Aiming high Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2008

Todd Ebert always wanted to be a winner.

As a 16-year-old growing up in Salt Lake City, he read in a newspaper a ‘Thought for the Day’ that has stuck with him since: “No one has ever won a race with the ambition of finishing second.”

That told Ebert that if he set his goals at being second-best, that’s where he would land, but if he worked toward being the best, one day he would achieve it.

Today, Ebert is president and CEO of Amerinet Inc., a $110 million national group purchasing organization for health care providers. That newspaper quote still motivates him, and he wants his company to be the best in the industry.

Aiming high is a simple concept, but Ebert constantly — and sincerely — reinforces it with his 365 employees. His monthly strategic update includes staff success stories, and employees often receive e-mails from Ebert, thanking them for a job well done.

Smart Business spoke with Ebert on how he plays to win and why it’s up to you to make the tough decisions.

Plan for success. Be positive, be passionate about what you do, and at the same time, share your success stories. I’m a big believer that optimism breeds optimism and that success breeds success.

I share this with the people from our leadership team as well as the company: If you are going to set a goal, set it to be the best. It does not have to be the biggest. It does not have to be the most profitable. But it has to be the best of what you do in your space in the industry.

All companies look at the balance sheet. There is success in profitability and in revenue, but I look at a number of things. I’m on the road quite a bit and meet with customers on a routine basis, and I always ask these questions: ‘How are we doing? Are we taking care of your needs? Are we providing you the cost-reduction solutions that you need and what we promised that we would do?’

Pay attention. Always ask the ones that matter the most — that is your customers and your employees. If you take care of your customers and your employees, that should be reflected in your balance sheet.

I ask the questions, and when I do share information with them, it is in a very safe and nonhostile environment. If people are offering you candid, honest feedback, they are opening up to you. The last thing you want is the reputation that employees tell you what you need to do, and you get upset at them. Listen, and then address the issue. Sometimes, there are issues where not much can be done, but many times, you can come up with solutions or processes that are better.

Listening is tough for some people. I’m not always right, and I’m very willing to get some input to debate the issues and then, as an organization, come up with the best solution going forward.

By listening to my employees, I make smarter decisions. I get better input and better feedback, and at the same time, there is an inclusiveness relative to how we go forward. There are a lot of benefits, not only from a morale standpoint and better decisions, but also, your employees are asked to provide some input —which is ownership — into the organization.

Become a decision-maker. I see myself as very collaborative. I rely very heavily on input from my leadership team, as they should rely heavily on their management teams, as well. But there has to be somewhere where the buck stops, and I’m willing to make a call and make a decision.

You get paid to make the hard decisions sometimes. I’ve been in situations where the discussion can go on forever and ever, and no one wants to make a decision. Get the best information you can, make sure you really understand the issues and then make the decision. It’s part of leadership; you’ve got to make the decision when the time is appropriate.

We always look at what’s most appropriate for our customers, and then the decisions are usually pretty straightforward. There are two benefits: No. 1, we’re always focused on what’s important for the customers, and No. 2, we want to make sure that we move out with strategies, solutions or customer services that are on the leading edge.

Know when to back off. If we have made a decision, the team is empowered to go get it done. You need to know when not to butt in, and unless you see something really going the wrong direction, let your employees do their thing.

They’re smart people. They have the passion about what you want to do as an organization, and they want to do what’s right. Let them do it.

Be a good role model. Honesty and ethics are very important. People need to trust you, and they need to believe in you. People respond to trust, ethics and honesty.

My dad always taught me to be very honest and ethical with those that I deal with because when you start to trust folks, you can get a lot done. Your whole organization knows what you stand for, and that’s what the organization stands for.

It is the right way to conduct yourself, not only for your personal life but for your business life. Those are the people that people respect. Although I would love to make a gazillion dollars, I would rather be known for my business ethics and integrity.

HOW TO REACH: Amerinet Inc., (800) 388-2638 or