those guys over there.’ Everybody wants to change; they just don’t want it in their area, because change is hard.”

Myers solved the challenge by starting at the top, with his own leadership team, and working his way down.

Identify the themes

Myers needed to simplify things. With bits and pieces of varying cultures, processes and objectives fluttering around the company like pieces of confetti, he had to vacuum everything up, sort it out, keep what was relevant and discard the rest.

It’s a process that requires a set of ground rules. And those ground rules are formulated on the management level.

“It’s tricky, because these have been successful businesses in their own right, and they’re used to doing things their own way,” Myers says. “The natural tendency is to say that you’ve been successful using the techniques you already had in place, so why would you want to change?”

To combat that type of resistance, Myers gathered his leadership team and tasked them with helping him set the strategic vision for the company  —  a long-range vision to serve as a set of end goals for every business unit. Any goal or strategy that existed among the acquired companies needed to help Rentokil progress toward its strategic vision. If it didn’t, Myers’ team would discard it.

The strategic vision sessions also helped identify areas of the acquired companies that aligned along common themes, giving Rentokil an area of strength to leverage.

“The good news is, we really looked at our businesses and realized they had some very common elements in their cultures that we could rally behind,” Myers says. “For example, we believe in providing the highest level of customer service in the marketplace, and not everybody believes that should be a part of their strategy.

“As an example, you can compare a small hardware store to Home Depot or Lowe’s. The small hardware store will give you personalized service. Home Depot or Lowe’s — while they’re both very successful companies — might provide a different level of service while trying to compete more on product selection or price. We are more like the smaller hardware store in that we’ve made customer service part of the culture of the business.”

Customer service became one of the five strategic thrusts for Rentokil, as outlined in the plan formed by Myers’ team. Along with customer service, Rentokil also formed objectives around organizational capabilities, operational excellence, operating at the lowest cost possible while still maintaining high service standards and delivering profitable growth.

The development of the five strategic thrusts was critical for Rentokil and any other company trying to define its future strategy and goals. Once the pillars of the strategy are defined, you have to allow the company to be guided by those principles over time.

“The reason these themes are important is, as we work on tactics, if we can’t easily slot something we’re working on under one of these, we shouldn’t be working on it,” Myers says. “That is why it’s important to maintain those thrusts.

“In a change management environment, you can’t change the themes every day. You can’t have a flavor of the month, because people will start to get confused and question whether your strategy and objectives are real. We just finished the third year in which we’ve operated under the same five strategic thrusts.”

Roll it out

With the playing field outlined by the strategic pillars you have constructed, your next step is to tell the entire organization how it will accomplish the goals related to those pillars.

Myers began by rolling the plan out to everyone on the management level of the organization, followed by a rollout to the organization at large.

“First of all, we have an annual management meeting where we present our key tactics under each of the strategic thrusts,” Myers says. “I present the thrusts, then I present the initiatives that we are going to implement in the coming year to support the strategic thrusts. We stand in front of our entire management team and tell them what we are going to do.

“The second thing we do is we then have regional meetings in which every colleague in the company attends, and we make the same presentation. Every technician, every sales representative, every office manager, from front-line colleagues all the way to the top, are all hearing the same message, and they’re hearing it from the executive leadership team.

“Usually, I have a vice president on my team go out and present this material to every colleague, face-to-face.”

After the initial rollout, you have to perform frequent maintenance in the form of direct communication from the top. Myers reinforces the strategic thrusts and tactical initiatives through monthly CEO messages, delivered to the entire Rentokil organization throughout North America.

“I’d say nine of the 12 messages I have each year relate to a strategic thrust and one or more of the initiatives associated with it,” he says. “So I will say simple things like, ‘As you know, we believe in delivering outstanding customer service. So today I’d like to talk to you about a new initiative that was launched just last week. We talked about it at our recent company meeting, but I want to give you an update.’

“It’s the old idea that you have to tell them and tell them again, because people are busy in the day-to-day world. You need to reinforce the idea that there really is a plan and you are following it.”

The message needs to come directly from you as the head of the organization. The further down the ladder you delegate your reinforcement communication, the less impact it will have. That’s not to say communication involving a department head or direct supervisor is irrelevant, but on matters that involve the direction of the whole company, your words carry the most weight.

“There are two main reasons why this kind of communication has to come from the top,” Myers says. “First off, I go back to the fact that everyone is busy and working hard, so getting a reminder of what the top boss thinks is important helps to refocus what you work on. It’s like you always hear about finding out what’s important to your boss and working on that.

“The second thing is, it’s reassuring to the organization to be reminded that there is a plan, and we’re sticking with it. You’re not trying to figure out what you’ll do each month.”

Myers’ unification plan has taken root and helped propel Rentokil’s growth. The company generated $350 million in North American revenue during 2011 and continues to maintain a strong market share in its space.

“Ultimately, people are motivated to buy in to a plan when they know three things: What are the expectations, how are we doing against those expectations and what are we going to do to get better in the areas where we’re not delivering at the level we want?” he says. “When there is clarity around the plan, there is greater opportunity to implement the plan in a timely and effective manner. By reinforcing the message from the top level, it does those things better than just hoping it happens.” ?

How to reach: Rentokil North America,

(610) 372-9700 or www.rentokil.com

 

The Myers file

Education: B.S. in marketing, University of Vermont; MBA, Mercer University, Atlanta campus.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

I’ll give you two. The first one is to share the risk as well as the reward. I’ll never forget a job I once took in sales management. I was new to the company where I was working, and I decided I would negotiate a deal with a customer myself. It didn’t go well. My dad told me that I wanted to show everybody that I could do it myself, but it’s not about that. It’s about the team delivering the desired result. That should have been the goal, not me trying to ensure that I’d deliver the result myself. I should have brought other people onto the project.

The second thing is knowing that everyone wants to do a good job. Your role is to ensure that everyone knows the expectations, knows how they are performing against those expectations and knows how you’ll work together to improve the things that aren’t working out.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

I get asked that all the time by college graduates. The first thing I always tell them is to lead with humility. My view is that our frontline colleagues and customers know what is needed in the marketplace, and it takes humility from the leadership team to remind yourself of that fact. You have to have the humility to ask for insight and advice from the people closest to the customers.

What is your definition of success?

Success is utilizing really strong methods to deliver strong results. We use a phrase here that I like in our leadership training: Success versus excellence. If the concept of your methods is robust, the predictability of your success is better.

It’s like in golf. You can hit a good shot once in a while, but you can’t repeat it if your swing isn’t good. You can sometimes find success with bad methods, or you can consistently find success with good methods.

Published in Philadelphia

Larry Feldman was living a double life. As assistant minority counsel of the House Banking Committee, his day job was dealing with Capitol Hill’s most pressing issues: the Chrysler bailout, alternative fuel sources and cradle-to-grave health insurance. But come lunchtime, he headed across the street to oversee an operation pretty much as critical to Washington’s well-being. Feldman, you see, managed the local Subway.

“I would do congressional hearings in the morning, run across the street, take off my jacket, put on my apron and stand behind the counter to make sure the operation was going well,” says Feldman, CEO of Subway of South Florida and Subway Development Corp. in Washington, D.C. “These lobbyists would look at my face and say, ‘You look very familiar.’ And then after lunch, I would run back, take off my jacket and do hearings.”

Since opening up his first Subway location 35 years ago, Feldman has grown his territory of restaurants to approximately 1,500 locations and 1,600 employees throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and, most recently, South Florida. But his success hasn’t just earned him respect in the franchise world — it was Feldman who helped pioneer Subway’s development agent growth model in 1979 — it has also earned him a nickname: Mr. Subway.

By eliminating company-owned stores and empowering entrepreneurs to grow territories through franchised locations, Subway has become the largest fast-food chain in the world, surpassing the iconic McDonald’s with more than 37,000 locations worldwide. Here’s why the growth model is still viable and successful decades later.

Regulate consistency

As a business with locations worldwide, maintaining consistency across its many stores is critical to Subway’s reputation. So it’s important for owners like Feldman to have the proper controls in place to keep operations consistent and maintain quality throughout their territories.

One way the company does this by maintaining high standards of compliance for its store owners.

“We’re very, very strict in our requirements for compliance,” Feldman says. “Part of the support is 80 percent of my staff is made up of operations analysts. They go into the field and are in their stores at least once a month. They do full evaluations that start with cleanliness in the front window and go right on through the store, including marketing recommendations, attitude of employees — all of these things.”

Driving consistency internally is also why Subway doesn’t sell to professional chefs — who are tempted to try to “improve” on the business model.

“Chefs always are looking to create a better way,” Feldman says. “And while we’re always looking at our corporate offices to do that, and have a tremendous amount of success from franchisees who give us recommendations, it basically is that when you go into a Subway regardless of where it is around the world, that you know that you’re getting a consistent product. The look is consistent.”

For Subway, the food part of it and the product part of it can be learned and trained. The real work of the owners is growing the business in the community, from “the outside in,” whether it’s sponsoring local Little League games or working with not-for-profits.

“It’s understanding how to take those tools and get out there and market your business,” Feldman says. “We look more for people who will participate in marketing and bringing customers in, because we can teach you everything that needs to be done in the store itself.”

When the goal is consistency, you want store owners who are entrepreneurs, not industry professionals.

“They would come back after two weeks of training thinking they knew how to grow their business their way,” Feldman says. “But this doesn’t work as a large-scale concept. At the franchisee level — success is about following the model.”

Keep it simple

Subway’s simple operation — with no fryers, no grease traps, and a simple menu — makes it easy to run, and gives the company the control to easily manage food and labor costs. But how do you promote new ideas when you’re worried about overcomplicating your brand? At Subway, it’s by practicing “controlled innovation.” At the national level, the company sets aside an innovation fund specifically for testing ideas for the restaurants that are submitted to the company from customers or franchises. Every new idea goes through a thorough and carefully controlled approval and testing process.

“We can’t have everybody out there saying my grandma has a great recipe,” Feldman says. We need to go out there and try it.”

Recommendations are made through the franchisee development office. Approved ideas will go through a strict testing procedure starting with 100 stores, then 1,000, then 2,000 stores — which are checked for compliance — until the idea is reviewed for the entire system. Stores also must report daily and weekly through the computer on how many of the product are sold, what hours and so on. This info is sent to the home office in Connecticut where analysts examine the idea before sending their suggestions to corporate. The controlled process ensures ideas are only rolled out to the entire company that can be consistently executed and that complement its bigger health and price-value messages.

“So it’s not just an off-end product that’s left out there,” Feldman says. “It’s not just somebody that wants to test something on their own. There’s a very specific testing program.”

That’s not to say the company hasn’t adapted. A key reason that Subway has been able to stay relevant in the crowded fast food space is by proactively expanding its product mix to appeal to a wider range of consumers. As home of the $5 foot long, the brand has been able to capture a larger market share of people who see it as an affordable option. It was also one of the first to respond to the growing trend of health and wellness.

In the past five years Subway's variety of products has increased dramatically, all tied to the health offerings. But the company has also carried out these changes in a very conscious way, Feldman says. The company has been successful at adding the healthier options because they are just that — options.

While it now provides things like calorie counts, reduced sodium options, and diabetic menus and healthier menu items such as salads, flatbreads and lean meats, Subway has also kept its indulgent subs like its BMT, meatball and steak and cheese. Diners can still add mayo or a bag of chips.

“Choices should be there,” Feldman says.

“That has been a tremendous part of our growth; but the fact that I can also come in and get that indulgent sub as well and I’m not a health food franchise — I’m here for everyone.”

The importance of keeping it simple has only been verified by the company’s testing of newer concepts like Subway cafés, designed by Feldman’s office for national in response to landlord’s looking for a more upscale Subway. In addition to the regular menu items, Subway cafes include offerings such as paninis and gelato.

“What we found was that the landlords thought that these big fancy law firms and investment firms that the people would demand all these fancy things,” Feldman says. “But when we opened these restaurants, more than 80 percent of the purchases are still our traditional Subway fare. So people are still coming down and getting their tuna sub or cold cut combo.”

Provide support

Feldman points to four areas that have been critical to Subway’s success: product, control, simplicity, and support. The brand’s ability to adapt and grow while maintaining simple and consistent operations has helped make it ubiquitously appealing while allowing it to go places other fast food chains can’t, for example, YMCA’s, school systems, colleges, universities, and hospitals.

“If you’re a food service director in a hospital, you’d say, ‘Why would I bring a McDonald’s into the lobby when our whole message is about health?’ Feldman says. “And then when you look at other competitors and they’re still back in the 80’s as a sandwich concept with some increasing regard for things like calorie count and health message because they have to be, because the public demands it.”

But Feldman says that it’s the last pillar — support — that’s played the biggest role in the company’s success.

Before the company’s development agent model, support for restaurant locations typically came from corporate employees. Now that’s changed to where franchisees have a local team to back their success anywhere in the world.

“When you live the community you have someone that’s a phone call away,” Feldman says. “It’s not calling the corporate office and saying ‘Hey, I need help when can you send somebody down?’...as opposed to somebody who could be there that day. And that’s why Subway has been so successful. We have boots on the ground in every single city in the U.S. and now in 102 countries around the world. So if I have a problem, I am there and being supported.”

The company also has one of the lowest franchise fees in the country, which Feldman says points to the profitability of the concept. Rather than making the money on the sale of franchises, the company makes money off of the profitability of the stores that it helps succeed. Having all four pieces — product, control, simplicity and support — is really what’s allowed Subway to “build a better mousetrap” than competitors in the marketplace, Feldman says. During the worst economy, Subway’s numbers are staggering. It’s achieved continual upward increases in customer base, marketing and advertising and average unit volume.

“These are all things that are basics, but I think over the years we’ve really forgotten those basics,” Feldman says. “Now more than ever, now that people are really concerned about their dollar and where that goes — you need to show them that you are the best, that you bring the best value to them, and you are there for them if there are issues.

“For us it really is a Cinderella story, in that we were very different then than we are now. When I went to college the only choice was a foot long sub. The menu was very limited. There probably were about eight sandwiches. Now, Subway has become more of the healthy alternative. We have morphed into the concept where everyone can go to get their lunch, their dinner and now their breakfast.” ?

How to reach: Subway South Florida, www.southfloridasubway.com, or Subway Development Corp. of Washington, www.subwaydcw.com

 

Larry Feldman

CEO, Subway of South Florida

CEO, Subway Development Corporation in Washington, D.C.

Born: Brooklyn, New York

Education: B.A., University of Bridgeport, J.D., Brooklyn Law School

What would you do if you weren’t doing your current job?

Be a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?

I cry at sappy TV commercials and movies.

If you could have dinner with one person you’ve never met, who would it be and why?

President Clinton. His caring and concern for the world and its people is admirable.

What do you to regroup on a tough day?

I watch a great action movie.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I spend time doing anything with my family.

Published in Florida